Friday, February 15, 2013

Chiesmans - a store full of memories

The suitcase is full of wonderful photos, letters, documents that were clearly important to someone. I completely understand why they have been stored away and kept for so many years.

Then there are the items that I really can't comprehend such as this paper bag that appears to come from a shop named Chiesmans. Why would anyone keep it?

Having found out a bit more about it, I think I'm starting to understand it.

Chiesmans Ltd was a department store retailer. The first shop, a drapery on Lewisham High Street, was founded by brothers Frank and Harry Chiesman in 1884.

Chiesmans Brothers became a private limited company in 1921 when the brothers' sons Stuart, Russel and Harold Chiesman joined the family business after the end of the First World War.

A second store was purchased in Maidstone in 1933, followed by sites in Canterbury, Gravesend, Tunbridge Wells, the Isle of Wight, Ilford, Upton Park and Rochester.

In 1976 the company was bought by House of Fraser Plc - a name I am much more familiar with and one which gives me an indication of the type of shop this was.

The Tunbridge Wells store was on the corner of Calverley Rd, where the Body Shop now stands. Mr Beavis at the Tunbridge Wells Museum later told me that when the buildings were demolished, the new facade was built to replicate its predecessor exactly. Internally the awkward steps and the challenges of old buildings had been removed, but the integrity of Tunbridge Wells' architecture had been maintained externally.

When I first met Anke with the suitcase, he posted a picture of the bag on Twitter which prompted a lot of people to share their recollections of the store. I loved that something so simple could stir up so many fond memories - one person even said they still have a set of steak knives they purchased there.

People also mentioned the cafe that served cakes. This fact stood out for me - it makes me wonder if the owner of the bag had been for afternoon tea, a treat perhaps, and kept the bag as a memento?

We'll never know, but I am glad that I now know a bit more about the store's history.

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