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Stumbling across the wonderful Star Supply Stores on Lowestoft’s historical High Street – now Raphael Crafts – prompted a bit of research into this retail business. Star was one of many chains of grocers and provision dealers that thrived in English towns during the late 19th and early-to-mid 20th centuries.
Indeed, the chain which eventually became Star Supply Stores was one of the first national multiples to be established in England. It was at the cutting edge of a retail revolution. Despite this – unlike comparable chains such as Lipton’s or David Greig’s – its story is not particularly well known.
Star Supply Stores had its roots in the Star Tea Company, founded in Manchester around 1873 by Joseph Cadman (1820-1897) and James Fish (1836-1913). Cadman, the principal partner, was a successful grocer and tea merchant based on Downing Street in Manchester. Fish lived in nearby Chorlton and worked as a commercial traveller in the tea trade. It is easy to imagine how these men brought their two sets of skills together to create the Star Tea Company, selling tea bought in bulk for cash (‘ready money’) through several outlets – the new method of so-called ‘multiple’ retailing.
In the late 1870s Cadman moved his family and business to Derby. By the time Fish retired in 1888, and the partnership was dissolved, they had amassed an impressive portfolio of retail businesses (listed in the Western Daily Press, 4 January 1888, 8). Most of their shops – of which there were over 40 throughout England – traded as ‘The Star Tea Company’. Other were:
- The Gresham Café, Star Medicine Stores and The Star Provision Stores, Stafford
- The Gresham Café and Parrot Inn, Gloucester
- The Star Medicine Stores, Burton-on-Trent
- The Star Medicine Stores and Carfax Cigar Stores, Oxford
Because several unrelated companies had similar, or identical, names in the mid-19th century, it is difficult to discover just when Cadman and Fish opened their first branch shops. In the mid-1870s, however, they claimed to have between 30 and 40 branches of the Star Tea Company, with three ‘head establishments’ – at 271 Walworth Road, London, 17 Wheeler Gate, Nottingham (which opened in 1875), and 75 Downing Street, Manchester (where Cadman had his own shop in 1861 and 1871). Even if they exaggerated, they certainly had over 20 branches by 1877.
The first shop to adopt the name ‘Star Supply Stores’ appears to have been the branch at 5 Queen Street, Oxford, in 1887. After Star became a limited liability company in 1892, however, this name supplanted that of the Star Tea Company on fascias across the chain.
Big changes followed Fish’s retirement. First of all, Cadman’s colourful son-in-law joined the firm. This was the dashing Australian cricketer Frederick R. Spofforth (1855-1926) who, in his heyday, was known as ‘the demon bowler’. Spofforth had married Cadman’s daughter in 1886. They lived in Australia for two years before returning to England in 1888 and, eventually, settling in Surrey. Spofforth became a regional director, then chairman and managing director of Star.
In 1890 Cadman retired to Brighton, leaving the business in Spofforth’s hands. He sold his home, shop and stores in Derby. This considerable property included a house called ‘The Cedars’ in Breadsall, a shop at 182 Normanton Road, together with commercial premises bounded by Haarlem Street, Waterloo Street and Britannia Street in Derby with ‘ . . . the extensive Mill Premises, Warehouses, Stores, Engine Sheds, Yards, Dwelling-house and appurtenances . . .’ (Derbyshire Advertiser & Journal, 12 December 1890, 1). Today this site is covered by a major traffic interchange – even the street names have been eliminated. Cadman enjoyed a short retirement in Brighton before dying in 1897. He left a colossal fortune of £95,000.
Star’s headquarters moved to purpose-built offices and warehouses at 292-314 Old Street in the City of London. By 1908, the chain comprised over 200 shops.
In 1922 the Star Tea Company, with 321 shops, acquired control of Ridgeways Ltd., a London-based tea importer and dealer founded in 1836. The two companies had been closely associated for some time. In 1928-29, however, the Star Tea Company (with Ridgeways) was taken over by the International Tea Company, a similar business founded in 1878. International had manufacturing capacity – something never developed by Star. After 1929 many Star outlets were rebranded, refurbished or redecorated.
The Star Supply Stores name endured until around 1972, when the International Stores Group was taken over by British American Tobacco. Surviving shops were later renamed Gateway, and subsequently Somerfield.
Star Supply Stores had very smart shopfronts – very like those of the International Tea Company – topped by large facscias brandishing the name in brilliant-cut gilt lettering covered by glass. To one side of the entrance was a sash window, and to the other fixed glazing. This was the pattern adopted by other multiples in the same trade, such as David Grieg’s or Lipton’s.
