Tag Archives: Pettit’s

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: http://www.cashrailway.co.uk 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.


Along the Promenade: Kensington High Street

Kensington High Street October 1961. The corner of Wright’s Lane. The photographer has noted on the back: midday. It’s good to know that now. The street is busy. A shop called Hope Brothers (“outfitters”)  is at the centre of the picture occupying the corner with its turret. Can you see behind the  building the side of Iverna Court and the fire escape stairs which snake up the pitched roof allowing access from windows and precarious looking doorways? I checked and it’s still there today.

Kensington High Street 129 October 1961 midday K61-1014

This is the start of the Promenade,an 1890s development of shops and offices built by our old friend cheese magnate Jubal Webb, a rare example of a developer demolishing his own house along with the others in the Terrace  (follow the link for more on the houses that used to be there). We’ll be following the Promenade down the High Street in a moment but before we do there’s another matter.

Just visible on the left is one of the signs for Pontings, the first of the three great department stores of Kensington High Street to disappear. Most of the rest of the pictures in this post come from the 1970s like this one from May 1976.

Kensington High Street demolition of Pontings building May 1976 KE76-29

Ponting’s is being demolished.

Kensington High Street demolition of Pontings building May 1976 KE76-93

And there it was gone.

Not that its final years had been glorious.

Kensington High Street 127 formerly Pontings 1971 KS4729

In 1971 the letters of the signs had all been pulled out and you were left with a discount shop called the Kensington SuperStore.

There is a bit of a human drama in that picture to distract us form the sad fate of Ponting’s.

Kensington High Street 127 formerly Pontings 1971 KS4729 detail

The woman on the left is flagging down a taxi with her arm outstreched. But behind her the younger woman is also making a gesture which might be an attempt to sneak in first, or exasperation on account of her prior claim. We’ll never know who got the cab, but nice flares, Madam.

Now back to 1976. I had just left college and spent the summer in balmy Kensal Rise. A group of us spent many afternoons in that memorable summer around the open air swimming pool in Willesden. But by November I had a job in Soho so I was probably hardly ever in Kensington High Street where John Rogers was taking these pictures.

Kensington High Street 129-137 south side looking west 1976 KS4285

Hope Brothers have been replaced by Paige Gowns (Ladies fashions). It’s hard to make out all the shops’ names at this size of image but I’ve looked at Kelly’s Directory for this year so I can tell you that you have Barratts (shoes), Etam (more ladies wear), Salisbury’s (handbags and fancy goods, with the Anglo-Austrian Society on one of the floors above), a boutique called Magique, the Village Gate (menswear), Saxone (shoes again – before the internet shoe shops were like a virus on any high street), the once ubiquitous Ratners (jewellry) and a Dorothy Perkins (ladies outfitters).

I have some more pictures taken of this section by John Rogers but not dated so there are a few discrepancies but I’m sure they’re from the same period.

Kensington High Street 135-145 K2275C

In this pair of images you can see a Jean Machine and a shop called Woodhouse have slotted themselves in, along with the flash of a Citroen which looks like a retro car of the future speeding by.

Kensington High Street 139-149 K2279C

These two images give you an idea of the complex repeating pattern of rooftops on the Promenade. I’m repeating myself here but the Survey of London gives the best description: “orthodox, restless, ornamental”, three adjectives that cannot be bettered.

This one takes it to the last peak of the Promenade:

Kensington High Street 149-163 K2281C

Mindels (more leather goods – did these people never tire of leather?), the Downtown boutique, Ravel (more shoes) and between them a shop with a blank front which at maximum magnification looks to me like an electronics or hi-fi shop.

Kensington High Street 149-163 K2281C - Copy

Are those LPs on a rack on the left of the entrance? You can also see a woman lifting a pram onto the kerb, and what looks like a woman being acosted by a man slouching in the entrance to Downtown. At the right a woman crosses the darkened passageway which leads into Adam and Eve Mews, where the Society for Psychical Research had its home for many years.

We’re moving beyond the Promenade proper now but I think it’s worth it.

Kensington High Street 161 onwards south side looking west 1976 KS4290

To see Dolcis (a shoe shop next to another shoe shop), Dixons, Brentford Nylons (a name I recall from frantic ads on radio for a shop where people with odd tastes could buy nylon sheets, among many other man made products). Kelly’s reveals a few of the businesses upstairs: Peterjohn Import-Export Ltd (a front for MI5?), Centre Girl (employment agency), Sartorius Fashions Ltd (importers), Porten’s Secretarial College, Barber, May and Carstairs (auctioneers) and Naftamondial UK Ltd (petroleum traders) to name a few. These names bring back a whole way of life – office workers toiling in smoke filled rooms on obscure tasks, bosses dictating to secretaries and lots of paper files – which must have gone by now, although there must still be small businesses in those buildings.

