Closing down Pettits – October 1977

Pettits closing down sale announcement August 1977 WLO

From this end of retail history it’s in some ways quite surprising that the old department stores of Kensington High Street lasted as long as they did. I can remember the giant of the High Street, Barker’s carrying on as though it would never end, but now the building is dominated by the Whole Food store and another part of it is about to be colonised by Gap. Derry and Toms is memorialised in the Roof Garden (the Virgin flags fly from the rooftop), and Pontings has vanished completely. Those three were the main names of genteel shopping in Kensington but there was another name still remembered by veteran consumers – Pettits. Much smaller than Barker’s or Derry and Toms, a little smaller than Ponting’s, we passed by it in a previous post on the Promenade when I said we would return. So here we are in October 1977 for a last look around at numbers 191-195.

Kensington High Street- K 191-5 Pettits 1977 closing down K4089B

The closing down sale is in full swing at the time of this picture, October 1977.

Pettits interior ground floor to north west 1977 K4156

Inside, business looks steady rather than brisk. Perhaps the best items had already gone. As the displays are picked over by shoppers the place starts to look a bit untidy. My wife and her mother paid a visit to the sale about this time. My wife bought a purple dressing gown at half-price which she used for a number of years. I asked her if the place did look a bit of a mess at the time and she says it did.

Pettits interior ground floor to north east 1977 K4149C

An empty unit which formerly held a selection of Pretty Polly tights. A woman stares at the photographer.

The shop had four floors. If they had been a lift you could have heard the announcement: Household linens and curtains.

Pettits interior ground floor stairwell to north 1977 K4155C

This is how it looked.

Pettits interior Basement to south 1977 K4152

The department was also looking a bit thin.

Pettits interior Basement to east Mrs White 1977 K4154-C

On the back of this picture was written “Mrs White”. I assume she is the one behind the counter pointing out what’s left for the keen shopper leaning towards her.

Upstairs there is a bit more activity.

Pettits interior 2nd floor west side 1977 K4147c

The scene looks old fashioned, and I ask myself, was that how things were in the late seventies? Am I projecting more recent memories of shopping back onto anothere era? Or was Pettits out of time even then? I was talking about Pettits with one of my colleagues and she discovered this bit of reminiscence:

“Petit’s clerical department was extremely outdated. It was the last shop still using a system of receipts for customers transported by overhead wires. The cashier sat in a sort of overhead balcony. The sales assistant made out a bill and sent it by pulleys and wires to the cashier, who kept one copy and stamped the other “Paid” as a receipt for the customer, and gave the necessary change. This was all transported by wire and pulley back to the sales assistant on the ground floor, who then gave the customer her change and receipt. In the 1950’s this system had long become outdated in other stores. Most sales assistants at this time were also cashiers.”  This comes from a book called “Cosy corners in depression and war: autobiography” by a woman called Joan Hughes which regretably we don’t have in stock. (It was found on a website devoted to wire and pneumatic cash sytems: which is well worth looking at if like me you can remember some of the odd systems which used to exist in large stores – I can remember the pneumatic system at Pontings but I’ve aslo seen it elsewhere.) The wire system is not visible in these pictures but nor do you see many tills (I think that’s one in the bottom left corner of the picture above.) It’s possible that some of the old methods for making payments and dispensing change lingered on into “modern” times. (Somehow I can’t quite consign the 70s to the historical past even though I know many people who weren’t even born then.)

Our photographer sneaked upstairs into the office, where there is also a distinct lack of business machines.

Pettits interior 1977 3rd floor office K4148C

I can remember rooms like this, desks jumbled together, piles of in-trays, filing cabinets and barely a hint of the technological revolution that would sweep through offices in the decades ahead. As I said in the Promenade post the upstairs floors of buildings in Kensington High Street were full of rooms like this one and the traditional office was still alive.

By the beginning of 1978 Pettis was about the go under the hammer.

Pettits sale brochure 1978 - Copy

The Survey of London records Pettits’ period of trading as 1890-1978, just short of 90 years. But before they occupied the whole corner. Alfred Pettit, drapers, just had number 193. I think this may be a picture of the first shop, which I tracked back in Kelly’s Directory as far as 1888 although it may go further.

Kensington High Street- K 191-5 Pettits K4159 - Copy

This gentleman could be Alfred Pettit himself with his wife.

Mr Pettit I presume - CopyMrs Pettit I presume - Copy

Pettits seems to have expanded into the larger premises in the early 1900s just in tine for a reatil boom. The 1920s and 30s were the peak for the shops of Kensington High Street. This page is probably from a 1930s brochure.

Pettits catalogue insert 1930s - Copy

Or is it later? The prices might be a clue.

This picture shows a celebration for 50 years of trading which would take us to roughly the same period, probably the late 1930s.

Kensington High Street- K 191-5 Pettits K4158

Happier times for Pettits. But unlike other larger establishments the building is now home to a single store – a branch of Waterstone’s. So you can still go there now and browse through the books, (something I’d much rather do than look for curtain material, but that’s just me), and imagine the shoppers of the past.

Kelly’s Kensington Direcory 1903: 191 Pettit A W draper and furrier. 193 Pettit A W, milliner and ladies outfitter.


Forgive me for a little uncertainty with some of the pictures. The pictures of Mr and Mrs Pettit were not labelled as such but it was recorded that the originals were loaned  by the company so photos could be taken. I would welcome any comments/information from former staff or shoppers. My special thanks to Maggie Tyler, an assiduous researcher as always. I haven’t exhausted the topic of the shops of Kensington High Street so we’ll certainly be back here again.


7 responses to “Closing down Pettits – October 1977

  • chelseaharbouramatueroperaticsociety

    A beautiful poetic post Mr Walker, I am please to hear that we can look forward to more of your posts about “the shops of Kensington high street”, My wonderful auntie Nettie worked in Derry and Toms just after the Second World War,

  • Roger Tiller

    Fabulous days remember going there quite often with my Mother in the early sixties, RIP.

  • Tony Gostelow

    Loved reading about the old store, interesting about the invoice delivery system, some of the modern supermarkets have gone back to a system of putting the cash into a round container, which then gets put into an aperture in the side of a suction tube at the side of the till area, and gets whisked away to the account section, it negates the staff having to walk round collecting from the tills, and all the security required.

  • Hasenschneck

    I went there a lot with my mother as a child in the 60s. It did feel very old-fashioned even then and I remember thinking of it as a shop for old ladies…

  • Ian Allen

    I used to work there as a young man, doing the window displays, My boss . Mr Hillman A gentleman . Most of the staff in there 70s it was a very old fashion shop,to me as well …but I enjoyed my time there and I have many stories to tell . Ian Allen

  • Paul Cox

    When Alfred retired, he moved to Woburn Sands Bucks. Ellen died in 1927 and Alfred erected a local hall in her memory, which is still used. See here: Alfred died in 1934.

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