Very few Star Supply Stores shopfronts are known to survive – Lowestoft is rare – and those recorded in old photographs suggest that there was no hard-and-fast house style. However, the company regularly installed brass stall plates engraved with the Star name. Some transom lights held glass etched with a star (something to look out for!) and occasionally a star-shaped hanging sign projected from the frontage. The name was repeated on an opaque lamp shade over the entrance lobbies – the hook for this can still be seen at Lowestoft.
Ghost signs are another reminder of Star Supply Stores. One on Hall Croft in Shepshed, still reads: ‘Star Supply Stores. The Money Saving Grocers’.
Wednesday 1st June
I had a letter from Robert.
Thursday 2nd June
The fishing very light. Not much doing.
Friday 3rd June
Pretty busy today. A light fishing.
Saturday 4th June
A light fishing. I was very busy today. I received the goods from Wilson & Matheson.
Sunday 5th June
In the morning Mr McNeil preached from the 16th chapter of Romans 25th & 26th verses Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ according to the revelation of the Mystery which was kept secret since the world began but now is made manifest and by the scriptures of the prophets according to the commandment of the everlasting God made known to all nations for the obedience of faith. In the evening he preached from the 24th verse of the 17th chapter of John Father I will that they also whom thou hast given me be with me where I am that they may behold my glory which thou hast given me for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the work.
Monday 6th June
For the rest of the month I did not take any notes being kept so very busy. There was a very heavy fishing about the middle of the month. On the 10th John McKenzie got ill which was a great disappointment to me having none but myself and so much doing. I wrote for Robert. He came by the “Vanguard” on the 23rd and I had very much need of him. The fishermen commenced at this time to settle their accounts before leaving. I drew in June £245-3-6.
It is intriguing to imagine how the Hebridean town of Stornoway would have looked in the 1860s, when Charles Morrison was writing his diary.
The Lews Hotel, located close to Macdonald & Morrison’s shop on North Beach Street, was Stornoway’s principal inn at this time. It was built in 1829 by a local couple, Captain John Mackenzie and his wife Agnes Murray Reid. This was recorded on a date stone, set in the centre of the main frontage.
Construction probably involved heightening an existing building which resembled the properties standing to the right of the hotel. Any untidy conjunction of old and new would have been masked by a coating of render, incised with lines to imitate masonry. Few buildings in the vicinity rose to three storeys in height and the new hotel must have dominated the waterfront.
Unfortunately, Captain John Mackenzie died a year after completing the hotel, in 1830, followed by Agnes in 1845. Nevertheless, the building continued to be owned by their descendants for many years to come.
The hotel is probably the establishment named ‘McKenzie’s Inn, Stornoway’ in a newspaper of 1831 (Aris’s Birmingham Gazette, 31 January 1831, 4). It may have been renamed ‘Lews Hotel’ in 1845, when Sir James Matheson was first welcomed to the island with a dinner in the Mason’s Hall catered by ‘Mrs Macleay, of the Lews Hotel’ (Inverness Courier, 3 September 1845, 5).
Charles Morrison’s landlady at 7 North Beach, Miss Betsy Macdonald, was Agnes Reid’s niece. As such, she must have enjoyed a close relationship with the cousins who owned the Lews Hotel. The hotel itself, however, was leased to a succession of proprietors, such as the aforementioned Mrs Macleay (or ‘McLea’). By 1848 it was run by Messrs Campbell & Hart (Ordnance Survey Name Book OS1/27/72/17). Campbell – one Neil Campbell from Argyllshire – later became a baker in Govan.
In 1863-64, when Charles Morrison’s diary was written, the hotel was kept by James Mackenzie from Contin. Upon his death in 1866, his furniture and other effects were sold and the hotel was let by Mrs Daniel Lewis Mackenzie (1827-1912; John and Agnes’s widowed daughter-in-law) to Lachlan Ross from Skye. On the evening of 25 September 1863 Charles Morrison noted that he paid a visit to ‘Mrs D. L. Mackenzie’, who lived at 5 South Beach, seemingly the site of the Caledonian Hotel.
In 1870 Ross left Stornoway to take charge of the Royal Hotel in Portree. The Lews Hotel was once more advertised to let. It included two public rooms, a bar, nine bedrooms, stables and a coach-house. It also boasted gas, water and a W. C. (Inverness Courier, 21 April 1870, 4). The incoming proprietor was Allan Clark (d.1879), followed by Alexander F. Macdougall (d.1893). Part of the building, however, seems to have housed a shop: a grocer’s or spirit-dealer’s premises which may originally have been rented by the Mrs Macleay mentioned above.
