Decades have passed since large superstores asserted their dominance over the retail food market, yet attractive remnants of old grocery and provision chains can still be spotted on shopping streets throughout the UK. One of the most recognisable is Home & Colonial Stores: a name that evokes the heyday of the British Empire. Particularly characteristic of Home & Colonial shopfronts are transom lights (ie: the fixed glazing above the main display windows and doorways) fitted with coloured and leaded ‘bottle’ glass. In addition, more than one modern shopkeeper has made a feature of Home & Colonial’s distinctive gilded lettering, with its sharp serifs.
Home & Colonial Stores
The Home & Colonial Trading Association was founded in 1885 by the tea buyer Julius C. Drew (1856-1931) – who later commissioned Sir Edwin Lutyens to design Castle Drogo in Devon – and his business partner, the grocer John Musker (1846-1926), who made his home at Shadwell Park, Norfolk, in 1898. The headquarters and main shop were at 268 Edgware Road, London. Within three years the company comprised four large ‘stores’ – Edgware Road, Islington, Birmingham and Leeds – selling a wide range of groceries and provisions, and nine smaller ‘tea shops’ which concentrated on groceries, especially tea. The ‘tea shops’ set the template for the future.
In order to finance the development of a national chain of ‘stores’ and ‘tea shops’, Home & Colonial Stores was incorporated in March 1888. The company was steered by William Capel Slaughter (of the City solicitors Slaughter & May, married into the Drew family), who served as Chairman until his death in 1917. Expansion was astonishingly rapid. By the end of 1889 there were 53 branches. In the following year new headquarters were taken on Paul Street, Finsbury, London. There were 237 branches (all leasehold) in 1895, 320 in 1897 and 500 in 1903.
As well as tea, coffee and sugar, Home & Colonial shops became popular for their imported butter and margarine. Around 1906 some branches in the north of England were opened as provision (or dairy) shops, with tea being the only ‘grocery’ article on sale, but the general trend was towards diversification of merchandise, including confectionery and tinned goods. Window display was standardised, with branch managers following instructions issued from the head office in London.
The general format of Home & Colonial shopfronts was established in 1888. It was probably devised by Robert Willey (1835-1918) who – as Zachary Osborne recently discovered whilst researching Home & Colonial for an academic thesis – was retained as the company’s architect. Willey had a private practice and was also surveyor to the Hand-in-Hand Insurance Co. (later Commercial Union), whose address he shared. The shopfront designed by Willey for Home & Colonial had great longevity, enduring into the mid-20th century. As well as the bottle-glass transom lights and gilded lettering mentioned above, these shopfronts featured brass sills (stall plates) engraved with the legend ‘Home and Colonial Tea Stores’. Beneath this, the stall risers were clad in ox-blood tiles. Windows generally held fixed glazing rather than sashes, befitting Home & Colonial’s emphasis on groceries rather than provisions. To the sides, the pilasters were extremely narrow.
Further information about Home & Colonial shops of this period is available thanks to legal proceedings initiated in 1898 against the World’s Tea Company, which was accused of deliberately imitating Home & Colonial’s shopfitting and displays: ‘The fascia in each case was much the same in appearance, although, of course, each company put in its own name. Below this in each case a portion of the window was in cathedral glass or lead-lights’. Inside the counters were in similar positions: ‘In each case a [gas] pipe ran over the counter and carried lamps with glasses of a similar shape. In each case, also, there were labels on the walls with the statement “This is the – (cheese, or as the case might be) department”.’ The defendant agreed to make specific alterations to its shops, including, apparently, an undertaking not to lay black and white chequered tile floors.
Between the two world wars, Home & Colonial Stores expanded by purchasing three of its main competitors – the struggling Maypole Dairy Co. in 1924, the more prosperous Meadow Dairy Co. in 1929 and the thriving Lipton’s in 1931. It was already associated with Lipton’s through Allied Suppliers, a buying group formed in 1929. In 1960 the holding company, Home and Colonial Stores Co. Ltd., changed its name to Allied Suppliers Ltd, but the subsidiary retail chains (including Lipton’s and Maypole as well as Home & Colonial) retained their original names. Allied Suppliers was bought out by Sir James Goldsmith’s Cavenham Foods in 1972. Within three years the Home & Colonial shops – which had been depleted in the course of the 1960s – had been sold or rebranded.
Given the passage of over 40 years it is perhaps surprising that so many Home & Colonial shopfronts have survived – albeit in a fragmentary condition. Sadly, no shop interiors exist . . . unless you know otherwise?