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

Posted in Shop Stories | Leave a comment

Foster Brothers

Circumstances surrounding the founding and naming of Foster Brothers, the men’s clothing retailer, are rather mysterious. When the founder, William Foster (1852-1914) died, his obituaries noted that he had opened his first shop with his brother in Pontefract in 1876. However, later accounts claim that Foster had no brother, but used two different photographs of himself in the firm’s publicity material.

Foster’s sons, William Henry (1880-1960) and Edgar (1899-1976), eventually took over the business, which became a private limited company in 1894 and floated as Foster Brothers Clothing Co. Ltd. in 1951.

Tiled entrance, Colchester – subsequently removed.

Although Foster Brothers was primarily a working-class clothier, outfitter and tailor, selling cheap ready-to-wear garments to men and boys on low incomes, William Foster – like Robert Dyas in the oil and colour trade – was also a bankruptcy auctioneer, disposing of the stock and shopfittings of clothiers who had gone out of business.

Foster Brothers moved from Pontefract to Birmingham in 1884 – the very year Norris Hepworth set about creating a chain of shops in the North of England – and began to sprout branches throughout the Midlands and the South. There were 40 branches by 1904, 118 (23 of which were in and around Birmingham) in 1926, and 146 in 1939. Five shops were destroyed by bombing during the Second World War, and 20 closed.

Unlike Hepworth’s, which started as a manufacturer and later entered retailing, Foster Brothers initially had no manufacturing capacity. A small tailor’s workshop appears to have been attached to the shop at 13-16 Parade, Birmingham, in the 1890s. This sufficed until 1906 when Stammers Ltd. of Walsall became a subsidiary company. Made-to-measure suits continued to be made in workshops behind the Parade branch until 1936. Since ready-made clothing remained Foster’s mainstay, this operation was on a much more modest scale than that of Montague Burton. Like other manufacturing menswear companies, Foster’s turned to making uniforms during both world wars. A second factory opened in Brownhills in 1955 but the company’s reliance on its own production dropped from 40% in 1968 to 13% in 1973. Similarly, in 1968 80% of its clothing was made in Britain but this had reduced to 45% by 1973. Stock was increasingly imported from Hong Kong and other countries.

Ghost fascia, Wisbech.

Much of Foster Brothers growth was due to the acquisition of other chains. For example:

  • An unknown acquisition doubled the size of the company around 1902.
  • In 1965 Foster’s bought W. L. Thomson & Son, with its chain of Dormie dress-hire shops in Scotland.
  • In 1966 buying Jessops (Tailors) Ltd., with its Batley factory and 14 shops, allowed Foster’s to spread into the North of England.
  • In 1973 Foster’s bought the childrenswear chain, Kids In, which had 5 shops. It was renamed Adams Childrenswear after its former proprietors. By 1983 Adams had 82 stores selling babywear, prams, nursery furniture and clothes for children up to 12.
  • Also in 1973, Foster’s bought the rainwear manufacturers and retailer, Stone-Dri. This had started off in Lancashire in 1948 as The Direct Raincoat Company. By 1977 it was deemed a failure and most of its shops were converted into Foster Brothers outlets.
  • Bradley (Chester) Ltd. was acquired in 1970, with 165 shops in the North-West and Wales.
  • Discount for Beauty, which sold cosmetics and toiletries in 22 self-service shops, was added to the group in 1978.
  • Foster’s final important acquisition, in 1982, was Millets of Bristol (Holdings) Ltd., which sold leisurewear and camping equipment.

Other initiatives in the late 1960s included a small chain of fashion boutiques named Mr Christopher, and a brief experiment opening joint stores with Dorothy Perkins, including a ‘walk-around’ store in Brentwood, Essex.

Ryde, Isle of Wight

As Foster’s chain grew, so did its need for ever-larger warehouse premises. The first was behind the shop in Coventry Street, Birmingham. This was superseded by the former law courts in Moor Street and then a four-storey building in Albert Street. In 1961 the creation of the inner ring road forced the firm to move from Albert Street to Bradford Street and in 1968 – mindful of access to the expanding national motorway network – new purpose-built headquarters (by Harper Fairley Associates, architects) opened at Shirley, Solihull. The single-storey top-lit warehouse was capable of servicing 700 shops, with room for expansion, although the chain then stood at 225. An entire wing housed the computer – a Honeywell 200 – for stock control: when items were sold, tags were removed and returned to headquarters for scanning. Goods were moved by an overhead conveyor system and transported to branches by a fleet of 30 lorries.

Foster Brothers had just refurbished its 400 menswear shops when, in 1985, Ward White made an unsolicited bid for the company. A counterbid by Sears, for £113 million, was accepted. Sears went on to acquire Horne Brothers and Your Price to build up its menswear division. This didn’t thrive and in 1991 Sears announced the sale of Horne Brothers and Dormie, and the closure of 100 other menswear shops.  A year later a depleted Foster’s and Your Price were sold for £1 to a management buyout team, whilst Sears kept Adams and Millets. Naturally, Sears also kept the freehold and long leasehold properties, for which the new owners paid rent.

Your Price (90 shops) and Foster’s (reduced to 250 shops) merged, but Foster Menswear Ltd. went into administration in 1998 ‘after a failed attempt to move away from its 1980s-type denim clothes range in favour of sportswear’. Its 39 remaining shops, mainly located in malls, were bought from the administrator by the Scottish entrepreneur Tom Hunter, who planned to move Foster’s headquarters from Solihull to Ayr. It ceased trading around 2002.

Photographs copyright K. Morrison

Posted in Fashion and Clothing | 1 Comment

The Coliseum in Stockton-on-Tees: Unpicking W. Basil Scott’s ‘First English Steel-Framed Building’

Today it is generally accepted that James Frank Doyle’s Royal Insurance Building in Liverpool was the first significant steel-framed building to be erected in the UK. Although it was designed around 1895-96, it was not erected until 1900-03. The Scottish engineer William Basil Scott (1877-1933), an employee of Redpath, Brown & Co. Ltd., was unaware of the primacy of the Royal Insurance Building when he made claims for one of his own buildings in the early 20th century. Alas, he didn’t have a clear memory of what that building was, or where it was located, creating something of a mystery for future architectural historians and industrial archaeologists.

In 1928 Scott stated: ‘as far as I can ascertain, the first English steel-framed building was a furniture warehouse in West Hartlepool’. Then in 1929, during a lecture, he claimed: ‘about 1896 I designed a steel frame for a furniture warehouse in West Hartlepool, which may be the first English steel-skeleton building’. He expanded on this in an ensuing discussion: ‘For the possible first British examples [ie: of skeleton construction] and for which his firm, Redpath, Brown & Co. Ltd., supplied the steelwork, he referred, from memory, to a furniture warehouse in West Hartlepool, built in 1896, Major Harry Barnes being the architect’. Then in 1930 Scott corrected his story by including this entry in a chronology of iron and steel: ‘1898. Warehouse at Stockton-on-Tees constructed. The first recorded example of steel skeleton construction in Britain’.

