Robert Godfrey Wynne-Eyton Wells, who has died at the age of 92, was the founder of British Market, at one time the largest retail British import store in the United States. Although he remained a British subject until 2007, he adapted happily to life in Houston and West University. He was born in Sussex, England to Charles Godfrey Platt Wells, later a Canon of Chichester Cathedral, and Joan Katherine Wynne-Eyton. He grew up in a country vicarage with his older brother and two sisters.
He attended Wellington College, named for the Duke of Wellington, during the war years, where in 1942, a German bomb scored a direct hit on the Lodge, killing the headmaster. He was on the rifle team and in the Royal Air Force's Air Training Corps. His personal connection with Wellington was through a great-great uncle, Sir Stapleton Cotton, who was one of the Duke's generals. During the Peninsular War, the Duke, when told that a certain objective would be difficult to take, replied impatiently, "Why any fool could take it, send Cotton, he'll storm it." He did, and later became Field Marshall Viscount Combermere."
Wells first joined the Royal Navy in 1944, and trained for the Fleet Air Arm, to his great delight, in a Tiger Moth. As the war wound down, fewer pilots were needed, and he did not make the 5% cut. If he had, he might have been posted to Pensacola to be trained by his future father-in-law. He then was drafted into the Army and selected for officer training, where he was given a choice of England and the British Army or India and the Indian Army. (This was before Pakistan split from India during independence, and the officers were both British and Indian.) He joined the 13th Frontier Force Rifles, part of the Punjab Imperial Frontier Force, based in Abbottabad, where Osama ben Laden would eventually meet his end. As the Indianization of the army progressed, he was sent back to Egypt, Tripoli, and Palestine, where he unsuccessfully chased members of the Stern Gang through orange groves. His stories and watercolors of his time in India, North Africa (he once swam the Suez Canal) and Palestine were endlessly fascinating.
After a happy interlude studying law at Oriel College, Oxford, he applied and was accepted at Heal's, a London department store famous for its contemporary furniture on the strength of a desk he designed and made--part of a life-long interest in furniture design and woodworking.
Following a varied career in retail, manufacturing and design, which included some time in Germany at another significant moment in history, the building of the Berlin Wall, he immigrated to the United States to join friends at the Brick Row Bookshop, a rare book store then located in Austin, which supplied rare books to private collectors and universities, including the University of Texas.
He met his wife, Dianne, in Austin, and they soon moved to Houston, and started British Market, in Rice Village in 1971. The store gradually expanded, but in 1979, the Village, including British Market, flooded, leaving the owner to sleep in a large box of plastic peanuts until the water went down. At nine o'clock the next morning, the two Scottish ladies then on the staff appeared at the door and opened for business. The store flourished, and became a haven for British expatriates and local Anglophiles, drawn by Christmas puddings and special events, such as a demonstration by Wedgewood's master potter or a figurine painter from Royal Doulton. Among visitors from England over the years were the Speaker of the House of Commons, and the Lord Mayor of London, properly so titled, accompanied by her husband the Master of the Rolls. Twice the regimental band of the Welsh Guards came to play and in their honor he flew a Welsh flag atop the building. The Duke and Duchess of Kent also honored him with a visit.
After twenty years in business, he sold the shop. In his retirement he was able to indulge some of his interests such as history, writing, woodworking and furniture design. He had a lifelong interest in aviation, beginning with a childhood flight in a biplane with Alan Cobham's Flying Circus (standing on the floor of an open cockpit, with no seat belt). While in Houston he once piloted the Goodyear Blimp. On his 90th birthday he was able to revisit his youth with a flight in an open cockpit biplane.
After an active and interesting life, he died on February 28, following a short illness, surrounded by his family. He is survived by his wife, Dianne, two daughters and their husbands, Katherine and Adam Haun, Elizabeth and Matthew Cabral and his beloved grandchildren, Claire and William Cabral.