Bobby & Co. was a provincial department store group based mainly in seaside towns on the south coast of England. The business operated from 1887 until 1972. During the 1920s it became part of the Drapery Trust, which in turn became a subsidiary of Debenhams.

History edit

Early history edit

In 1887, Frederick James Bobby (1860-1941) bought an established drapery store in Margate, Kent, located on the corner of High Street and Queen Street.[1] The business grew to incorporate several neighbouring premises. In 1900, the business was incorporated and an expansion programme was begun, opening stores in specially selected towns, mostly seaside resorts. Stores were opened in Leamington Spa (1905),[2] Folkestone (formerly C J Saunders; purchased 1906), Eastbourne (formerly Atkinson & Co., trading as Strange & Atkinson; purchased 1910), Torquay (formerly Robert Thomas Knight; expanded 1921 with the purchase of Iredales), Cliftonville, Bournemouth (opened 1915 on the site of Hugh King; later extended)[2] Exeter (formerly Green & Son, acquired 1922)[2] and Southport.[3] In 1919, the company announced that the profits from the previous year stood at £43,542, which showed a substantial increase on 1914's profit of £17,086.[4]

In the 1920s the business employed the artist F Gregory Brown[5] to design a number of advertisement posters, which were printed by Bobby's own print shop and displayed in railway stations. Brown was also employed, at the same time, by Kensington department store Derry & Toms.

1927-1972 edit

Frederick Bobby retired from the business in 1927, selling his shares to a recently formed retail conglomerate, the Drapery Trust. The Bobby & Co. group was run as a separate entity within the trust, chaired by Frederick Bobby's son. The company was funded to further expand, incorporating the Bristol department store of John Cordeux & Son (renamed Bobby & Co.) in 1928. The Margate store was refurbished in 1937.[6] By this time the Bobby & Co. subsidiary had expanded to include Dusts of Tunbridge Wells, Handleys of Southsea,[7] Haymans of Totnes, Hills of Hove, Hubbards of Worthing, Simes of Worcester, Taylors of Bristol and Wellsteeds of Reading.[8]

The Exeter store was destroyed during the Blitz of 1942, with the store moving into smaller premises in Fore Street, where they stayed until 1964. In 1961, architect George Baines designed a new store for the junction of Sidwell Street and the High Street. Work was commenced by contractors, Bovis on the 123,000 square foot store in 1962, with the store finally opening its doors in March 1964.[9]

In the early 1970s the decision was taken by the Debenhams board to rationalise the entire group and bring the majority of their department stores under the Debenhams brand. The stores in Margate and Cliftonville were closed in 1972,[10] while all other stores trading under the Bobby's name were rebranded as Debenhams.

2021-present edit

In September 2021, the former store in Bournemouth was reopened, after the collapse of Debenhams, under the Bobby's/Bobby & Co. name as an independent concept department store hosting local independent retailers.[11]

References edit

  1. ^ "Bobbys stores part of a golden age of shopping". Archived from the original on 30 October 2014. Retrieved 30 October 2014.
  2. ^ a b c Stobart, Jon (2017). "Cathedrals of Consumption? Provincial Department Stores in England, c.1880–1930" (PDF). Enterprise & Society. 18 (4): 810-845. doi:10.1017/eso.2016.91. S2CID 157105045.
  3. ^ Michael Behm (17 June 2012). "COSGB". Retrieved 30 October 2014.
  4. ^ Parliament, New Zealand (1919). "Board of Trade Bill". p. 539. Parliamentary Debates. House of Representatives. New Zealand Parliament.
  5. ^ "Furnishing. Bobby & Co., Ltd". Retrieved 30 October 2014.
  6. ^ Michael Behm (17 June 2012). "COSGB". Retrieved 30 October 2014.
  7. ^ "Debenhams". Statements of the New York Stock Exchange. 1928. p. 2.
  8. ^ Corina, Maurice (1978). Fine Silks & Oak Counters: Debenhams 1778-1978 (First ed.). London: Hutchinson Benham. p. 134. ISBN 0-09-134910-9.
  9. ^ "Bobby's and Debenhams- a History in Exeter". Exeter Memories. Retrieved 15 April 2023.
  10. ^ Tony Ovenden. "Thanet coast life". Retrieved 30 October 2014.
  11. ^ George. M (9 September 2021). "Bobby's department store opens its doors in Bournemouth". Bournemouth Echo.