How it all began: the story of Percy and Florence Brend
Percy and Florence were both born in Barnstaple in 1912 and both went to Ashleigh Road School, where they were classmates and became childhood sweethearts.
Florence lived in Grosvenor Street with her mother and two elder sisters. Florence’s father had died in the Battle of the Somme in the First World War, so the family struggled to get by on a widow’s pension. Percy lived in Queen Street with his mother, brother and sister. The family’s fortunes took a turn for the worse in 1924 when Percy’s father passed away due to wounds sustained in the First World War. As he had died after the war, Percy’s mother was not entitled to a widow’s pension. So 12 year old Percy went out to work as an errand boy in a butcher’s shop, now the sole breadwinner for the family.
Florence trained as a nurse and worked for Barnardo’s in London but returned to Barnstaple to marry Percy when they were both aged 19. By that time, Percy had learned his trade well and had become a manager for Eastman’s, a national butchery business. Soon their children June, Richard and Patricia were born.
Percy was determined to improve the fortunes for his family and after a while he started his own butcher’s business in Butchery Row in Barnstaple. He built up a great business with a reputation of always being the first to open and the last to close. When the Second World War broke out, Percy was called up to serve in the Royal Navy and Florence kept the business running successfully and cared for the children while he was away.
After the war, the butcher’s business continued to flourish. Meat was a valuable commodity at this time of post-war rationing and Percy excelled at sourcing meat and rabbits from local farmers, as well as customer service, happy to cycle 10 miles just to deliver one meat order. Around this time, Percy bought a cottage in Bishops Tawton for £200 and not long after sold it for £400. This sparked a keen interest in property! While the butcher’s business expanded, Percy also began to develop a highly successful property business in both domestic and commercial properties. Exeter had been badly damaged by bombing in the Second World War and Percy got involved in renovation and building projects.
Meanwhile, their fourth son, John, was born in 1948, followed by Peter in 1957, completing their family of five children.
It was in 1969 that the Brend Group as we know it today began to take shape, with the purchase of The Royal Hotel, Bideford. It was at this point that the company of Percy R Brend (Hoteliers) Ltd was formed, of which his three sons Richard, John and Peter would become directors.
As the hotel group grew, Percy retained a keen interest in the running of all the hotels and instilled in his family the importance of hard work, continually improving the business and having a passion for quality. Florence had such a strong belief in her husband that it inspired Percy to achieve greater and greater things. Florence had a great eye for the interiors and furnishing of the hotels and played a leading role in this area for the whole of her life. Together, they made an unbeatable team.
Percy and Florence had always loved the Saunton Sands Hotel and had spent time there ever since their courting days. Percy had promised Florence that he would one day purchase the hotel and in 1977 he was finally able to achieve that dream.
Both Percy and Florence continued to have a hands-on role in the business throughout their lives. In 1982, Percy sadly died of a heart attack at Crow Point, the most southerly point of Saunton Sands, the place he loved so dearly. Florence moved into Saunton Sands Hotel and lived there for the remaining 27 years of her life, during which time she continued to play a part in the interior design of all the hotels in the group.
Today the influence of Percy and Florence Brend is still felt strongly throughout the whole business and the values that it lives by. They are fondly remembered as an exceptional couple who set a wonderful example for the subsequent generations to follow and who, above all, were loving parents who did all that they could to support their children and grand children.