AT the meeting of Taunton Probus Club on February 1, president Richard Denton-Cox introduced the speaker for the day, Tony Osman whose chosen subject matter being the History of the County Stores, which began its store life in Taunton some 177 years ago, being established around 1832.

The premises originated in 1831 as a Boot & Shoe Repairer at 52 North Street. That particular business went bankrupt in 1932, following on and for a short period it was known as Somerset Tea Warehouse with interested parties then only associated as Mr Huntley and Mr Palmer which we now understand moved to Berkshire, eventually to bear the name tag "Huntley and Palmer" and later with the TV jingle "like biscuits ought to be".

The name of Judah then became a familiar name with son and family following into the trade. The company had a mention in the Taunton Courier, April 24, 1867. The store attempted to move up-market with the installation of a coffee bean roaster and blender, which afforded the local area, a rich smell of a freshly roasted product.

Tony continued at great pace, to add the list of branches which came into being as a result of the influence that County Stores had created around 1916, listing Ilminster, Wiveliscombe, Langport, Kingston St Mary and Milverton. During the period of food rationing, County Stores, with other traders, encountered a difficult period with lower sales and lean margins. At this point the company started to diversify and moved into the hand-made leather and linen products, which laid a good foundation to the range of fashion goods, which are to be purchased from the first floor in North Street currently.

County Stores has encountered a generation of changes, decimalisation, the event of national chain stores moving into the town, with ongoing competitive pricing and a whole range of discountable items. Home deliveries and now on-line shopping. Gone are the days when Rinso and Persil were prominent on the washing scene, now everyone is faced with tablets or solutions. Peek Frean Biscuits and Rowntrees chocolates have even given way to Nestle, who by the way invented instant coffee.

Times have and will obviously change in the future, however, County Stores have experienced moderate changes in definite terms; counter trade which was the hallmark of this store has almost given way to off-the-shelf purchases. The delicious odour of fresh ground coffee beans has been scaled down in order not to cause offence to nearby dress shops. The County Stores do however, possess a first floor restaurant and coffee area, which is conveniently adjacent to the costume jewellery, casual wear and the picture gallery, all of which will help to ensure the business may be ongoing.

The question and answer session was comparatively short and lively due to the depth of coverage of this historical store, courtesy of Tony Osman.

In closing, the president, Richard Denton-Cox called upon Frank Powell to give the customary vote of thanks to Tony for his preparation and narration which covered many decades of representation of local trading, incorporating features many of the audience will want to cherish as a necessary part of Taunton history that they have lived and grown up with. Thanks go to County Stores for your services and of your presence in the society.