As reported in ‘The Draper and Drapery Times’ dated Saturday, September 10th 1921.
How a Draper’s Dreams of Progress are Coming True
There is always interest in reading about the growth of businesses, no matter what the branch or trade, from small beginnings. Many hundreds of flourishing concerns in all parts of the country originated in one tiny old-fashioned shop. Here is a brief account of the progress made by Mr J J Garner, draper, milliner, outfitter and furnisher, in the little country town of Olney, in Buckinghamshire. Mr. Garner has just – on the 27th of last month — celebrated the 35th anniversary of his commencement, and he has every reason to be proud of what he has accomplished.
He trades at Nos. 20a and 21 in the Market Place, the original shop being No. 21, which, by the way, has an interesting literary association. In the life of Cowper, by T W (Thomas Wright!), the author records that it was at 21, Market Place, just as she was about to enter, that the poet had his first glimpse of Lady Austen, who afterwards had so considerable an influence upon him, and at whose suggestion he composed his fine work ‘The Task’. Cowper lived opposite, in a house which is now the Cowper Museum.
The Original Shop
That was in 1781, and the shop was then a linen draper’s, in the occupation of a Mr Palmer. In 1820 it was taken over by a Mr Lovell; in 1840, Mr Henry Hurst opened it as a furniture dealer’s; in 1870, Mr Hoskins reconverted the business into a draper’s. Mr Garner, the subject of this little sketch, and the present proprietor, appeared on the scene in August, 1886.
An Old-Time Store
We give an illustration of the premises as they were in Mr Hoskin’s time. Note the typical old-fashioned small paned windows, and the goods piled in front on the pavement.
When Mr. Garner came in, the shop appeared as shown in the smallest picture. He started, himself very young, with one assistant, in the attempt to revive a business which for some years had not been a success. Very soon he wanted more room, and the gateway on the left was removed and the frontage continued on, the addition allowing of the opening of a men’s outfitting department. This was in 1896.
‘Hard work, long hours, practically no holidays’, writes Mr. Garner, ‘seemed to be our portion, but fortunately health and strength of will kept up, and in another ten years I secured the adjoining old thatched property and used it with its various rooms as carpet, lino, floorcloth, and soft furnishing departments’
Time passed and the business prospered, until the moment again seemed ripe for further alterations. But the war broke out, and plans were temporarily hung up. When it ended, the old building was pulled down and rebuilt, and the installation of an up-to-date plate-glass shop front from end to end of the site marked another step up the ladder in the firm’s history.
As will be seen from our third picture, there are now four large windows. The frontage measures over 60ft, making the business one of the largest in North Bucks. The personnel, including Mr Garner and his son, numbers ten, ‘all ready and willing’, as Mr Garner says, ‘and able and ready to cater for the whole district around. Mr Garner, junior, by the way, fought in the war on several battle fronts (Russia, Roumania, Galicia, etc.) and won distinctions, and has now settled down in charge of the men’s outfitting and carpet departments.
With our personal supervision’, Mr Garner adds, ‘I feel that there should be a greater future for our store’.
It is a very interesting story. We are sure that if father and son remain in charge, their dreams of still further progress will ‘come true’.
(In forwarding us the particulars from which we have drawn up this article Mr Garner says: ‘By the way, you may be interested to hear that I am still in touch with Mr Hoskins, my immediate predecessor. I enclose, for your interest, his last letter to me. You will note that Mr Hoskins asks for indulgence for his hand-writing, but I think you will agree that it is wonderfully firm and legible for an old gentleman over 84 years of age’. It is so; far clearer than that of many a man less than half the writer’s age.)
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