Company name: Rackhams Ltd
Dates in business: 1881-1955
Type of business: department store retailers
Type of company:Locations:
In 1851 William Winter Riddell and Henry Wilkinson opened a retail drapery shop at 78 Bull street, Birmingham. The business was successful and in 1863 a wholesale branch was also established in Temple Row. John Rackham and William Matthews were apprenticed to Wilkinson & Riddell in 1861 and eight years later both were promoted to positions as floor walkers. By 1878 Rackham had been appointed as dress buyer and Matthews as Linen buyer. In 1881management of the retail business was transferred to Rackhams and Matthews and the wholesale trade was hived off as a seperate concern. Shortly afterwards Wilkinson withdrew completely, in order to concentrate on the prospering wholesale trade, selling the retail shop to its new managers.
In 1890 Rackham & Co was acquired by Charles Richards, a trader in Snowhill, who managed the store until 1907. The premises were extended in 1898 into the North Western Arcade and two years later a dressmaking business was launched. In 1907 Frank Matthews, William's son, who had worked in the store during the 1890s, married Charles Richards' daughter, Hettie, and was appointed manager. Richards also owned a cut-price clothing warehouse, called the Beehive, in Albert Street.
In 1913 a private limited liability company, Charles Richards Ltd, was formed to incorporate both Rackham & Co and the Beehive. Charles Richards became chairman, retaining one-third of the shares and the remainder were distributed equally between his two daughters. Frank Matthews was appointed general manager at a salary linked to the profits. The following year work began on the rebuilding of the Bull Street frontage. The premises then included shops on Temple Row and Bull Street and in the Windsor and North Western Arcades. In 1921 Matthews was succeeded by Charles Phillips, Richards' nephew. In 1926 the property on Temple Row was massively expanded and the store refurbished.
In 1927 Charles Richards died and was replaced by Maurice Clutterbuck. The store was in sore need of further modernisation and the sale of Rackham & Co was contemplated as an alternative to capital investment. In 1928 the board agreed that 'only a fancy price should be accepted' and several offers for purchase were refused through the early 1930s despite the difficult trading conditions. Meanwhile the company was quite unable to carry out the vital refurbishment or to exercise options for the purchase of the Bull Street and Temple Row freeholds. during the Second World War the store suffered a direct hit in 1940 which destroyed one-third of the premises.
After the war some improvements were made and a new model coat salon was opened in 1954. In 1955 Rackhams was acquired by Harrods Ltd which was able to purchase a large island site, and the construction of a new store began in 1957. In 1959 Harrods was itself taken over by House of Fraser. House of Fraser proceeded with the plans for the new store which was opened in several stages between 1960 and 1966. The new enlarged store was extremely successful becoming one of the most important department stores in the city. It was the first store to be redeveloped during House of Fraser's refurbishment programme in the early 1980s. In 1982 the furniture floor was redesigned and the following year a Lifestyle department was opened on the fifth floor and a restaurant on the top floor. During the following two years a further £6 million was spent on redeveloping the ground floor, enlarging the perfumery department and creating a new food hall, and on installing a china and glass department on the lower ground floor. In 1984 the growing importance of the store was reflected in the launch of a colour magazine advertising the store's departments and services.
Other stores to take the Rackham name include John Walsh Ltd in Sheffield which became Rackhams in the 1970s, an Army & Navy branch in Leamington Spa which was renamed Rackhams in 1976 (H of F Ltd annual report, 1976) and Brown Muff stores in Altricham and Bradford in 1978.
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