Growing up with Suters Ltd by Philip Suter
My first memories were travelling once a week with my mother on the Green Line bus to Uxbridge which we boarded just outside our house on Austenwood Common on the Chalfont-St-Peter / Gerrards Cross borders.
My mother used to have hair done at Gibbs and Collins that was situated at the RAF end of the High Street, just past the old Regal Cinema. We would then go back to the store and have a wander around and my father John Suter would drive us home. His car would usually be parked in the Bakers Road car park or sometimes across the road behind Burton's menswear. This shop unit would originally have been Carrick and Coles, the original Suters in Uxbridge.
We would walk down the passageway just off Windsor Street and there was a large garage with a handle operated petrol pump used for filling up the two removal vans that were kept there. (This was located behind 30 and 31 High Street and was originally was part of the Waterloo House property that was sold in 1936. Part of this site in 2014 is now occupied by Metro Bank )
My father would normally collect parcels that had to be taken to the Slough store. He would work in the Uxbridge store in the morning and come home for lunch most days and then go to Slough in the afternoon. Thursday then later Friday was the exception when he would have his lunch at the Rotary Club of Uxbridge.
I remember other shops and organisations from that era - some were still there many years later like Buckeldee and Taylor - TV and Radio shop and F Mills the Chemist in Windsor Street, Youngs and Wade Insurance brokers in Belmont Road and Kirby Brothers Ironmongers with various shop units in the High Street area.
The Uxbridge store seemed a large building for a youngster, however often on a Wednesday afternoon, it was early closing on that day in those days, and we would go up the Western Avenue - A40 to London and have tea at much larger stores like Harrods in Knightsbridge, Harvey Nicholls and Woollands or my mother's favourite Fortnum and Mason in Piccadilly.
We occasionally went to the Slough store which I recollect was on two or three floors with two smaller shops next door. At the back was a very large garden with a side entrance to get the vans inside and several outbuildings including a small wooden workshop occupied by a Mr Russell who was a carpenter who used to mend my broken toys.
We would often go to Ledbury in Herefordshire where my father was born and where the first Suters business was established. These visits continued when our immrdiate family were growing up and in 1990 went there, having lunch at the Feathers Hotel and driving back via Eastnor Castle on the outskirts of the town. My parents first family home in Swakelys Road, Uxbridge was called after this castle, Eastnor Lodge. By the time I was born they had moved to Austenwood Common, Gerrards Cross, although in thw 1970s before the house was knocked down as part of a housing development, I did go there with my parents.
In 1994 I spent a few days with my father staying at the Feathers Hotel opposite the old shop and at that time the first floor of the shop was a tea room so we were able to see ground and first floors. We also went to Bromsgrove to visit his cousin Winnie Westbury who was then resident in a home for the elderly. We also had a tour of Bank House where my father and some of his family grew up.
Back in Slough, it all changed with the 1960s. Plans went ahead to rebuild the Slough property with a very up to date department store. The stock brick wall that was crumbling down was transported home by my father. Every night his car boot would have several bricks in there and there were quite a lot too as a long wall and two gate posts were built in our drive.
I used to visit the store a lot whilst it was being rebuilding. One of the most exciting times was going there one evening to see the arrival of one of the four escalators that been transported for Marryat & Scott who also looked after the lifts. These were the first escalators in Slough and later on the CO-OP department store had them installed.
Compared with the Uxbridge store the Slough one was so much bigger. Three trading floors plus half a trading floor in the basement, known as the "lower ground floor", Escalators up and down, Offices on the top floor, Tirol Restaurant and Salon Bruno hairdresser on the second floor (so no need to go to Uxbridge for my mother's hairdressing).
There was even "7 day a week shopping" - An arcade between Suters and Milwards Shoes had several display windows plus vending machines selling confectionary, but also items like Dinky & Corgi toy cars and other gifts. Unfortunately the machines were often vandalised.
Soon after the new Slouigh store opened I went to take pictures of "Supercar" the APF Films of Slough TV series.A few years later "Stingray" from the same company was displayed in a window in the arcade. I understand that Bob Bell the Art Director on the various AP Films productions used often call into see my brother Dick about buying model buildings from the toy department. See the full display here
I remember both stores had a network of Italian telephones for internal use and a private line was used to let the internal phones connect to the system at the other store. Something that would naturally be taken for granted these days, but in that 1960s that was different.
