Brocklehursts of Bakewell - celebrating 50 years of the popular country outfitter
PUBLISHED: 00:00 12 October 2015 | UPDATED: 20:28 23 October 2015
Sally Mosley learns the story behind the success of this much-loved family business - accompanied by her sister, photographer Jackie Ellis
Shoppers in Bakewell will be familiar with the ‘Bond Street’ green livery of Brocklehursts shop on Bridge Street. This long established country outfitter adds upmarket class and a ‘City of London standard of quality’ to our much-loved Derbyshire market town. But few visitors will be aware that it is probably the longest surviving family retailer in Bakewell and proud to be celebrating 50 years of trading.
It all began on 5th May 1965 when John Brocklehurst bought a brand new Bedford CA van and set off on a journey to warehouses in Manchester where he filled the van with drapery and outfitting supplies, from boots and blankets, curtain hooks and caps to pins and pinafores.
John had previously worked as a travelling salesman for Horner’s drapers on Matlock Street and had built up a client base around remote and isolated farms. He decided to start up on his own and being both fair and honest, John offered his customers the choice of staying with Horner’s or going with him. Knowing John, they all went with him.
‘Farmers don’t generally enjoy shopping, especially for clothes,’ explained John. ‘They are far too busy and tied to their farms, so they were happy to have me bring along what they needed direct to their door. If I hadn’t got something they wanted or the right size, I would bring it with me the next time.’
Before long John was covering the Staffordshire and Derbyshire border and into Cheshire – an area from Lichfield to Macclesfield and out as far as Stafford. ‘As well as travelling around, I opened up a shop on Matlock Street in Bakewell in 1966 and then Bridge Street in 1968 selling quality country clothing. My wife Stella had worked in accounts for ICI in Buxton, so she ran the Matlock Street shop and did all my bookkeeping, fitting it in with being a brilliant mother to our two children Martin and Lisa.’
‘Maths was never my best subject at school,’ said Lisa. ‘I remember as a child my Mum cutting up the cakes she made to explain fractions to me. She was such a good teacher that I took over the accounts when she retired!’
In the mid 1960s John began to exhibit at shows, initially Bakewell Show but then Ashbourne, Leek and Ipstones. He bought a caravan and awning to begin with but then bought a Range Rover and trailer that opened out into a stand with a 30ft frontage. ‘It was made especially for me by Coopers of Bedford. I then took on the Newark and Notts Show, followed by national shows such as Badminton and the twice yearly Kelso Horse Sales. Before long I was exhibiting at 62 shows a year covering every month of the year.’
‘It was hard work and long hours. I remember arriving at Newark one particular year at 11.30pm having done a long round of the farms during the day. It was pouring with rain as I set up and I didn’t get to sleep until 3am but I had to be up and ready to start selling first thing in the morning.
‘There were occasional disasters – I tried Ayr County Show one year. There was torrential rain and we had a bad position down a side avenue of stands so we hardly saw a soul. To make matters worse I then had to drive overnight down to Newark and set up again for the next day. After an experience like that I never went back to Ayr!’
For 35 years Brocklehursts sold saddlery and riding wear and in 1977 exhibited at Essen Equitana in Germany, the biggest equestrian exhibition event in the world.
In 1979 John bought an articulated exhibition unit with purpose built cabinets. When set out it looked like a real shop, even having attractive small paned windows. This regularly achieved first prize for best trade stand at numerous shows. The latest model was a hive of activity at the start of September at Chatsworth Country Fair.
When John’s son Martin left school he went to business college at Buxton before joining the family firm, followed shortly after by his sister, Lisa. Initially they helped their father with the shows whilst Stella held the fort at home. ‘Mum sent us off with lots of home-cooked goodies and was always happy to see us when we returned,’ said Lisa.
The children are now company directors and have taken over the daily running of Brocklehursts with John still working hard in the background, while grandchildren Archie and Oliver help out in the Bakewell Shop at weekends when they can.