Scott thus sowed the seeds of much confusion, for he left people guessing.

In an article published in 1958 Kent & Kirkland named the first steel-framed building as Robinson’s Emporium in West Hartlepool, designed in 1896 by W. Basil Scott. This was accepted for the next 40 years. It was repeated in local publications and accepted by the late Michael Stratton, who wrote in 1999: ‘The first fully steel-framed building proper was reputedly Robinson’s Emporium, Hartlepool, dating to 1896-98. The frame was designed by W. Basil Scott of the engineering firm, Redpath, Brown & Co.’  But Stratton also noted: ‘W. B. Scott claimed retrospectively that the Mathias Robinson store in Stockton-on-Tees was the first fully steel-framed building’. The idea that Scott had been referring to this building, until recently occupied by Debenhams, appears to have been suggested by Alastair A. Jackson in 1998. BBC2 researchers, however, had a different opinion. In 2002 the production team of What the Victorians Did for Us responded to a viewer’s enquiry by identifying the first steel-framed building as the drapery store of Grey, Peverell & Co., later Binns and now Wilko, in West Hartlepool. This prompted its listing by English Heritage.

Wilko, West Hartlepool, showing the original Grey, Peverell & Co. frontage. (Photo: 2005)

To unpick this, we are looking for a furniture store, built in the period 1896-98, with a steel frame, involving Scott and Barnes, in either West Hartlepool or Stockton-on-Tees.

The starting point must be Mathias Robinson’s various premises in West Hartlepool. Robinson had established his drapery store, Manchester House at 77-83 Lynn Street, in 1875, then purchased the Coliseum, situated across the street at 94-98 Lynn Street, as a furniture store in 1891. The Coliseum was subsequently ‘improved’. In 1899, for example, the walls of the ground floor were removed and replaced by steel girders to create an open-plan interior. Robinson went on to build two new stores in West Hartlepool, Lynn House in 1906-07 and Birmingham House in 1913; he also acquired the Bon Marché, previously a mantle warehouse, in 1907. Intriguingly, Lynn House, by Barnes & Burton, was one of the first retail buildings to have a ferro-concrete frame. It is evident, however, that none of Robinson’s West Hartlepool buildings could have been the one referred to by Scott.

Wilko, West Hartlepool, showing Binns extension. (Photo: 2005)

So, what about the other front runner, Grey, Peverell & Co.? Their red brick store was erected in several phases. The earliest dates from 1901-03 and was designed by local architect James Garry. The columns that support steel girders inside the building appear to be of cast iron, effectively ruling it out. Minor additions were made in 1907 and 1919, but the bulk of the present-day structure was erected by Binns in 1926, with a fully evolved steel frame. It is unlikely that Scott was talking about Grey, Peverell & Co.

There are no other potential candidates in West Hartlepool, so we must turn to Stockton-on-Tees. Jackson was right in identifying Mathias Robinson’s Coliseum store at 149-150 High Street as the strongest contender, although the date is problematic: it was begun in 1900 and opened in May 1901. An account of the opening specified: ‘the construction of the building is of the steel skeleton type, of girders and stanchions encased in plaster’. Attention was drawn to its impressively wide spans. It was designed by Barnes & Coates (Harry Barnes and Frederick Ernest Coates) of Sunderland. All seems well, except for the date.

Debenhams in Stockton-on-Tees was built as The Coliseum – Mathias Robinson’s drapery and furniture store – in 1900-01. It closed in 2020. (Photo: 2021)

A possible solution emerges once we learn that the Coliseum replaced an earlier store, built for Robinson’s in 1896, which was destroyed by fire on 16 December 1899. Might this lost building be the one referred to by Scott?

Sadly, not. The opening of the original Coliseum in Stockton was well covered by the press in May 1896. An existing house had been bought, gutted, rebuilt and extended over the garden. To contemporaries, the most intriguing features of the new store were its electric lighting and a flat roof which was strewn with cobbles, gravel and sand on a layer of vulcanite. The building clearly had a steel structure – but not by Redpath, Brown & Co. The girders were supplied by Dorman, Long & Co. and the steel columns by Messrs Golightly, while the architect was not Harry Barnes but a local man, Edward A. Whipham. One account of the fire of 1899 described ‘steel supports and girders twisted into all kinds of crooked shapes’. This was accompanied by an illustration showing distorted steelwork behind a conventional façade: to the front of the building the girders had probably been embedded in pre-existing load-bearing exterior walls.

To conclude, if Scott had nothing to do with the original Coliseum, he was probably involved – as a very young man – in its replacement of 1900-01. He correctly remembered the name of the architect, Harry Barnes, who worked for Robinson on several occasions. The date 1896 may have stuck in his mind, as it marked the establishment of the Coliseum in Stockton-on-Tees. Scott’s confusion between West Hartlepool and Stockton possibly arose because those involved with designing the new store in Stockton dealt directly with Robinson’s office in West Hartlepool. Scott, working in Edinburgh, may never have visited the site. Perhaps if future building work exposes the steel frame – something inevitable following Debenham’s demise – the name ‘Redpath Brown’ will be found stamped on the girders and stanchions, confirming the connection for once and for all.

Debenham’s ‘arcade’ frontage in Stockton-on-Tees – a rare survival, especially on this scale, of a once popular shopfront type. (Photo: 2021)

Whether or not Scott had a hand in its design, the Coliseum is evidently an important early example of a steel-framed retail establishment and it is ironic that, unlike Grey, Peverell & Co. in West Hartlepool, it is not currently a listed building. Its story is paralleled by that of Laurie & McConnal in Cambridge, who rebuilt their Universal Stores (now, coincidentally, Wilko) after a fire in February 1903. When the new premises opened in November 1903 newspapers declared: ‘These are the first entirely steel-framed buildings in this country’. So it was not just W. Basil Scott who was blithely unaware of contemporary projects by fellow engineers.

Suggested Reading

Alastair A. Jackson, ‘The Development of Steel Framed Buildings in Britain, 1880-1905, Construction History 14, 1998, 21.

Lewis E. Kent and G. W Kirkland, ‘Construction of Steel-Framed Buildings’, The Structural Engineer, July 1958, 102-110

Michael Stratton, ‘New materials for a New Age: Steel and Concrete Construction in the North of England, 1860-1939’, Industrial Archaeology Review, XXI, 1, June 1999, 5-24.

Posted in Shop Stories | 2 Comments

Buttercup Dairy Company


A Potted History of the Buttercup Dairy Co. Ltd.

