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From the Folkestone Herald Published 16 December 1999

Bobby's engraving

An early engraving of Bobby’s popular Folkestone store in Rendezvous Street before the move to Sandgate Road from the new book

 

Success story

MANY happy memories of one of Folkestone’s popular landmarks, Bobby’s department store in Sandgate Road - now Debenhams - are recalled in an interesting and well illustrated booklet about the shop and the men and women behind it, which has just been published.

Kinkajou Boutique

TEENS and Twenties fashions of the “Kinkajou Boutique” modelled by “Kinkajou miniquins” with “Miniquin Parades” in the revamped restaurant of the Sandgate Road store in 1967 - part of an effort to attract more young women into the shop. One popular line was made up of paper dresses.

 

Compiled by June and Ken Paine, of Castle Hill Avenue, keen members of Folkestone and District Local History Society, and produced by PDC Copyprint, Folkestone, the booklet traces the history of the Bobby’s business back to the end of the last century.

It was in 1896 that Mr C. J. Saunders, draper, glover and lace man and also a mantle maker traded at 13-17 Rendezvous Street, known at that time as Bouverie House.

It was of yellow brick, the lower floors painted white, whereas most of the town’s shop fronts of the time were in dark colours. There was a staff of 40 to 50.

The shop became well known among the ladies of the ‘Court’ who travelled from Folkestone to Paris for the Spring and Autumn fashion collections. These ladies brought back catalogues and asked C.J. Saunders to produce copies of the outfits for them.

This enabled local women to wear the latest fashions at a fraction of Paris prices.

Frederick J Bobby came on the scene after Mr Saunders’ death in 1906. He had already opened a store in Margate, in 1887. Another followed in 1890 in Leamington Spa and they were so successful he set out to open stores at seaside towns round the coast, and so Folkestone’s Bobby’s store came into being in 1906.

Bobby & Co Ltd started by offering the entire stock of the store, priced at 8,000 - a lot of money in those days - for sale at ‘low clearing rates.'

 

5am Queue.

Queues of people formed for days and coaches from all the large houses in the area were reported to have jammed the street. Some of the maids sent to snap up bargains for their employers arrived outside the store as early as 5am. There was so much stock the sale went on for three weeks.

By 1908 Bobby’s was well established and the first motor delivery van - with solid tyres and driver’s cab open at the sides - arrived advertising on its sides the firm’s three successful shops.

In 1914 the store having become cramped Frederick Bobby acquired seven houses in Sandgate Road on the present site to enlarge it and planned a glazed awning over the pavement for the length of the shop.

Local people were given the chance to invest in shares in the business and there was a promise that staff would be allotted 72,000 shares when the new premises were built.

But the First World War saw the plans put on hold. Bobby’s put the seven houses at the disposal of Belgian refugees, but a sign on the first floor balcony made it clear this was the site for a new Bobby’s shop.

Work on building it did not begin until 1920, however, after demolition of 40-60 Sandgate Road. But things did not go smoothly and Mr Bobby clashed with the Council and Mayor. In October Bobby’s and Plummers stores united. Mr Bobby retired and handed over control of the company to his eldest son Arthur, the first manager of the Folkestone store, while his second son Herbert took over the Rendezvous Street store, his younger brother Wilfred becoming assistant manager.

Foundation work and creating a waterproof basement proved difficult and it was between 1929 and 1930 before the store began to take shape.

A frontage with 450ft of display windows and spacious and well decorated interior introduced a new concept in shopping in Folkestone, with a grand tea room and cafe with seating for 350 thrown in.

It was intended to rival the most modern London stores -and 4,000 invitations went out to local dignitaries for the big opening on March 6,1931, which followed a closing down sale at the Rendezvous Street store.

There was one snag, Martin Walters had their car showrooms at 62-66 Sandgate Road and these frustrated Bobby’s hopes to extend the store round the corner to Bouverie Place.

Then Martin Walters moved to another site and rivals Lewis & Hyland moved in next door. But Bobby’s continued to flourish, and its restaurant served lunch to nearly 18,000 people in summer, but it was 1935 before Lewis & Hyland left and Bobby’s were able to extend the store round the corner, opening by Christmas.

By this time it had become part of the Debenhams group, although few people realised it.

In fact Debenhams were happy to trade as Bobby’s for 40 years alongside Plummers who also became part of the group.

Bobby’s held live shows, had an orchestra for dinner dances and there were various other attractions over the years.

Herbert Bobby left after 22 years in 1944 to become MD of a firm in Nottingham, Wilfred Bobby staying on as assistant manager, retiring in 1962. In 1956 the store celebrated its Golden Jubilee. Twelve years later Harold Bobby, manager for 12 years left. Four years later the name Bobby’s was finally dropped.

Its an interesting story and there's more to read in the book which is on sale for 2.85 at the Public Library at Grace Hill or the Society's monthly meetings.

