Popular Sheffield shop closing after nearly 100 years
The writing is on the wall for one of Sheffield’s oldest shops, which has closed after more than 90 years.
The pen shop F.G. Thomas has been trading since 1925 from its bijou premises on Surrey Street, opposite Sheffield Town Hall.
But it will shut its doors for good after tomorrow, Tuesday, October 1, as the owner writes a new chapter in its history by moving exclusively to online sales.
The stationers was established as a family run business on Angel Street in 1913, with the Surrey Street branch opening a dozen years later and the original store being destroyed in the Sheffield Blitz of December 1940.
A member of staff rummaged through the rubble after the bombing and salvaged four heraldic plaques, which were fixed to the outside of the Surrey Street store where they can still be seen.
The business remained in the family until the 1980s and in 1990 was taken over by its present owner Gary Ellison and his sister Jill Rogers, whose involvement was relatively short-lived.
Famous customers over the years range from snooker players like Steve Davis to actors such as the late Lynda Bellingham and Alan Fletcher, better known as Karl Kennedy from the Australian soap Neighbours.
The former Sheffield United manager Dave Bassett, miners leader Arthur Scargill, newsreader Jon Snow and artist Joe Scarborough are among the other celebrities to have shopped there, and when the Queen visited Sheffield Cathedral in 2015 it was from F.G. Thomas that her representatives bought the pen she used for her official duties.
Mr Ellison said: “I’ve enjoyed my time here and being part of the shop’s long history, but with the lease coming up for renewal it felt like the right time to close the shop and trade online only.
“It’s been good over the years but trade’s quietened down during the last seven or eight years, which I think is due to a combination of factors.
“The rise in online shopping has definitely played a part and I think the regeneration of the city centre hasn’t happened quickly enough, which has left businesses in limbo.
“A lot of customers have said they’ll be upset to see us go, which is touching because I didn’t realise how many people would miss us, and it will be sad to close.”
It would be easy to imagine handwriting is a dying art, following the advent of mobiles, computers and tablets, but Mr Ellison said there is still plenty of demand for fountain pens, especially as gifts.
“They’re quite popular with the younger generation, actually. We get a lot of Chinese students, who love fountain pens,” explained the 55-year-old, of Wadsley, who was an apprentice electrician and then worked in printing before taking over the shop.
Mr Ellison told how the most expensive pens he had sold over the years were Montblancs for around £2,500 and Namiki Emperors for about £1,800, though most of his goods are considerably cheaper.
He added that he had enjoyed meeting his customers over the years, with two stories standing out.
“We once had a man who came in and was picking all sorts of things out. When he came to pay he started taking his shoes and socks off, and it turned out he had a wad of notes rolled up in there,” he said.
“Another time this guy came in who had a Cross fountain pen with the nib bent over double and he said ‘you won’t believe who’s done this’.
“It turned out Prince Charles was doing a signing and when he was given the pen he’d used it with such force he’d broken the nib, before just handing the pen back.”
The Surrey Street store was run for many years by two sisters, with one in charge of the basement, selling cards and cake decorations, and the other, called Agnes, being responsible for the stationery department upstairs.
When Mr Ellison bought the business in 1990, Agnes’ daughter Anne was the manager.
Mr Ellison said he did not yet know what would replace the shop, with the lease for the premises still available.