Company: Rackhams Ltd

Registration number:

Company name: Rackhams Ltd
Dates in business: 1881-1955

Type of business: department store retailers

Type of company:

  • Bull Street, Birmingham, England
  • Cherry Street, Birmingham, England
  • Temple Row, Birmingham, England
  • Corporation Street, Birmingham, England
  • North Western Arcade, Birmingham, England
  • Windsor Arcade, Birmingham, England
  • , Leamington Spa, England
  • High Street, Sheffield, England
  • Altrincham , Cheshire, England

Company history

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.

Records held for Rackhams Ltd:

FRAS 632
Title: Photographs of Rackhams, Leamington Spa
Date: late 1970s
FRAS 714/2
Title: Publication entitled The House of Fraser
Date: 1964
Contains article on Rackhams Ltd.
FRAS 1282
Title: Photographs
Date: c. 1970s
FRAS 1283
Title: Staff guides
Date: c. 1960s-70s
FRAS 1284
Title: Career guide
Date: c. 1970s
FRAS 1285
Title: Audited accounts
Date: 1961
FRAS 1286
Title: Depreciation register
Date: 1924-1948
FRAS 1287
Title: Staff commissions
Date: 1937-1949
FRAS 1288
Title: Stock books
Date: 1947-1951
FRAS 1289
Title: Daily sales
Date: 1955-1960
FRAS 1290
Title: Material relating to a scandinavian promotion
Date: 1970
FRAS 1291
Title: Centenary store newspaper
Date: 1981
FRAS 1292
Title: Contract of employment
Date: c.1960s
FRAS 1293
Title: Title deeds
Date: 1702-1972
FRAS 1294
Title: 'The New Rackhams' store guide for the opening of the new building
Date: 1961
FRAS 1295
Title: A review of storefitting
Date: 1961
FRAS 1296
Title: Spring and Summer Home Shopping Service catalogue
Date: 1969
FRAS 1297
Title: 'One Hundred and Ten Years' anniversary magazine, Sheffield
Date: 1985
FRAS 1298
Title: Timeline of the store's history
Date: 1881-1966
FRAS 1299
Title: Folder containing items marking Rackhams& 110th anniversary, Sheffield
Date: 1890-1985

Related People and Companies:

Corporation name: House of Fraser Ltd
Dates of connection: 1959-
Connection type: Rackhams Ltd was acquired by House of Fraser Ltd, as a subsidiary of Harrods Ltd, in 1959.
Corporation name: Charles Richards Ltd
Dates of connection: 1913
Connection type: Rackhams & Co was incorporated into Charles Richards Ltd in 1913.
Corporation name: Wilkinson & Riddell Ltd
Dates of connection: 1881
Connection type: In 1881 management of the retail business of Wilkinson & Riddell Ltd was transferred to Rackhams and Matthews which became Rackham & Co later that year.
Corporation name: Harrods Ltd
Dates of connection: 1955
Connection type: In 1955 Rackhams was acquired by Harrods Ltd.

Access points: Department stores - Retail trade

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