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 Boohoo.com – together with Burton and Dorothy Perkins – in February 2021.

Posted in Fashion and Clothing | 3 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 | 25 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 Boohoo.com – together with Burton and Wallis – in February 2021.

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Food Experts: William Jackson & Son Ltd. of Hull

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Newland Avenue/Grafton Street (1913)

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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.

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Chanterlands Avenue/Marlborough Street (1928)

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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’.

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Chanterlands Avenue/Marlborough Street (1928)

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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.

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Paragon Street (1929)

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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’.

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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’.

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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.

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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 | 26 Comments

‘The Greatest Grocers in the World’: International Tea Company’s Stores


Guildford Street, Chertsey, c. 1950 (© Historic England Archive fww01_01_0599_001)

‘International Stores’ was a common sight on English high streets from 1878, when the first shop opened in Brentford, until 1988, when all remaining outlets were rebranded ‘Gateway’.

To give the company its full name, ‘International Tea Company’s Stores’ was the trading arm of the food importing and processing firm, Kearley & Tonge, whose vast headquarters and central warehouses were based at Mitre Square in the City of London.

Newspaper Advert 1928

International Stores newspaper advertisement January 1928     Below: International Stores, Attleborough, Norfolk.

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With over a thousand stores at its height, International claimed to be ‘the greatest grocer in the world’. After the Second World War, its small grocery and provisions shops – mostly located in southern England – were redeveloped or superseded by urban supermarkets. As a result, very few of the pre-war shops have survived intact. And those that do survive are not easy to recognise.

Until the 1930s, fascias bore the name ‘International Stores’ in bold brilliant-cut gilded lettering. The name was repeated on the deep brass sills of the stall risers, and often on an additional glazed panel positioned between the sill and the stall board.

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Former International Stores, Southwold (© K. Morrison, 2018)

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Former International Stores, Uppingham (© K. Morrison, 2019)

Many of the shops had large windows with fixed glazing, but large branches – such as Uppingham and Southwold – had a sash to one side of the entrance, corresponding to a provisions counter. Uppingham and Southwold, although 130 miles apart, shared the same style of olive green tiled pilasters and capitals. The attractive glazing pattern seen at Uppingham, probably dating from c.1910, was repeated verbatim at a long-lost store in Eastbourne.

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‘Ceylindo Tea’, Southwold (© K. Morrison, 2018)

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‘Ceylindo Tea’, Uppingham (© R. Baxter, 2019)

The brand name of International’s tea, ‘Ceylindo’, was sometimes affixed to a thin ventilation grille that ran along the top of the windows – this survives at both Southwold and  Uppingham. Old photographs show that the transom beneath the grille was usually supported by small spandrels, sometimes terminating in pendants.

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Sign on rear elevation of International Stores, with phone number, Sheep Street, Rugby (© K. Morrison, 2000)

In other respects, International Stores from the 1900s, 1910s and 1920s displayed considerable variety in the style of their pilasters, consoles, doorways, and even lanterns. The house style was never as distinctive and coherent, or so universally applied, as that of – for example – Home & Colonial Stores or Lipton’s.

Despite its fairly loose house style, International must have undertaken a lot of building and renovation work because, from the 1890s until around 1930, it had a marked preference for freehold property – often snapping up shops that had been vacant for some time.

Although this saved money on rent and meant that permission did not have to be sought from landlords for alterations, the Chairman had to justify the policy to stockholders who believed the capital might be better invested elsewhere. International Stores must have had active in-house architects’ and shopfitters’ departments, but little is known about them before the late 1940s, when Mr R. O. Slipper was the Chief Architect.

The real estate policy changed during the depression of the early 1930s. Under a new Chairman, International set up a subsidiary, ITS Property Development Co. Ltd., to develop property by building not just single shops, but pairs or groups of shops. Its first schemes were in London and Brighton. In an allusion to the central office – and to some of International’s branded provisions – new buildings might include a bishop’s mitre motif. An example can be spotted in Reigate.

