Heelas: Humble beginnings
The fascinating story behind Heelas of Reading begins in 1854. John Heelas, together with his sons John and Daniel, opened Heelas and Sons Limited on 1st May 1854, having bought the property off a Mr Hutchinson. The Heelas brothers had been trained in their father’s original drapery business in Wokingham. The shop was very small, located on the main shopping thoroughfare of Reading, on Old Minister Street. It specialised in linen and silk, carpet and furnishings.
Early success required expansion. In 1858 additional property was added on 32 Minister Street as the business grew. In the same year Heelas was awarded the Royal Warrant. With a steadily growing profile, the brothers acquired several properties throughout the 1860s and the 1870s.
In 1866 a Methodist chapel was taken over by the brothers. At this site new carpet, bedding and bedstead departments were opened. Further acquisitions in 1870 included some old cottages and two inn properties all on Broad Street. Broad Street ran through to Minister Street, meaning that these properties formed a considerable block. The Heelas reputation was gathering considerable momentum. In 1890 the House of Heelas was appointed Linen Drapers and House Furnishers to his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, a warrant which continued on his accession to the throne.
A department store
By the end of the 19th century Heelas had substantially developed from its initial drapery beginnings. It featured departments containing both ‘things to wear’ and ‘things for the home’, the skeleton of the modern day department store. In 1897 Heelas Sons and Co Ltd registered as a public company, with a nominal capital of £86,000.