Grouts of Palmers Green

Grouts, one of the last old-fashioned drapery shops in England, shut its doors for the last time on 20 April 2002. The photographs published here were snapped on the previous day, Friday 19 April 2002. Little stock remained but customers kept arriving in search of bargains, as did representatives of the media covering the story. The shop was decked in bunting for the occasion. It resembled a museum, with many original fixtures and fittings still in situ or piled up for disposal.

Grouts occupied 397 Green Lanes, on the corner of Devonshire Road in Palmers Green, North London. The building formed the end unit of Market Parade, which was built in 1912. Alfred Grout (1884-1970) began to rent the premises from the freeholders, the Lilley family, for £130 per annum, in autumn 1914.

Alfred was the son of Frederick J. Grout, who had a drapery shop at 96 High Street, Hounslow. After serving his apprenticeship with Edward Daniel in Kentish Town Road, Alfred gained experience working as a buyer for Owen Owen in Liverpool. In November 1914, just three months after the start of the Great War, he commissioned Pope Bros. of Kensal Rise to fit out his new shop. He then settled over the premises with his wife, his young family, and live-in assistants. A spiral staircase – removed by 2002 – connected the living accommodation with the shop.

Alfred was eventually succeeded by his eldest son, Alfred Grout junior (1912-2002). When young Alfred retired the shop continued to be run by his daughter Sue Whittemore, with her husband Phil, who was once pastry chef at The Connaught. Alfred junior died just a few months after the shop closed.

Grouts’ business expanded between the wars with the addition of eight branches, starting in 1922 with a shop in The Promenade, Green Lanes, followed in 1936 by shops in Melbourne Parade, Green Lanes, The Green, Winchmore Hill, and 7 Avenue Parade, Bush Hill. Another four followed in 1938. Little is known of these branches.

Grouts’ merchandise included a miscellany of soft furnishings, haberdashery and underwear, some of which was retailed from specialist fixtures and fittings.

Pendant gas lights still hung from the ceiling in 2002. Many shops had both electric and gas lighting, with the gas serving as a backup, into the 1930s. Reflective lamps, once used to illuminate displays, were stacked in corners, gathering dust.

Bentwood chairs were provided for customers to sit in front of the counters while they were being served. Some counters had glazed fronts and tops and were fitted with wooden trays: a type of fixture typical of inter-war hosiers and outfitters.

At one time cash was handled efficiently using a “Gipe” cash carrier installed in 1927. Money whizzed from seven points of sale to a central cashier, who swiftly returned it with the customer’s change and receipt. This ceased to be used on a regular basis in the 1950s, although it was still in working order to the end. It was demonstrated by Phil Whittemore in a video shot in 1997. After the shop shut the “Gipe” was removed to the East Anglia Transport Museum, in the suburbs of Lowestoft.

Sadly there was no commercially viable way to preserve Grout’s historic interior, though the shopfront is locally listed. The premises are currently occupied by the Olive Café and Bakery.

Images c. K. Morrison

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