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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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