House of Fraser: A history in Cardiff

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Howells in Cardiff
Image caption,
The Howells story in Cardiff has been considered a landmark shopping destination for the city for decades

Department store House of Fraser will close its Cardiff store after it opened to the public more than 160 years ago.

The Cardiff store has been in existence since 1869 when it opened and was one of the landmark shopping destinations in the city centre.

It was originally known as Howells after James Howell.

The closure is part of a a rescue deal which will see the closure of 31 of its 59 shops across the UK.

A history of Howells

1860s A building, called Stuart Hall, was built as the premises for James Howell and Co Drapers in 1865. On 21 October that year, the business was launched.

Mr Howell had previously been apprenticed to a draper in Fishguard, and other traders in both Newport, and London.

The business was a success and in August 1867 Howell moved to larger premises at 13 St Mary Street, adding new departments for carpets, furnishings, millinery goods and funeral services over the years.

1870s The Howell empire continued to expand during the following decade, when a furniture warehouse was acquired in Wharton Street. Further shops were added in St Mary Street.

1880s By 1882 the shop occupied number nine to 14 St Mary Street and had acquired Biggs Brewery to the rear. The shop then expanded into Trinity Street, where new premises were secured for more furniture departments.

1890s By the 1890s, Howells had purchased more premises in Wharton Street and in Charles Street, Cardiff, growing to 36,800 square feet. The business traded under the name James Howell and Co.

Image source, Jaggery/Geograph

1900s By 1905, Howells employed more than 400 members of staff.

On the death of James Howell in 1909, the ownership of the store passed to his 11 children, with the company becoming a private limited company, James Howell and Co Ltd.

Thomas Francis Howell, James's eldest son, who was a barrister in London, became chairman of the company, with John Hugh, Frederick William and James Howell assuming active management in Cardiff.

1910s The expansion of the store continued, and a grocery and provisions department, as well as a motor showroom were added by 1913.

World War One put a stop to further planned developments at the store, but profits continued to increase steadily.

1920s In 1920, the company went public with a share capital of £500,000.

Just four years later, the Wharton Street arcade was opened, linking the Wharton Street site with the main store.

Around 10 years later, a new four storey building was opened on the corner of Wharton Street and St Mary Street.

Image caption,
The store is one of more than 50 being closed across the UK

1930s Despite the years of depression and war, and a decrease in trade throughout the 1930s and 1940s, further extensions were made to the store.

In 1924, the Wharton Street arcade was opened, linking the Wharton Street premises with the main store and, in 1931, a new four storey building was opened on the corner of Wharton Street and St Mary Street. During the years of depression and war in the 1930s and 1940s, trade was slow due to price regulations and rationing. The 1950s saw both an improvement in trade and the introduction of a new management team with Alfred Thorpe as chairman and managing director.

Once again, the store was extensively modernised and in 1955 a motor division, Howell's Garage & Commercial Vehicles Ltd (later renamed to Howell's Garages (Cardiff) Ltd) commenced business acquiring several Austin dealers. In 1959, a branch store of Reynolds & Co of Newport, Wales, which was situated next to Howells was acquired and incorporated into the main premises.

1950s The store was modernised in 1955 and a motor division, Howell's Garage and Commercial Vehicles Ltd was set up. In 1959, a branch store of Reynolds and Co of Newport was acquired and incorporated into the main premises.

James's children then sold the business to Welsh banker Sir Julian Hodge who subsequently sold the store on to Mohammed Al-Fayed, owner of the House of Fraser chain, and the days of this independent department store in Cardiff came to an end.

Image caption,
Howells has been part of Cardiff for more than 160 years

1980s The chain created controversy with its sale of animal fur. In the late 1980s, activists petrol bombed the store in protest in a bid to stop the sales.

The flagship Harrods store in London and the chain's Plymouth branch were also targeted in the attacks.

Bombs were planted in the Cardiff store by Animal Liberation Front, resulting in a small fire.

2000s In 2005, Doctor Who exploded back onto our screens when the store was 'blown up'.

It was later used as the set for one of the main character's, Rose Tyler's, workplace, Henrik's.

It has since been used to film scenes of James Corden taking part in the series.

The store was rebranded as the House of Fraser in 2010.

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