Chronicle, 1 September 1956

Robert Sayle, Peterborough c1956
JLP Archive Collection
Robert Sayle, Peterborough after the fire in 1956
JLP Archive Collection

We all know about Robert Sayle in Cambridge (now John Lewis, Cambridge,) but how many knew that Robert Sayle was also the forerunner of John Lewis, Peterborough? Our Archivist, Judy Faraday was able to suppy the following:

The Robert Sayle branch in Peterborough was acquired by the Partnership as one of the Selfridges Provincial Stores in 1940 – just like Trewins.

It was initially known as Thompsons (Peterborough) Ltd.,and had an annual turnover of £33,443 in 1939. The shop was a record breaker as it generated the lowest sterling sales of any of the new SPS branches. It continued to trade throughout the 1940s and into the 1950s but it was destroyed in a blaze which was thought to have started when some fabric close to display lighting in a window caught fire. The local press described it as “the worst-ever fire that the city [had] experienced”.

Sarah Crook, then Counting House Manager remembered the “stench of burning” and the moment when “one huge wall of the shop was still standing, but the rest was a smouldering mass”.

The closure of the shop was announced to other branches in the Gazette of 15 September 1956 when Sir Bernard Miller said “The buildings that were destroyed were old and inefficient and the business conducted in them has been costly to operate and has made little headway since the war”.

The Partnership did not move back into Peterborough until the opening of the store in the Queensgate Centre in 1982.

Comments about this page

  • The fire was a very memorable event for me. My mother had been to collect me from my grandmother’s, where I had been staying for a few weeks. We got off the bus in Bridge Street and caught the next in Long Causeway; there were hose pipes everywhere. The bus rode over large ramps set to protect the water pipes; up and down the bus went. Mum was just glad to going away from the seeming chaos.

    I remember talking to Freddie, Mens’ wear DM about it one morning in the DM’s rest room. I had told him that I came from Peterborough. He told me a fascinating tale of the rumours of how the fire had started.

    By David Pacey (20/02/2022)

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