RETAILING 1880-1940

Jury's Inn, Western Way, Exeter

On 10 December, Richard Holladay shared with us a selection of photographs - some fifty in all - from his vast collection of advertisements for Exeter businesses.  His collection dates from Victorian times right up to the Second World War.

Richard’s photographs showed that window displays were an essential part of attracting passing trade. But how crowded they were, compared to today’s displays  (see left).  Every bit of space was used, including sign writing all over the upper floors of the building (executed by a craftsman on a ladder – a far cry from today’s safety rules). ​


These advertisements provide us with an excellent picture of life in those times, what people bought and why.  Those who created the ads were certainly imaginative and resourceful, even if they did bend the truth a bit! 

Great efforts were made to describe goods and services in a seductive way including:


  • bread irradiated with ultra violet light (good for children!)
  • painless tooth extraction
  • vanishing cream by Boots (see this ad)


Ironmongery customers were tempted by Mr John Damerell with his tantalising offer that they invest their hard earned cash in Stocks and Shares whereas Stone & Son (of furniture cream fame) promised that their  Essence of Rennett  will “survive for years, even in the hottest climate” – so comforting to know that even in the Sahara one can always make junket!

COLE & SONS appeared in the BESLEYS 1894 Exeter Directory and survived until at least 1973.

Many of the advertisements were very attractive; great efforts were made in their production.   Their style nevertheless looks very dated to modern eyes although it does allow us to date the goods they represent.

It is worth noting that they were touching up photographs for fashion ads with great delight but less dexterity over a hundred years ago.  On this ad you can actually see the touch-up marks where the photographer has “reduced” this lady’s waist size.

Of all the adverts shown, only three businesses continue to trade under their original names, one of these being the national chain, Boots.  Small businesses such as tailors, dentists, laundries and dairies which had prospered in late Victorian times and survived the First World War did not survive the Second.


The bombing obliterated so many of them.  Those businesses that did survive the blitz often changed hands and names and by the millennium most still in private ownership had disappeared from the High Street - even well remembered names such as  Brocks, Ottons, Mark Rowe and Hill Palmer & Edwards.


The talk was much enlivened by interesting and knowledgeable input from those present, often being answers to queries posed by members  in the audience, Richard not always being able to provide answers to some of the searching questions raised!



All talks are now on the second Thursday of alternate months (February, April, June, August, October & December).                                          All meetings start at 7 pm and are held at JURYS INN, Western Way, Exeter EX1 2DB.                                                                  Free parking is available from 6pm in the Triangle Car Park at the rear of Jurys.                                                                                Walks/visits are usually on the second Wednesday of alternate months (January, March, May, July, September November). 

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