The Legacy of J. Hepworth & Son


Hepworth’s lobby floor, Penrith

For a full century, between 1884 and 1985, Hepworth’s was a thriving national chain of men’s tailoring shops, specialising in ready-made and made-to-measure suits. Rivals in the same field were Montague Burton, Henry Price The Fifty Shilling Tailor (later John Collier), Alexandre the Tailor, Jackson the Tailor and Horne Brothers.

Hepworth’s shops were converted to the Next format in 1982-85. The premises had never been quite as striking visually as Burton’s – the company did not construct so many complete buildings and did not engage in such all-encompassing shopfitting – yet traces of Hepworth’s can still be spotted on the high street.


Hepworth’s, Penrith

Hepworth’s was founded by Joseph Hepworth (1834-1911), the son of a ‘cloth dresser’ from Lindley near Huddersfield. Joseph followed in his father’s footsteps while he was still a schoolboy, becoming a part-time woollen cloth dresser at a local mill. Because he had to start work at an early age, Joseph always felt that his education was neglected. He compensated for this, however, with business nous.

Joseph married a local girl, Sarah Rhodes, in 1855. Six years later he was living in his mother-in-law’s house and working as a ‘teazel setter and woollen draper’, probably at George Walker’s Wellington Mill in Huddersfield. Teasels were used to brush the surface of the woven cloth, to raise the nap. In 1864 Joseph and his brother-in-law, James Rhodes, entered business together as ‘Juvenile Clothing Manufacturers’ in Scarborough Buildings, Bishopgate Street, Leeds. Although this partnership was dissolved in 1867, Joseph continued to specialise in the manufacture and wholesaling of juvenile clothing, employing 2 men and 20 women in 1871.


Hepworth’s, Blandford Forum

In 1878 Norris Rhodes Hepworth (1857-1914) became a partner in his father’s business, which was known thenceforth as Joseph Hepworth & Son. By 1881 the firm gave employment to 272 hands: they used outworkers as well as employing machinists in the factory at 25 Wellington Street, Leeds.

Shortly after this, on Norris Hepworth’s initiative, the firm adopted a new strategy. It cut out the middleman. Instead of continuing to act as a producer and wholesaler that supplied the trade, Hepworth’s began to retail direct to customers, not just in Britain but also in the Colonies. The decision was taken to open shops in ‘all important towns’ as rapidly as possible, rather than to build up a chain gradually. Amongst the first retail branches, which opened in 1884, were South Shields, Middlesbrough, Birmingham, Derby and Aberdeen. A year later there were 53 shops, promoted as ‘The World’s Clothiers’ or ‘the Great XL’ (seemingly a pun on ‘excel’). When the Wellington Street showrooms were extended in 1885, the basement was lit in the most modern fashion, by electricity.

In 1891, with 81 shops, Hepworth’s became a limited liability company with capital of £360,000 (Leeds Times, 14 November 1891, 4). This followed the opening of a large new factory, the Providence Works on Claypit Lane (Leeds Times, 17 January 1891, 8), designed by the London architect H. A. Cheers. Unfortunately, it had to be rebuilt after a fire just four years later, in 1895. By the eve of the Great War, Joseph Hepworth & Son was probably the largest clothing manufacturer and retailer in the country, a position usurped by Montague Burton in the early 1920s.


Hepworth’s Arcade, Hull

Fragments of several Hepworth’s shopfronts have survived, as does their painted sign in Hepworth’s Arcade on Silver Street in Hull. This L-shaped shopping development was designed by the architects Gelder & Kitchin specifically for Hepworth’s, who relocated there in 1894. In the mid-20th century Hepworth’s shops were characterised by deep entrance lobbies (maximising window display area), low stall risers of pearl granite (bringing the clothing to the same level as window shoppers) and deep fascias (signboards) with large lettering reading, simply, ‘HEPWORTHS’.


Hepworth’s Arcade, Hull

Hepworth’s changed its image in 1961, becoming closely associated with Hardy Amies, the Queen’s dressmaker. It opened shops named ‘The Hardy Amies Tailoring Shop’ within several Debenham Group department stores, such as Woollands of Knightsbridge, Pauldens of Sheffield and Plummer Roddis of Southampton. A new production centre opened at Ashington. Expansion remained strong throughout the 1960s, with 13 new shops opened and another 19 planned in 1966 alone.

IMG_20170815_0001 - Copy

Hepworth’s, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis: 1954 advertisement


Hepworth’s, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis

Hepworth’s set off in a different direction in the 1980s. This began when the designer and retailer Terence Conran, then associated principally with Habitat, was brought in as Chairman. Hepworth’s sales were lacklustre in 1981, when the company bought the womenswear chain Kendall & Sons of Leicester, with 79 shops, and used this as a springboard for a new chain of women’s shops called Next. George Davies was brought in to nurture this development. The first Next opened in 1982, followed by Next for Men in 1984, and the chain was augmented by the acquisition of Lord John shops in 1985.

Next proved so phenomenally successful that Hepworth’s name was eradicated from the high street by the end of 1985, absorbed by the new brand.

