The Most Handsome Business Premises in the Town

A brief history 14 and 16 Hide Hill, Berwick upon Tweed, 1865 – 2020

Superintendent John Garden of Berwick Borough Police noted in his General Scroll Book that sometime between the 3 December 1873 and 3 January 1874, a flock mattress, three feet broad and six feet in length, was stolen from the shop of James Purves, Cabinet Maker, Hide Hill; a copy of the pattern could be seen in the Police Station. Scroll books were used by the Police Officers to record complaints and crimes.

Why did it take so long for the mattress to be missed and how did someone manage to walk out with it, unnoticed? While no more has been found relating to the stolen mattress, much has to come to light about the property from which it was stolen, Number 14 Hide Hill, and its owners and/or occupiers.

James Purves, Cabinet Maker and Upholsterer

James Purves was Mayor of Berwick in 1866, 1872, and 1874, Sheriff and at one time Alderman and Justice of the Peace, as well as a very respected and well- known cabinet maker. His workshop was at No. 23 Hide Hill and his warehouse and showroom across the road at No. 14.  

The Site  - 14 – 16 Hide Hill

It is not known when or how James Purves purchased the site of 14 – 16 Hide Hill but the new building, specially designed as a warehouse and showroom to showcase his furniture, was constructed in 1865 by Mrs Gray and Sons, Masons and Builders of Berwick. What stood on the site previously?

The censuses are not particularly helpful when it comes to the non- residential properties on the West side of Hide Hill, either excluding them altogether or only including the street number. Fortunately, numerous adverts and trade directories confirm that Janet Winter, Ironmonger, lived and ran her shop at No. 12, while Thomas Strother, Cabinet Maker, did the same at No. 18. The 1861 Census records Alexander Grahame, Jeweller; Alex. Meikle, Boot Maker, and Thomas Buchanan, Carver and Guilder, as occupying the properties between Strother and Moor.

The site marked in red on the first edition OS map, 1856 – 1860, contained three or four buildings. The irregular shaped southern boundary is still clearly visible on later maps and plans.

25” OS 1st Edition map 1856 -1860 NLS                  

25” OS 3rd Edition Revised 1922               

OS Maps Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland https://maps.nls.uk/index.html

The new building 1865

By 20 January 1865, there was already a second [or first] floor under construction, from which a heavy stone fell on to the back of James Rowley, a labourer working on the ground floor, knocking him unconscious. Doctors Kirkwood and Fluker attended. Mr Purves kindly supplied a mattress to convey the poor man to his home in Chapel Street. James Rowley, described as a sober, industrious workman by the Illustrated Berwick Journal, was believed to be recovering slowly from his severe injuries.

The Berwick Journal [27 Oct 1865] printed a fitting tribute to the completed building.

Mr Purves’ New Buildings – This handsome structure, situated in Hide Hill, was inaugurated on Wednesday night, by holding in that part of the building, called the Purves Hall, the annual meeting of the Berwick Auxiliary to the British and Foreign Bible Society, a report of which will be found in another column. The exterior part of the building is of a most elegant character, and ornament to Hide Hill, - and in fact to the town, - and reflects great credit upon our enterprising townsman, Mr Purves. The interior is extremely handsome. The Purves Hall, in which the meeting was held on Wednesday night, is approached from Hide Hill without steps by a straight and commodious passage, fitted with three doors, which efficiently excludes draught. The interior measures 53 feet by 40 feet and will seat about 400 people. By opening the folding doors at the end, the front shop can be part of the Hall, which would make the entire length 52 feet. It is constructed on careful acoustic principles, one end being arched, and approached for the convenience of those occupying the platform, by two stair cases communicating with the passage on the basement, which leads to a ticket office conveniently placed at the side of the main entrance. Stair cases at each end of the platform are in connection with retiring rooms at the side, and on the basement. This arrangement enables performers, without inconvenience, to communicate with the platform, and entirely remove them from view of the audience. By an ingenious system of heating warm air is introduced to any degree required. The ventilation is also of the m[ost] perfect character. A lantern light supplies the [light] during the day, thus giving a very effective yet pleasantly subdued light. At night, tasteful double gas brackets, equally placed, give ample light. A dome roof enriched with handsome moulded cornice and bold carved trusses, from which spring the principal couples, intersected with panels, complete the roof decorations. Altogether the hall has been carefully constructed with a view to public comfort and convenience, and from its central and accessible position well adapted for auctions and meetings of all kinds.

