‘The Greatest Grocers in the World’: International Tea Company’s Stores

fww01_01_0599_001.tif

Guildford Street, Chertsey, c. 1950 (© Historic England Archive fww01_01_0599_001)

‘International Stores’ was a common sight on English high streets from 1878, when the first shop opened in Brentford, until 1988, when all remaining outlets were rebranded ‘Gateway’.

To give the company its full name, ‘International Tea Company’s Stores’ was the trading arm of the food importing and processing firm, Kearley & Tonge, whose vast headquarters and central warehouses were based at Mitre Square in the City of London.

Newspaper Advert 1928

International Stores newspaper advertisement, introduced in January 1928

With over a thousand stores at its height, International claimed to be ‘the greatest grocer in the world’. After the Second World War, its small grocery and provisions shops – mostly located in southern England – were redeveloped or superseded by urban supermarkets. As a result, very few of the pre-war shops have survived intact. And those that do survive are not easy to recognise.

Until the 1930s, fascias bore the name ‘International Stores’ in bold brilliant-cut gilded lettering. The name was repeated on the deep brass sills of the stall risers, and often on an additional glazed panel positioned between the sill and the stall board.

IMG_8687 - Copy

Former International Stores, Southwold (© K. Morrison, 2018)

IMG_2786 - Copy

Former International Stores, Uppingham (© K. Morrison, 2019)

Many of the shops had large windows with fixed glazing, but large branches – such as Uppingham and Southwold – had a sash to one side of the entrance, corresponding to a provisions counter. Uppingham and Southwold, although 130 miles apart, shared the same style of olive green tiled pilasters and capitals. The attractive glazing pattern seen at Uppingham, probably dating from c.1910, was repeated verbatim at a long-lost store in Eastbourne.

IMG_8687 - Copy - Copy

‘Ceylindo Tea’, Southwold (© K. Morrison, 2018)

008 - Copy

‘Ceylindo Tea’, Uppingham (© R. Baxter, 2019)

The brand name of International’s tea, ‘Ceylindo’, was sometimes affixed to a thin ventilation grille that ran along the top of the windows – this survives at both Southwold and  Uppingham. Old photographs show that the transom beneath the grille was usually supported by small spandrels, sometimes terminating in pendants.

Rugby Sheep St 2000 - Copy

Sign on rear elevation of International Stores, with phone number, Sheep Street, Rugby (© K. Morrison, 2000)

In other respects, International Stores from the 1900s, 1910s and 1920s displayed considerable variety in the style of their pilasters, consoles, doorways, and even lanterns. The house style was never as distinctive and coherent, or so universally applied, as that of – for example – Home & Colonial Stores or Lipton’s.

Despite its fairly loose house style, International must have undertaken a lot of building and renovation work because, from the 1890s until around 1930, it had a marked preference for freehold property – often snapping up shops that had been vacant for some time.

Although this saved money on rent and meant that permission did not have to be sought from landlords for alterations, the Chairman had to justify the policy to stockholders who believed the capital might be better invested elsewhere. International Stores must have had active in-house architects’ and shopfitters’ departments, but little is known about them before the late 1940s, when Mr R. O. Slipper was the Chief Architect.

The real estate policy changed during the depression of the early 1930s. Under a new Chairman, International set up a subsidiary, ITS Property Development Co. Ltd., to develop property by building not just single shops, but pairs or groups of shops. Its first schemes were in London and Brighton. In an allusion to the central office – and to some of International’s branded provisions – new buildings might include a bishop’s mitre motif. An example can be spotted in Reigate.

IMG_2816 - Copy

Former International Stores, Oundle (© K. Morrison, 2019)

A chaste modern style of shopfront was adopted in the 1930s. The well-preserved example in Oundle has a flush stone surround rather than an applied wooden frame. A domed display case stands between two doorways: provisions to the left; groceries to the right. The general lines of this layout – though not yet couched in a modern style – had emerged in the 1920s and was illustrated in a widely-published press advertisement of 1928 (see above).

At Oundle the name ‘International Stores’ has been removed from the mosaic floor, leaving decorative garlands. But another example, with full lettering, can be seen in Petersfield.

IMG_2860 - Copy

Former International Stores, Oundle (© K. Morrison)

21ChapelStPetersfield c Brian Kerr 2016 - Copy

Former International Stores, Petersfield (© Brian Kerr, 2016)

International began to expand through acquisition before the war, buying the Star Tea Company (and with it, James Pegram & Co and Ridgway Tea) in 1928. Star brought 463 shops to the group, giving it a total of 926. In 1935 George J. Mason, with 385 shops centred on Birmingham, took the count well over 1,000. An early post-war purchase, in 1947, was the Payantake chain.

After 1945 International was at the forefront of the rush to implement self-service. Experiments in the years 1947-51 enabled managers to weigh the cost of conversion against that of maintaining fully serviced branches. The devotion to freehold property was long forgotten, and in 1959 International began to negotiate sale and leaseback contracts with the Legal & General Assurance Society. This helped to finance not just conversion to self-service (50 by 1955 and 263 by 1960), but the building of supermarkets (that is, units with over 2000 sq. ft. sales space) on new sites. In 1962, the first tranche of unwanted small shops was put on the market.

