Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: September 18, 2019
Webpage updated: September 18, 2019




The Plymouth Business House of Messrs John Yeo and Company Limited, drapers, was located at 37 and 38 Bedford Street, before the Second World War and in New George Street and Royal Parade thereafter.

John Yeo was the son of a farmer in Bradford, north Devon, where he was born in 1841.

After attending Tuke's School in Chulmleigh, and the Bible Christians' Shebbear College he went to Bideford to learn the drapery business.  His four year apprenticeship with Messrs Spencer, Turner and Boldero was followed by a further twelve years living in London and a couple more years in Paris, where he became quite proficient in the French language.

In 1871 he was a draper living at number 249 Caledonian Road, Islington, London.  It would appear that he married in Islington, too, in 1873, his bride being Miss Julia Longley from Canterbury, in Kent.  As soon as he had married he brought his new wife to Plymouth, where he became a partner in the drapery owned by Alderman Joseph Pillman, at 38 Bedford Street.  The business then became known as Messrs. Pillman and Yeo.  When Mr Pillman retired in 1878 the business became simply John Yeo's.

Mr Yeo was employing 14 assistants, 12 apprentices, 1 dressmaker and 2 milliners in 1881.  Interestingly, he traded on a "cash only" basis.

John and Julia's only son and heir (it was, of course, a male dominated society), Mr Frank Russell Yeo, was born at Hartley, Compton Gifford, in 1881.

In 1893 John invited his nephew, Mr John Henry Beckly, to join the business.  In 1900 they bought the premises next door, which had been vacated by Messrs Underwood and Company, and the shop was extended. 

Mr John Yeo died on the evening of Tuesday May 7th 1918 at his residence, "Standerton", in Seymour Avenue, Plymouth.  Control of the business, which was now employing 200 full-time staff, transferred to his son, Mr Frank Russell Yeo, and his nephew, Mr John Henry Beckly.  They were joined in 1925 by Mr Beckly's son, Mr William Edwin Beckly MC, and in 1928 the business was made into a limited liability company, Messrs John Yeo and Company Limited.

Mr John Henry Beckly died on the evening of Thursday December 22nd 1932 and this was soon followed by the death of Mr Frank Russell Yeo on Monday November 16th 1936, thus leaving the Company in the control of Mr William Edwin Beckly.

Like other businesses in Plymouth at the time, Yeo's provided accommodation for their staff.  Three hostels are known to have existed in 1937: at Bedford Terrace; at Leigham Terrace, Citadel Road; and at Gascoyne Place.

During the Second World War the store was destroyed and Mr Beckly was responsible for finding temporary accommodation for the various departments throughout the city centre.  Probably his service in the Royal Engineers during the Great War, when at 19 years of age he became an Acting Major, helped him in organising that difficult task.  He found premises at North Hill, next to the South Devon and Cornwall Institution for the Blind; 13 and 54/56 Mutley Plain; at 44 Ebrington Street, which they shared with Spooner's; and in the Pannier Market.

Work started on new premises at number 29 New George Street in 1950.  On the frontage facing on to Royal Parade  were, and still are, four carved murals, each about 10 feet long by 6 feet tall, depicting clothing in the Phoenician, Roman, Norman and Tudor periods.  They were designed by Mr Frazer, of Messrs Donald Hamilton, Wakeford and Partners, who were the architects in association with a Mr H J Linden, and were carved by Mr Adams and Mr Burgess of Messrs Adams and Mitchell, of Portland, Dorset.  The whole building, which was constructed by Messrs Dudley Coles Limited, cost some 300,000 and was formally opened on Tuesday September 8th 1952.   After his mother had verbally declared the store open, Master David Beckly, the 13-years-old son of the managing director, unlocked the main door in the presence of Mrs Cadman, daughter of the founder; Mr Isaac Foot, who was a director of the Company, and a large crowd of shoppers.

The Company provided a hostel for staff in the 1950s, which was located at 25 Woodland Terrace, Greenbank Road, and was under the supervision of a Mrs Kendall.

Gift Suggestions for Christmas 1956 included 30 denier stretch nylons in gift packs at 9s 11d; all wool Continental scarves from 7s 6d; and children's charm bracelets for 4s 11d.  Alternatively, if you had the money, you could have Peccary Cape Gloves on special offer, 14s 11d, reduced from 18s 11d.

In 1964 Mr Beckly retired and the business was sold to Messrs Debenham's Limited.  The name was retained until 1977, when it became the Yeo Building.

Mr William Edwin Beckly died at his home, "Knighton Cottage", Buckland Monachorum, on Tuesday December 16th 1986.  He was 88-years-old.