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Former International Stores, Oundle (© K. Morrison, 2019)

A chaste modern style of shopfront was adopted in the 1930s. The well-preserved example in Oundle has a flush stone surround rather than an applied wooden frame. A domed display case stands between two doorways: provisions to the left; groceries to the right. The general lines of this layout – though not yet couched in a modern style – had emerged in the 1920s and was illustrated in a widely-published press advertisement of 1928 (see above).

At Oundle the name ‘International Stores’ has been removed from the mosaic floor, leaving decorative garlands. But another example, with full lettering, can be seen in Petersfield.

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Former International Stores, Oundle (© K. Morrison)

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Former International Stores, Petersfield (© Brian Kerr, 2016)

International began to expand through acquisition before the war, buying the Star Tea Company (and with it, James Pegram & Co and Ridgway Tea) in 1928. Star brought 463 shops to the group, giving it a total of 926. In 1935 George J. Mason, with 385 shops centred on Birmingham, took the count well over 1,000. An early post-war purchase, in 1947, was the Payantake chain.

After 1945 International was at the forefront of the rush to implement self-service. Experiments in the years 1947-51 enabled managers to weigh the cost of conversion against that of maintaining fully serviced branches. The devotion to freehold property was long forgotten, and in 1959 International began to negotiate sale and leaseback contracts with the Legal & General Assurance Society. This helped to finance not just conversion to self-service (50 by 1955 and 263 by 1960), but the building of supermarkets (that is, units with over 2000 sq. ft. sales space) on new sites. In 1962, the first tranche of unwanted small shops was put on the market.

Having modernised its portfolio, International, with 900 outlets, was taken over by British American Tobacco in 1972 for £68 million. At this time the supermarkets had fascias with red lettering (‘International’) on a white ground and displayed a red basket logo. After a series of acquisitions and disposals, International, now with just 380 outlets, was bought by the Dee Corporation in 1984 for £180 million. The International name vanished when the shops were rebranded Gateway in 1988. These later became Somerfield, a name which would itself disappear in 2009-11.

International’s basket logo in Malvern Link c.1970.
Photo: Rock Davidson Associates, Historic Building Consultants
Posted in Grocers, Provision Dealers and Dairies | 12 Comments

Spotting Historic Shopfronts: Shrewsbury

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Pride Hill, looking west towards the Market Hall (© K. Morrison, 2019)

Shrewsbury has an idyllic town centre, with a good range of interesting independent shops dotted amongst the usual national multiples. Traffic does not unduly bother the dedicated shopper, or the historic shop spotter. This pleasant historic environment should ensure the buoyancy of the retail sector, but several good commercial units in prime locations – not least House of Fraser, and Phillips Stores (see below) – currently lie empty. As elsewhere, alarm bells must be ringing. Meanwhile, here is a small selection of historic shops to admire and enjoy. It’s just a coincidence that two of them sold the now-elusive Shrewsbury cakes.

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The Abbot’s House, Butcher Row (© K. Morrison, 2019)

The Abbot’s House, Butcher Row

Medieval shop frontages can be spotted throughout central Shrewsbury, notably in the shuts and alleys off Wyle Cop and Pride Hill. The best-known examples can be seen at The Abbot’s House in Butcher Row, near St Alkmund’s.

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What would the Abbot say? (© K. Morrison, 2019)

This jettied timber-framed range was erected for the Abbot of Lilleshall in 1459, with shops on the ground floor and living accommodation above. Each unit had the typical medieval arrangement, combining arched windows with a shop doorway. Note the carved tracery adorning the corner posts – a motif picked up on the frontage of (the former) House of Fraser on High Street.

Boots the Chemist, 7 Pride Hill

Boots the Chemist built substantial stores with mock-timber fronts in approximately 16 historic English towns before the Great War. This approach was devised by the company architect, Michael Treleaven, but one or two of the buildings were designed by the Nottingham architect A. N. Bromley, whose services had been secured by Boots since the 1890s. Here, as in Gloucester, Bromley was named as the architect (Shrewsbury Chronicle, 22 February 1907, 5).

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Boots the Chemist, Pride Hill (© K. Morrison, 2019)

The two gabled bays to the left bear the date 1907, while the extension on the right is dated 1920. The decorative plasterwork includes Jesse Boot’s initials and the Tudor royal arms. Boots aspired to ‘study and uphold the historic interest of the locality, and so catch the civic spirt of those places where their businesses have been established’. Thus, the town’s arms (three ‘loggerheads’ or leopard heads) are included.

