Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Harrison and Gibson

There used to be a furniture store in Ilford High Road that was the envy of every town center in Essex. That store was called Harrison and Gibson and it sold the most expensive and well made furniture this side of Harrods. Thinking of going there? Well you cant its closed down and is about to become a block of flats. Yep a block of flats in the middle of a once proud High Street now filled with pound shops and charity shops. This is the story of my time working there. A piece of history that is being swept away from Ilford forever. This blog is inspired by a friend of mine Marc Teiman who wrote about the demise of Ilford recently. So Marc thanks for the inspiration.

I worked at Harrison and Gibson 10 years ago this year. I knew nothing about furniture but I did know how to sell. The store was like Grace Brothers out of Are You Being Served? I was the youngest one in there by about 30 years, but do you know what? They taught me so much about customer service that I still use to this day.

The ground floor was a mixture of Linens, Furniture, Kitchen Ware and Ornaments. Not any old toot though this stuff was first class. Stuff you bought and it would last you a lifetime. The first floor was a mixture of concessions selling Electrics, Persian Rugs ( not the Del-boy ones the proper ones), Indian Furniture, Bathrooms, Chinese Furniture, Lamps and Lighting, as well as Flower arrangements. The Second floor was full of Bedroom furniture, the Third floor was full of Leather suites and an Art Gallery, the Fourth floor was full of more modern contemporary furniture and the fifth floor was full of Traditional furniture. This was no MDF stuff and cheap IKEA furniture this was real hand made furniture that people travelled far and wide for. They not only came for the furniture they also came for the level of service we gave them as well.

The man behind all of this and the driving force of it was a guy called Steve Donoghue. Looked like Mr Bean but had a temper like Mr T. I clashed with him a few times because he wasn't the greatest man manager but what he did have was a passion for the store and for the way it was to be run. That bloke worked 7 days a week in there. Driving us all to be the best we could and to make sure we always gave the customer 100%.

There were others there as well, Graham who taught me all about the Traditional furniture, Ali who taught me all about the Leather Furniture, Terry the miserable moaning maintenance man or Alan the security guard who fell asleep in his office every day after lunch thinking no-one knew. Linda the store PA who had been there since she had left school, Trevor the Art Gallery Owner, the girls in the cash office, Mick and Ham the old boys in the warehouse. There were many, many more as well. The one thing they all had in common though was that they all cared about the place where they worked. They had a real passion for it. They cared that the customer got the right level of service.

Unfortunately Harvey's bought the store and not understanding the phrase 'If it ain't broke don't fix it', decided to start making changes. The quality of furniture started too drop off and so did the sales. People retired and weren't replaced and slowly but surely the rot set in. The demise of a once great store had begun. I moved on as well eventually. With a new family too support I wanted more than a career as a salesman so I moved into Game as an Assistant Manager (that's a blog all of its own Ill tell one day).

I walk past the shell of what was once Harrison and Gibson and it saddens me to think what was once there. The people and the fun I had, the wind-ups we used to do on each other. Fond memories and happy times. The level of service that was drilled into me which I still keep to this day. DFS changed the face of furniture with their big offers and low quality furniture. A real shame that Harvey's couldn't take care of its jewel in its crown.

The saddest part of all is as I was doing this blog I thought I would add a photo of Harrison and Gibson. I cant find one anywhere that shows the store in all its glory. Thats a ral shame as it was open for over 100 years and its such a waste that there are no photo's of it online.

I still see some of the people I used to work with now and then and say Hi to them.We share stories about the people we worked with and what we got up too. Some have passed away and others have moved on to other companies. The thing that gets me the most though? What a waste of knowledge that went when that store closed. What a waste of years of experience just waiting to be passed on to the next generation, eager to learn it from more experienced hands.I hope the people that move into the flats where that once great building stood enjoy it. Me? Its just another death knell to a once great high street.

R.I.P Harrison and Gibson Ill never forget you or the people I met and worked with.

21 comments:

  1. Awesome blog Ant, i remember going there as a kid with mum and dad and they bought a leather three piece. To this day its still there, and is only just now about to be replaced. The body is still fine, with new leather padded seats it'd be fine. Superb store.

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  5. i am regularly reading your blog. you are very good and amazing in writing a good blog.
    Luxury Beds and Mattresses

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  6. Great story of enormous interest to me - you will see why below:

    I have been fortunate enough to be given an old Harrison Gibson sideboard - perhaps 1920's but I'm not sure. It has a tower on each side - all glass - with wooden shelves. In the middle is a drawer; running along at the bottom are a couple of wooden shelves. Its on turned legs. I understand that it should have a mirror between the towers. Do you know anyone who might be able to confirm this or show me a picture? With many thanks.

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  7. I remember the TV ads from the late 1950s. Harrison Gibson (no "and", as I recall) had three stores then: Havelock St Ilford was one, High Street Bromley was another, but I forget where the third one was. One of them suffered a disastrous fire about that time - it was in all the papers.

