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Endicotts - the Government surplus store

Page updated 5th January 2015

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Endicotts, the government surplus business that seems to have inhabited the same site for more years than some care to remember, was first opened in 1937 at 3 Milk Street, between a tobacconist and a china dealer. It was started by Lennox Endicott who specialised in selling ex-police equipment and later general government and army surplus. In the 1939 Kelly's directory, the shop is listed as Mrs Susan Endicott, outfitter. After five short years, the business aspirations of Lennox were curtailed, when this part of Exeter was totally destroyed during the May 1942 blitz. According to family legend, Lennox continued to trade out of a wheelbarrow.

In the late 1940's Endicotts was re-established at 57 West Street, just at a time when there was a lot of government surplus coming on the market. The shop was next to Cecil Brewer, boot repairer who was noted for supplying pigeons to the RAF during the war, and who extensively photographed the moving of the Merchants House in 1961.

It was with the move to West Street that Raymond Endicott joined his father's business straight from attending the Episcopal School. Raymond briefly left to do his National Service as a storeman in the RAF, returning to Exeter in the early 1950's. It was in 1950 that 2 West Street, on the corner of New Bridge Street, the present shop, was acquired.

M, M, M, My... Generation... Baby

Raymond married in the mid 1960's and Kevin his son was born in 1968. Both Kevin's mother and grandmother worked in the shop at this time.

The 1960's were a busy time for the business, as the baby boomers became mods and rockers. All well dressed mods had to have an ex-US forces parka, and who was better equipped to provide them in Exeter, than Endicotts who had plenty in stock for 69/11 (£3.50 in modern money). Eventually the supply of the genuine article dried up, and 'commercial' parkas were sold, but they marked you out as a bit of a loser.

Kevin tells of his father purchasing hundreds of pairs of Levis as seconds, because they had twisted seams. Forty years later, and Levis produced jeans with deliberately twisted seams, which enabled Endicotts to sell the last of their first batch! During the 70's, jeans of every description were purchased in their thousands - some with flares that would go around your waist.

The Night of the Fire

And then disaster struck in October 1973 when an arsonist set fire to 57 West Street, which was being used as a warehouse at the time. The sixteenth-century, four storey building was gutted causing £45,000 of damage and a loss of £4,000 worth of stock. It is thought that the fire was set at 1am, with the alarm raised by the 78 year old Cecil Brewer who escaped, with his wife as flames leapt through the roof of Endicotts. Six fire appliances and a turntable ladder attended, but were unable to prevent severe damage. Cecil Brewers shop suffered bad water damage, collapsing a ceiling in one room, and the picture framing business of J W Urch on the other side was also damaged. The fire service was stretched that night, as arsonists also set fire to a building in Swans Yard off Okehampton Street and the Devon and Exeter Savings Bank in Cowick Street.

The Next Generation

The 1980's was the decade when military style clothing became fashionable, another trend that was well suited to government surplus. In 1984, the young Kevin Endicott joined the firm straight from school - he claims that he deliberately did badly at job interviews as he knew that he really wanted to work in the family business.

When Kevin had left school, his father set him up in his own shop, at 4 West Street. This modest start in the world of Government Surplus netted £283 on its first Saturday.

The Telephone

For many years the shop did not have a telephone, as Raymond Endicott could not see the sense of the cost. Kevin tried for several years to persuade his Dad to have a phone installed, but he always said "NO, NO" and "NO" again.

Having nearly given up on the idea, Kevin had one last try to persuade him, by saying the "The business could afford £99 PLUS VAT, couldn't it?" .

Raymond replied "Of course, why?"

Kevin did not tell his Dad what the money was for, but he immediately went to BT and arranged for them to fit the line, and supply a memorable number - 433331.

The phone was fitted without a fuss from Raymond, as the thought of "getting the VAT back" was more than enough to persuade him.

The main business grew with stock deliveries sometimes measured in tons. One stockroom was full of thousands of socks in a pile over six feet high. Stock control was not sufficient for the job at the time, so in 1990 Kevin spent a considerable time in the present store, rebuilding shelving and storage to cope with a very diverse range of products. He needed to, as their stock of boots went up to size 17 as well as stocking that well sought item, a top rotor protector for a Lynx helicopter.

Raymond Endicott died in May 2007, leaving the business in Kevin's capable hands. For those who enjoy the outdoor life, or just want good, honest work clothes, or are after some military gear, Endicotts, one of the longest established businesses in this part of town, is the place to go, and you will be supporting an old, independent trader who is part of the fabric of Exeter.

Source: Express and Echo and Kevin Endicott

Kevin Endicott Kevin Endicott in the shop. Endicotts on West Street The shop at 2 West Street.Advert from 1950 for Endicotts The shop at 2 West Street.Endicotts on West Street The shop in West Street, 1961. Michael T J Wride.

The Endicotts Website is an Aladdin's Cave of army surplus.

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