 

1899

Railway links for Marsh in new transport plans.

CYCLING was all the vogue a century ago and as local people took advantage of the freedom it gave it became so popular the newspapers devoted a weekly column to the pastime. 100 years ago the writer of the Folkestone Express column was extolling the virtues of the new 'freewheel' and commented that even ladies, riding tandem, could now take advantage, provided they were properly dressed (I) of coasting down hills with their feet on the handlebars! With today’s traffic you would risking your life! Local railway companies, working in tandem, were seeking powers to extend the railway system into the Romney Marsh, linking Sandgate and Hythe with Romney. Meanwhile a private firm revealed plans for a tramway linking East Kent towns with Hastings and Bexhill lines. The new line, It was proposed, would start at Ramsgate, at a terminus with the Thanet system and proceed via Sandwich, Deal, Walmer, Kingsdown towards Dover with a link to St Margaret’s, and hopefully with running powers to use Dover’s existing tramway towards Maxton and on to Folkestone, Cheriton, Shorncliffe Camp. Seabrook, Hythe, over the Marsh to Rye, Winchelsea and then linking up with proposed Hastings and Bexhill district lines.

 

1924

Golden year for town as charity cash tops 4,000.

WAS a truly golden year in the field of local charity work and the Lord of the Manor, Viscount Folkestone attended a gathering of the local fund raisers, the Brotherhood of Cheerful Sparrows, at the Leas Pavilion, to witness the handing over of a record sum for the work of the Royal Victoria Hospital and other charities, as a result of the annual summer fete organised by the Brotherhood. The total handed over to charities, over 4,000, was the greatest ever presented on one night in the history of the town up until that time. Over 2,080 for the hospital was accepted by Sir Stephen Penfold, chairman of the hospital management group, plus a further 1,200 to set up a trust fund to provide funds for ever to form part of the salary of a district nurse for the poor people of the town. Smaller sums went to other local organisations, including the Mayor’s Relief Fund to ensure no child began a day's work In school without a hot breakfast, and 250 for boots and a 'treat' for 1,400 children In the town. Tributes to the late lifeboat coxswain, Stephen Cook, a member of an old Folkestone family, was paid at the annual meeting of the local branch of the National Lifeboat Institution when it was reported a record sum had been raised for lifeboat work, thanks partly to the lifeboatmen’s taking part in the Fete de la Mer at Calais.

 

1949

Football pools condemned by church as un-Christian.

HYTHE Free Church Council brains trust condemned football pools saying they were ‘un-Christian.’ Speakers also condemned the post-war restrictions, such as rationing, which were promoting dishonesty among consumers and traders. Britain's export drive, which reduced the availability of the best coal for home consumption, was being blamed for bad time keeping on local trains. Plans to make Folkestone famous for flowers were discussed by the Chamber of Trade. It was urged that flowers should be the main theme of any attractions arranged for the following year and for the town’s Festival of Britain scheme in 1951. Everyone in the town, it was suggested should be encouraged to cultivate their gardens and to have window boxes and hanging baskets on their homes. Ideally gardens should be floodlit! Rats living between big boulders at the East Head, some as large as kittens, were becoming a problem, people were complaining. The rats entered ships in the harbour via mooring ropes and local property and one cafe owner near the fishmarket told of a relentless fight to keep them out with zinc flooring and wooden steps replaced with concrete. But still they found their way in. At Sandgate local people were enjoying gifts of food sent from Kimberley, South Africa. The brother-in-law of the Vicar of Sandgate was chairman of the “Kimberley Food for Britain Fund.

 

1974

Easy-build home scheme on cards if consent given.

THE EXTENDABLE home was a new concept in housing which, It was hoped, would provide the answer to Shepway's housing problems, 25 years ago. Plans were drawn up for cheap, easy-to-build homes aimed at the district’s problem groups - young couples, first-time buyers and Council tenants. A basic semi, two-person bungalow would cost about 8,000. The advantage would be that any able DIY person could build their own extension as family needs required. The project was a combined effort between a local developer, an estate agent and an architect and local firm Channel Securities (South East) Ltd, of Bowles Wells Gardens, Folkestone, was seeking planning consent for an estate of more than 700 homes at West Hythe. But there was a snag - consent had already been refused for conventional homes on the 70-acre site between Botolph’s Bridge and Burmarsh Road. The company argued, however, that the district’s need was so great consent ought to be granted. Moves were being made by the District Council to obtain the release of Army land In the district for development. Councillors also wanted to bend planning restrictions to allow development on the Hawkinge airfield site. As the New Year loomed It was revealed a start was imminent on the town’s first multi-storey car park, plans were In hand to create a pedestrian precinct in part of Sandgate Road and Guildhall Street was due to close to traffic on Saturdays to help shoppers.

 

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