Having modernised its portfolio, International, with 900 outlets, was taken over by British American Tobacco in 1972 for £68 million. At this time the supermarkets had fascias with red lettering (‘International’) on a white ground. After a series of acquisitions and disposals, International, now with just 380 outlets, was bought by the Dee Corporation in 1984 for £180 million. The International name vanished when the shops were rebranded Gateway in 1988. These later became Somerfield, a name which would itself disappear in 2009-11.

Posted in Provisions Shops | 1 Comment

Spotting Historic Shopfronts: Shrewsbury

Pride Hill - Banner

Pride Hill, looking west towards the Market Hall (© K. Morrison, 2019)

Shrewsbury has an idyllic town centre, with a good range of interesting independent shops dotted amongst the usual national multiples. Traffic does not unduly bother the dedicated shopper, or the historic shop spotter. This pleasant historic environment should ensure the buoyancy of the retail sector, but several good commercial units in prime locations – not least House of Fraser, and Phillips Stores (see below) – currently lie empty. As elsewhere, alarm bells must be ringing. Meanwhile, here is a small selection of historic shops to admire and enjoy. It’s just a coincidence that two of them sold the now-elusive Shrewsbury cakes.

Abbots House 2019 (3)

The Abbot’s House, Butcher Row (© K. Morrison, 2019)

The Abbot’s House, Butcher Row

Medieval shop frontages can be spotted throughout central Shrewsbury, notably in the shuts and alleys off Wyle Cop and Pride Hill. The best-known examples can be seen at The Abbot’s House in Butcher Row, near St Alkmund’s.

Abbots House 2019 (2)

What would the Abbot say? (© K. Morrison, 2019)

This jettied timber-framed range was erected for the Abbot of Lilleshall in 1459, with shops on the ground floor and living accommodation above. Each unit had the typical medieval arrangement, combining arched windows with a shop doorway. Note the carved tracery adorning the corner posts – a motif picked up on the frontage of (the former) House of Fraser on High Street.

Boots the Chemist, 7 Pride Hill

Boots the Chemist built substantial stores with mock-timber fronts in approximately 16 historic English towns before the Great War. This approach was devised by the company architect, Michael Treleaven, but one or two of the buildings were designed by the Nottingham architect A. N. Bromley, whose services had been secured by Boots since the 1890s. Here, as in Gloucester, Bromley was named as the architect (Shrewsbury Chronicle, 22 February 1907, 5).

Boots 2019 (1)

Boots the Chemist, Pride Hill (© K. Morrison, 2019)

The two gabled bays to the left bear the date 1907, while the extension on the right is dated 1920. The decorative plasterwork includes Jesse Boot’s initials and the Tudor royal arms. Boots aspired to ‘study and uphold the historic interest of the locality, and so catch the civic spirt of those places where their businesses have been established’. Thus, the town’s arms (three ‘loggerheads’ or leopard heads) are included.

Boots 2019 (6)

Jesse Boot’s monogram and the date of Boots’ Shrewsbury store: 1907 (© K. Morrison, 2019)

Despite Boots’ intentions, the fact that certain features evoke an architectural tradition from a far-flung county bothered Pevsner, who deplored ‘Another misguided attempt to carry on the town’s half-timbered tradition . . . with alien pargetting and ‘Ipswich’ windows’. This has not prevented the listing of Boots’ mock-Tudor stores in Kingston upon Thames, Trent Bridge and York.

Morris & Co., confectioner’s and café (now Christmas Perks), 60 Wyle Cop

The name ‘Morris & Co’ can be read in the mosaic floor of the entrance to the shop at 60 Wyle Cop. This was a confectioner’s and café, surely an offshoot of the well-known Shrewsbury grocers (est. 1869) usually known simply as Morris’s. Morris’s large headquarters, completed in 1922, still stands by Welsh Bridge, and in 2019 the firm celebrated its 150th anniversary.

Morris & Co 2019 (2)

Morris & Co, entrance mosaic (© K. Morrison, 2019)

The shop and café at 60 Wyle Cop opened around 1910. It was acquired from Thomas Pidduck Deakin (d.1939; an Alderman and Mayor of Shrewsbury), who had run a confectioner’s shop and café – the Pengwern Café – here since the 1880s. In the 1920s Morris & Co took over another established confectioner’s and café, at 13 Castle Gates, from Jacob B. Davies.

Morris & Co 2019 (5)

Morris & Co’s windows – with ‘loggerheads’ in the window! (© K. Morrison, 2019)

The form of Morris’s shopfront is unusual. The triangular projections may have served to display tiers of cakes, rather like the round display window of Freeman’s in Cambridge. The café was probably upstairs, over the shop. Perhaps someone can share memories of afternoon tea at Morris’s.