Until the Posting Department was wound up by Macdougall in 1885, the following horses were stabled behind the hotel: Ben, Gipp, Wilkie, Bebbie, Monarch, Jeanie, Dick and Nors (Inverness Courier, 19 December 1885, 1). Sold with them were several vehicles: a ‘break’ capable of carrying 14 people, two large ‘wagonnettes’, one small ‘wagonette’, a covered phaeton, two dog carts and a cart.
The Lewis Hotel was listed Category B in 1971. Despite this, between 1999 and 2017 the wooden (hornless, four-pane) sash windows were replaced with UPVC, new dormers were added, and the stables to the rear were demolished.
Sunday 15th May
In the morning Mr McNeil preached from the 3rd chapter of Acts from the 1st to the 11th verse. In the evening he preached from Ephesians 2nd chapter 5th verse Even when we were dead in sins hath quickened us together with Christ by grace ye are saved. In the afternoon I was in the Sabbath School.
Monday 16th May
I got settlement from Angus for the goods after deducting liabilities £99-11-6, and signed the dissolution of partnership. I was getting shelving into the shop. A number of the fishing boats arrived. I took John Mckenzie with me.
[Note: The dissolution of the partnership was reported in Perry’s Gazette as follows:
Scotch Partnerships Dissolved
Gazette – May 20, 1864
McDONALD Angus, jun. and Charles Morrison, merchants, Stornoway, 4th May. Debts by A. McDonald jun.]
Tuesday 17th May
I was going about seeing a number of the fishermen.
Wednesday 18th May
Not much doing. Robert Gerrie arrived from London. A great number of passengers came by the “Vanguard”. Mr A Malcolm fisherman came. I changed my room in Mr Pope’s.
[Note: Charles had moved from Miss McDonald’s on North Beach to Mr Pope’s in January 1864].
Thursday 19th May
I wrote Father. I was doing a little today. I got the counter into the shop.
Friday 20th May
The boats went out to night I had tea in Goathill. There was a concert in the Mason Hall tonight.
[Note: the Stornoway herring fishing season started on this day, as set by an Act of Parliament and closely observed by H. M. Jackal.]
Saturday 21st May
There was a pretty good fishing today for the commencement and the quality of fish very good. I was doing a little today.
Sunday 22nd May
In the morning Mr McNeil preached from the 5th chapter of Romans 1st & 2nd verses Therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God through our lord Jesus Christ by whom also we have access by faith unto this grace where in we stand and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. In the evening he delivered a most excellent sermon from the 2nd chapter of Hebrews 3rd verse How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation. Mr Paterson preached on the 8th from the same text and had the same heads. In the afternoon there was a prayer meeting and Sabbath School. The Church today was crowded.
Monday 23rd May
Received a lot of goods and did a little business. I had a letter from George Phillips.
Tuesday 24th May
A pretty good fishing.
Wednesday 25th May
A middling fishing. I had a letter from Robert, he says that Mr McKay is dead. I received meal from Aberdeen.
Thursday 26th May
A light fishing. I have done very little business today.
Friday 27th May
A fair fishing. Very little doing.
Saturday 28th May
A fair fishing. The S.S. “Best Bower” left for Stettin with 2500 barrels of herring. I had a letter from Robert. I was greatly disappointed at Wilson & Matheson not sending me the goods ordered from them. I was pretty busy today.
[Note: Wilson & Matheson were Glasgow warehousemen who supplied waterproofs (‘oiled coats, leggins, South-Westerns’), rubber boots, and other items which Charles would have sold to the fishermen who swelled the population of Stornoway during the herring season. It was probably vital for merchants to have a good stock of equipment at the start of the fishing.]
Sunday 29th May
In the morning Mr McNeil preached from the 5th chapter of Romans 3 & 4th verses And not only so but we glory in tribulations also knowing that tribulations worketh patience and patience experience and experience hope. In the evening he preached from the 1st verse of the 63rd Psalm O God thou art my God early will I seek thee my soul thirsteth for thee my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land where no water is. In the afternoon Mr Laing from Wick preached from the 43rd verse of the 23 chapter of Luke And Jesus said unto him Verily I say unto thee Today shalt thou be with me in paradise. In the evening I had a walk down to the bank along with Robert & Christina Gerrie & Miss Smith.
Monday 30th May
A heavy fall of snow, the boats could not go out.
Tuesday 31st May
Very stormy and rained all day the boats did not go out. Mr Malcolm &c & party went to Callenish. The sum I drew since I came down is £29-14-6.
The multiple jeweller H. Samuel has been around for at least 140 years, and has always made extravagant claims, from ‘The Empire’s Largest Jeweller’ to ‘Britain’s Largest Jeweller’. This last boast possibly remains true today.