The new impressive building was and is taller than its neighbours and has larger arcaded windows on the first floor.

On the same page, in a column headed Opening of the Hall & Consecration, it was reported that the Rev G H Hamilton, Vicar of Berwick, Chair, concluded his speech by saying that he had much pleasure in consecrating the room, in which they were assembled, if he might so speak, to the service of God, by holding in it the annual meeting of the British and Foreign Bible Society. Rev. Dr Cairns, the new president stated He could not stand up in that lofty hall and look round upon the magnificent scene he saw before him, without expressing his gratification that the room had been consecrated, in the best sense, and dedicated to the service of God by the first meeting which had been held within its walls, being for an object so God-like and lofty as the Bible Society…. He hoped that those commercial purposes for which the room was intended, would not suffer by the first meeting held within its walls, being in connection with the Bible Society.

Is this what they saw?

Taken from Planning Drawing 24 August 1979 –Proposed alterations for Harris Homecare – Sketch of existing dome at rear, to be retained and painted. Not to scale.

A great deal of thought and effort went in to producing a modern and comfortable hall, warehouse and showroom. Why go to such lengths? Was it for show? What did Thomas Strother, the Cabinet Maker at No. 18 think? How often did James think that the Hall would be used?

Thomas Buchanan, one of the previous occupiers of the site, was provided with living and shop space in the new building in what became No. 16.

James Purves & Sons, 1866 - 1887

In January 1866, [BJ 12 Jan 1866] James Purves, Cabinet Maker and Upholsterer announced that he had taken his two sons, Thomas and William Drysdale Purves, long associated with him in the business, as Partners.  He took the opportunity to give his warmest thanks for the liberal support accorded to him during the long period he has been in business and respectively solicited its continuance to the new firm. 

Continuing in like vein in a separate announcement immediately below, Having just removed to Commodious and Extensive Premises, specially erected for the purposes of the Trade, they are now enabled to display a much larger assortment of READY MADE GOODS then formerly, while their Extensive CABINET MANUFACTORY enables them to produce Furniture of a Superior and Substantial Description, which they can confidently guarantee. They are also in constant communication with the first manufacturing houses in every department, so that the Newest Designs and most approved Materials, are adopted as soon as possible. With these advantages combined with a thorough practical knowledge of the business in all its branches J.P. & Sons are in a position to execute orders in a manner which for Quality, Design, and Moderate Charges, cannot be surpassed, and therefore respectfully solicit a share of Public Support. Cabinet and Upholstery Warehouse, Hide Hill, Berwick January, 1866.

In June 1866, a spade commissioned by the late Lord Provost of Edinburgh for the Princess Frederick William of Prussia (the Princess Royal of England) was manufactured by Messrs Thomas Black & Sons, Sea View Works, Spittal. The mahogany handle, upon which the Prussian Royal Arms was carved, was made by Messrs James Purves & Sons. The fine workmanship was much admired by all who had the privilege of seeing it. [BJ 29 June 1866].

A Disastrous Fire [Berwick Journal 30 August 1872]

In August 1872, what was described as a disastrous fire by the Illustrated Berwick Journal, broke out in the extensive cabinet making and upholstery premises of Messrs James Purves & Sons, Hide Hill. Exceptional detail is provided in the report (click here for full report).

…The alarm was immediately given, and in a short time a powerful hose was attached to the hydrant in the street, nearly opposite to the premises. The engine from the Barracks also arrived, under the charge of the staff of the Northumberland Artillery Militia. At half past nine, barely half an hour after the discovery of the fire, the roof was in flames, and the situation at this time to all appearances most desperate…

Underneath the description of the fire, the following announcement appeared:

James Purves & Sons

Beg to state that their WAREROOMS will be arranged for Business in a few days.