McClures Ladies Wear (now White Stuff), 14-15 High Street

This fine shopfront was designed by a well-known London shopfitter, Frederick Sage & Co., in the mid-to-late 1920s. The deep windows of curved plate glass, set within a bronze frame, provide copious display space – as at Halon’s, an impressive outfitters located further up the same street. Sage’s name may be spotted on the bases of the colonnettes.

McClures 2019 (1)

White Stuff, formerly McClures, High Street (© K. Morrison, 2019)

Henry Wells, a jeweller who occupied this shop in the early 20th century, was imprisoned for receiving stolen goods in 1924. Soon afterwards the premises were taken over by McClure Bros., who had opened a tailors and outfitters shop in Wellington in 1908, reportedly after Samuel McClure had gained experience managing a department store in Birkenhead. McClures expanded into ladies’ wear in 1909, and opened branch shops in Oswestry and Market Drayton.

McClures 2019 (5)

Sage’s name on McClures’ shopfront (© K. Morrison, 2019)

McClures’ Shrewsbury shop – which specialised in ladies’ wear, and especially gowns and blouses, from the outset – was the last surviving outlet of this small regional chain. It closed in 2008, following the death of the proprietor, Ken McClure, and his son and successor, Tim. In a prime retail location, just before the economy nosedived, the shop reopened as White Stuff.

McClures2000 (7) - Copy

McClures’ fascia (© K. Morrison, 1999)

McClures’ stylish fascia of marbled peach-coloured Vitrolite, with its superb lettering, may – one profoundly hopes – survive beneath the White Stuff signboard. It is a precious rarity, and a shame that is it not on view.

Phillips Stores, 16 & 17 Castle Street

To all intents and purposes, this building has the regular machine finish of mid-20th century mock-timber framing, but it is listed by Historic England as ‘Early C19th’, so presumably some old work survives. Either way, it merits its listing.

Phillips Stores 2019 (2)

Phillips Stores (© K. Morrison, 2019)

Early 20th-century photographs reveal that Plimmer’s Castle Restaurant occupied an ancient timber building which stood flush with the street-line on this site. The outline of its gable end can be seen on the building next door. This was the historic location where James Palin (or Pailin) sold Shrewsbury cakes in the late 18th century. Before Palin, a Mrs Hill ran a confectioner’s shop here. Palin was succeeded by Owen and then by Plimmer.

Phillips Stores 2019 (7)

Phillips Stores: detail of 1938 shopfront (© K. Morrison, 2019)

Plimmer traded from 1868 until 1938, when Phillips Stores Ltd took over. Phillips made alterations, designed by the local architect Harry Thurstan Richardson. Photographs of c.1960 show the building in its current form – set well back from its neighbour – with Gothic lettering on the fascia and a traditional blind box. The solid canopy, and presumably the ‘crazy paving’ threshold, was added by the next occupant, Halfords.

So, it seems safe to date the high-quality timber shopfront to 1938. The name of the shopfitter – the well-known A. Edmonds & Co Ltd. of Birmingham – is on the curvaceous door handles and window. With its array of carved pomegranates and roses, leaded and ‘bottle’ glass, and four-centred arches, the style evokes the late medieval or Tudor period, when the old building on the site was first erected.

Phillips Stores 2019 (6)

Phillips Stores: detail of doors (© K. Morrison, 2019)

All photographs copyright of author: not to be reproduced without permission.
Posted in Spotter's Guides | 1 Comment

Spotting Historic Shopfronts: Hitchin

IMG_1191 - Copy - Copy

27 Sun Street

Initial impressions suggest that Hitchin in Hertfordshire is rich in historic shopfronts. Closer inspection, however, reveals much renewal at street level, whilst more authentic evidence of Hitchin’s commercial past survives above its shops (for example, look up to spot Freeman Hardy & Willis and David Greig). Nevertheless, here are a few interesting shopfronts to look out for!

Paternoster & Hales, 27-28 Sun Street

The words ‘Printing Office’ are displayed boldly on the façade of this Georgian building, leaving its function in little doubt.

IMG_1189 - Copy - Copy.JPG

27-28 Sun Street

This was Paternoster & Hales’ printing office. The roots of the business can be traced back to Thomas Paternoster (1708-1782), a bookseller and stationer in Hitchin in the 18th century. His son Thomas (1742-1830) was probably the first occupant of 27-28 Sun Street, and the fine double-fronted shopfront was undoubtedly installed for his shop. Its flattened bow windows have curved corners and slender glazing bars.

IMG_1187 - Copy - Copy

27 Sun Street

Thomas’s son Charles (1802-1864) became a printer as well as a stationer and bookseller. He was succeeded at 27 Sun Street by his nephew, Charles Paternoster (1829-96), an ironmonger and engineer. Around 1873 Paternoster merged with Charles Hales, hitherto a stationer on Bucklersbury, creating Paternoster & Hales. The longevity of the business, well into the 20th century, ensured the survival of the shopfront.