The Buttercup Dairy Co. devised one of the most artistic and coherent retail house styles to be found on Scottish high streets in the 20th century. The shops of few other Scottish grocery or provisions chains have fared so well.


The business was founded by Andrew Ewing (1869-1956), a farmer’s son from Stoneykirk who had been apprenticed to a grocer in Dundee before opening three small shops in the city in the mid-1890s. In 1896 he acquired the Country Supply Stores in Forfar, running it as a cash-only business. Four years later he moved to Kirkcaldy where he traded from 148 High Street.

In 1904 Ewing launched the Buttercup Dairy Co. with branches in Kirkcaldy, Burntisland and Kinghorn. A year later the head office was established in Leith and Ewing moved to Edinburgh. The Leith depot, comprising a cold store, warehousing and offices, relocated to a larger site in Easter Road in 1915.

At its peak, in the late 1920s, Buttercup had around 250 branches. These shops were concentrated in eastern Scotland, with some outlets in the north of England. They were staffed entirely by women to keep labour costs to a minimum.


Initially Buttercup sold a restricted range of products: eggs, butter, margarine, cream, tea, cooking fat and milk. Although a poultry shed – with display windows facing the street – existed on Easter Road, most of the eggs sold by the company were imported until 1922. In that year Buttercup became a private limited company and purchased a farm called Clermiston Mains at Corstorphine, Edinburgh, as the site of a huge poultry farm where eggs were produced on an industrial scale. Eggs laid on the Sabbath were donated to hospitals and charities.

Ewing’s philanthropic nature, inspired by his religious beliefs, seems to have adversely affected the financial health of his business, which became encumbered by bank loans. It may have been a mistake to turn down offers from the Meadow Dairy Co. and Home & Colonial Stores, both of whom tried to acquire the Buttercup Dairy Co. in the 1920s. By the mid-1930s the shops were struggling, and in 1936 fire destroyed the hatchery at Clermiston Mains, bringing an end to the poultry farm. Over the next six years around 40 retail branches were closed.


Buttercup was one of several chains that experimented with self-service before the Second World War, opening 14 shops named Self Service Stores.

Wartime shortages and rationing simply aggravated an already dire situation and in 1948 the remaining 207 shops were put up for sale or lease. Some were acquired by their managers, others by local retailers, or even banks. In Arbroath, Mary White took over the branch she managed at 5 Keptie Street, whilst 193 High Street was taken on by Scott’s, a neighbouring grocer who turned it into an experimental self-service extension.

Over 170 shops had been disposed of by 1951, and just four remained by 1961. The cold store in Leith was now the company’s greatest asset, prompting its purchase by Christian Salvesen Ltd. in 1964. The last shop closed in Edinburgh in 1965.

Buttercup Dairy Shops

Buttercup Dairy shops were designed by the architect James Davidson Cairns (1866-1947), who was also responsible for the firm’s offices, warehouses and farm buildings. At least 23 shops survive in Scottish towns in a recognisable form.

Edwardian photographs, for example of the relatively plain Kirkintilloch branch of 1906, show that the house style was not imposed at the outset. It must have been introduced after Cairns started independent practice in 1908, most probably around 1915, when he became involved in designing Buttercup’s Leith headquarters.

Once established, the house style was adhered to throughout the life of the chain. It would have proved impossible to maintain – in terms of craftsmanship, materials and sheer expense – had Buttercup continued to expand and modernise after the Second World War.


Some Buttercup shops, like Innerleithen, were double fronted. The standard shop, however, had a single window alongside a lobby entrance.


The lobby wall was clad in a tiled scheme with an oval pictorial panel. This depicted a young girl wearing a blue bonnet and a pink dress. She held a buttercup to the chin of a placid brown cow (as if asking ‘do you like butter?’) whilst gathering buttercups in the folds of her apron.

The panel was based on a painting by the Scottish artist Tom Curr. It was presumably a commercial commission, like Curr’s well-known image of a kilted shot-putter, created for Scott’s Porage Oats. As well as featuring in the lobbies, a transparent roundel of the Buttercup girl hung in windows above a large ‘Buttercup’ sign.

Above the tiled panel, framed by a buttercup garland and swags, was the Buttercup monogram, with the signature of James Duncan Ltd., who supplied the tiles.


The distinctive tube-lined technique is typical of Duncan’s work elsewhere, for other retailers and for Glasgow’s tenement (‘wally’) closes. He decorated blanks from various manufacturers, including Maws of Jackfield, who sent Duncan tiles for the branch at 48 Warrender Park Road, Edinburgh, in 1917. This has recently been restored to accommodate the offices of a firm of architects.

Warrender Park Road, Edinburgh

The Buttercup name or monogram was repeated in the usual way on the stallrisers, the globe lamps, the lobby floor and the fascia. Surviving Buttercup fascias with gilded lettering under glass have been uncovered in Selkirk and in Warrender Park Road, Edinburgh.

Warrender Park Road, Edinburgh

Cairns carefully considered every aspect of Buttercup’s shop design, creating a cohesive aesthetic effect by using a predominantly green, yellow and white palette, and by repeating decorative motifs in different materials.

The arts and crafts tradition was reflected in the chequered borders (also favoured by early R. & J. Templeton shops) and in the heart motifs which adorned the iron grilles that closed lobbies and protected windows at night (see Warrender Park Road and Haddington), as well as featuring in the tiles. Buttercup garlands and swags reappeared in transom lights at the branch in Warrender Park Road and can be seen on hanging signs in old photographs.

Shop interiors were reportedly clad in white tiles with green borders, though the surviving interior of the Buttercup Dairy in Denny, Stirlingshire, has painted tongue and groove panelling. Denny retains some original shelving units with a buttercup pattern adorning the uprights. A dark green tiled counter front, decorated with the Buttercup monogram, is displayed in the People’s Palace Museum, Glasgow.

It is well worth keeping an eye open for these gorgeous shopfronts whilst exploring Scotland’s historic towns.


Photographs © Kathryn A. Morrison. Please do not reproduce without permission

Further Reading

Lindsay Lennie, ‘The Tiled Shops of James Duncan Limited’, Journal of the Tiles & Architectural Ceramics Society, vol 15, 2009, 3-11

Bill Scott, The Buttercup. The Remarkable Story of Andrew Ewing and the Buttercup Dairy Company, Leghorn Books, Alnwick, 2011

Posted in Buttercup Dairy Co, Grocers, Provision Dealers and Dairies, Self-Service Shopping | 1 Comment

A Brief History of Wallis

Wallis, Oxford Street (1999)

The Wallis chain of women’s fashion shops was a familiar presence on British high streets for 97 years. It started out as a standard ‘costumier’, selling dresses and coats – called ‘mantles’ in the trade – including furs.