Next Oxford St c.2000.jpg

Next, Oxford Street, London, 1998

The Hepworth archive 1895-1967 is kept at the West Yorkshire Archive Service, Leeds.
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25 Responses to The Legacy of J. Hepworth & Son

  1. Joe Hepworth says:

    Well researched. Thank you for this. He was my great grandfather and I am very proud of him.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Judith Bulger says:

      Are you the son of Joe and Mary Hepworth? I am the daughter if Anne Norton, the company secretary for many years


      • Joe Hepworth says:

        Yes! Anne was much respected by the Hepworth’s board and very much by my father, Joe.


      • Paul Cassidy says:

        I worked in the Estates department of Hepworths which was adjacent to your mothers department
        From leaving school in 1965. She helped me a great deal as did one of her staff Tom Thorpe.


    • Judith Bulger says:

      Are you the son of Joe and Mary Hepworth? I am the daughter of Anne Norton, the company secretary for many years


    • Ri says:

      Are you his great grandfather?!
      I respect Joseph Hepworth!!
      I’m glad to see you.
      Are his parents British?
      What is his pedigree?


  2. James Hepworth says:

    Hi Joe – my Grandmother was Isobel Hepworth and live with her sister Edith Hepworth. I know she was from a mill owning family – any relation?


    • Joe Hepworth says:

      My aunt was also Isobel who married (and divorced) Dunlop of Dunlop and Rankin. Her father was Joe Hepworth of solicitors Hepworth and Chadwick, son of Joseph Hepworth the Tailor and founder of Hepworths and a none drinker!


  3. alan hepworth says:

    hello my name is alan Hepworth , I did connect joseph founder of hepworths the tailors ,to my family in emley, but have sadley mislaid my research, any help would be appreciated thanks


  4. James Cawson says:

    My great-grandfather was James Hepworth. The family always said his father was called Adai Hepworth. I think there was a connection to Batley. Any family connection?


  5. lampgenii says:

    Was this the same Joseph Hepworth who became the Lord Mayor of Leeds?


  6. As says:

    Hi there…
    So interesting reading about your family history…and how big a part of British fashion history they were.
    I was actually reading, and looking forward to finding some mention of a huge influencer and my Mentor, as well as Mentor to so many recognisable Designer names in British Fashion,
    Mr David Jones, who was involved in the creation of Next, alongside Mr Conran and Mr Davies.
    Just a touch disappointed that he wasn’t mentioned…
    But really enjoyable to read about days gone by…
    Best Wishes,


    • Paul Cassidy says:

      David Jones wasn’t involved in the creation of Next. He led the team who saved it from collapsing. The rest is a history of success thanks to that team and him.


  7. alan joiner says:



  8. Kevin Moroney says:

    Like a lot of kids interested in a career in selling after leaving school in 1973 I joined Hepworths Luton . What a fantastic system they had for bringing on young lads and teaching them sales techniques . We used to go on training courses to Leeds in claypit Lane . They were run by a chap called Arthur Hadrick , he was a major influence in my career . Our Manager Don Faulkner was one of the best salesman I have ever had the privelage to work for . I left Hepworths in 1979 and became a sales rep needless to say the Hepworths training put me miles ahead of other salesman in the trade I was in . I owe a great deal to Hepworths and miss some of the great characters that worked in the Luton branch .


    • alan joiner says:

      I joined in July 1972 and was made redundant when all shops closed 84/85, was Branch Manager Kirkwall and Peterhead and your comments reminded me of the Cadet Star System that was in place and I also attended regular training in Leeds and when you mentioned Arthur Hadrick memories came flooding back, thanks for your comments, Alan Joiner.


    • Bob Allott says:

      I worked in the Leeds New Market St shop, my manager was Don Faulkner, great guy.The staff were disappointed when he moved back down to Luton. There are quite a few ex-Heppy’s staff that benefited from the Hepworth training.


  9. Philip Allen says:

    My Mum had a friend called Lillian who married Norman Shuttleworth who eventually became CEO of Hepworths. She told me that the ‘Worth’ in Shuttleworth was the ‘Worth’ in Hepworths which was of course complete rubbish. I remember my parents visiting the Shuttleworths at their home and my father coming home with several new suits. Apparently Norman would be given a sample suit every time the company manufactured a new style and was happy to give them away!


  10. Joe Hepworth says:

    I like the ‘worth’ story! Norman was very good for Hepworths. Smart, intelligent and very likeable he was perfect for the business.


    • Lawrence Webster says:

      Hi Joe
      I believe that I am related to the Hepworths. My grandfather was Hubert Atack Hepworth and I have Norris as one of my first names. I have a lovely gold embrosed book addressed to Norris Hepworth from his employees on the occasion of the opening of the factory in Claypit Lane in Leeds. It is signed by a number of the employees including Alfred Hepworth


      • Joe Hepworth says:

        We are lucky to have this channel! As you will know it was Norris, Joe’s (let’s call him Joe the First!) son, who really established the business.(Was Norris a great grandfather?) There are so many to characters in this story! One of them, my father’s uncle, and his favourite was fond of cards but not successful with them so his father put him on a boat to Australia. Onboard he ran up some severe debts so when they arrived in Australia the Captain contacted his father. “Keep him,” he said. “Funds are on the way.” These cleared, he set off to discover Aus with an ice cream cart and was never heard of again. Which was a pity as later one of Joe 1st sister’s died and she left him a great deal of money! I’ve seen those books they are something to be proud of.


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