IMG_1155 - Copy - Copy

78 Tilehouse Street

House (formerly Cooper’s), 78 Tilehouse Street

Next to ‘The Coopers Arms’ on Tilehouse Street is a butcher’s shop which was run by the Cooper family (no connection!) for over half a century. James William Cooper (1850-1933) had begun trading from here by 1881, but in the early 1900s his son Frank (1874-1954) took over.

When Cooper’s shop was converted to form part of the house, the frontage was kept. In many ways, it is typical of late 19th-century butchers’ shops, with its sash windows, ventilation grilles and rather beautiful tiled pilasters. From a description of a theft, published in the local newspaper in 1900, we know that the entrance was closed by a half-door or gate: ‘One of them [the thieves] went over to the shop, and as he entered he put his hand over the little gate and took hold of the bell and opened it without the bell ringing’.

IMG_1158 - Copy

78 Tilehouse Street

To the left of the shop is the original doorway to the house, while the vehicle entrance to the right may have led to the butcher’s outbuildings, perhaps including a slaughterhouse.

Allingham Bros., 22 Market Place

IMG_1130 - Copy - Copy

22 Market Place

This is another traditional butcher’s shop, with an external rail for hanging meat, a ventilation grille, and a marble stallriser which displays the name ‘Allingham Bros’ in cursive lettering. The central panel of the broad door is filled with shutters and would once have been open – perhaps a bit like Cooper’s entrance (see above).

IMG_1131 - Copy - Copy

22 Market Place

The history of this shop and business is well set out on Allingham’s website. In fact, Post Office directories pin down Allingham Bros’ arrival to 1926-29. The Allinghams – who farmed at Lilley – inherited an existing butcher’s shop and, apart from the new stallriser and fixed glazing, appear to have made few changes to the frontage.

IMG_1135 - Copy - Copy

26 Market Place

Millets (formerly Lipton’s), 26 Market Place

Lipton’s, who took over from Melia & Co at this address in 1909, were probably responsible for installing this shopfront.

Since Lipton’s departure it’s had a rough time. Dark paintwork covers what promise to be interesting tiles, with egg and dart borders like those used by Lipton elsewhere. Old photographs show that the name ‘Lipton’ was displayed beneath the windows and on the pilaster to the left – it may still be there! In addition, some of the tiles are clearly patterned and seem to depict Lipton’s trademark shamrocks.  Oh, the frustration!

Vodaphone (formerly W. B. Moss & Sons), 13 High Street

Until the early 1960s, these were the premises of W. B. Moss & Sons, grocers, tea dealers and general merchants.

IMG_1205 - Copy

Moss’s Corner, 13 High Street

W. B. Moss (1843-1927), the son of a Stevenage grocer and tea dealer, served his apprenticeship with the draper James Rose on Market Square, Hitchin, before setting up ‘The Bancroft Grocery and Drapery House’ in the late 1860s. The size of his household at 13 High Street in 1881 and 1891, including apprentices and assistants as well as family, is testament to his success.

IMG_1105 - Copy

13 High Street

By 1899 Moss had moved his family to ‘Westbourne’ on Bedford Road, now a care home. His sons had joined the business as partners and opened numerous branch shops – including a cluster in Yorkshire as well as shops throughout Hertfordshire – all supplied from a warehouse, tea blending department, and bacon curing factory on Portmill Lane.

The old timber-framed building at Moss’s Corner was rebuilt by the firm in the late 1890s. Although the display windows have been replaced, the very lovely buff-coloured terracotta pilasters, with mosaic panels depicting lilies, are worth an admiring glance.

Sainsbury’s Mural, Paynes Park

Hitchin possesses one of Henry and Joyce Collins’ cast-concrete murals, commissioned by Sainsbury’s for the frontage of their supermarket on Brand Street in 1972. Like other Collins’ murals – for example on Sainsbury’s in Gloucester (1970) – it illustrates themes and episodes from the history of the town, establishing a sense of place. Typically, the Hitchin panels include bright orange and blue mosaic work.

December 4 2016 (22) - Copy

Cast concrete mural from Sainsbury’s, Brand Street (now relocated to Hitchin Library)

Henry and Joyce Collins, who met at art school, were based in Colchester. From the late 1960s to the early 1980s they created murals for both Sainsbury’s and BHS. While the Sainsbury’s murals included a wheel pattern, those for BHS incorporated a basket of food.

The Hitchin panels were relocated from Sainsbury’s due to redevelopment in 2003 and moved to their present location on the façade of Hitchin Library.

Posted in Butchers' Shops, Lipton's, Spotter's Guides | Leave a comment

Spotting Historic Shopfronts: Saffron Walden

April 2019 (38) - Copy

Market Hill

Not surprisingly, the Essex market town of Saffron Walden is rich in historic shopfronts. Here is a motley selection to enjoy!

No. 1 Myddleton Place

An unrestored example of a late medieval shop can be seen on the corner of Bridge Street, tucked under the jetty of 1 Myddleton Place. The timber frames of two arched windows with decoratively carved spandrels are still legible, although both have been subjected to a complicated sequence of alteration and blocking. To the right of the windows, the narrow shop doorway has also been infilled, but can be identified by its moulded surround.

