Previously a coaching inn, a billeting house and a post office, Standard House Chandlery sits bang on the quayside in Wells and has long-standing links with the sea. Legend has it that the young Horatio Nelson sat in the inn watching sailors dancing, and there are stories of a smuggling tunnel passing under the old customs house next door.
John and Marion Crook came here 25 years ago from Cambridge. They have the perfect partnership: John, an engineer by trade and keen sailor, looks after the chandlery and boat repairs, while Marion orders the clothing. Their clientele includes boat-owners, sailors and holiday-makers, many of whom have been coming to Wells for years. “Some of our clients now are the grandchildren of our first customers,” says John.
On a regular day, people come in for anything from a pot of Toplac marine paint (£25.74) to a Suzuki outboard engine (from £545), and there’s everything else in-between to spruce up your boat. Dinghy sailors will find a selection of sailing line (15p to £5.50 per metre), while keel-boat owners might pick up an anchor (£30, 2.5kg) and some stair-rail rope (£5.50 per metre). All the RYA course books are available, along with charts and tide timetables.
In the rear of the shop, Marion’s taste is evident in the range of high-quality clothing. Racers can kit themselves out in a Musto/Skandia Team GB spray jacket (£100), while families will go for the junior wet suits (£30). But it’s the leisurewear that impresses, with labels such as Weird Fish and the French brand Saint James. “Saint James is a more exclusive range – beautifully designed, perfect to wear to the pub or a dinner party,” says Marion, picking out a slinky navy top (£100) and a white waterproof jacket (£100). Bestsellers include a Guernsey sweater (£69.95) and Hunter wellies (£59.95), while new labels this season are Raging Bull and Wombat. “I try to pick what’s right for people on holiday, but ultimately I choose what I like,” says Marion. “So many sailing clothes are fashionable and very wearable.”
Outside in the yard sits a variety of second-hand craft, including a Wayfarer (£1,750) and a Zodiac RIB (£2,650), while the old stable block houses the engineering workshop and the “recyling” area, stuffed with vintage boat bits such as propellers, rudders, tyres and oil-rigging lamps (£145). Before leaving, check out the shop windows, currently displaying an antique brass compass binnacle (£120). Pride of place, though, goes to the wheel of an 18th-century schooner, fished out of the water 20 years ago. When that ship went down, perhaps Nelson was sitting in the Standard, watching the sailors dance.