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Jesse Boot’s monogram and the date of Boots’ Shrewsbury store: 1907 (© K. Morrison, 2019)

Despite Boots’ intentions, the fact that certain features evoke an architectural tradition from a far-flung county bothered Pevsner, who deplored ‘Another misguided attempt to carry on the town’s half-timbered tradition . . . with alien pargetting and ‘Ipswich’ windows’. This has not prevented the listing of Boots’ mock-Tudor stores in Kingston upon Thames, Trent Bridge and York.

Morris & Co., confectioner’s and café (now Christmas Perks), 60 Wyle Cop

The name ‘Morris & Co’ can be read in the mosaic floor of the entrance to the shop at 60 Wyle Cop. This was a confectioner’s and café, surely an offshoot of the well-known Shrewsbury grocers (est. 1869) usually known simply as Morris’s. Morris’s large headquarters, completed in 1922, still stands by Welsh Bridge, and in 2019 the firm celebrated its 150th anniversary.

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Morris & Co, entrance mosaic (© K. Morrison, 2019)

The shop and café at 60 Wyle Cop opened around 1910. It was acquired from Thomas Pidduck Deakin (d.1939; an Alderman and Mayor of Shrewsbury), who had run a confectioner’s shop and café – the Pengwern Café – here since the 1880s. In the 1920s Morris & Co took over another established confectioner’s and café, at 13 Castle Gates, from Jacob B. Davies.

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Morris & Co’s windows – with ‘loggerheads’ in the window! (© K. Morrison, 2019)

The form of Morris’s shopfront is unusual. The triangular projections may have served to display tiers of cakes, rather like the round display window of Freeman’s in Cambridge. The café was probably upstairs, over the shop. Perhaps someone can share memories of afternoon tea at Morris’s.

McClures Ladies Wear (now White Stuff), 14-15 High Street

This fine shopfront was designed by a well-known London shopfitter, Frederick Sage & Co., in the mid-to-late 1920s. The deep windows of curved plate glass, set within a bronze frame, provide copious display space – as at Halon’s, an impressive outfitters located further up the same street. Sage’s name may be spotted on the bases of the colonnettes.

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White Stuff, formerly McClures, High Street (© K. Morrison, 2019)

Henry Wells, a jeweller who occupied this shop in the early 20th century, was imprisoned for receiving stolen goods in 1924. Soon afterwards the premises were taken over by McClure Bros., who had opened a tailors and outfitters shop in Wellington in 1908, reportedly after Samuel McClure had gained experience managing a department store in Birkenhead. McClures expanded into ladies’ wear in 1909, and opened branch shops in Oswestry and Market Drayton.

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Sage’s name on McClures’ shopfront (© K. Morrison, 2019)

McClures’ Shrewsbury shop – which specialised in ladies’ wear, and especially gowns and blouses, from the outset – was the last surviving outlet of this small regional chain. It closed in 2008, following the death of the proprietor, Ken McClure, and his son and successor, Tim. In a prime retail location, just before the economy nosedived, the shop reopened as White Stuff.

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McClures’ fascia (© K. Morrison, 1999)

McClures’ stylish fascia of marbled peach-coloured Vitrolite, with its superb lettering, may – one profoundly hopes – survive beneath the White Stuff signboard. It is a precious rarity, and a shame that is it not on view.

Phillips Stores, 16 & 17 Castle Street

To all intents and purposes, this building has the regular machine finish of mid-20th century mock-timber framing, but it is listed by Historic England as ‘Early C19th’, so presumably some old work survives. Either way, it merits its listing.

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Phillips Stores (© K. Morrison, 2019)

Early 20th-century photographs reveal that Plimmer’s Castle Restaurant occupied an ancient timber building which stood flush with the street-line on this site. The outline of its gable end can be seen on the building next door. This was the historic location where James Palin (or Pailin) sold Shrewsbury cakes in the late 18th century. Before Palin, a Mrs Hill ran a confectioner’s shop here. Palin was succeeded by Owen and then by Plimmer.