As the fire did not affect their Cabinet and Upholstery Workshops, orders will be executed as usual.

Hyde Hill, 29th August.

An extensive salvage sale was held in September in the Kings Arms Assembly Rooms.  [BNGA 10 Sept 1872] Of the large number of items offered for sale, many had suffered very little damage and after being repaired were almost as good as new.

By late December [IBJ 27 Dec 1872], the repairs to the building had been completed and the premises were once again open to the public.

James died 12 May 1886, aged about 85. The Dundee Evening Telegraph announced it as follows:

Death of an Old Friend of Sir Walter Scott.

Mr James Purves (of Messrs James Purves & Sons, cabinetmakers. , died at Berwick yesterday. He was the oldest member of the Council… In politics he was a moderate Liberal…He was described as devoted to religion, having for many years been a Sabbath School teacher. He had many interesting recollections of Sir Walter Scott and repaired a desk for him while he was still Mr Scott. [Dundee Evening Telegraph 13 May 1886]

William and James continued to trade as James Purves & Sons, Cabinet Makers and Upholsters and Undertakers.

Despite advertising for an apprentice, it wasn’t long before the brothers decided to retire and a clearance sale was announced in The Scotsman in March 1887 and in other papers. The extensive and valuable stock, amounting to £5,690, was to be offered at enormously reduced prices. The Warerooms and Workrooms were available for sale or rent.

Closing Weeks of James Purves & Sons Extensive Retiral Sale

They gratefully acknowledged the support received in the realisation of their extensive stock but they were obliged to continue the sale for an additional month to reduce the great pressure in their workshops and to be able to complete a large quantity of furniture in process of manufacture. Sweeping reductions offered the rare opportunity of securing high class furniture at prices unheard of in the Annals of the Furniture Trade. [The Scotsman 11 May 1887]

James Purves & Co closed on 25 June 1887 and the partnership dissolved in November 1887. [NDC 24 June 1887, Lloyd’s List 16 November 1887.]

Thomas Purves living in New Zealand by 1891, sent a donation to all the employees of the late firm every Christmas. [BA 2 Jan. 1891] He died in 1909 in Sussex and was buried in Berwick Cemetery.

The New Tenant, Walter Willson Ltd, Grocer and Tea Merchant, 1887 - 1913

c1900 Hide Hill, Courtesy of Berwick Record Office BRO 0426-339

A close-up shows Walter Willson above the entrance and on the small hanging sign.

The lease was due to expire 11 November 1908. In April that year, the Berwick Advertiser announced that No. 14 would be offered for sale by public auction at the Corn Exchange on 2 May  It was described as That modern, valuable and extensive freehold business property, No. 14 Hide Hill, comprising four spacious and well lighted rooms with large basement…

The property did not sell and Walter Willson continued as tenant. In December 1908, the business, with over 100 branches, held what was described as their 34th Christmas Sale with everything

at cost price including dried fruit, rich Indian tea, best granulated sugar, grand quality lemon peel, wax candles, splendid quality rice, figs, Vienna cake flour, plum jam, Persian dates and Tobacco, Brown Twist. [BNGA 5 January 1909]

In August and again in November 1913, No. 14 was advertised for sale by private contract or to be let on lease or by the year, with vacant possession on 11 November 1913. It had been constantly occupied by Walter Willson Ltd since the retirement of the Purves brothers. [The Scotsman 27 August 1913; Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer 29 October 1913]

Club Rooms for the Soldiers, 1915 – c1919

Under a heading entitled By the Way in the Berwick Advertiser, it was noted that there were again no takers for the property which was standing empty. The Mayor and the clergy of the Borough, decided to utilise the shop to provide club rooms for the soldiers stationed in the town. It was hoped that promoters of the scheme would receive support from the towns people.

