Our Business

Photo:Trewin Bros. staff outing to Chorleywood 1913

Trewin Bros. staff outing to Chorleywood 1913

JLP Archive Collection

The history of Trewins, Kinghams and Waitrose in Watford

By Judy Faraday

In 1880 a young Cornishman, Arthur Trewin, purchased a small draper's shop in Queens Road, Watford.  The shop was a success and by 1885 'A Trewin and Co., Family Drapers' were inviting customers to view their stock of household linens, dress piece goods, mantles, furs, children's hosiery and trimmings.

In 1887 the business moved into the newly built Osborne House.  Around the turn of the century Arthur was joined at the premises by his brother Henry.  From this time onwards the business became known as Trewin Brothers.

In 1902 the shop was double-fronted with four external lamps to light the windows after dark.  Other innovations followed including the provision of electricity to the shop two days before the rest of Watford!

By 1913 special attractions included a public tea room and new showrooms.  There were demonstrations of new goods and services, and at Christmas time parents were encouraged to 'Bring the Tots to Toyland!' to see Santa in his lavish grotto.

Selfridge Provincial Stores
The business was sold to the American, Gordon Selfridge, in 1918 and it became one of the fifteen Selfridge Provincial Stores group run by Selfridge until 1940.  The extravagant displays and exhibitions continued.  They opened a 'Television Theatre' and celebrities regularly visited the shop to promote various products.

When the SPS group was acquired by the John Lewis Partnership during the Second World War, the staff became Partners in the business and were encouraged to participate in all the Partnership had to offer, both in the democratic way the business was run and also in the participation in social activities.

Expanding the business
Over the years the shop had become rather run down, caused in part by the damage the shop had suffered during a bombing raid in the War.  In 1963 work finally commenced to build a new extension to the shop adjacent to the old one.  By 1965 the work was complete and the shop had doubled in size.

Trade continued to be good and the decision was made to try to expand the shop again but this was thwarted on several occasions.  To help with the lack of space Trewins took the lease on a shop in a building known as Ebenezer House on Queens Road which was used for sports and toys.  Some non-selling departments moved out of the shop completely into adjacent premises including the Kinghams warehouse.

Kinghams had been a local chain of grocery shops with branches around Watford.  It was acquired by the Partnership in 1960 and became part of Waitrose a couple of years later.  Around that time Waitrose opened a supermarket in North Watford on the site of an old cinema and the grocery side of the business continued in the town until the supermarket's closure in 1987.

New air-conditioned, light and airy shopping centre
The previous year full agreement had been reached to participate in the redevelopment of Trewins, Kinghams and the Queens Road area into what was to become known as the Harlequin Centre.

On Sunday 12th August 1990 Trewins Partners moved from the old shop into their new home trundling the stock through the town centre in cages and trolleys.  On the following Wednesday the new shop opened for business.  The old shops in Queens Road were demolished to make way for a new air-conditioned, light and airy shopping centre.

The last major change came in September 2001 when Trewins changed its name to John Lewis Watford and began to open on Sundays.

To find out more about the shop today visit www.johnlewis.com/shops/DShome.aspx

This page was added by Judy Faraday on 14/08/2007.
Comments about this page

The Gazette of 14 September 1963 described Trewins as "the Partnerships' smallest department store" with its three floors, nine department managers and some 250 Partners.  Watford, on the other hand, was by then home to "well over 75,000" people and "said to be the second most prosperous town in the country."
To meet the needs of Watford's well-off and expanding population, the Partnership embarked on an extensive rebuilding programme that aimed almost to double Trewins selling area.

Queens Road, "though just off the main shopping street with its chain stores, has become the Bond Street of the town, and Trewins plan to become the largest shop in it" wrote The Gazette in 1963.  "The Partnership will be investing half a million pounds there over the next two years to make this possible."

By Margaret Tucker
On 07/09/2007

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