Like most jewellers, H. Samuel generally set up shop in existing buildings. But from the mid-1950s until the 1970s it erected a number of purpose-built premises in a robustly modern style, with deep lobbied shopfronts lined by display windows. Some attractive period details survived into the 21st century, but these are vanishing fast.
The Samuel family background is fascinating and, at times, mysterious. ‘H. Samuel’ – sometimes referred to as ‘Mr’ in Victorian newspapers – was, in fact, Mrs Harriet Samuel (1835-1908).
Harriet was born in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, where her German father, Shriener Wolf was a ‘curiosity dealer’ and her mother Matilda a ‘jeweller’. By 1851 the family had relocated to Manchester (Census 1851), but around 1854 they moved on to Liverpool, where Shriener died in 1859, followed by Matilda – who had remarried – in 1869. Contrary to many published accounts, Shriener was NOT the first mayor of Kimberley, the diamond-mining town in South Africa; this honour instead fell to his son, Aaron Wolf (1833-82).
In Liverpool, Harriet and her sister Rachel married brothers, Walter and Henry Samuel, who ran separate businesses as wholesale watch and clock manufacturers close to one another on Paradise Street in the city centre. Their sister Emma married a third Samuel brother, Alfred, who ran ‘Samuel’s National Watch and Clock Depot’ on Manchester Street.
It seems astonishing that these three sisters should marry three brothers, all of whom specialised in timepieces, following in the footsteps of their father Moses and (more successful) uncle Louis. In fact, Moses and Louis had themselves, many years before, married sisters. The Samuel family was evidently not as close-knit as all of this inter-marriage might suggest, for in 1861 the three brothers were arrested and fined for fighting one another in the street (Liverpool Daily Post, 16 February 1861, 7)
In 1960-61 H. Samuel celebrated the centenary of opening its first shop in Manchester (The Times, 19 July 1961, 18) – but documents suggest that this was slightly premature. A hundred years earlier, in 1860-61, Harriet’s husband Walter was in business at 20 Paradise Street. A year later, in March 1862, he purchased the business of his brother Henry Samuel at 10 Paradise Street (Liverpool Mercury, 31 March 1862, 8). Henry had decided to move with his family to London, while Walter intended to ‘carry on this same business but in a far more extensive manner, embracing a large quantity of every description of watches, clocks and jewellery’. Walter’s former premises at 20 Paradise Street were vacated and advertised to let.
However, things did not pan out as expected for Walter, who became seriously ill. In spring 1863 his entire stock was disposed of at auction and A. White took over the shop at 10 Paradise Street (Liverpool Mail, 25 April 1863, 8; Liverpool Mercury, 30 April 1863, 2). On 3 December 1863, Walter died. When the will was proved in January 1864, Harriet was staying with her sister Rachel (Henry’s wife, also a jeweller) at 49 Strand, London. By 1871, however, she had returned to Liverpool and was living at 93 Church Street (near the corner of Ranelagh Street – a prime commercial location). Harriet was described in the Census of that year as ‘jeweller’, but it is not known whether she had already established her own business.
By 1876, Harriet Samuel had moved to the ‘Lever Watch Factory’, 97 Market Street, Manchester – selling by mail order as well as from the premises. In the Census of 1881 Harriet was described as ‘watchmaker’ and her son Edgar as ‘jeweller’. Edgar opened a branch in Preston in 1890. This was followed by shops in Rochdale, Bolton and Leicester. The growing chain improved its national coverage in 1908, with the acquisition of Saqui & Lawrence, who had shops in the London area. A few years later the firm moved its headquarters to Hunters Road in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter: a new factory was built in 1913 and extended in 1937. Both Saqui & Lawrence Ltd. and H. Samuel Ltd. were incorporated as private limited companies in 1917.
During the Second World War 49 H. Samuel shops closed, including 25 destroyed or damaged by bombing. Although H. Samuel floated on the stock exchange in 1948, the family – Harriet’s grandsons – retained control. At that time, 104 H. Samuel shops were trading, but the company owned 137 premises: 38 freehold and 99 on long leases. Quite a few war-damaged shops had not yet been repaired.
By 1954, when building licences were lifted, there were 146 H. Samuel shops in Britain. One of the first significant new buildings to be erected by the firm was Ranelagh House, 41-43 Ranelagh Street, Liverpool – very close to the site where Harriet Samuel lived in 1871 (see above). This modern building, completed in 1954, occupied a corner site and, therefore, had two principal elevations. Each had a curtain-wall panel within a pale stone frame, probably of Portland stone, with horizontal bands of windows separated by bands of green (Westmorland) slate tiles. In the fashion of the 1950s, the shop was separated from this upper elevation by a solid projecting canopy with curved edges. McDonald’s now occupies the premises.
