The poet Sir John Betjeman described Sidmouth as "a town caught still in a timeless charm" and it is as true today of the East Devon seaside resort as it was when he penned the words in 1962. Watch the waves crash over the shingle and sand beach against the dramatic backdrop of red, almost rust-coloured cliffs then walk the narrow streets and lanes, with the sound of the sea still ringing in your ears, and it is easy to imagine Sidmouth as a notorious centre for smugglers in the 18th and 19th centuries - as indeed it was. The Old Ship Inn was a rendezvous for smugglers, with a passage leading towards the sea, as was the parish church where, it was said, the local parson was often a friend to those bringing ashore casks of French brandy for the landed gentry.
view to a butcher
Stand outside the parish church today and gaze along Church Street, where the smugglers undoubtedly rolled their barrels of illegal contraband on a dark, silent, moonless night, and your eyes will immediately set upon Stewart Hayman's pretty blue and red-tiled butcher's shop, decked out with gloriously colourful hanging flower baskets during the summer months.
Hayman, it has to be said, looks nothing like a notorious smuggler but every inch the town butcher that he is. The already-mentioned narrow streets and lanes mean that parking is non-existent, which Stewart admits is a disadvantage. On the plus side, however, there is a dairy next door, a baker nearby, and a fruit and vegetable stall alongside a fishmonger in the old Market Hall, just a few paces along the lane. So people can indulge in a spot of one-stop, quality food shopping if they wish.
Sidmouth is on the tourist trail and also a place to retire. So the town welcomes young families in the summer, while couples take a break in the spring and autumn and Christmas brings the 'turkey and tinsel' brigade by the coachload from all over the country. "Our quietest time is mid-January to mid-March, then it starts up again," says Stewart. "We start the barbecue season early here because there are lots of caravan sites."
The shop, which celebrates a century in the Hayman family this year, is situated in the heart of Sidmouth amid 500 listed buildings, including some fine Regency houses that stand testament to why it was a popular holiday destination for the Royal family, including the young Princess Victoria, in the early 19th century.
While Sidmouth might be steeped in history, the 100-year-old Hayman shop is the very model of a modern major butcher's shop, complete with a growing range of added-value products that Stewart reckons his grandmother, the driving force behind much early business, would have been proud to
"People on holiday do recognise the shop as something special that they don't have in their own area," he says
The result, of course, is that he gets customers travelling regularly from as far away as Bournemouth and Bristol, and tourists who come at the end of their holiday to bulk buy.
The quality of the shop is reflected in the fact that Stewart is the Guild of Q Butchers south west of England and south Wales chairman, a job that involves him attending a range of meetings and events during the year. "The Q on my shop window doesn't do much for my business," he admits. "The real benefit of joining is meeting other like-minded butchers, exchanging ideas, entering the product evaluations and being able to phone a fellow Guild member for advice and help."
As an example of this fellowship, he cites the delight of Scottish tourists who come into his shop and spot haggis
on sale. "I got the recipe from David
Craig [a fellow Guild member and this
year's MTJ Butchers' Shop of the Year Butcher-Plus winner]."
The Guild evaluations are useful for product development and promotion. Hayman entered 36 products this year, coming away with 14 gold, 16 silver and two bronze awards. "Not bad" he says.
In 2003 he won the ultimate accolade, the Guild's supreme award for pork brawn, the product being featured by chef Rick Stein. "My grandmother used to make it - pigs' head meat, shoulder and knuckles of pork, and pigs' feet for the natural gelatine. The brawn is cured overnight and then sold in small pots or as big slabs. It comes from the days when you used to use the whole animal. One or two of the old recipes have stood the test of time."
When it comes to sourcing meat Hayman keeps his supplies very much in the family. Beef is sourced from his cousin, Mervyn Hayman, who buys in and finishes store cattle. The animals are slaughtered by another cousin, Philip Hayman, at nearby Ottery St Mary then hung for a minimum of 14 days. Local lamb is sourced from his son, Mark, who has a flock of Poll Dorsets. "They tend to lamb out of season. He has 32 lambs at present that should be ready by January." Pork - from 75-80kg gilts - is also sourced from cousin Philip.