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Celebrating the 150th birthday of iconic shop

Cole Brothers Limited, Department Store, Fargate, Sheffield
Coles Corner
circa 1948

Cole Brothers Limited, Department Store, Fargate, Sheffield Coles Corner circa 1948

It has been the icon of our city’s shopping for generations and now John Lewis - or Cole Brothers, to give the department store its old name - is celebrating its 150th anniversary.

In 1847, two brothers opened a humble drapery shop in Sheffield city centre, at the spot affectionately known as Cole’s Corner.

Fast-forward 150 years and the John Lewis store, now based at Barker’s Pool, welcomes grandparents, parents and children in their droves through its doors.

Youngsters gaze in awe at the store’s treasure trove of toys, teenage girls sample the make-up ranges in the bustling beauty hall, young couples browse the selection of furniture for their first home, office workers pick out their outfits for work and play, and older folk gather for coffee and cake.

Head of store James Prince explained: “We are very privileged to have a really loyal customer base in Sheffield.

“We have customers who shop with us and have shopped with us their whole lives which, in this modern day and age, is quite remarkable.

“Customers come here because it’s where their mum and dad brought them as children. There’s a phrase in retail which talks about catering for a customer from the cradle to the grave, and Sheffield has a family branch in that respect.”

John Lewis Sheffield began its life as Cole Brothers when John and Thomas Cole opened their business at 47 Fargate, describing themselves as ‘silk merciers and hosiers’.

The pair were later joined by their younger brother, Skelton, and the trio expanded the business over five years into Fargate and Church Street.

By this time, the men had become ‘silk merciers, shawl, mantle and carpet warehousemen, bonnet makers and sewing machine agents’.

The brothers died between 1869 and 1902, but in their time had seen their humble shop become one of the flagship stores on Sheffield’s high street.

It was the next generation of Cole sons which took Cole Brothers into the new century, and in 1919 the company was sold and became part of the Selfridge Provincial Stores Group.

In 1940, Selfridge sold the group to the John Lewis Partnership - and the rest is history.

By the time World War Two ended, Cole’s Corner had become a favourite meeting place in Sheffield and is still remembered by many residents of a certain age as the place to meet your sweetheart.

James said: “Stories are told of meeting blind dates there, as there were doors on both Church Street and Fargate.

“That meant you could see the person waiting and, if you didn’t like what you saw, you could just walk away without being seen!”

Saturday, September 14, 1963, marked the end of an era when the old Cole Brothers store closed its doors for the last time in preparation for a move to the current site on Barker’s Pool.

The new building was state-of-the art, having been designed by the same architect firm which worked on Macy’s in New York.

Workers travelled Europe to find the perfect tiles for the exterior, and its car park was the first in Yorkshire to have a ramp with under-floor heating to prevent ice building up during snowy Sheffield winters.

The well-documented move has been likened to a military exercise.

James said: “They filled as many green vans as they could but time was pushing on, so in the end the partners were just pushing trolleys up the street.

“Everyone did their bit - it was a real team effort.”

More than 50 years on since the big move, team spirit is still alive and well.

The 479-strong team of partners has notched up a staggering 6,652 years of work between them.

“That says a lot,” said James.

“That tells you that people start here and never leave. I would challenge any business in a large radius to have that kind of record.”

Love is in the air at John Lewis

Cupid has paid a regular visit to John Lewis in Sheffield.

No fewer than 24 couples have met at the branch and either got married or are in a long-term relationship - resulting in 21 children.

Carmen and David Morris met at the shop.

Carmen Baum started as a trainee at the branch straight from school in August, 1983. She started dating David Morris, who had joined as a school leaver in 1979, in January 1985.

The couple married in 1988 and, two children later, Carmen still works at the store.

As does her daughter, Rebecca, who is the section manager on audio, and her sister-in-law, Alison Baum, who works on menswear.

Of the 24 couples who met at John Lewis in Sheffield, 11 of them both still work at the store.

Commemorative events planned

John Lewis in Sheffield has a series of commemorative events planned this weekend to celebrate its 150th anniversary.

Tomorrow, Great British Sewing Bee star Stuart Hillard will visit the shop and show customers how to make a clam shell sewing kit holder. He will be on the shop floor from 11am to 3pm.

All weekend, there will be live music, face painting, a children’s colouring competition and a number of other activities.

There will be an assortment of products on sale which have been produced exclusively for the anniversary, and there is a timeline on the wall outside The Place to Eat telling the 150-year-old story of John Lewis.

The electrical department has teamed up with Henry Hoover to offer customers the chance to buy a ‘John’ or ‘Lewis’ vacuum cleaner.

The home department has taken heritage prints from the archive and used them on new products, and the fashion department is launching a menswear range by Orla Kiely.

Events and activities over the Bank Holiday weekend will raise funds for Barnardo’s and the Priory Sheffield Gresley Road Family centre nursery.

 

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