Counter cul­ture rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies

Au­thor re­veals how the pi­o­neer­ing depart­ment stores of Scot­land changed the way we shop and what we buy for ever

The Sunday Post (Newcastle) - - NEWS - By Laura Smith LSMITH@SUN­DAY­POST.COM

They were tow­er­ing tem­ples of com­merce that in­tro­duced a new way of shop­ping that was so­cia­ble, ex­cit­ing, and glam­orous – and took place un­der one ma­jes­tic roof.

But today, the classy, sprawl­ing depart­ment stores that flour­ished from the mid19th Cen­tury into the early 1900s have mostly van­ished from our high streets.

The rise of high street chains, in­ter­net shop­ping, next-day de­liv­ery and click and col­lect ser­vices have helped place con­ve­nience over plea­sure when it comes to shop­ping.

As we gear up for the busiest shop­ping pe­riod of the year, Ed­in­burgh au­thor Jane Tul­loch has been look­ing back on how we used to shop more than a cen­tury ago.

“Af­ter delv­ing into the Ed­in­burgh Cen­tral Li­brary ar­chives, she found it was a very dif­fer­ent – and far more lav­ish – ex­pe­ri­ence.

“These depart­ment stores sound fan­tas­tic with their beau­ti­ful front- of­house de­part­ments and win­dow dis­plays. The the­atrics of it all was a real lure ,” said the 62-year-old.

“Cus­tomers would get dressed up, have their car­riage or car parked by a chauf­feur, and af­ter shop­ping would re­lax in tea­rooms as their pur­chases were sent to the side door for col­lec­tion.

“Most opened in the mid to late 19th cen­tury and prob­a­bly the golden age was the ear­li­est part of the 20th Cen­tury up un­til the 1930s.”

While there were iconic depart­ment stores spread across Scot­land, Jane has fo­cused her re­search on Ed­in­burgh.

The Cap­i­tal was home to nu­mer­ous depart­ment stores, es­pe­cially in the late 19 than dearly-mid 20 th Cen­tury, in­clud­ing J& R Al­lan and Patrick Thom­son on South Bridge, and Maule & Son and RW Forsyth on Princes Street.

In Ed­in­burgh, the iconic Jen­ners alone re­mains stand­ing proudly on Princes Street, al­though it ceased to be Scot­land’s last in­de­pen­dently- owned depart­ment store in 2005 when it was bought over by the Glas­gow-based House of Fraser.

Jane’s in­ter­est in the lost depart­ment stores of Ed­in­burgh – she’s writ­ten two nov­els based on the sub­ject – stems from her time work­ing be­hind the counter in Jen­ners dur­ing the 70s.

Launched on Princes Street in 1838 by draper Charles Jen­ner and Charles Ken­ning­ton ( it was first known as Ken­ning­ton & Jen­ner), Jen­ners was de­scribed as The Har­rods of the North.

Other stores like Self ridges, launched by Harry Gor­don Sel­fridge, whose story was told in the pop­u­lar ITV drama, have been hailed for chang­ing how Bri­tain shopped but would not open for an­other 70 years. And Jane dis­cov­ered the store had sim­i­lar­i­ties with its London equiv­a­lents, Har­rods and Sel­fridges, which today are as much grand tourist at­trac­tions as shop­ping des­ti­na­tions. “One of the most in­ter­est­ing things I found was a huge in­ven­tory of ev­ery­thing in the store from what I think was 1906,” said Jane.

“It in­cluded 102 bed­rooms for the staff, which was very un­usual for Scot­land at the time. You could tell their rank based on if they had an iron bed or oak three-bed­room suite. There was a hos­pi­tal room, med­i­cal room and a live-in house­keeper

“They could have their meals as part of their salary and one chap was ac­tu­ally re­tained full time to slice the staff roast.

“The head cleaner would have six eggs for break­fast, so it sounds like they were taken care of by Mr Jen­ner.”

The store burned down on Novem­ber 26, 1892 but its canny owner en­sured his

staff and cus­tomers didn’t go with­out for long.

“He in­sured the busi­ness with 23 dif­fer­ent com­pa­nies so he was back in busi­ness within weeks and paid to have all his staff put up in a ho­tel while the store and their liv­ing quar­ters were re­built,” she said.

Shop­ping for ladies’ at­tire, in par­tic­u­lar, was a very re­fined af­fair, dur­ing a pe­riod when the shop man­nequins ac­tu­ally moved.

“I re­cently met a lady whose granny was a model in Jen­ners,” said Jane.

“Back then staff would model the clothes and you’d sit and choose what you wanted. Then it would be made in your size.”

De­part­ments dis­played their mis­cel­la­neous wares in gleam­ing glass topped coun­ters. Cus­tomers would take a seat and be shown a se­lec­tion of goods stored in draw­ers.

Com­fort was also key. “If you were buy­ing gloves there was an el­bow pad to put your el­bow on as the shop as­sis­tant eased your gloves on to your hand,” said Jane.

“There was also some­one who would park your car for you on ar­rival at Jen­ners.

“Tea­rooms were pop­u­lar, es­pe­cially in Scot­land. At Patrick Thomp­son, you could have two scones and a cup of tea for a shilling.”

The South Bridge store, nick­named P. T.’s, was pop­u­lar with the mid­dle classes and boasted 60 de­part­ments, sell­ing items like shoes, fur­ni­ture, car­pets, millinery, drap­ery and toys. Jane dis­cov­ered mourn­ing wear was a money-spin­ner with the Vic­to­ri­ans.

She added: “I know J&R Al­lan, which opened in Ed­in­burgh in 1880, had a very large mourn­ing depart­ment – it was se­ri­ous busi­ness in Vic­to­rian times.

“You could pur­chase man­tles, a type of cloak, hats and gloves in dif­fer­ent grades of black de­pend­ing on how re­cently you were be­reaved.”

Of course, things are very dif­fer­ent today – so what changed?

“These shops were a way of life for more than a cen­tury but tastes changed and they just went out of fash­ion,” ex­plained the au­thor.

“House of Fraser hoovered up the ma­jor­ity of them. And then chain stores popped up in the 1950s- 60s of­fer­ing cheaper prod­ucts.

“Bou­tique shop­ping also be­came more pop­u­lar as cus­tomers de­sired spe­cial­ist re­tail­ers in­stead of go­ing to one big place for ev­ery­thing.”

TV’s Mr Sel­fridge, main; Charles Jen­ner, right; his fa­mous store today, be­low; and Glas­gow’s House of Fraser in the ’60s, above

Mol­lie Sug­den from TV’s Are You Be­ing Served

Jane Tul­loch

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