Next time you are in Trendle Yard have a close look at some of the brickwork. A couple of bricks have dates and initials carved into them by successive cycle shop owners – and this year marks their half-century.
Like all of central Sherborne, Trendle Yard has a long and chequered history. So to celebrate 50 years
of cycle shops on site, here’s a potted version. Restrict yourself to living memory and the yard’s history includes
a cobbler’s, a café (twice), a grocer’s (Bob Hyde), a fishmonger, an army surplus shop, a Victorian fireplace
restorer (Pete Nash), an antique shop, a carpenter’s ( Jack and Ian Fay) and a coffin maker.
Back in the 15th century, it held the Abbey workshops, kept busy in the years after 1437 when the
Sherborne’s finest was damaged by fire. Then there’s a bit of a gap, but we do know that the place housed a
brewery in around 1850, with Chapter House Books forming the brewer’s house. What is now Riley’s Cycles
is thought to have been the stable. Prout’s Barn and Quirk’s Barn are named after long-ago owners. Jock Quirk was the fish-and-chip man in Westbury, while the Prout family were hauliers, associated with a slaughterhouse in Quirk’s barn. For evidence of that, look for the blood drain in the barn – it’s still there. In the days before humane methods of despatch, the story goes that cattle would be killed by pulling their head down onto a spike between two of the barn’s pillars. True or not, the slaughter-house was closed after a bull escaped, gored the slaughterman and
galloped off into town. Moving on again, Bob Lelliot and Mike Bird serviced cars and motorcycles here in the 1950s and 60s. A steel beam, used for hoisting out engines, is still in the shop. One brick by the door bears the inscription,
‘Bob 4/4/67′, probably from when Bob Lelliott retired. Mike Bird carried on, now selling bicycles as well as
motorcycles, joined by young mechanic Brian Hoppe. Brian preferred bicycles to motorbikes, so
concentrated on those when he took over from Mr Bird in 1971. He would be the bike-shop man until he
retired in 2013, but not before scratching his name and dates onto one of the bricks.
When Mike Riley took over, clearing out the shop brought much of its history to life. “We found
a cobbler’s last for a child’s shoe, various motorcycle parts, door furniture from the cabinet makers, drums of
old engine oil,” he says. “Frankenstein-ish adaptations included a sheep-shearing machine, modified to cut
car body panels, and a treadle sewing machine stand adapted as a bench saw!” “When we installed a new stove and lit it, the workshop floor started to bubble! It had a thick layer of oil and who knows what from years of workshop use, which took hours to scrape off,” he recalls. “Some items have been repurposed – the sawing sewing machine
stand is now a small table. The 1918 lathe – originally from a naval destroyer – went to Portland, cheerily carried out by a ‘chapter’ of bikers wearing their colours!” As for the future, will there always be a cycle shop
in Trendle Yard? Mike points out that independent cycle shops are having a tough time, with competition
from the internet, social enterprises and the monopoly of huge chain stores. The bright spot for Riley’s has
been electric bikes, with around 200 sold so far, plus the thousands of repairs they’ve done to bikes of all sorts.
“I hope by embracing change, investing in knowledge, good products and equipment with high standards,
there will still be a bike shop in Trendle Yard in 50 years’ time,” says Mike. “And ‘MR’ will be inscribed on a brick
by the door.”
Thanks to Mike Riley and Pete Nash for their help with this article. Please pass on any comments or clarification about the characters, events and businesses mentioned here to Mike