It was an era instead of buying something on your account card and then returning it, you would have the goods "on approval" for seven days or "appro". If you did not return them you would then be charged to your account. Probably not as good for cashflow as in the day and age, however possibly cheaper to run.
The Uxbridge store suddenly seemed very old fashioned. It was after all built in the 1930s and very modern then, but the shop fitting was very much from that era. I remember the place being up graded. The two large light wells that gave natural light from the roof, but took up costly selling space on two floors were filled in, escalators (just up) being installed and being opened by the co-founder of the business who was Chairman at the time my "Uncle Clarence" who referred to these "moving stairs".
A fashion boutique was put into each store called "Traffic Lights" with bright lights and flashing traffic lights. I was at the opening of the Uxbridge one which was opened by DJ Tony Blackburn in 1969. More Here
There were a lot of members of the Suter family involved in the business, often described as too may chiefs and not enough Indians. This would probably have worked better has the business expanded to half a dozen more outlets, but it did not. I too followed into the business, but fortunately not for too long.
On the 2nd January In 1971, I was working at the Slough store as as a Saturday "student" like many others did. This particular Saturday none of the Suter family were in the stores as my eldest brother Dick (Richard) was busy taking the day off to get married to Ginny (Bowen) who worked as a member of cabin Crew for BEA (later to become part of BA) at Slough Registry Office, followed by a reception at our parents's house "Austenwood". The Winter sale season had not begun or if it had there were mo Suter family members on the shop floor that day. It was a bit of a mystery to members of staff as to where had all the Suters gone on the first Saturday of 1971.
There was a rule that was setup for any family member joining the company. You had to gain experience elsewhere and could not join till you were 25. You then became a director at 28. I went and worked for Bourne & Hollingsworth in Oxford Street, London. They had a great and progressive trainee scheme and there were at least two other "family retailers" from other department store families learning "the ropes" there. I left there and joined the family firm in March 1976 and what a contrast, so although not there for only a couple of years. It was suggested I get involved in carpets and soft furnishings, not my favourite subjects, I took the National Furnishing Diploma "Of the Diploma winners three passed with distinction P.J.M.Suter of Suters Ltd (Slough) who also wins the John Bowles Award for the highest aggregate marks"
Then in 1978 Owen Owen of Liverpool a much larger department store group wanted to buy Suters Ltd I was somewhat worried for my future.
On reflection entering the family business was not the best idea, although I had no regrets whatsoever about working in Oxford Street, I was very pleased the business was sold. By coincidence Bourne and Hollingsworth too was sold around 1979 with the Bourne family being another one to pull out of retailing.
I know my late father John Suter always regretted the business being sold however with all the re-development in Slough, the ridiculous situation of compulsory purchase of the car park at a very low valuation and the local council wanted the company to rent part back at high rents was not good. He would not be happy with todays trading hours, 7 days a week, late nights and open most bank holidays too.
He worked in the Suters business before the second world war, when shops stayed open till around 8/9 on a Saturday night and was very pleased that during and after the war there were "proper" trading hours, not like in today's society.
I had spent the first twenty seven years of my life "growing up" with Suters Ltd, but am very pleased we parted company then and I can just look back on the memories.
From 1984 to 1999 I worked in the Slough and Uxbridge areas setting up the residential lettings office for Frank Farr & Sons, another old Slough based family firm, however never felt I should often call into to the old Suters stores to see how they were progressing under their new owners.
Amongst the clients at Frank Farr were other names from the Slough past like H E Rabbitt & Sons Ltd, Ironmongers from the Farnham Road, Slough E.T. Bowyer ( Will Trust) cousin of H.D. Bowyer Builders and R.G. McCormick Newsagent just off the High Street in Park Street, Slough.
Supercar - this display was on the lower ground floor at the Slough Store
Click on images below to enlarge
Stingray - this display was in a side window at the Slough Store
Original colour slide photos taken by Philip Suter and converted from transparencies to photos by James Fielding in January 2015 - James works with Jamie Anderson, son of Gerry, who made Thunderbirds and all the other great puppets series in the 60's. Visit the website Here and Suters Page Here
©Philip Suter March 2014
Source of images, unless otherwise stated - Suter family archives