April 2019 (4) cropped

Blocked medieval shopfront, 1 Myddleton Place (Bridge Street frontage).

Although this corner shop formed part of a substantial merchant’s house – perhaps built in the early 1500s by Thomas Myddleton, who was buried in the splendid parish church – it was probably let as a lock-up shop, with the shopkeeper selling goods through the open windows.

April 2019 (67) - Copy

Restored medieval shopfront, Cross Keys Hotel.

Two similar, but restored, medieval shops can be seen closer to the town centre. One occupies the corner of the Cross Keys Hotel, at the junction of King Street and High Street. The other, now ‘The Corner Cupboard’ at 17 King Street, occupies the ground-floor cross-wing of a hall house dating from c.1500. Hints of other late medieval shops can be detected elsewhere in the town.

April 2019 (54) - Copy

Restored medieval shopfront, 17 King Street.

Talents, 13 King Street

This is a well-proportioned late Georgian shopfront: double-fronted with flattened bow windows, narrow glazing bars, and a deep fascia. It might date from the 1820s or 30s.

April 2019 (33) - Copy

Late Georgian shopfront, 13 King Street.

A photograph in the Historic England Archive, dated 1942, shows cigarette dispensers to either side of the shuttered right-hand window of the shop, which belonged to the tobacconist Simeon Aquilla Chilton. In the photograph, the name ‘Smith’ is faintly legible, though overpainted, on the fascia over the left-hand window. Census records (1881, 1891, 1901 and 1911) confirm that this was Eliza Smith’s hairdresser’s shop for many years. However, the identity of the occupant who put up this fine shopfront around 50 years earlier is not known.

Holland & Barrett (formerly John Emson’s), with Seasalt and Costa, 6 Market Square

The shop at 6 Market Square in Saffron Walden belonged, in the early 19th century, to the grocer and draper John Emson (1781-1849). Emson was ensconced here by 1810, when he advertised for a man of ‘unexceptional character’ to assist in the shop. The business occupied the entire north side of the Market Place, with a delivery entrance and wholesale department in a former malthouse to the right of the shop. A weighbridge installed in the street by Emson in 1812 was removed at the request of the Corporation in 1928 and has left no trace.

April 2019 (45) - Copy.JPG

6 Market Square.

The shopfront was updated, probably in the 1840s, with the present classical detailing. The original small squares of glazing were replaced with large panes of plate glass (which were themselves replaced in the late 20th century).

April 2019 (47) - Copy

6 Market Square

Emson served as mayor of Saffron Walden in 1834 and 1842, and the wrought-iron balcony with its tented canopy must have offered a perfect setting for delivering speeches. In 1832, the Whig politician Mr Western is known to have addressed the townspeople from Mr Emson’s balcony, over the shop windows. 

After John Emson’s death, his sons John Green (1813-1900) and Frederick (1818-93) ran the business in partnership. John Green’s son, Frank Everitt Emson (1851-1933), was the author of Our Town, or Life at Slowborough (1886), based on local characters in Saffron Walden.

The shop passed through several hands in the 20th century: Emson, Tanner & Sons; Stebbing Leverett & Son (an established Saffron Walden draper); W. Eaden Lilley (a Cambridge department store), and Beales.  After Beales closed, the shop – which had spread into the former warehouse – was subdivided into three separate retail units.

Hart & Son, printer & stationer, 18-20 King Street

Henry Hart (1801-83) set up in business in Saffron Walden in 1836 as a printer and stationer. His printing press has been preserved in Saffron Walden Museum.

April 2019 (58) - Copy

Carriage arch next to 26 King Street.

By 1851 Hart had moved his shop from Market Street to 18 King Street. The carriage arch beside the present-day Hart’s Book Shop, at 26 King Street, gave access to the printing works to the rear of Hart’s shop, and still bears their signage.

No. 18 King Street is a listed building, thought to have been built in 1633. During alterations in 1870 workmen: ‘came upon an old “Witch Bottle,” embedded about 18 inches below the floor of the shop, and about 12 inches from the fireplace.  It contained some water, about 40 horsenails, and 20 thorns. It is supposed to be 200 years old.’ A photograph of 1876 shows the large plate-glass shopfront – probably installed during the works of 1870 – occupying the entire width of the frontage. It is now divided between Clintons and Card Factory.

April 2019 (24) - Copy

18-20 King Street.

The business was retained by the Hart family until 1934, when it was sold to Edwin Turnbull. Turnbull continued to trade under the Hart name, currently Hart Business Solutions.

 Woolworth’s (now QD), 26-28 High Street

This branch of F. W. Woolworth & Co. Ltd. opened on Saffron Walden High Street on 29 June 1934, on the site of J. Wright’s garage. Woolworth’s had been building stores in medium-sized British towns for the previous 20 years, steadily colonising the country. The Saffron Walden branch was designated Store 548.