The first shop opened at 54 Chapel Street (now Chapel Market), Islington, in 1923. The founder, Raphael Nathaniel Wallis (1890-1948), was born in Russia as Nathan Raphael Tatarsky. From the start, he manufactured most of the merchandise in his own workshops. Wallis subsequently accumulated several subsidiary manufacturing companies, including a factory dedicated to making fur garments and, during the Second World War, a company that manufactured military clothing for the Ministry of Supply.

Wallis had at least four London branches by 1930 and 15 by 1935, when the business floated as N. W. (Costumiers) Ltd. A year later it changed its name to Wallis & Co. (Costumiers) Ltd. By 1939 there were 25 shops, occupying prime shopping positions in large towns and cities throughout the country.

Some premises were purpose-built for Wallis, including a branch in Gallowtree Gate, Leicester, designed by the architect J. L. Cohen c.1935. This seems to have been later acquired and rebuilt as the end bay of Marks & Spencer’s store.

By the end of the 1930s every branch of Wallis had departments for millinery and furs, and in 1939 a subsidiary company called John Keene Ltd. was formed with two retail outlets (in London and Manchester) specialising in furs. One was damaged by enemy action a year later. Despite the impact of the War and, in its aftermath, the Luxury Tax, this experiment lased for a decade, if not longer.

Jeffery J. Wallis, the founder’s son, took responsibility for a scheme to enlarge and modernise the largest branches in 1946. Until the mid-1950s managers had to be male and had to ‘possess specialised Mantle Display experience to enable them to dress a good selling Mantle Window’.

Under Jeffery J. Wallis, the company became known for its affordable reproductions of Parisian designs. Notoriously, Christine Keeler is said to have worn a different suit supplied by Wallis each day throughout the Profumo trial of 1963.

Wallis, Oxford Street (1999)

Burton acquired a substantial stake in Wallis in the early 1960s but disposed of its holding following an unsuccessful takeover bid in 1971. At that time, the Wallis family retained a majority stake in the company. The Wallis Fashion Group – as the company was now called – expanded in the mid-1970s, with a new Oxford Street store and outlets in Europe.

In 1980 Wallis became part of Sears Holdings, which also owned Richards, Warehouse and Miss Selfridge. Philip Green took over ailing Sears – dragged down by the British Shoe Corporation – in 1999, and within months he had sold its high street fashion multiples, including Wallis, to Arcadia for £151 million. This was the former Burton Group, which already owned Dorothy Perkins, Evans, Principles and Top Shop, and which had recently demerged from Debenhams.

Wallis still had around 219 outlets at the turn of the Millennium. In 2002 Philip Green, who by then owned BHS, made a successful bid for Arcadia. On 30 November 2020 Arcadia entered administration. The Wallis brand, but not the shops, was bought by the online retailer – together with Burton and Dorothy Perkins – in February 2021.

Posted in Fashion and Clothing | 12 Comments

Multiple Multiples: Disentangling the Story of Millets

Millets, the outdoor retail specialist, has maintained a strong presence on the British High Street for over 100 years.

Recently I began to dig into Millets’ company history for my forthcoming book on chain stores. Before long I had stumbled across numerous different inter-connected Millet or Millett businesses and disappeared – for a great deal longer than I intended – down the proverbial rabbit hole.

Millets occupying an old Lipton’s shop in Hitchin, 2019

Much remains mysterious, but I have reached the conclusion that the Millet family must have set up a syndicate that sourced and supplied merchandise for multiple family firms – multiple multiples – all of which specialised in government surplus after 1918 before moving into motoring gear, camping equipment and, eventually, casual outdoor clothing.

This approach was not unique. At least two other Jewish families in the men’s clothing trade created national retail chains in just this manner – as family syndicates that shared buying, wholesaling (and sometimes also manufacturing) facilities – in the 19th and 20th centuries.


Modern Millets is rooted in businesses founded by the sons of Sharje Millet (born 1830): Max, Morris, Peter, Zalek and Charles. The brothers left their home in Dabrowa, in modern Poland, to settle in Portsmouth and Southampton in the 1880s and 1890s. They started out as pedlars or hawkers but eventually opened shops as drapers or outfitters. In the hands of their descendants, many of these single outlets sprouted branches and became successful multiples trading under the Millet or Millett fascia. The family’s big opportunity came in the aftermath of the Great War, when they won government contracts to retail army surplus.

Bristol Millets

The company sometimes referred to as ‘Bristol Millets’ originated in 1893 when Israel Marcus ‘Max’ Millet (1867-1949) opened an outfitter’s shop in Southampton as J. M. Millet & Sons. In 1919 he was selling army surplus as ‘government clothing contractors’. His son-in law, Bernard Spielman, opened a Bristol branch under the J. M. Millet & Sons name in 1921 and steadily developed a chain, with five shops by 1939. As well as army surplus, he sold motoring clothing and, by the mid-1930s, ‘camping requisites’. In 1970 an ill-fated merger was announced with a similar family business, R. & A. Millett of Twickenham, or ‘London Milletts’.

London Milletts

The roots of ‘London Milletts’ can be traced back to Morris Millett (1879-1937), who opened premises — his third branch — in Croydon in 1926. The painted yellow and blue signage of Milletts can still be seen on the side of Morris’s shop.

Millett’s painted sign in Croydon photographed c.2000, before restoration.

There were eight men’s outfitter’s shops by 1948, when Morris’s son, Alan C. Millett (1928-2016), joined the firm. This expanded to 19 shops, but in 1961 Alan struck out on his own as A. C. Millett & Co. with a menswear shop in Richmond. He had 33 shops (including 13 acquired in 1962 from E. G. Millett & Co.) by 1964 and 83 shops (including 50 from G. H. Lavey & Co Ltd.) by 1966, when he was joined by his brother Robert and formed R. & A. Millett (Shops) Ltd.

The E. G. Millett & Co. taken over in 1962 appears to have been a London-based firm with branches in Exeter and Norwich by 1926. Like other family firms, it sold government surplus. The manager was Gabriel Fierstone (1902-1980), the husband of Eva Millett (1893-1948), a daughter of Peter Millett. The E and G in the name may, therefore, have referred to Eva and Gabriel.

Leicester Milletts

Shortly before contemplating merger with ‘Bristol Millets’ in 1970, R. & A. Millett Ltd. had been interested in buying yet another family concern – Milletts Stores (1928) Ltd., known as ‘Leicester Milletts’ – but this was snapped up and absorbed by Black & Edgington.

Milletts Stores (1928) Ltd. had floated in 1928 to acquire and expand the existing businesses of J. E. Millett & Co. and Milletts Stores Ltd. whose 27 shops – scattered throughout the country from Aberdeen to Plymouth – specialised, as usual, in army surplus. ‘J. E.’ may have been Peter Millet’s daughters Jessie (1888-1966) and Eva, who were joined in business after the Great War by their sister Florence (b.1890) and her husband and first cousin, Michael ‘Mickey’ Millett (1890-1966), a son of Zalek Millett (1863-1930). Milletts Stores appears to have been started by Zalek himself. Mickey ran Milletts Stores with his cousin Isaac Moses ‘Denis’ Millett (1899-1966).

