Carltons, Bridlington: Memories of a Yorkshire department store give a glimpse into forgotten era of shopping
Let’s meet under the Carltons clock. For 57 years, Carltons department store in Bridlington provided townsfolk and holidaymakers alike with a handsome landmark meeting point, as well as a trusted establishment for purchasing fashion, haberdashery and homewares.
It opened in 1911, near the front, sandwiched between King Street and Chapel Street. There was a store there already, Norman Jones & Co, but the death of Mr Jones prompted Robert Hall Carlton, who had managed a department store in Hull, to buy it and rebrand it in his own name.
Carltons was to become a popular Bridlington shopping emporium, a place where people could buy almost everything they needed, and were guaranteed to find service with a smile.
Spanning seven decades, the story of Carltons has been told in Carltons Ltd: The Friendliest Store in Bridlington, A History: 1911-1968 – by Humphrey Keenlyside, who was commissioned by the Carlton family to write the book to mark the 100th birthday of Rachel Carlton, widow of Philip Carlton, the store’s last managing director and co-owner.
Humphrey has been a friend for many years of Olivia Carlton, Rachel and Philip’s daughter. It was she who told him all about her family department store.
Humphrey says: “I said, why don’t you put this down in writing? Otherwise, it disappears into the ether, so many family memories. That gave me an excuse to go up to Bridlington several times and chat to as many people as I could.”
He posted a request for memories on the Facebook page Bridlington Good Old Days, and sought help from Sarah Hutchinson at Bridlington Library, and from local historians and newspapers, while Olivia contacted old school friends from Bridlington High School for Girls – and so the story of Carltons emerged. The book is filled with fond memories from the family and from former staff and customers.
After Robert Hall bought the store, he asked his son, John, who had trained as a draper in York and at Selfridges in London (which had opened in 1909), to help manage his new venture. They set about creating one connected store.
They kept the large gold letters perched across the top of the building spelling out AU BON MARCHE, meaning good bargains, probably a nod to Le Bon Marche in Paris, thought to have been the first ever department store.
The First World War brought setbacks and tragedy. In 1916 John went to fight in France with the Royal Garrison Artillery. His younger brother William Fergus had died in a gas and shell attack near Armentieres in June that year. Sister Miriam took over the store management and became company secretary when the family created a private company, Carlton’s Ltd, in 1918, with Robert Hall as chairman and John as managing director. The apostrophe was dropped for the trading name.
Carltons grew, taking over more neighbouring shops as post-war spending boomed. A 1924 advert for the autumn sale depicts two women dressed in the height of glamorous fashion, in cloche hats, slim wrap coats and furs.
In 1932, celebrating its 21st anniversary, a local newspaper reported that Carltons was “unrivalled for its pleasant tone.” There were annual staff outings including dances at the Alexandra Hotel, and trips to Flamborough.
In 1933 internal walls were removed to make one large store from the interconnected former shops but bigger plans were thwarted once again by war in 1939.
Miriam, who had moved away to London and Brighton, where she had her own business, returned to Carltons in 1940 as director and principal buyer. John was a volunteer fire watcher and, in 1941 extinguished an incendiary bomb that had landed on Carltons and rolled down the staircase.
Humphrey says: “I found that interesting and surprising that they were determined to stay open, even though many of the men were away fighting.”
Robert Hall died in 1945 aged 93. John and his wife, Dorothy, had two children, Vivian and Philip who, after war service in Egypt and Palestine, apprenticed at Griffin & Spalding in Nottingham, where he met and married Rachel Machatton. He joined Carltons in 1951. They had five children, Allegra, Andy, Simon, Olivia and Rob.
By the ‘50s, the store had a large wooden-floored ground floor, filled with mahogany glass-fronted cabinets, with sections for scarves and gloves, gifts, jewellery, pipes, hosiery, haberdashery and school uniforms.
There was a “magnificent arching staircase” sweeping up to the first floor where customers would find womenswear, menswear and millinery, shoes, bedding and furniture.
Pamela Johnson, who visited as a child in the ‘50s, remembers high bentwood chairs, gleaming brass and many mirrors, adding: “The thing that thrilled me most was the way one’s money was placed in a kind of canister with the bill whereupon it shot away down a tube only to return to the counter with a receipt and sometimes change. I thought it was magic!”
John Carlton was a stickler for tidiness and waste-saving. Jean Corner, who joined Carltons in 1954 aged 15, says: “One day, Mr Carlton Snr saw me sitting on a radiator. He wielded his sticks at me and said: ‘We do not do that!’”
Philip would warn the staff when his father was on his rounds. Allegra says in the book: “He was very good at enthusing people and motivating them … He had a tremendous work ethic which he combined with a wonderful sense of fun.”
“The store was not dissimilar to that portrayed in the BBC 1970s’ sitcom, Are You Being Served?” writes Humphrey in the book.
At the top of the store was the boardroom with an antique wine cabinet, and a staff room stocked with Ovaltine and a kettle. Former staff member Gloria Taylor remembers: “I enjoyed my time at Carltons. I got married in 1963 and Mr Philip’s wife gave me a tray, which I still have to this day.”
In the early ‘60s, business continued to boom, with turnover doubling. By 1962, it occupied 9-21 King Street and 4-12 Chapel Street, but changes were on the horizon.
Humphrey says: “You see a transition from Bridlington being the place where everyone went to have their summer holidays to the start of package holidays.”
Olivia says: “I and my siblings all have happy memories of the shop, and they are interlinked with our memories of our father. He died in 1968, when I was 12 years old, of multiple myeloma, at the age of 44. And the shop was sold by my grandfather to Hammonds of Hull later that year.”
Hammonds sold the shop in 1972 to House of Fraser for £8 million, and it remained so until 1995 when it closed. The building was demolished and the site is now occupied by Boyes. The whereabouts of the landmark clock remain a mystery.
The book is dedicated to the memory of Philip, by Rachel and their five children. Allegra, a retired family learning manager, still lives in the area. Andy is based in Uganda where he has a cooperative coffee business. Simon lives in York and is a consultant specialising in animal feed. Olivia, who lives in London, is a retired consultant occupational health physician and former head of Transport for London’s Occupational Health department. She was awarded an OBE in 2016. Rob lives in Belgium and is a retired specialist in sustainable agriculture.
Rachel turned 100 in March this year and a birthday party was held at Sewerby Hall in April, when all 80 attendees from across the globe were given a copy.
Olivia says: “For the family it brings back memories of our father and grandfather and reminds us of a time when life was slower and the values of family retailers were more dominant. It has been wonderful to have our positive memories of the shop endorsed by people who worked and shopped there.”
Carltons Limited - The Friendliest Store in Bridlington: A History: 1911-1968 costs £12 is available at The Book Nook in Bridlington and on Amazon.