On 21 October 1865, 150 years ago, Howell’s Department Store in Cardiff first opened its doors.
At that time Cardiff’s stores vied for business in the hustle and bustle of the town, with the number of shops growing rapidly due to the demand for imported goods. James Howell’s department store was expanded regularly, but not only for business purposes. Building plans for James Howell, held at the Glamorgan Archives, show that the upper levels of the store were never intended to be used as a shop floor, as small rooms with fireplaces were clearly marked on the plans submitted to Cardiff Borough Council.
The 1911 census, taken on Sunday 2 April, provides us with further information as it shows that 140 men and women, married and single, from near and far were ‘living over the shop’ at Howell’s on that night. Draper’s salesmen and women, milliners, dressmakers, apprentices, housekeepers and servants all lived together in the space over the bustling business and the large departments which were filled with luxury items to furnish the homes and bellies of the ever growing population of Cardiff.
A member of the public has been in contact with the Archives regarding her great aunt who had worked for James Howell, and was included in the list of staff living there at the time of the 1901 census. Annie Raymond had been born in Penygraig, Merthyr Tydfil in 1881.
“My great Aunt, Annie Raymond was a milliner and worked in Howells, she appeared on the 1901 census. Annie had been apprenticed at Porth and at the end of her apprenticeship, her mother who knew James Howell personally, asked if her daughter could have a position at his store.”
Between 1901 and 1911 Annie left James Howell’s and went to work in the milliners and drapers store Seccombes. In the 1911census returns she was living at 7 Fitzalan Road, Cardiff, which was recorded in the Western Mail Directory of the time as an ‘Assistants’ residence’ for G. Arthur Seccombes.
“She then left Seccombes to work in a large department store in London. Later she returned to Cardiff where she married Francis William Hall, a widower, in 1915 at St John’s Church, Cardiff. ‘Frank’ Hall was a Photographer and later a Fine Art dealer; he had a shop in one of the Arcades in Cardiff.”
Annie and Francis had two children. After their births Annie returned to work at Marments, another department store in Cardiff, where she became the Millinery buyer, purchasing hats from the large milliners in London. Francis Hall also had three children by his first wife, the youngest of which was Alfred H Hall. Alfred married Annie Raymond’s sister Dora, who also worked at Seccombes.
Jayne Thomas, a preservation assistant at Glamorgan Archives, worked for many years as a window dresser at James Howell’s. Jayne remembers the small rooms with fireplaces in the attics of the shop where the staff lived; these later became the store rooms.
The thought of living over a shop today conjures up visions of side doors, narrow stairs, cat raided dustbins and the odour of countless take-aways; however 100 years ago in Cardiff things were different…. In 1911, in some cases ‘living over the shop’ was a world away from this.