Like their relations elsewhere, Mickey and Denis sold army surplus and moved into camping goods. In 1966 Anthony D. Millett (1936-1985), Denis’s son, became chairman and tried to modernise the company image. By 1969, when the 27 shops were refurbished with a black and orange colour scheme and the slogan ‘the good sense store’, the emphasis had shifted away from army surplus to jeans and camping.


It was to the chagrin of ‘London Milletts’ that Black & Edgington bought ‘Leicester Milletts’ for £1.3 million in 1970. Its property was subsequently valued – conservatively – at £1.5 million, and four key city-centre sites (including the famous 25 Church Street, Liverpool, where Woolworth’s started trading in 1909) were sold on the open market, raising £1 million. Having brokered this excellent deal, Black & Edgington launched Blacks Outdoor Stores, starting in Leeds, Birmingham and Liverpool. Blacks went on to take over Greenfield Milletts in 1985.

Greenfield Milletts Ltd. was run by the Greenfield family, who had probably married into the Milletts. When the company floated in 1970, it was already trading as ‘Milletts’, apparently catering for younger customers by ‘selling a range of casual, leisure and protective clothing as well as camping equipment’. Its slogan was ‘The Store for All Seasons’, and its trademark was, reportedly, overfilled windows. It expanded as a chain from 17 shops in 1971 to 37 in 1975 and 51 by 1978, when it planned expansion into Scotland. The only blot on the company’s reputation was its purchase of the luxurious houses of its joint managing directors, John and David Greenfield: following a Sunday Times report, this was referred to in a House of Commons debate as ‘a racket’.

When ‘Bristol Millets’ and ‘London Milletts’ failed to reach agreement in 1970, they continued their separate trajectories. There were 17 branches of Millets of Bristol (Holdings) Ltd. – as J. M. Millet & Sons had become – by 1982, when it was acquired by Foster Brothers. In 1985 Foster Brothers was bought by Sears, who disposed of it – keeping Millets – in 1992.

Millets occupying an old Burton store in Leek in 2001

In the Sears stable, Millets was united with by the former ‘London Milletts’, with which it had so nearly merged in 1970. This had 84 branches by 1971, specialising in jeans and camping gear. It moved from Twickenham to new headquarters in Northampton in 1973 and floated as a public company, Milletts Leisure Shops plc, in 1978. In the same year it set up Milletts Shops Scotland with Black & Edgington, taking full ownership in 1984. Also in 1984, it acquired Wakefield Stores. Sears snapped it up in 1986 when Alan Millett retired.

Wakefields Stores, Sidney Street, Cambridge, in 1977

After 1986, within Sears, the Millet chain of 64 shops merged with Milletts’ 122 shops to form Millets Leisure Ltd. In 1996, following a management buyout – a rather predictable course of events within Sears at this time – Millets Leisure became The Outdoor Group, with around 158 stores. It had grown to 195 stores by 1999, when it was acquired by Blacks Leisure plc (which already had a chain of 221 shops, including 43 Blacks Outdoor stores). JD Sports bought Blacks Leisure, including Millets, in 2012.

Millets in Hitchin (detail), 2019

Today Millets remains one of the UKs main retailers of outdoor clothing, footwear and equipment. Its 90 or so shops have recently had a revamp – the old bright blue and yellow fascias have been replaced in grey and white, with a bright green arrow logo.

If anyone can shed further light on Millets or Milletts stores, and how the various companies were coordinated, please leave a comment below!

All photographs c. K. A. Morrison

Posted in Fashion and Clothing | 28 Comments

The Story of Dorothy Perkins

Burton and Dorothy Perkins in Bishop Auckland (2017)

Dorothy Perkins, like Etam, started out as a specialist in ladies’ underwear and lingerie. As with Burton, Dorothy Perkins’ stablemate in the Arcadia retail group, the commonly related history of the company doesn’t always fit the evidence.

The usual version of the Dorothy Perkins story maintains that the business began as the drapery shop H. P. Newman & Co. in 1909, and that the first ‘Dorothy Perkins’ shop opened as a specialist ladies’ outfitters in 1919. Some writers even suggest that the name appeared for the first time in 1939. However, when Dorothy Perkins Ltd. floated as a public company in 1958 the prospectus provided a brief historical account which allows a more accurate tale to be reconstructed.

The chain certainly had its roots in a company called H. P. Newman & Co. Ltd., seemingly a Luton straw hat manufacturer rather than a draper. The Dorothy Perkins trading name was adopted for the first time in the middle of the Great War, in 1916.

Dorothy Perkins was a popular rambling rose, thought vulgar by some. In 1920 a correspondent for The Times declared: ‘The nurseryman who produced Dorothy, let us hope by mistake, ought to have burnt the plant as soon as it began to flower . . . she makes the most beautiful garden look like the scenery in a musical comedy’.  Nevertheless this cheerful bright pink rose adorned the highly distinctive frontages of Dorothy Perkins shops. As late as 1958 it was noted: ‘The distinctive cottage roof design of the shop front on most of the branches was originally adopted in 1916 and has considerable advertising value’.

The rambling rose ‘Dorothy Perkins’ in the author’s garden
Dorothy Perkins in Guildford in 1962 c. The Sainsbury Archive, Museum of London, Docklands

Advertisements of the 1920s described Dorothy Perkins as ‘specialists in millinery, lingerie, corsets, hosiery and woven underwear’. Hats – including brimmed straw hats rather than fashionable cloche hats or toques – featured prominently in these advertisements with the explanation: ‘we specialise in large fitting hats for the unshingled’. In 1928 the parent company was renamed Ladies Hosiery & Underwear Ltd, then in 1939 it was registered as Dorothy Perkins Ltd. Confusingly, around 1930 a small company in Wales traded under the same name.

Burton and Dorothy Perkins, Tottenham Court Road, London (2017)

The Dorothy Perkins chain was centred on London. In the mid-1920s the main shop was at 190 Oxford Street, with 12 branches dotted around the capital: Hammersmith (two branches), Putney, Clapham Junction, Balham, Clapham, Wood Green, Sutton, Acton, Ilford, Croydon and Streatham. There were 75 shops by 1939. The company continued to grow in the hands of Alan Farmer (b.1900), who joined the firm in 1925 and took over in 1940.

When Dorothy Perkins floated in 1958 it had 130 shops, of which just 23 were held freehold. These were still located mainly in London and the south and had an average selling space of 1100 sq. ft. – half the size of a contemporary supermarket. The shops sold ladies’ underwear, hosiery, corsetry, cotton dresses, blouses, cardigans, jumpers, dressing gowns and swimwear; some branches also sold wool and babywear. Sales were on a cash basis.