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Phillips Stores: detail of 1938 shopfront (© K. Morrison, 2019)

Plimmer traded from 1868 until 1938, when Phillips Stores Ltd took over. Phillips made alterations, designed by the local architect Harry Thurstan Richardson. Photographs of c.1960 show the building in its current form – set well back from its neighbour – with Gothic lettering on the fascia and a traditional blind box. The solid canopy, and presumably the ‘crazy paving’ threshold, was added by the next occupant, Halfords.

So, it seems safe to date the high-quality timber shopfront to 1938. The name of the shopfitter – the well-known A. Edmonds & Co Ltd. of Birmingham – is on the curvaceous door handles and window. With its array of carved pomegranates and roses, leaded and ‘bottle’ glass, and four-centred arches, the style evokes the late medieval or Tudor period, when the old building on the site was first erected.

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Phillips Stores: detail of doors (© K. Morrison, 2019)

All photographs copyright of author: not to be reproduced without permission.
Posted in Spotter's Guides | 2 Comments

Spotting Historic Shopfronts: Hitchin

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27 Sun Street

Initial impressions suggest that Hitchin in Hertfordshire is rich in historic shopfronts. Closer inspection, however, reveals much renewal at street level, whilst more authentic evidence of Hitchin’s commercial past survives above its shops (for example, look up to spot Freeman Hardy & Willis and David Greig). Nevertheless, here are a few interesting shopfronts to look out for!

Paternoster & Hales, 27-28 Sun Street

The words ‘Printing Office’ are displayed boldly on the façade of this Georgian building, leaving its function in little doubt.

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27-28 Sun Street

This was Paternoster & Hales’ printing office. The roots of the business can be traced back to Thomas Paternoster (1708-1782), a bookseller and stationer in Hitchin in the 18th century. His son Thomas (1742-1830) was probably the first occupant of 27-28 Sun Street, and the fine double-fronted shopfront was undoubtedly installed for his shop. Its flattened bow windows have curved corners and slender glazing bars.

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27 Sun Street

Thomas’s son Charles (1802-1864) became a printer as well as a stationer and bookseller. He was succeeded at 27 Sun Street by his nephew, Charles Paternoster (1829-96), an ironmonger and engineer. Around 1873 Paternoster merged with Charles Hales, hitherto a stationer on Bucklersbury, creating Paternoster & Hales. The longevity of the business, well into the 20th century, ensured the survival of the shopfront.

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78 Tilehouse Street

House (formerly Cooper’s), 78 Tilehouse Street

Next to ‘The Coopers Arms’ on Tilehouse Street is a butcher’s shop which was run by the Cooper family (no connection!) for over half a century. James William Cooper (1850-1933) had begun trading from here by 1881, but in the early 1900s his son Frank (1874-1954) took over.

When Cooper’s shop was converted to form part of the house, the frontage was kept. In many ways, it is typical of late 19th-century butchers’ shops, with its sash windows, ventilation grilles and rather beautiful tiled pilasters. From a description of a theft, published in the local newspaper in 1900, we know that the entrance was closed by a half-door or gate: ‘One of them [the thieves] went over to the shop, and as he entered he put his hand over the little gate and took hold of the bell and opened it without the bell ringing’.

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78 Tilehouse Street

To the left of the shop is the original doorway to the house, while the vehicle entrance to the right may have led to the butcher’s outbuildings, perhaps including a slaughterhouse.

Allingham Bros., 22 Market Place

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22 Market Place

This is another traditional butcher’s shop, with an external rail for hanging meat, a ventilation grille, and a marble stallriser which displays the name ‘Allingham Bros’ in cursive lettering. The central panel of the broad door is filled with shutters and would once have been open – perhaps a bit like Cooper’s entrance (see above).

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22 Market Place

The history of this shop and business is well set out on Allingham’s website. In fact, Post Office directories pin down Allingham Bros’ arrival to 1926-29. The Allinghams – who farmed at Lilley – inherited an existing butcher’s shop and, apart from the new stallriser and fixed glazing, appear to have made few changes to the frontage.

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26 Market Place

Millets (formerly Lipton’s), 26 Market Place

Lipton’s, who took over from Melia & Co at this address in 1909, were probably responsible for installing this shopfront.