In 1985 John bought the business of Thompson, Pickup & Walker who were manufacturing tailors in Huddersfield, supplying trade exhibitions in London with jackets, trousers and estate clothing for gamekeepers and countrymen. ‘Overnight I acquired 28 women workers!’ quipped John. This enabled him to design and make his own Brocklehursts labelled clothing. Having been trained in the art of tailoring back in the 1970s by James Hare & Co in Leeds, John became involved in actually making made-to-measure clothing himself, something he still does today.
There have been many changes in the last half century. ‘We’ve had shops in Buxton and Ashbourne and a small warehouse in Bakewell for a time before the opportunity arose to take on larger premises at The Beeches off Matlock Street, which we have turned into The Sporting Showroom,’ explained John. ‘Then we decided to concentrate purely on Bakewell with our two shops and large warehouse and to offer more online sales.’
Brocklehursts specialise in High Street, casual, formal and country clothing plus accessories. They sell off the peg as well as offering made-to-measure outfits with a choice of various tweeds. ‘Tweed is very fashionable at the moment for both men and women of all ages and we stock a range of designs. Whilst Hunter wellies and Barbour jackets have for years been the must-have outfit for country living, these days it is Dubarry boots and something tweed on top that is taking over.
‘I’ve met some wonderful characters over the years, from locals to landed gentry and royalty – we provide country clothing for six titled estates. However, all our customers are treated exactly the same, whether they have saved up all year to buy something or could write out a cheque for all our stock in one go!
‘After the Highland Show in the 1980s The Field magazine printed a story of an old farmer who had visited our stand wearing a pair of battered brogues that he wanted to replace. I showed him the latest style to which he remarked, “I hope these wear better than the old ones”. I asked him how long he had had them. “Since the War” was his reply. Over 40 years is not bad going I replied. “No, I mean the First War!”
Twice a year John travels north to visit Scottish mills in search of new tweed patterns. He has his own exclusive designs manufactured with four tweeds being specifically made for this 50th anniversary year. John lovingly and artistically created these from his own drawings using his grandchildren’s colouring crayons, much to the amusement of the designers. ‘One chief designer was so impressed with my sketches that I sent him a pad and some pencils for Christmas!’
‘The Sporting Showroom attracts visitors from around the world. Only recently four men from Italy made a special detour to visit us, whilst a guy on a motorbike came all the way from France to pick up a suit.’ The Showroom will be holding a special celebration ‘Open Weekend’ on 17th–18th October for a ‘Meet the Family and have some Fizz’ event.
Neil Bower is manager of Brocklehursts’ Bridge Street shop which stocks both men’s and women’s clothing and accessories with brands such as Barbour, Schoffell, Harris Tweed, Magee of Ireland, Gurteen, Barker and of course the Brocklehurst own label range as well as much more. You can find clothes to suit any occasion there, from a walk in the park to a garden party at Buckingham Palace.
Neil enjoys working for a family business and loves the wonderful clothes. He told me, ‘It feels like Christmas when new stock arrives!’ Meanwhile his colleague Andrew is an expert with displays and has a forte for setting out full outfits. This especially appeals to customers who have no idea how to put items of clothing together. Sometimes they say ‘just sell me it all in my size’ when they see what he has created.
Matlock Street, Bakewell is the home of Brocklehursts Sporting Showroom where Dawn Clarke the manager and her team run the home of Brocklehursts’ prestigious tailoring department within the Showroom, which also has on-site parking.
Brocklehursts also offers an alterations service, which proves especially popular after the winter months when clothes seem to mysteriously shrink in the wardrobe!
There is little doubt that all the Brocklehurst family are hard working, industrious and enterprising, but they could not have managed by themselves and are grateful to their 30 members of staff, with a special mention going to John Large who has been with the company for 37 years. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the business they were all treated to a meal at Hassop Hall. However, it couldn’t be on the actual day as Badminton Horse Trials was on 5th May, which naturally had priority. John’s well-deserved success has to be down to his motto in life that, aside from his family, ‘business must always come first’! w
www.brocklehursts.com Bridge Street Shop
Tel: 01629 812612; Sporting Showroom Tel: 01629 816684