Dorothy Perkins, Oxford Street, London (2000)

Shortly after becoming a public company, Dorothy Perkins’ old headquarters at 17 Newman Street in central London was replaced by new offices and warehousing in Bracknell New Town, designed by the development corporation architect, A. E. Ferriby. When this new HQ opened in 1961 Dorothy Perkins had 170 shops, but the building had the capacity to oversee growth to 500. It included a De La Rue Bull computer system. Multiples had been experimenting with computers for stock control and for the handling of customer accounts for several years: in 1958 Littlewoods and Radio Rentals both installed a National Elliott 405 computer and in 1961 Boots and Sainsburys opted for an Emidec 1100.

Burton and Dorothy Perkins in Paisley (2007)

Alan Farmer continued to expand Dorothy Perkins in the 1960s. By the end of the decade there were 275 outlets and Farmer revealed his ambition to have as many as 500-550 by 1978. The company appears to have had a friendly association with the menswear multiple Foster Brothers. Farmer opened Foster’s new headquarters in Solihull in 1968, and in 1969 the companies opened a joint ‘walk round’ store in Brentwood, Essex, run by a new company called Foster Perkins. Both had concessions in Fine Fare’s new out-of-town store in Aberdeen in 1970. In 1971, however, the liaison ended, ‘as the sales philosophies were too disparate for comfort’.

Ryde, Isle of Wight (2000)

Another company with which Dorothy Perkins had close links was Biba, the swinging boutique founded by Barbara Hulanicki: it bought a controlling 70% share in 1969 and sold Biba makeup in the shops. Dorothy Perkins backed Biba’s exciting but short-lived move into the art deco Derry & Toms department store in Kensington in the early 1970s.

Burton and Dorothy Perkins, Southport (1999)

Ian Farmer succeeded his father in 1971 and modernised the shops: the old façades covered in roses vanished, as did the signature logo. Dorothy Perkins was taken over by British Land, who had been the company’s property advisers for some time, in 1973 and then sold on to the Burton Group (now Arcadia) in 1979.

Burton and Dorothy Perkins, Worksop (2020)

Many Dorothy Perkins branches share space in old Burton stores with other Arcadia fascias, while standalone branches tend to be located in shopping malls or transport hubs. Recent house style is monochrome and undistinctive. As this goes to press, in November 2020, Arcadia teeters on the brink of collapse and the future of Dorothy Perkins — a mainstay of the British high street since 1916 — is in doubt.

Photographs copyright K. A. Morrison unless otherwise stated. Thanks to The Sainsbury Archive for allowing me to publish their photograph of Dorothy Perkins in Guildford.

Postscript. On 30 November 2020 Arcadia entered administration. The Dorothy Perkins brand, but not the shops, was bought by the online retailer – together with Burton and Wallis – in February 2021.

Posted in Fashion and Clothing | 1 Comment

Food Experts: William Jackson & Son Ltd. of Hull

IMG_4643 - Copy

490 Inglemire Lane (1932)

The History of William Jackson & Son Ltd.

The Hull-based grocery, provisions and bakery business of William Jackson & Son Ltd. evolved into a coherent chain of convenience stores which was taken over by Sainsbury’s in 2004.

IMG_4669 - Copy

Clough Road

The founder, William Jackson (1828-1912), opened a tea and grocery store in Scale Lane, Hull, in 1851, moving to Carr Lane in the 1860s. The business began to multiply in the hands of his son George (1863-1929), who changed his name to George Jackson Bentham in 1897. Shops opened in Spring Bank (1888) and Bright Street (1891) and the range of merchandise expanded. Jackson’s first bakery, built in Clarendon Street in 1896-86, was superseded by a new factory in Derringham Street in 1907. This was by the Hull architects Gelder & Kitchen, who went on to design several stores for Jackson’s.

A private limited company, William Jackson & Son Ltd., was formed in 1904. When the founder died in 1912 the chain comprised around 17 shops, the bakery, a jam factory, warehousing and stables. This grew to 32 shops in 1916 and 50 in 1930. Most of these were located Hull, and several were clustered, effectively forming one large shop although they were separately managed.

IMG_4678 - Copy

Grafton Street (1913)

Through the 1930s and 1940s Jackson’s expanded beyond Hull through acquisition, purchasing bakeries with retail outlets in Wakefield, Scunthorpe, Harrogate and Dudley, and opening shops as far afield as York and Leeds. Several cafés were added too, in Hull, Bridlington and Beverley. Even a few pubs, off licences and post offices joined the portfolio, which had grown to 115 outlets by 1950.

The adoption of self-service was slow despite the board and shop management being shown, in May 1945, a lantern slide show sponsored by National Cash Registers illustrating the American self-service system. The first trial at 336-338 Priory Road in November 1948 flopped and was quickly reversed. Later experiments included a ‘quick-sale super store’ on Eton Street in 1955 and a ‘self-service food market’ in Beverley in 1960. The first supermarket conversions followed in Goole and Hull in 1960-61.


Princes Avenue (c.1913)

By 1963 the company had 92 retail shops (58 freehold and 34 leasehold), including 17 supermarkets. It also had one discount store, Grandways in Leeds, which had been acquired in 1961 after Jackson’s was appointed to run the Grandways food hall.

Jackson’s developed a chain of Grandways supermarkets which sat uneasily alongside the firm’s older shops, with their traditional image. Nonetheless, many larger branches of Jackson’s were rebranded as Grandways. In 1991 Jackson’s decided to concentrate on a new convenience store format called ‘Jacksons of [name of branch]’ and sold 24 Grandways stores to the Argyll Group and Kwik Save plc. Jackson’s 114 shops were sold to Sainsbury’s in 2004 and rebranded as Sainsbury’s Local in 2008.

Jackson’s survives as the William Jackson Food Group, which owns Abel & Cole and Belazu amongst other food producers and makes Jackson’s Champion Bread in the Derringham Street factory. It no longer has a retail arm but several of its purpose-built stores from the 1910s, 20s and 30s still stand in Hull.

Jackson’s Shops

Jackson’s property portfolio was always mixed. Early shops occupied existing premises and grew by opening additional shops when adjacent units became available, in the manner of co-operative stores. Thus, the original grocery and confectionery shops at 305-303 Holderness Road (1899) were augmented by a ‘green fruit’ shop at No. 301 (1914), while no. 299 was rebuilt to match the other shops and opened as a butcher’s (1926).

IMG_1354 - Copy (2)

301-305 Holderness Rd (1899)

A pre-1926 photograph of 301-305 Holderness Road shows the fine grocery shopfront, with cusping over the doorways and fanlights set with teardrop shapes over the display windows. All that remains today is the shadow of the lettering ‘Wm JACKSON & SON’ once set on the parapet.