We’re heading for a particular shop now at 191-195. Let’s have a close up of someone on the street first.

Kensington High Street 191 onwards south side looking west 1976 KS4291 detail

This young woman with her big collar and cuffs is sticking stamps on a letter for the post box behind her. She has a hair style I remember well, although I haven’t been able to discover if it has a name.

Kensington High Street 191 onwards south side looking west 1976 KS4291

Along with a kebab resturant, another jeans boutique, a building society  and positively the last shoe shop of the day (K, not named for Kafka’s hero I expect, but imagine Kafka writing a story about a street where you could only buy shoes) is Pettits (of Kensington, general drapers).

For those of you who didn’t know Pettits was the other shop after the three department stores whose name has lingered on in people’s memories, and I am often asked about it. Let’s go in.

Pettits interior 1977 K4150-C

As you can see, Pettits was the home of many racks of ladies garments and accessories. Can you see the half-obscured sign next to the pillar? Upstairs: Corsets, Coats, Dresses, Millinery (maybe ) and Underwear (or Nightwear?). Habadashery and Soft Furnishings somewhere else .It looks to me like a shop for ladies of a certain age. Those corsets were not the modern fashion items, they were just foundation garments if I’ve got the term correct. And this is 1977, the year of the closing down sale when my future wife was dragged down there by her mother. She bought a purple dressing gown.

Pettits had survived its larger rivals but eventually succombed to economuic forces. I’m only featuring one picture because there are several more which might make a post of their own in the future.

So let’s go home. Walk back up the High Street to the tube through the picturesque arcade we can still enjoy today.

Kensington Arcade 1981 K6653-B

The High Street went through a rough patch a few years ago but now looks to be thriving again. These are the current shops on the Promenade: Oliver Bonas, East, Vince Camuto (shoes!), EE, The Body Shop, Phones 4U,  Aldo, an empty property, O2, The Kooples, Calzedonia, Russell Bromley (shoes) Orogold, Muji, Vision Express, another empty one and Hotel Chocolat (my favourite, obviously). More phones than shoes. The roofline is still restless after all these years.

A modern view:

DSC_5548 - Copy

One big difference – trees.

DSC_5553 - Copy

And it’s not usually as quiet as this. I took these pictures on a Saturday morning.


This week’s post is the 206th post published but it’s the 200th written by me so it’s a personal milestone. When someone asked for an idea back in 2011 and I said “I’ll write a blog.” I never imagined that I would be able to find 200 topics to write about in the last (nearly) four years and still not have exhausted the collection or my desire to write about it. When I started, I ran at it picking off the best subjects, Hedderly, Cremorne etc not at all concerned with making them last. I now know that Burgess and Ascroft and Rush could easily have had several posts each like Markino and Menpes. Maybe they will yet. Other subjects really only get one shot, so you have to get it right.

With some posts you know there’s going to be a great deal of interest – anything to do with the Lots Road Power Station for example, or the lost streets of the World’s End. Some posts surprise you. I would never have guessed at the perennial popularity of the West London Air Terminal. (So I’m relieved that I just about nailed that one.)

The big breakthrough I suppose was Linley Sambourne. I knew those pictures were good. It was a few years before the blog that I scanned them during a period when I discovered the pleasures of digitisation. I knew they would be useful one day and if I found the right angle would reach a lot of people. The success of those posts and others taught me to follow my instincts. And all the years of looking at pictures trying to see their stories have paid off. Blogging about our Local Studies collection has been both a pleasure for me and has taken the collection out of the archive room and picture chests into the big wide world, finding a gratifyingly large audience.  I’m lucky to have ended up where I am today, showing people things they’ve never seen before and above all learning, finding interesting things, becoming obsessed with them and then saying: look at this.

So thank you to everyone who’s read the blog, regularly or occasionally, made comments (Michael, Chris and Debbie to name only the most frequent), subscribed, followed us on Twitter, pressed the like button, and shared with us – pictures or memories. Without you it really wouldn’t work.

And I haven’t forgotten my guest bloggers – Isabel Hernandez, Lucy Yates and the eminent historian Jonathan Oates, who have all made valuable contributions and given me much needed breathing space. Special thanks to them for their support and to the other members of my team – Tim Reid, Kim Smith and Katrina Wilson (who has now gone on to higher things). And as long as I’m thanking people my wife Cathryn and my son Matthew who have had to put up with me tapping away on my laptop at all hours. And can I just thank…… no, really, I’ve stopped now, honest.

The reader - Copy

Hugh Thomson – my latest obsession. More of him soon.

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