The great days of the department store are probably over. There are survivors including two of the best known, Harrods in Kensington and Peter Jones in Chelsea. But the time when every city and every large London suburb had its own individual department store is gone.
The old names are not forgotten. In Kensington High Street the two great buildings which were home to the two department stores Barker’s and Derry and Tom’s are still there. The Barker’s building has a number of retail businesses and is also home to Associated Newspapers. The Derry and Toms building contains three separate stores and of course the Roof Garden is still a going concern. The Roof Garden deserves a post of its own and we’ll come back to it at a later point.
But I remember a third store on Kensington High Street as I’m sure many others will. I was dragged through all three of them by my parents at some point in the late 1960s. I remember the roof garden of course, a pushy salesman trying to foist a nasty pullover on me (my mother resisted all his efforts) and a fascinating vacuum tube payment system which sucked your money away at an alarming speed and returned your change just as quickly. That happened I think in the third of the great stores of Kensington High Street – Ponting’s.
Here are two photos from 1971 of the arcade which leads to Kensington High Street tube showing on one side an entrance to Derry and Tom’s (now the side entrance to Marks and Spencer) and on the other the display windows of Ponting’s.
As you can see, the Grand Removal Sale has already begun. So what did Ponting’s look like? This photo is from the 1950s.
The “House for Value” was located on the corner of Wright’s Lane. Twenty or so years later the sign is still in place but the closing down sale is on.
Note the sign for the roof garden in the top left of the picture.
Inside Ponting’s everything was for sale.
Some departments were busier than others.
By this point the House of Fraser owned all three stores. The John Barker Company had acquired Ponting’s in 1907 and Derry and Tom’s in 1920. It was they who built the architecturally demanding Derry and Tom’s building (1929-31, with the Roof Garden being completed in 1938) along with their own flagship building (1936 -1958 work being interrupted by the war). Ponting’s also had many improvements and some expansion but was never quite as prestigious as its two neighbours. It was the first to go, a victim of House of Fraser’s rationalisation programme in 1970. Derry and Tom’s followed shortly afterwards in 1973 but the building remains. After a short spell as the Kensington Super Store the Ponting’s main building was redeveloped in 1976-78. The only section remaining is the building around the station arcade where La Senza and Accessorize are currently located. (Ironically it was the expense of developing the western side of the arcade which took the original business into liquidation.)
When I first started working in Kensington High Street I had to do some research to even work out where it had been. But although it is now lost many still remember the golden age of shopping on Kensington High Street. Here is a Ponting’s invoice from 1930:
And finally an image of Pontings from an even earlier time, an interior from 1913 when retail therapy as we know it was still in its infancy.
Next week I’ll be doing another vanished shop, but quite a different one from Ponting’s.