IMG_4739 - Copy

Holderness Road/Southcoates Avenue (1912)

An imposing store was built on the corner of Southcoates Avenue and Holderness Road (‘East Park’) in 1912. It was probably designed by Gelder & Kitchen and erected by the contractor George Houlton, since both companies are known to have worked for Jackson’s. In appearance, the chunky classical elevation and corner cupola resembled a city-centre department store rather than a suburban grocery shop. The elaborate transom lights with drop shapes were repeated at other branches, including The Square, Hessle, (1927), and may have taken inspiration from Harrod’s.


616 Holderness Road (1912)

At street level the East Park building housed four separate shop units with uniform shopfronts. Jackson’s originally opened a grocery in No. 614 and a bakery and confectioners in No. 616. Old photographs show that one of Jackson’s beautifully lettered mosaic fascias (now overpainted) extended across Nos. 614-616; an example survives in Grafton Street. Nos. 618 and 620 were taken on later, as a fruiterer (1915) and a ‘green fruit’ shop (1925). So even when erecting new premises Jackson’s conceived them as a row of shops; the inclusion of two shops which were initially surplus to requirements reveals an eye for future expansion.

IMG_4711 - Copy

Princes Avenue/Belvoir Street (c.1913)

Before the Great War, Gelder & Kitchen began to design small corner shops for Jackson’s. These were in a distinctive neo-classical style with glazed white terracotta (or faience) cladding and usually stood just one storey in height: that on Princes Avenue/Belvoir Street (c.1913) had an extra storey and attic because it was a refronting of a Victorian terrace. In other respects, it was almost identical to the store on Newland Avenue/Grafton Street (1913). Each had a clock framed by a laurel wreath, below a WJ&S monogram, on the canted corner.

IMG_4681 - Copy

Newland Avenue/Grafton Street (1913)

IMG_4707 - Copy

Newland Avenue/Grafton Street (1913)

A later store on Chanterlands Avenue/Marlborough Street (1928) was in a more Grecian style, while 490 Inglemire Lane (1932) was simplified, with a stepped art deco screen parapet.

IMG_4722 - Copy

Chanterlands Avenue/Marlborough Street (1928)

IMG_4648 - Copy

490 Inglemire Lane (1932)

All of these stores incorporated blue mosaic panels, usually with chequered surrounds. They carried gold lettering such as: ‘HOME MADE JAMS’, ‘TEA & COFFEE SPECIALISTS’, ‘CONFECTIONERS’, ‘TEA BLENDERS’, ‘COFFEE ROASTERS’, ‘GOLD MEDAL BRIDE CAKES’ and ‘OWN MAKE PRESERVES’. On the side of the Chanterlands Avenue/Marlborough Avenue branch was a huge mosaic sign reading ‘WM JACKSON & SON LTD GOLD MEDAL PORK PIES CHOCOLATES WEDDING CAKES’.

IMG_4717 - Copy

Chanterlands Avenue/Marlborough Street (1928)

IMG_4677 - Copy

Grafton Street (1913)

The culmination of this house style was the three-storey flagship store – Jackson’s 57th store – built on Paragon Street in central Hull in 1929, replacing Carr Lane. As usual, the architects were Gelder & Kitchen.

IMG_2680 Jacksons Sainsburys

Paragon Street (1929)

IMG_2683 - Copy

Paragon Street (1929)

The building opened in October 1929 as a shop with upper-floor offices, but the offices were soon replaced by a restaurant and cafeteria. The neo-classical faience frontage, with its giant elevation, was typical of 1920s high street stores. Between the first and second floor windows were blue mosaic panels. The glazed terracotta, mosaic tiles and terrazzo floors were supplied by Alfred Whitehead of Leeds. The building was fire damaged during Second World War and so it is remarkable that the shopfront, with its dark emerald pearl granite surround and bronze glazing, survives. A red ‘WJ’ monogram can still be seen on the threshold. The incongruous brick third floor was added as ballroom in the 1950s.

Jackson’s opened many more retail branches over the years, but lost interest in the concept of an architectural house style. One interesting postscript is the adoption in 1991 of bright turquoise fascias echoing the altogether more subtle blue of the old mosaic panels.

IMG_4658 - Copy

Clough Road

Photographs © Kathryn A. Morrison unless otherwise stated.

Further Reading

Alan Wilkinson, From Corner Shop to Corner Shop in Five Generations. A History of William Jackson & Son plc, Hutton Press, Beverley, 1994


Posted in Grocers, Provision Dealers and Dairies, William Jackson & Son Ltd. | 4 Comments

Timothy Whites

Timothy Whites Romsey KAM - Copy - Copy

Romsey in the 1930s (K. Morrison)

Throughout much of the 20th century, Timothy Whites (later Timothy Whites & Taylors) was Boots the Chemist’s greatest rival. The chain was eventually swallowed up by Boots.

In 1848, at the age of 23, Timothy White (1825-1908) took over William Bilton’s business in Portsmouth as a ‘wholesale and retail Druggist, Oil and Colour and Seed Merchant’. Concocting drugs is not far removed from mixing oils and colours, and so the trades of druggists and oil and colourmen were often combined in the mid-19th century. From those beginnings, White’s business developed two distinct – but related – strands, as a chemist and as household stores.

Twenty years later White rebuilt 158-160 Commercial Road, Portsmouth as a double-fronted shop with accommodation above for his family. This coincided with the passage of the Pharmacy Act, requiring chemists and druggists to pass examinations and register with the Pharmaceutical Society before they could dispense dangerous drugs and poisons. White registered for the first time with the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain in December 1868.

In 1880 a test case established that corporate bodies could sell poisons, so long as they were dispensed by a qualified person. This opened the door to multiple retailing in the sector, and in the mid-1880s – around the same time as Jesse Boot – White began to open local branches. The business grew from three shops in 1885 to eight in 1889.

Boots Archive Weybridge interior 1930s

Weybridge, undated (c. Boots Archive)

White had made his fortune by 1890, when he bought the Salle estate near Aylesbury in Norfolk, where he retired around 1893. His restoration of the parish church was thought to have weakened its roof but ‘he proved that he had the courage of his opinions by sitting in his pew in the nave, whilst the remainder of the congregation assembled in the chancel’. A stubborn man.

Woolmer White (1858-1931) took over the firm, propelling its development as a multiple retailer. By 1890 shop locations were advertised as ‘Landport, Portsea, Southsea, Hyde Park, Buckland, Somers Road, Broad Street and Gosport’, governed from headquarters on Chandos Street. Each shop had two sides, one trading as a chemist and the other as household stores. Branches spread along the south coast. In 1904 the Bognor Regis shop was organised into four different departments: pharmacy (which included perfumery, toiletries and photographic appliances), ironmongery, china and glass, and stationery.

