Thinking allowed — 11 June 2013
Are you being served?

The Centre for Retail Research has recently forecast 62,000 shops will close in the next 5 years. The independent analysis group estimate that one-fifth of all retail outlets will cease trading by 2018. Peter Watts writes on his Great Wen site of the demise of Tobacco Dock. Opening in 1989 the dock conversion featured two arcades of shops on two floors inside a skilfully modernised structure that retained its Victorian industrial integrity. It now lies there completely empty.

Once London had a number of prestigious stores many owned in a partnership of two men. Unlike the generically named Next or Top Shop their premises reflected the owners’ personal taste and retain acumen. As our shopping habits change the great days of the department store are probably over. There are some survivors left in London, but many of the great privately owned retail partnerships have gone. Old fashioned concepts like knowledgeable staff, politeness and service are now less important in a digital retail age.

Arding & Hobs

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One of the few stores Sarf of the River. This department store was once situated at Clapham Junction and very often spoken of as “Arding ‘n’obbs”. It opened in 1885 and at that time was the largest store south of the River. Destroyed by fire in 1909 it was rebuilt in Edwardian baroque style the original signage remains in place above the main entrance. Now Debenhams.

Bourne & Hollingsworth

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Mr. Bourne and Mr. Hollingsworth set up a fancy drapers’ shop in 1894 in Westbourne Grove. In 1902 they moved to Oxford Street slowly acquiring the rest of the block including a brothel, a ‘next of Polish tailors’ and Savory’s cigarette factory. Closed in 1983.

Derry & Toms

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A little shop run by Joseph Toms described as a ‘toy and fancy repository’ joined with Charles Derry acquiring seven shops one of which was described as a ‘mourning department’. The firm prided itself on being the main suppliers to the upper classes of South Kensington and had over 200 employees living in. Closed in 1973 and taken over by Biba.

Dickens & Jones

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Dickens originally opened a shop in Oxford Street in 1790 moving to Regent Street in 1835. By 1900 the staff totalled 200, most of them lived in nearby Argyll Street. In the 1890s John Pritchard Jones became a partner and the store changed its name. In 1901 the store was all prepared for a while sale when Queen Victoria died. Most of the stock was dyed black to meet the urgent demand for mourning wear. It is now owned by House of Fraser.

Marshall & Snelgrove

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Opening in Vere Street in 1837 their nearby rival was William Debenham. By 1871 James Marshall the son of the founder had introduced a large mail-order business. Alas the rivalry is over Marshall & Snelgrove is now part of the vast Debenhams empire.

Swan & Edgar

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William Edgar had a haberdashery stall in St. James’s Market and used to sleep under it at night. Meeting Mr. Swan together they ran a shop in the Ludgate area. In 1812 they moved to Piccadilly Circus and then Regent Street premises which had been the Western Mail coach offices and also the Bull and Mouth public house. They retained the inn licence until the late 1970s. Its vast store was closed in 1982.

Waring & Gillow

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The business was established by Robert Gillow in Lancaster about 1731 and by 1765 leased some land in Oxford Street that was to become the Selfridge’s site. S. J. Waring had a cabinet making enterprise in Liverpool and in 1895 had a retail outlet in Oxford Street. The companies merged and made furniture for Boodle’s, the Garrick and Reform Clubs. However, the business of the firm began to decline and the Lancaster workshops closed in 1962 and the company merged with Maples.

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