Friday, 8 February 2013

Shopping Saturday - Go east my son!

A bundle of 1950s hire purchase statements for a spin drier, a washing machine and a fridge might not seem the most promising starting point for an interesting bit of family and social history.  But bear with me ...

I found the carefully preserved statements amongst the belongings of my great aunts - "Nancy" Thompson and Lillian Barton.  The first thing that struck me was how expensive everything was!

The spin drier bought in 1959 was £32 - £600 today.  And they paid £68 and £71 for the washing machine bought in 1961 and the fridge bought in 1963 - that's over £1,000, ($1,500), each today.

My aunts were comfortably off but certainly not rich.   Nancy, was a nursing supervisor and Lillian, who was separated from her husband, didn't work.  These precious - to any housewife! - items represented a major outlay of money.  The statements from Roomes of Upminster, suggest the hire purchase was very quickly paid off, so there must have been some serious saving to  afford them.

RoomesInvoiceReduced2_optBut more interesting, I think, is the story of Roomes itself, for it is a story of London's East End over the last 150 years that continues to work it's way out today.

Roomes - which still trades in Upminster - was founded by James Roome, a draper, who opened a general store in Green Street in Upton Park in 1888.  Green Street - the home of West Ham United football club - is right at the heart of London's old "East End" very close to the 2012 Olympic stadium.

The East End - for those less familiar with London history - is the area around the old docks.  Traditionally, it was a particularly poor part of London and home to the most recent migrants to the city and often, the country.  From the 1920s, "East Enders" with aspiration, moved out to the neighbouring county of Essex where a massive building programme of new towns and suburbs with neat semi-detached houses, provided space and comfort not to be found on Green Street and its immediate surrounds.

In 1927, Roomes followed this trend and opened a second store in the still small but rapidly growing town of Upminster.  By the end of the 1930s all their focus was on the Upminster store and its much more affluent clientele.  In 1937, they sold the original Green Street store and opened a greatly expanded site in Station Row, Upminster.

And for the last 70 years, Roomes has prospered in the Essex suburbs.  But the wheel is now turning, and the old East End is being "regenerated".   In the 1980s and 90s the massive Docklands financial centre was built amongst the largely deserted docks and the old warehouses themselves were converted into trendy lofts.

RoomesInvoiceReduced5_optBut it is the 2012 Olympics and the development to support it, that is really transforming the area where James Roomes founded his original general store.  Just two miles from Green Street the enormous Westfield Shopping Centre - one of the largest in Europe - has been built containing designer stores and high profile, department stores such as John Lewis. Almost a million shoppers a week from London and from Essex visit the centre.

Whether, Roomes  as a small suburban store, can cope with such glittering competition in it's old East End home, remains to be seen.

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