Boots Archive Portsea 1930

Portsea in 1930 (c. Boots Archive)

Despite having large shops, Timothy Whites did not engage in building works to the same extent as Boots. The company’s shopfitting was, nonetheless, striking. Before the First World War – like Boots – large-scale gilded lettering often extended over entire façades: at Guildford signage was arranged around the building’s pediment and in Dover the premises were signalled as ‘Timothy Whites Corner’.

Boots Archive Dover 1938

Dover in 1938 (c. Boots Archive)

Shopfronts, such as Penzance, had art nouveau style colonettes between the display windows and trefoil shaped wrought-iron cresting above a salient fascia which usually read ‘Timothy White Coy Ltd’ in a distinctive font with two diagonal bars inside the letter ‘o’. By the 1920s the shops had gained a band of arched transom lights or panels that ran across the central entrance lobby. Each unit named a line of merchandise found in the shop, from ‘paints & enamels’ to ‘dispensing’.

Boots Archive Swindon 1930

Swindon in 1930 (c. Boots Archive)

By 1928 Timothy Whites had 105 freehold and leasehold shops in the south of England, a freehold factory and a laboratory. In that year the company was taken over by the financier Philip E. Hill (1873-1955). Hill sought to create a retail group that would challenge, if not surpass, Boots. A year earlier he had bought Taylors, a northern chain, and Squires, which manufactured ‘Chocoloids’ for constipation and ‘Lobeline’ for bronchitis at its Stirchley laboratories. Timothy Whites now entered into agreements, defining trading territories, with Taylors and Squires, whilst remaining a separate company under Hill’s chairmanship.

In 1935 Timothy Whites took over Taylors. Philip Hill argued for this merger by pointing out that Timothy Whites’ shops were nearly five times as profitable as Taylors’ due to their ‘double’ character, with a chemist’s business on one side and houseware and hardware on the other. Hill now wanted to enlarge Taylors’ smaller outlets, adding household departments wherever possible. Upon merger, the name of the new company became Timothy Whites & Taylors Ltd. The shops belonging to the group were named either ‘Timothy Whites’ or ‘Timothy Whites & Taylors’. Of 765 shops, just 172 were what Hill called ‘double’ shops.

Timothy Whites built some notable modern buildings in the mid-1930s, before and after full merger with Taylors. This included two ‘double’ stores designed by the notable retail architect Joseph Emberton for branches in Southsea. Both were destroyed by bombing during the war.


Southsea in 1934 (Ind, pl. 81)

One of these – its exact address uncertain – attracted press attention after its opening in summer 1934 and featured in the New York Museum of Modern Art exhibition ‘Modern Architecture in England’ in 1937.

The central storey of this flat-roofed modern building was blind, faced in panels of opaque rough-cast glass with steel strips covering the joints, forming a non-structural skin with a geometric pattern. This created a foil for neon and aluminium tube lettering and a stylised carboy. The name Timothy Whites, executed in illuminated lettering, was affixed to a glass strip above a wavy art-deco style band. The store entrance was central, as usual, with lettering on the sills of the display windows: ‘Everything for Health and Home’ to the left and ‘Where Everyday Needs are Cheaper’ to the right. Inside: ‘The floor space is like a lake, through which the customer is floated, past inviting, rounded islands to his destination, and then efficiently returned to the street’.

Emberton’s second Southsea store, at 34-36 Palmerston Road, opened in winter 1934. More in keeping with contemporary trends, this was faced in Bath (‘Monks Park’) stone with an overall vertical emphasis, extremely simplified pilasters and a notional pediment. The interior was arranged over two floors – including a first-floor library – and much was made of the glass counters, the curved stairway and rounded cash desk.

Boots Archive Penzance

Penzance in 1937 (c. Boots Archive)

A simple streamlined style was adopted for other new Timothy Whites stores, for example in Penzance, Felixstowe and Sittingbourne. Most of these buildings were of brick with continuous pale stone bands and metal windows. Beneath the fascia, the transom bands of standard Timothy Whites’ shopfronts included two long rectangular compartments: on double shops these read ‘household stores’ on one side and ‘dispensing chemist’ on the other.

Boots Archive Sittingbourne 1939 & Taylors

Sittingbourne in 1938 (c. Boots Archive)

Timothy Whites & Taylors, with over 600 shops, was taken over by Boots in 1968. Rationalisation eventually left Timothy Whites with just 196 shops selling ‘houseware’, but the name disappeared in 1985.

Many thanks to Sophie Clapp, Senior Archive & Records Manager at Books UK, for giving me permission to include some of their images. Check out the wonderful Walgreens Boots Alliance Archive Catalogue for more historic pictures and other treasures!


Posted in Chemists' Shops | 1 Comment

Saqui & Lawrence, Jewellers

The exact relationship between H. Samuel and Saqui & Lawrence has piqued a lot of interest. This is an attempt to clear things up – please comment if you have more information or images of Saqui & Lawrence shops that I could add to this post!

The London jeweller, Saqui & Lawrence, was acquired by H. Samuel in 1908.

The founders, Saqui and Lawrence — first cousins — were both closely related to the founder of H. Samuel, Mrs Harriet Samuel. She was their aunt.

Three sisters – Harriet, Rachel and Emma Wolf – married three brothers, Walter, Henry and Alfred Samuel, in Liverpool in the mid-19th century. A fourth sister, Sarah, married the watchmaker and jeweller John Jacob Saqui. Their eldest child was Abraham Horatio Saqui (1860-1922).

All four families lived and worked in Liverpool as jewellers and watch dealers, but after Walter’s death Harriet moved to Manchester, where she started a new business, H. Samuel, around 1875. By the 1890s this was in the hands of Harriet’s son Edgar, who must be credited with developing Britain’s best-known chain of jewellery shops.

Meanwhile, Saqui & Lawrence had been established around 1884 by Abraham Horatio Saqui and his cousin, Samuel Lawrence (born Lawrence Samuel but also known as Lawrence Lawrence, 1858-1941), the son of Emma and Alfred Samuel. Saqui & Lawrence developed a chain before H. Samuel, with shops in Borough High Street, Liverpool Street and Fleet Street in 1885. Their chain grew more slowly than H. Samuel’s, however, having just six shops by 1908.

Saqui & Lawrence suffered a string of damaging burglaries, widely reported in the press. Furthermore, in 1907-08 Lawrence became embroiled in a scandalous divorce when his young wife took up with his nephew. This may have triggered the dissolution of the partnership and the sale of the business to H. Samuel.

Once acquired by H. Samuel, Edgar took charge of Saqui & Lawrence shops which continued to multiply and traded into the 1980s.

Posted in Jewellers Shops | 29 Comments