IMG_4542

26-28 High Street in the 1980s. (c. Historic England Archive)

In deference to its setting in such an historic town, Store 548 was designed in a tasteful Georgian style, with two-tone brickwork and sash windows. It avoided the modish art deco detailing favoured at this time by Woolies’ architects.

April 2019 (70) - Copy

26-28 High Street.

Today the building retains its original 1930s bronze shopfront, with neatly curved corners, of a type which was standardised across Woolworth’s estate between the wars. It has been painted bright red by the present occupant, QD. Like 1 Myddleton Place (above) it is that rare thing: an historic shopfront contemporary with the building which hosts it!

Posted in Spotter's Guides | Leave a comment

The Poland Street Garage

DP093438 - Copy

Advertisement by entrance, Poland Street Garage, now Soho Car Park. (©Historic England, 2009)

A much-altered and rather unprepossessing NCP car park at 49-53 Poland Street, just behind Oxford Street in central London, opened in March 1925 as the country’s very first staggered-floor parking garage.

The Motor Trader 25 March 1925 - Copy

From The Motor 24 July 1922

The invention of the staggered-floor (or split-level) car park – patented in the USA as the d’Humy Motoramp – was ground-breaking. Ingeniously, it comprises a building divided vertically into two blocks, the floors set at alternating levels and linked by short ramps of low gradient. After 1925 this system became hugely successful, even ubiquitous. So much so that it remains drearily familiar to 21st-century motorists – most of whom, no doubt, take it for granted and never pause to wonder how or where such a design originated.

Poland Street (37)

Possible remnants of Saint James’s Westminster Workhouse inside the Poland Street Garage (2009)

The d’Humy Motoramp was devised by the engineer Fernand Emile d’Humy (1873-1955) in 1918. Two years later, Ramp Buildings Corporation was established to issue licenses for the d’Humy Motoramp and examples were erected throughout America. The idea was adapted for the Poland Street site – previously occupied by the Saint James’s Westminster Workhouse – by the architect Walter White Gibbings (1882-1963). The builder was Sir Leslie Parkinson & Co.

The entrepreneurs behind the scheme, presumably licensed by Ramp Buildings Corporation, were the brothers and business partners Willie and George du Cros. ‘W and G’, as they were generally known, were sons of the wealthy motoring pioneer Harvey du Cros, founder of the Dunlop Rubber Company and proprietor of a major Panhard dealership in central London.

IMG_4643 - Copy

Panhard Repair Works, Acton Vale (2009)

Walter White Gibbings had trained as an architect and surveyor under Edward G. Warren of Exeter. His commissions for the du Cros family can be explained by the marriage of his sister Florence to the much older, widowed, Harvey du Cros around 1903.

Amongst Gibbings’ early projects for his new relatives was a vast Panhard Repair Works, built on the corner of Warple Road in Acton Vale in 1906-07. The single-storey repair sheds lay behind offices and a showroom. Gibbings was also responsible, with Philip Sidney Stott, for extending Dunlop’s vast manufacturing base, Fort Dunlop, at Erdington to the north-east of Birmingham, in the early 1920s, and for an extension to a parking garage on Mercer Street in central London in 1924. At Poland Street, Gibbings was probably advised by the engineers of Ramp Buildings Corporation. He didn’t need to worry about resolving the front elevation of such an unfamiliar structure since the garage was hidden in a light well behind buildings occupying the street frontage (since rebuilt).

DP093433 - Copy

Poland Street Garage, now Soho Car Park. (©Historic England, 2009)

IMG_20190215_0003

From The Motor Trader 25 March 1925

The Poland Street Garage attracted some press mentions when it opened – it was a novelty at a time when multi-storey car parks relied on expensive and space-consuming vehicle lifts.  Its six parking floors could hold 500 cars.

The motorist could choose to enter at either basement or ground level, and then follow a circular route up through the building, travelling from floor to floor via the ramps which had slightly curved ends until he or she came upon a parking space. The ramps could be closed by fire shutters and did not, therefore, need to be compartmentalised. As with other London garages of the 1920s, the Poland Street Garage provided waiting rooms and other ‘club’ facilities for chauffeurs, car washing bays, repair benches and petrol pumps. Owner-drivers could avail themselves of dressing rooms to prepare for an evening on the town.

DP093441

Poland Street Garage, now Soho Car Park. (©Historic England, 2009)

Poland Street (44) - Copy

Advertisement by entrance, Poland Street Garage, now Soho Car Park. (2009)

In 1935 four extra floors – probably anticipated at the outset – were built, with exposed rooftop parking. Improvements to paint finishes were making it feasible to expose vehicles to the elements for the first time. Rooftop parking, nevertheless, came at a discounted rate. Around 2009 these upper floors were redeveloped.

Unlike its American counterparts in the 1920s, the Poland Street Garage did not have a façade that reflected its purpose. By the end of the 1930s, however, London could boast several confident examples of staggered-floor car parks with strong architectural presence, such as the Cumberland Garage and the Olympia Garage. It was only in the very late 1950s that glazing was dispensed with for new car parks, giving these structures a truly modern appearance.