Ranelagh House seems to have set the template for new H. Samuel shops over the next couple of decades. In 1960 the company rebuilt the main Manchester store (at 103-105 Market Street, ‘next to the one occupied one hundred years ago’); this was later subsumed by the Arndale Centre. New H. Samuel shops were narrower than stores generally built by multiple retailers, and although different materials were used from place to place, the use of horizontal windows and a generic shopfront established a distinctive H. Samuel ‘look’. The branch on Church Street in Liverpool (next door to the first Woolworth’s store in the UK; now Kurt Geiger) was uncompromisingly Brutalist in style.
H. Samuel made a number of acquisitions in the late 20th century, including the James Walker chain in 1984. It merged with Ratners 1986, though the Ratners name vanished after Gerald Ratner’s famous gaffe in 1991: ‘People say “How can you sell this for such a low price?” I say “Because it’s total crap”’. Subsequently, many Ratners shops were rebranded as H. Samuel. Today H. Samuel, with 300 shops, is part of the Signet Group, which also owns Ernest Jones and Leslie Davis.
It is rather sad, but inevitable, to see the 1960s styling of H. Samuel’s shops gradually vanish. The blocky red ‘Egyptian’ style lettering, the mosaic tiles, the deep lobbies with their striped pink terrazzo floors, the projecting clocks – a deeply familiar house style that enjoyed great longevity on the British high street.
Sunday 1st May
In the morning Mr Paterson preached from the 3rd chapter of 1st John 2nd verse Beloved now are we the Sons of God and it doth not yet appear what we shall be but we know that when he shall appear we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is. He shewed 1st the believers present state 2nd their future prospects. In the evening he preached from the 3rd chapter of John 14th & 15th verses And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness even so must the son of Man be lifted up that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have eternal life. In the afternoon I was teaching Mr Russell’s class in the Sabbath School.
Monday 2nd May
Angus & I did not come to any terms and I feel very uneasy.
Tuesday 3rd May
I was asking advice of Mr John Ross Sheriff Clerk about our dispute. Angus wrote me a letter but we could not come to an agreement about the book debts. I was at tea in Mr Russell’s. Mr & Mrs Cockburn Misses Gerrie, Addison & McIver were there. We spent a very pleasant evening. I went home with Christina.
Wednesday 4th May
We began to take stock at 6am. I had a letter from Lexy. I wrote Lexy and Robert. I got my hat case from Mr Fair. The first trip of the “Staffa”.
[Note: The Staffa sailed from Glasgow on 2 May and noon. It stopped at Oban, Tobermory, Portree, Stornoway and at other ports on request. Other steamers plying this route twice a week were the Clansman and the Clydesdale.]
Thursday 5th May
Busy all day taking stock.
Friday 6th May
Do Do Do
Saturday 7th May
Finished taking stock in shop at 9am in stores at ½ past 3. I had a tract from J Buck Liverpool of his services on board the “Morning Light” before she sailed. She sailed out of the River on Sunday 24th April.
Sunday 8th May
In the morning Mr Paterson preached from the 53rd chapter of Isaiah the 10th, 11th & 12th verses. In the evening from the 2nd chapter of Hebrews 3rd verse 1st clause How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation 1st he shewed how it was a great the salvation 2nd how it was a great salvation 3rd the neglecting of it & 4th the consequences of neglecting of it. In the afternoon I was in the Sabbath School.
Monday 9th May
I was busy adding up the stock book. I wrote for some goods. I saw Christina.
Tuesday 10th May
I finished the stock book. I was looking at the Market place for a shop. I had a walk up the Glen.
Wednesday 11th May
Busy taking a copy of the book debts and at night Angus and I had some sharp words as to the dissolving of the Copartnery
Thursday 12th May
I got my share of money in Bank which was £134-4-3 which is a great deal indeed. We have done a very good business for so short a time. I thought we would have settled for the goods part today but we have not been able. The first trip of the “Vanguard” from Leith.
[Note: The first trip of the Vanguard signalled preparations for the start of the Stornoway herring fishing season (actually 20 May). Newspaper reports state that the Vanguard carried 2000 barrels and a large number of passengers. These included fishcurers, coopers and female workers, many picked up at Wick, Thurso or Orkney. These people swelled the population of Stornway for the duration of the season.]
Friday 13th May
Not doing much. I was looking shelving &c for the shop.
Saturday 14th May
The “Clansman” in at 3.30 a.m. I had a letter from Robert. I received my first lot of goods but got no shelving or counter into the shop.