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Opinion: Don’t Dwell Over the Closure of House of Fraser Store – Change is Nothing New There

Published on: 30 Sep, 2023
Updated on: 30 Sep, 2023

By David Rose

Today (Saturday, September 30) Guildford’s only department store that’s left in the town, House of Fraser, closes its doors for the last time.

Going, going and gone by the end of Saturday, September 30 – Guildford’s House of Fraser department store.

The closure of the store has, on local social media, seen an outpouring of people’s sadness and nostalgia, recalling how it was in years gone by.

Exactly the same happens whenever I give my popular illustrated history talk titled Guildford’s Lost Shops – there plenty of similar comments about the store in question here and many others that were also once in Guildford!

However, change is nothing new, and most would agree that nostalgia is nothing but a thing of the past, or so the saying goes!

Here is a selection of vintage photos of the House of Fraser building as it was in years gone by and which reveal the different traders who have at one time or another occupied it.

And yesterday (Friday) I took photos of roughly the same views with the large 50 per cent sale signs in the windows of House of Fraser.

Above: a picture postcard view of Williamson’s Old English Furniture store as seen at the time of the 1911 coronation of George V. David Rose collection. And below how it looks in September 2023.

In Matthew Alexander’s book Vintage Guildford (Henderson Publishing, 1981), he writes that Williamson’s furniture store was founded in the 18th century in Chapel Street, Guildford. It moved to the High Street in 1847. While in the 1920s and 30s Queen Mary was a regular customer. The business moved to Quarry Street after the Second World War and closed in 1960.

One of Guildford’s, now long-gone, but previously one of the town’s long-standing family-run butchers and fishmongers was Colebrook & Co, who it appears came to Guildford from Sussex in 1827.

Above: All ready for the Christmas feast, Colebrook’s shop in 1913. Picture: Guildford Institute collection. Below the same shop front in 2023.

Like Guildford’s other butchers in times gone by, at Christmas time in particular, it was the custom to hang the geese, turkeys and so on, outside and cover the shop front. Colebrook’s was no exception, and it has to be noted it also had a slaughterhouse on the premises.

Above: Colebrook’s and another shop that was here, Hiltons, which sold boots. Picture: Guildford Institute collection. Below: the same view in September 2023.

E. & B. Colebrook advertisement from a guide book to Guildford traders, published in 1912. Note the High Street address as number 47. In the early 1960s the numbering of Guildford High Street was changed. Therefore today the premises that House of Fraser has occupied are numbers 105 to 111.

William Harvey came to Guildford in 1919 and opened a high-class women’s fashion shop in what was the then brand new Tunsgate Arcade off the High Street, currently the Tunsgate Quarter shopping centre.

Harvey’s of Guildford as pictured in about the late 1960s. Picture: Guildford Institute collection. Below: the same view in September 2023.

In about 1948, The House of Harvey, as it had been known as, transferred to the High Street into the buildings that were previously occupied by Williamson’s, Colebrook’s, Hilton’s, and so on.

Harvey’s arcade. Picture: David Rose collection.

Harvey’s of Guildford became a department store and expanded over time. This included an arcade within the store, but open to the sky, which was a feature in around the 1960s and 70s.

Picture postcard view of Harvey’s roof garden and cafe. Picture: David Rose collection.

However, it is the roof garden and cafe that so many people remember, and with much affection.

I think one of the reasons being that it was such a novel place to visit (for Guildford anyway), and besides, back in the late 1960s / early 1970s, I well remember there were few places where you could get a decent cup of tea.

Woolworths store had a cafe and there was the Corona cafe, but not a lot else compare to the luxury of the plethora of tea and coffee shops as there are in 2023.

A view from Harvey’s roof garden towards Guildford Cathedral. Picture: David Rose collection.

As noted in my book Guildford Through Time (co-written with Bernard Parke and published by Amberley in 2009 and with a revised publication in 2015), landscape architect Geoffrey Jellico designed the rooftop garden on top of Harvey’s in 1956-57. He later wrote it was in part inspired by the first Sputnik spacecraft at that time flying high above the earth.

A different view of Harvey’s roof garden from those often copied on to social media pages. The date of this one is 1968 and the photo belongs to Lindsay Fearnley, who kindly supplied a copy to David Rose.

As a result, the garden had a number of swirling and circular features reminiscent of the planets. Along with its restaurant and the goldfish in the ponds, the roof garden was a popular place to visit in the 1960s. It was later closed after some items of furniture were recklessly thrown from the roof. However, in recent years, when the store, now House of Fraser, received a substantial revamp (1993), the roof garden was reinstated.

Harvey’s advert from 1974 as it was about to be renamed Army & Navy Stores. Image: David Rose collection.

Harvey’s of Guildford was bought out by the House of Fraser Group in 1974, and was rebranded as part of its Army & Navy Stores, later becoming House of Fraser, as it has been up until 2023.

More nostalgia: paper bags from Harvey’s of Guildford. David Rose collection.

What the building’s long-term future is, it is not clear. It has been said that it will re-open as a Fenwick department store. This is a chain of stores founded in 1882 by John James Fenwick in Newcastle upon Tyne.

What is of course clear, is that nothing stays the same. You can bet that people lamented the demise of Williamson’s, Colebrook’s, and so on. And they’ll come a time when no-one is around to remember Harvey’s or, for that matter, even the House of Fraser.

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Responses to Opinion: Don’t Dwell Over the Closure of House of Fraser Store – Change is Nothing New There

  1. Sue Reply

    September 30, 2023 at 9:04 pm

    Some of my happiest times as part of the brilliant team as a display merchandiser ( window dresser ) at Harveys , lovley memories and very sad that one of guildfords attractions has gone forever .

  2. Keith Francis Reply

    September 30, 2023 at 9:18 pm

    Am I right that in the photograph Guildford Cathedral tower hasn’t reached its full height?

    My late father cycled no matter what the weather was like after a day’s work from Kingfield, Woking, to Guildford Technical College to learn, as you had to in those days, shorthand, typewriting and book-keeping taught by Mary and Cornelia Williamson (the Williamson’s daughters). Having passed those examinations he went on to get teaching diplomas and continued to go there to teach students.

    I have some photographs my father took at “Benchway” the Williamson family home of the tennis parties in about 1937 which David Rose has seen.

  3. Peta Malthouse Reply

    October 1, 2023 at 7:34 am

    Good to see the frontage of the buildings have stayed the same.

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