Edwin James Trendell was born in Reading in 1811, son of Thomas Trendell, a pork butcher. The Trendells were a prominent family in Reading with multiple premises in Minster Street, its main shopping centre. Thomas was at Number 22. There was a Henry Trendell at 18 and 19, and later at 62. He was a gents’ and ladies’ hairdresser, who also sold cosmetics and perfumes and, apparently as a sideline, occasionally organised the catering for public events. James Trendell at 55 was a jeweller and clockmaker with a second shop in Maidenhead. James and Henry were brothers, Thomas either another brother or a cousin.
In December 1833, Thomas advertised that he was seeking a situation where a respectable young man could learn the business of selling tea and groceries. It seems that he found one, because in April 1835 Edwin Trendell acquired the existing tea, grocery and cheese shop of Henry Summers at 47 Minster Street. He claimed to have gained both wholesale and retail experience in London.
But the enterprise did not last long. There seemed to be better opportunities elsewhere. A few years earlier, Thomas Baker, a wealthy grocer in Abingdon, had died. He left £1000 to each of his six children, and his business with its premises in Stert Street plus several properties elsewhere in Abingdon to his widow Mary. In August 1835, Edwin married Baker’s second daughter Ann at St Nicolas. Whatever the personal aspects, the lady was eleven years his senior and the marriage may well have been primarily a business arrangement of a kind not unusual at the time. By December, the Reading shop had been sold, and in January 1836 Mary Baker announced her retirement and that her business had been passed to the firm of Coleman & Trendell. Mr Coleman, presumably a financier, was bought out within three years.
It did not take long for Edwin to make his mark in Abingdon. In 1842 he was a borough guardian under the Poor Law, and later that year was elected to the Council. He was mayor in 1845 and in three later years. He was an alderman from 1856 to 1862 when he retired from the Council, and became a JP in 1878. He was a governor of Christ’s Hospital and several times Master.
By the late 1840s, Trendell was becoming a wealthy man. After about 1850, his main business was more in wines and spirits than in tea and groceries, and his main shop was at 18 High Street, on the corner of West St Helen Street. For a time, he also owned a brewery on Stert Street.
In 1847 he took a five-year lease on what is now the Old Abbey House. When the lease expired he bought the freehold for £2700, and would live there for the remainder of his life. He made little change to the house apart from putting in a fashionable billiard room, but lavished care and expenditure on the garden. He extended it by buying adjoining land, and laid out carefully planned walks. He planted trees, some of them of rare species, and built a picturesque gothic folly from fragments of masonry recovered from church restorations. The general public was allowed in on suitable occasions, and it is now a public park known as the Abbey Gardens..
Trendell was active as a Freemason, and a member of the Bear Club, a dining club for the Abingdon élite. He was a great benefactor of St Nicolas Church, providing it with a new organ in 1868 and in 1880 subscribing 500 guineas to a reconstruction project. He presented the Council with a portrait of Simon Harcourt, an eminent lawyer who had been Abingdon’s MP in the previous century, and at Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee in 1887 he gave to the town the marble statue which was originally in the Market Place but now stands appropriately in the Abbey Gardens.
Trendell retired in 1877. His elder son, Thomas Baker Trendell, had died in 1871 aged 35, but the business was taken over by the younger, William Henry, together with a son-in-law, William Pitt Brook, who had married Edwin Trendell’s youngest daughter, Charlotte Georgiana. Brook was the son of a London goldsmith. William Henry died at 45 in 1888, but the business continued under various names.. For many years the shop in the High Street was occupied by a Fergusons off-licence, presumably a branch of the Fergusons Brewery in Reading that was controlled by Morlands. Later it was a Threshers, but has now become a charity shop.
There were three daughters: Ann Maria Baker Trendell died young, while both Harriet Watson Miller and Charlotte Georgiana Brook survived their father.
Trendell’s wife Ann died in 1879. Edwin Trendell was an invalid for several years before his death in 1900. He left £16,000 – perhaps two million today – in addition to the house and gardens. The name survives in Abingdon as Trendell Place, off the Wootton Road, and as Trendell’s Folly, the picturesque gothic-style construction in the Abbey Gardens.
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