Silk Shop Newcastle, The Partnership's precursor to Bainbriges

The exterior of the Silk Shop, Newcastle
The exterior of the Silk Shop, Newcastle

The first specialist shop in the Partnership

On the week of 27th November 1943, the John Lewis Partnership acquired the business of the ‘Silk Shop Limited’ of Newcastle and Edinburgh. Although the Partnership had at this point acquired over 15 other stores since 1940, this was the first assimilation of specialist shops into the growing collection. The Silk Shop Newcastle was opened in 1922 by Mr W. A. Brearley, and was located on New Bridge Street. By all accounts, these were hectic times, for the old shop was very small, yet business was grand and working hours were long. On the average Saturday, the shop was open from 9am to 8pm. The shop capitalised on the meteoric rise of artificial silk as a commercial proposition and a commodity. With comparable quality to real silk, the affordable prices brought visitors in their droves.

The Silk Shop and Bainbridges

It was this success that encouraged the ‘Silk Shop’ management to open up a branch in Edinburgh in 1927. Ten years later and Brearly had moved the Silk Shop to Pilgrim Street, one of the main shopping streets in Newcastle. The shop was now a three minute walk from a shop called Bainbridges. Despite the difficulties of the war years, trading remained excellent and the store’s reputation rooted. Prior to the war, turnover stood at £30,000 a year, but once the war started, turnover doubled by 1942. It was the retirement of Mr W.A Brearley in 1943 that opened the door for Partnership takeover.

During the rise of the Silk Shop into one of the most respected and revered companies in Newcastle, another shop was making their own seismic splashes. Bainbridges of Newcastle was turning a huge number of heads. Said to be one of the oldest department stores in the world, it was also one of the UK’s most prominent by the 1950’s. The Partnership, who by this point had mostly recovered from their war-time setbacks, managed to acquire Bainbridges in 1953.

Burgeoning Bainbridges determines Silk Shop demise

Being only three minutes from each other, it made immediate sense to bring the Silk Shop under the Managing Directorship of Bainbridges. The close proximity of the stores had little impact on trading in the smaller shop, in fact one business intended to compliment the other. However even at this stage there were rumours about the assimilation of the Silk Shop into Bainbridges. In an all encompassing department store that was growing bigger all the time, the need to have the Silk Shop was dwindling fast.

In 1970, it was confirmed that a new site for Bainbridges had been located on Eldon Square. With a brand new store to be built on the new site, the need for a Silk Shop was entirely nullified. Fortunately, the Partnership was given an option to surrender the lease on the premises on 1st February 1974. Taking up this offer, trading from Silk Shop Limited ceased on this date.

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