In January 1919, 14 Hide Hill was offered for sale yet again. [The Scotsman 22 January 1919]

R. K. Gaul, a Cabinetmaker, Upholsterer, Undertaker, Valuer, Removal Contractor, 1920 – 1926

In February,  R.K. Gaul inserted a Notice of Removal in the Berwick Advertiser [BA 27 February 1920] stating: I have pleasure in intimating that I have acquired the EXTENSIVE WAREHOUSE, No. 14 Hide Hill, directly opposite to my present premises, where I will be able to show a Larger and more Varied Selection of Furniture, Carpets, Linoleums, Etc. The carpet department would embrace one whole flat

You are cordially invited to visit the New Warehouse, and I would esteem it a favour if you would call and have a look round. It would interest you, and you will not be asked to buy. Tel. No. 107.

It was again being used for its original purpose!

RK Gaul placed regular adverts in the Berwick Advertiser with punchy headlines always stressing the up- to -date designs, high quality, good workmanship and low prices of his stock.

As a result of continued ill health and under doctor’s orders, he was reluctantly compelled to retire from the business and in January 1926, offered for sale all his stock of furniture, carpets, beds, bedding etc valued at over £6,000. To ensure that it all sold as quickly as possible, he arranged sweeping reductions on all articles. There would be no cheap or shoddy articles; the only cheap thing going would be the prices asked. [BA 21 January 1926] Robert Kay Gaul died 3 February 1926 at 25 Hide Hill. Probate was granted, 3 June 1926, to George Murray, his house factor. His effects were valued at £9,873 7s 7d.

F. W. Woolworth & Co. Ltd. 1926 – 1937 An international chain!

Berwick Advertiser 26 August 1926

In June 1931, Woolworths announced in the Jedburgh Gazette that the Berwick Store would stay open all day on Thursday 18 June for the convenience of the Jedburgh trippers. On the same page, details of the arrangements for the Jedburgh United Sunday Schools Picnic at Spittal by the Sea on 18 June, were provided.

Jedburgh Gazette 12 June 1931

Woolworths moved to a new site in Marygate in 1937.

Barker & Co, The Home Furnishers 1937 – 1946

Another company with branches in other towns. Barkers, like the earlier occupants of No. 14, made good use of newspaper adverts, the noticeable difference being in the size and content. Barkers offered credit with no deposit nor references needed, liberal allowances on the customers old furniture, to pay customers fares on completed orders over £10, free fire and life insurance. Generous allowances and most thoughtful consideration in time of illness, unemployment or other unforeseen circumstances. In August 1946 a new company took over.

Hardy & Co., (Furnishers) Ltd. 1946 – c 1979

BRO1250/117

Berwick’s New Furniture and Piano Store. They had a large number of stores all over the country – an advert for an everything must go sale appeared in the Daily Mirror 30 Jan 1976, and included the Berwick branch.

Harris Homecare  1979 - 1988

In October 1979, Harris Homecare received permission to make alterations to the shop front and premises. It is worth looking at the drawings to see the extent of the ground floor, the proposed shop front and the sketch of the frieze in the dome at the rear which was to be retained and painted.

By 1988, Clydesdale Bank occupied the property. The name can be made out in the photo below.

Clydesdale Bank at No. 14, 1988, Courtesy Barclays Group Archives (991-2)

Ladbrokes 1991 – present day

Plans submitted by Ladbrokes reveal the small retail area to be sublet, carved out of the ground floor to the left of what had been the central entrance.

The upper floors have been converted to flats, drawings relating to floors 1 and 2, were submitted in 2002. A design access and heritage statement submitted in 2020 states that the third- floor attic flat was added in 2009. A Cover letters states that 4 dormers were added in 2008 or 2009.

What would James Purves have made of the wide variety of occupiers of No 14 and 16 Hide Hill since his death? No doubt changes occurred as a result of the prevailing economic climate, the impact of WW1, competition and the aspirations of the local residents.

with grateful thanks to Julie Gibbs who researched and wrote this article on 14 - 16 Hide Hill

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