Source: K. Morrison and J, Minnis, Carscapes, Yale University Press, 2012
Posted in London Car Parks | Leave a comment

The Story of Frederick Sage & Co.

Horsham

Wakefield’s, 59 West Street, Horsham

Frederick Sage & Co. was one of Britain’s top shopfitters. The company manufactured fashionable shopfronts, fixtures and fittings from high-quality materials such as hardwood, bronze and curved glass. In addition, Sage designed and made airtight showcases for exhibitions and museums, fitted out the interiors of liners, and participated in the post-war refitting of the House of Commons.

Grantham IMG_6455 - Copy

67 High Street, Grantham

The business was founded in 1860 by a carpenter and builder from Suffolk, Frederick Sage (1831-98), in partnership with another builder, Peter Panter. They specialised in fitting speaking tubes, but a spell of bankruptcy in winter 1860-61 appears to have severed the connection between the two men. Sage eventually formed a highly successful partnership with his son, Frederick George Sage (1856-1920), and three nephews, including Jesse Hawes (1849-1927) who spearheaded the company’s expansion across the globe. A limited liability company was formed in 1905.

IMG_0704

Isobel, 223 Regent Street, London (1923)

Sage was involved in many important retail commissions in Britain, such as the great London department stores of Harrods, Dickins & Jones and D. H. Evans. When Regent Street was redeveloped in the 1920s, Sage fitted out no fewer than 28 individual shops, including Manfield’s shoe shop. The company’s branches in South Africa, Germany, France and South America were engaged in equally prestigious projects, such as Galeries Lafayette in Paris, Harrods in Buenos Aires and John Orr & Co. in Johannesburg. Over and above this, as the illustrations here show, Sage produced shopfronts and fittings for small high street shops throughout the British Isles.

IMG_0701 - Copy

Galeries Lafayette, Regent Street (1921)

Sage’s first premises were in Hatton Garden, explaining why jewellers’ shops became such a specialism of the company. In the 1870s the firm moved to Gray’s Inn Road, building new showrooms and a factory there around 1880. One of Sage’s employees was the father of David Greig, who went on to establish a successful chain of provision shops. Although Sage acquired or built additional factories over the years, the Gray’s Inn Road site remained the heart of the enterprise until it was bombed in April 1941. Sadly for shop historians, the firm’s records were entirely lost.

AR 1913

Advertisement, 1913

During both world wars Sage turned its factories to war work. In 1939-45, parts were made for Lancaster, Lincoln, Mosquito, Sunderland and Albemarle aircraft. Getting re-established as shopfitters after 1945 proved difficult due to shortages and the licencing of buildings and materials. The commission for refitting the House of Commons, including the Speaker’s Chair and Table, must have been welcomed.

Great Yarmouth Sept 2018 (106)

Baird’s, 11 Regent Street, Great Yarmouth (1903)

Sage & Co. reached the end of the road in the 1990s, following a series of takeovers: with British Electric Traction in 1968, with Brent Metal in 1989 and, finally, with Courtney Pope Holdings which was wound up in 1992. Sage was reinvented in 1996 as the Fredereck Sage Co. Ltd.

Shrewsbury 2000 (1) - Copy

McClures, 14-15 High Street, Shrewsbury, photographed in 2000

Sage shopfronts – several of them listed for their historic and architectural significance – can still be spotted on high streets up and down the country. Some – as can be seen from the photographs here – proudly display the manufacturer’s name.

Stamford2011 (19) - Copy

Walker’s, 10 High Street, Stamford

 

Shrewsbury 2000 (2) - Copy

McClures, Shrewsbury

Main Sources:
Derryck Abel, The House of Sage 1860-1960. A Century of Achievement, 1960

William Henry Beable, Romance of Great Businesses, 1926, vol II, 249-259

Regent Street 1825-1925 (souvenir album published by F. Sage & Co.)

British Newspaper Archive

Posted in Streetscape | Leave a comment

Spotting Historic Shopfronts: Great Yarmouth

Great Yarmouth Sept 2018 (105) - Copy - Copy

Baird’s, 11 Regent Street

Baird’s / Dunn’s, 10a-11 Regent Street

The Irishman James Baird (1839-1917) set up as a boot and shoe dealer in Great Yarmouth in 1862. He specialised in footwear with waterproof soles made of ‘gutta percha’ (gum harvested from tropical trees), supplied by the Scottish manufacturers R. & J. Dick. By developing a network of retail agencies throughout the country in the 1860s, Dick’s could claim to be one of the earliest multiples in this field. Baird was part of this retail revolution.

Baird’s first shop at 5 Market Row – a narrow lane leading off the Market Place – was struck by tragedy on the night of Friday 24 January 1868. The next-door property, belonging to a clothier and boot and shoe dealer named Frederick Pigg, caught fire. Not only was Pigg’s property destroyed, but his wife and two of their young children were killed. Baird’s shop was beyond repair.

