Expanding the retail experience Or: shop counter intelligence

Over the last year, Cutlock & Co’s editor has been busy facilitating Zoom sessions for the local U3A family history group, plus creating and giving a variety of presentations for them. This website has proved a good source of material, but the creative process also works the other way.

Preparations for a talk titled “The Selling Game” (subtitle “from official establishments to street traders”) was the prompt to explore in more detail the shop work that great uncle George Neal’s bride to be, Beatrice Lake, was doing in 1911. The source census was one of many added to individuals in the family tree when Ancestry first had got the records transcribed and in its database (early 2012). However, it had stood out as one of very few which wasn’t using the normal household schedule, instead a multi-page version for larger premises allowing up to 100 individual entries.

Here’s a copy of the totals table on the final page:

Beatrice’s job, along with most on the same page as her, was as shop assistant in drapery, and they were all living at “Staffordshire House, South Crescent, WC” (London). That was enough information for me at the time but rather minimal for a short section on the ‘modern’ prestigious department stores for the Selling Game presentation. Time to go back to that census record on Ancestry and check out its other pages and adjacent records for any more clues.

Many hands to provide a modern shopping service

The adjacent records didn’t disappoint. There were 2 more multi-page records with more shop assistants, mainly in drapery and millinery – a total of 269. Would this be all the shop floor staff or could some commute – perhaps just the seniors and supervisors?

To support such a number of single, young {2}, women, there’s another multi-pager of housemaids, waitresses and others. With fifty of these supporting staff it seems that the department store which surely employed them all wasn’t exactly skimping.

Searching on Google for ‘Staffordshire House, South Crescent, London’ a couple of useful links appear. First up, but not obviously the most promising, was from Lost Hospitals of London website. “King Albert’s Hospital for Convalescent Belgian Soldiers opened on 4th December 1914” is the first paragraph, but it goes on to say that the building “had been placed at the disposal of the War Office by Walter William Bourne and Howard E. Hollingsworth”, proprietors of Bourne and Hollingsworth in Oxford Street. That answers the question of who Beatrice’s employers were, then.

Wedding photo, courtesy of Gayle McRae

She married George in August 1912. He arrived in London to be art master at newly opened school Harrow County just the previous October – presumably they had originally met in their native Norwich.

From the other useful link, “Originally the firm (B&H) had a small hostel in Store Street known as Staffordshire House. As the business grew this too became inadequate and Warwickshire House was built in 1912.” {1}

1911 census declaration

Checking Google again but this time looking at Maps and switching to Google Street View, having noted that South Crescent is part of Store Street from the above image, the building labelled in the link as 26 South Crescent looks very likely to be the one which existed in 1911. There could have been something of a crush first thing in the morning if these were the only street doors!

Adding up

An interesting little exercise which has added both to the presentation and to the social history contained in the family tree.

Anyone have memories of shopping at Bourne and Hollingsworth?

Notes

  1. From Philip Suter website (department stores of Slough and Uxbridge). The houses were named after the counties where Bourne and Hollingsworth were born.
  2. A quick analysis shows 17 of these 269 are in their thirties, and slightly more teenagers (youngest aged 17), one 40 year old who is a buyer rather than a shop assistant or clerk. One widow otherwise all simply ‘single’. The housemaids etc. have a similar profile although the caretaker and cook are married (not to each other).
  3. Big store archives:

 

2 thoughts on “Expanding the retail experience Or: shop counter intelligence

  1. Fascinating. Nearly a lost history I should imagine. I was familiar with nurses’ hostels attached to hospitals as I spent a year in one in 1950/1 but hadn’t imagined that department stores would offer/demand the same conditions.

    Thank you for the additional details regarding the Belgian convalescents and Bourne & Hollingsworth’s origins.

  2. My understanding is the hostels were a way of attracting a “better” class of worker – decent young women were expected to stay in the parental home until they got married otherwise. A first taste of freedom for many? I’m sure there was a BBC drama (not Mr Selfridge! but not long before the first show of that appeared) which had this as a background.

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