Since Lipton’s departure it’s had a rough time. Dark paintwork covers what promise to be interesting tiles, with egg and dart borders like those used by Lipton elsewhere. Old photographs show that the name ‘Lipton’ was displayed beneath the windows and on the pilaster to the left – it may still be there! In addition, some of the tiles are clearly patterned and seem to depict Lipton’s trademark shamrocks.  Oh, the frustration!

Vodaphone (formerly W. B. Moss & Sons), 13 High Street

Until the early 1960s, these were the premises of W. B. Moss & Sons, grocers, tea dealers and general merchants.

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Moss’s Corner, 13 High Street

W. B. Moss (1843-1927), the son of a Stevenage grocer and tea dealer, served his apprenticeship with the draper James Rose on Market Square, Hitchin, before setting up ‘The Bancroft Grocery and Drapery House’ in the late 1860s. The size of his household at 13 High Street in 1881 and 1891, including apprentices and assistants as well as family, is testament to his success.

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13 High Street

By 1899 Moss had moved his family to ‘Westbourne’ on Bedford Road, now a care home. His sons had joined the business as partners and opened numerous branch shops – including a cluster in Yorkshire as well as shops throughout Hertfordshire – all supplied from a warehouse, tea blending department, and bacon curing factory on Portmill Lane.

The old timber-framed building at Moss’s Corner was rebuilt by the firm in the late 1890s. Although the display windows have been replaced, the very lovely buff-coloured terracotta pilasters, with mosaic panels depicting lilies, are worth an admiring glance.

Sainsbury’s Mural, Paynes Park

Hitchin possesses one of Henry and Joyce Collins’ cast-concrete murals, commissioned by Sainsbury’s for the frontage of their supermarket on Brand Street in 1972. Like other Collins’ murals – for example on Sainsbury’s in Gloucester (1970) – it illustrates themes and episodes from the history of the town, establishing a sense of place. Typically, the Hitchin panels include bright orange and blue mosaic work.

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Cast concrete mural from Sainsbury’s, Brand Street (now relocated to Hitchin Library)

Henry and Joyce Collins, who met at art school, were based in Colchester. From the late 1960s to the early 1980s they created murals for both Sainsbury’s and BHS. While the Sainsbury’s murals included a wheel pattern, those for BHS incorporated a basket of food.

The Hitchin panels were relocated from Sainsbury’s due to redevelopment in 2003 and moved to their present location on the façade of Hitchin Library.

Posted in Butchers' Shops, Lipton's, Spotter's Guides | 3 Comments

Spotting Historic Shopfronts: Saffron Walden

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Market Hill

Not surprisingly, the Essex market town of Saffron Walden is rich in historic shopfronts. Here is a motley selection to enjoy!

No. 1 Myddleton Place

An unrestored example of a late medieval shop can be seen on the corner of Bridge Street, tucked under the jetty of 1 Myddleton Place. The timber frames of two arched windows with decoratively carved spandrels are still legible, although both have been subjected to a complicated sequence of alteration and blocking. To the right of the windows, the narrow shop doorway has also been infilled, but can be identified by its moulded surround.

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Blocked medieval shopfront, 1 Myddleton Place (Bridge Street frontage).

Although this corner shop formed part of a substantial merchant’s house – perhaps built in the early 1500s by Thomas Myddleton, who was buried in the splendid parish church – it was probably let as a lock-up shop, with the shopkeeper selling goods through the open windows.

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Restored medieval shopfront, Cross Keys Hotel.

Two similar, but restored, medieval shops can be seen closer to the town centre. One occupies the corner of the Cross Keys Hotel, at the junction of King Street and High Street. The other, now ‘The Corner Cupboard’ at 17 King Street, occupies the ground-floor cross-wing of a hall house dating from c.1500. Hints of other late medieval shops can be detected elsewhere in the town.

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Restored medieval shopfront, 17 King Street.

Talents, 13 King Street

This is a well-proportioned late Georgian shopfront: double-fronted with flattened bow windows, narrow glazing bars, and a deep fascia. It might date from the 1820s or 30s.

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Late Georgian shopfront, 13 King Street.