Baird relocated to larger premises at 11 Regent Street, where he lived and worked until his retirement. His son James took over the business, expanding into 10a Regent Street in the 1920s, and opening branches in Norwich and Lowestoft. He was an agent for Lotus and Delta.

Great Yarmouth Sept 2018 (103) - Copy

Baird’s and Dunn’s, 11-10a Regent Street

The shopfronts of 10a-11 Regent Street are different from one another but are of equal historical interest. Together they form The Bizarre Bizarre Trading Company.

Great Yarmouth Sept 2018 (104) - Copy

Baird’s, 11 Regent Street

The deeply stylish No. 11 (on the left), with its slender mullions, art nouveau style glazing and (look up!) mirrored soffit, fronts Baird’s original shop. Installed in 1903 by the London shopfitter Frederick Sage & Co, it was praised in the local newspaper. It resembles Boots the Chemist’s early 20th-century house style, introduced at the flagship outlet on Pelham Street in Nottingham in 1903-05.

Great Yarmouth Sept 2018 (107) - Copy

Dunn’s / Baird’s, 10a Regent Street

The shopfront of No. 10a was installed by Dunn & Co., a national chain of hatters who became Baird’s neighbours shortly before the Great War. The half-timbered ‘look’ is typical of Dunn’s house style. When Baird took over he tweaked it by inserting his own initial ‘B’ into Dunn’s window spandrels – and thus bamboozling shopfront spotters of the future.

Sayers, 28 King Street

The loveliness of this ornate shopfront is disguised by its contemporary colour scheme, modern lettering, and a framework for security shutters. Nevertheless, it seems to survive in all its essential elements and must be counted amongst the best in town.

Great Yarmouth Sept 2018 (77) - Copy

Sayers, 28 King Street

This was the photographic studio – ‘St George’s Studio’ – of the artist and photographer Frank H. Sayers (1871-1952), who specialised in child photography. Perhaps Sayers had a hand in the artistic design of the shopfront, with its bravura display of cartouches, scrolls and flowing foliage ribbons in an art nouveau style. It must have been created around 1900.

GY1999 (23) - Copy

Sayers, 28 King Street, in 1999

Unfortunately, Sayers doesn’t seem to have been an astute businessman. He was a two-times bankrupt. He experienced his first failure in 1895, as a young man in Lowestoft, where he had built a new studio on London Road but depended too heavily on his father – an ice merchant – for finance. Then his business collapsed again in 1923, following two decades at 28 King Street in his home town of Great Yarmouth. He quit Yarmouth for Stratford-on-Avon in the 1930s.

Great Yarmouth Sept 2018 (79) - Copy

Sayers, 28 King Street

Until relatively recently Sayers’ shopfront had been treated sensitively by his successors, with the original lettering remaining visible on the fascia. Doubtless this lies safe beneath the modern signboard, waiting for its next reveal.

Great Yarmouth Sept 2018 (78) - Copy

Sayers, 28 King Street

Aldred & Son, 10 (formerly 56) George Street

‘Aldred’ is the most visible name in Great Yarmouth. It is emblazoned throughout the town centre on ‘for sale’ or ‘to let’ signs. The modern-day estate agency probably descends from Samuel Aldred’s auction house, established in 1857.

Many years earlier, in 1795, Samuel’s grandfather Samuel Higham Aldred (1774-1858) – whose family had been involved in the manufacture of Lowestoft china – founded a jeweller’s shop on George Street. This business was inherited by Edward R. Aldred (1809-76), who remodelled the interior of the shop in 1858. Next in line was Edward’s son Duncan A. Aldred (1841-1913), whose brothers were Samuel, the well-known auctioneer, and Charles, a five-times mayor of Great Yarmouth. Duncan’s sons Ernest and Stanley followed him into the business.

Great Yarmouth Sept 2018 (56) - Copy

Aldred & Son, 10 George Street

Around 1903 Stanley set up a branch of Aldred & Son at 172 King Street. When this site was redeveloped for the Central Arcade in 1925, he retained the unit to the left of the King Street entrance. Shortly after Stanley’s death in 1932, the venerable George Street shop shut and all business transferred to King Street.

GY1999 (39) - Copy

Victoria Arcade, King Street, in 1999

Aldred’s was much more than a typical high-street retail jeweller. Its successive owners were goldsmiths, silversmiths, watchmakers, clockmakers and opticians. The company made high-profile civic, commemorative and presentation pieces, including the Town Hall clock.

Great Yarmouth Sept 2018 (55) - Copy

Aldred & Son, 10 George Street

The old building on George Street has been transformed since the firm’s centenary in 1895, when it was described as a ‘charming old house [which] . . . still presents outwardly the beautiful work of the days when Elizabeth was Queen’. The shopfront and interior had been remodelled in 1888: the arrangement of Doric columns, and perhaps also the mosaic floor – the only outward evidence of Aldred & Son’s 140 years on the site – probably dates from that time.

Posted in Jewellers Shops, Shoe Shops, Spotter's Guides, Streetscape | Leave a comment