A photograph in the Historic England Archive, dated 1942, shows cigarette dispensers to either side of the shuttered right-hand window of the shop, which belonged to the tobacconist Simeon Aquilla Chilton. In the photograph, the name ‘Smith’ is faintly legible, though overpainted, on the fascia over the left-hand window. Census records (1881, 1891, 1901 and 1911) confirm that this was Eliza Smith’s hairdresser’s shop for many years. However, the identity of the occupant who put up this fine shopfront around 50 years earlier is not known.

Holland & Barrett (formerly John Emson’s), with Seasalt and Costa, 6 Market Square

The shop at 6 Market Square in Saffron Walden belonged, in the early 19th century, to the grocer and draper John Emson (1781-1849). Emson was ensconced here by 1810, when he advertised for a man of ‘unexceptional character’ to assist in the shop. The business occupied the entire north side of the Market Place, with a delivery entrance and wholesale department in a former malthouse to the right of the shop. A weighbridge installed in the street by Emson in 1812 was removed at the request of the Corporation in 1928 and has left no trace.

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6 Market Square.

The shopfront was updated, probably in the 1840s, with the present classical detailing. The original small squares of glazing were replaced with large panes of plate glass (which were themselves replaced in the late 20th century).

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6 Market Square

Emson served as mayor of Saffron Walden in 1834 and 1842, and the wrought-iron balcony with its tented canopy must have offered a perfect setting for delivering speeches. In 1832, the Whig politician Mr Western is known to have addressed the townspeople from Mr Emson’s balcony, over the shop windows. 

After John Emson’s death, his sons John Green (1813-1900) and Frederick (1818-93) ran the business in partnership. John Green’s son, Frank Everitt Emson (1851-1933), was the author of Our Town, or Life at Slowborough (1886), based on local characters in Saffron Walden.

The shop passed through several hands in the 20th century: Emson, Tanner & Sons; Stebbing Leverett & Son (an established Saffron Walden draper); W. Eaden Lilley (a Cambridge department store), and Beales.  After Beales closed, the shop – which had spread into the former warehouse – was subdivided into three separate retail units.

Hart & Son, printer & stationer, 18-20 King Street

Henry Hart (1801-83) set up in business in Saffron Walden in 1836 as a printer and stationer. His printing press has been preserved in Saffron Walden Museum.

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Carriage arch next to 26 King Street.

By 1851 Hart had moved his shop from Market Street to 18 King Street. The carriage arch beside the present-day Hart’s Book Shop, at 26 King Street, gave access to the printing works to the rear of Hart’s shop, and still bears their signage.

No. 18 King Street is a listed building, thought to have been built in 1633. During alterations in 1870 workmen: ‘came upon an old “Witch Bottle,” embedded about 18 inches below the floor of the shop, and about 12 inches from the fireplace.  It contained some water, about 40 horsenails, and 20 thorns. It is supposed to be 200 years old.’ A photograph of 1876 shows the large plate-glass shopfront – probably installed during the works of 1870 – occupying the entire width of the frontage. It is now divided between Clintons and Card Factory.

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18-20 King Street.

The business was retained by the Hart family until 1934, when it was sold to Edwin Turnbull. Turnbull continued to trade under the Hart name, currently Hart Business Solutions.

 Woolworth’s (now QD), 26-28 High Street

This branch of F. W. Woolworth & Co. Ltd. opened on Saffron Walden High Street on 29 June 1934, on the site of J. Wright’s garage. Woolworth’s had been building stores in medium-sized British towns for the previous 20 years, steadily colonising the country. The Saffron Walden branch was designated Store 548.


26-28 High Street in the 1980s. (c. Historic England Archive)

In deference to its setting in such an historic town, Store 548 was designed in a tasteful Georgian style, with two-tone brickwork and sash windows. It avoided the modish art deco detailing favoured at this time by Woolies’ architects.

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26-28 High Street.

Today the building retains its original 1930s bronze shopfront, with neatly curved corners, of a type which was standardised across Woolworth’s estate between the wars. It has been painted bright red by the present occupant, QD. Like 1 Myddleton Place (above) it is that rare thing: an historic shopfront contemporary with the building which hosts it!

Posted in Spotter's Guides | 3 Comments