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  8. I feel very saddened that Harisson-Gibson is gone. I remember exquisite Persian and Chinese rugs... I bought a wall unit for my sitting room there, reminder of the bygone days...

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  9. I remember when the store caught fire. I lived in Chadwell Heath and you could see it from there. I went to school in Cranbrooke Road, so we went past the next day. If I remember it was just a shell. But they re build and put a restaurant on top, my mother loved that place, Dickie Henderson was the star. I only googled the name because my wife showed a picture of an old side board from them. What is unusual about that, is I have lived in the US for the past forty years and to find that in a classified ad was quite remarkable.

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  10. I bought my sofa's and dining room table there. The staff were so helpful, couldn't do enough and their products were first class. If only Harrison Gibson was still around.

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  11. I loved this store and bought my G-Plan 3 piece there and coffee tables. The store had so much to offer and notably the helpfulness of the staff. Much missed and sadly a sign of the demise of Ilford, a place I never visit anymore...

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  12. I am currently doing some renovation and was just reminiscing about our furniture purchase from H&G over 30 years ago and how well made and practical they are with being able to interlock a drawer unit with a bookcase or any combination we wanted.Couldn't remember the name of the range but do now. My TV unit; drinks cabinet with light bookcases etc. and my daughter commented that there were no chips or cracks on the veneer!!
    I too am saddened at the demise of Ilford High street as are most people who lived there in the 60s and 70s. But maybe the furniture was too well made and lasted too long.. not from the buy and dispose of in 5 years era and maybe we didn't visit the shop often enough.
    But whatever the reason as Aldi now advettises "once they're, they're, gone ". Same for C&H fabrics... still in other parts of the country but not ilford.
    Ilford has been slaughtered..

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  13. I stumbled on your blog by accident but have relly enjoyed reading it, thankyou. We inherited an H and G glass/china cabinet some years back which we use every day and love it. Visitors always comment on what a beautifully made piece of furniture it is. We believe it to be made of oak with 'acorn' turned feet on a framed base with other carvings surrounding the glass panel doors and top and two bottom drawers. The quality speaks for itself as there is no damage to be seen anywhere despite having being relocated four times! It was really interesting to learn about its origins and have it confirmed that we own a little piece of history, its stayed in Essex too! 

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  14. kenhbrown@bigpond.com27 June 2015 at 02:18

    I watched H and G's burn from Times furniture opposite where I worked. We were cleared out to safty.Eventually I went to work for H and g's in the carpet dept. Doubled my wage with com. over night. Left 1964. Jack Gibson used to come around in his beautiful Bentley with chauffer. The place was example of overkill with to many staff and the night club never worked. G.M. Was a fire eater named Barker. All in all good days with booze ups at the pub opposite. Hand G's had 3 stores Ilford/Bromley/Doincaster plus ware house. Set me up in Australia with my experience.

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  15. Cool ! Thanks for sharing this . i am regularly reading your blog. you are very good and amazing in writing a good blog.

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  16. I bought a wonderful dining room suite from H&G in 1969/70. Not Wood Brothers but very similar - oak refractory table and sideboard had drawers in centre with cupboards either side - one door of each had carved oak tree (I think) can anyone give me a manufacturer please?

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  17. I remember H&G. Bought quite a few items there. I remember the original store when it was burned down during 1960 (or about that time). When young, we expect the future to bring improvement, but everywhere seems a slum these days and we are led to believe it is an improvement.

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  18. Ken, my father was a furniture buyer for H&G firstly in Bromley then in Ilford. He would have been there around the same time as you. His name was George Bogen and he worked with another buyer called Harry Robbins. he travelled around Europe especially Italy seeking out furniture manufacturers, on the odd occasion Jack Gibson would go with them. It wasn't all glamorous European trips,he spent a lot of time in the North of England too. But yes it was a store with a reputation for quality.

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  19. Back in the early 80's, I was in the USAF and stationed in England. My neighbor was a wonderful elderly lady that was preparing to move and she asked if I would like to purchase any of her furniture as she couldn't take it all. I agreed and bought a couple of pieces including a beautiful sideboard that has a plate on the inside of the right cabinet door that says "Harrison Gibson Ltd, Ilford". She said it was purchased by her father in 1904 and had been in their home ever since. It was in beautiful condition then as it is now. It even still has its original mirror on the back of the upper shelf section and a skeleton key that still works the locks. I now live in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA and am happy to say that they certainly made beautiful, quality furniture that has stood the test of time.

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    1. I worked in the Ilford store as my first job after leaving school Late 50's. Was there when they had the big fire. Was up on the roof letting off balloons when the new store opened. It officially was 'Harrison Gibson', no and. Had stores in Ilford, Bromley, Bedford, Doncaster, Manchester, Halifax and Leeds. See I still remember. Taught me a lot about customer service. Mr Gibson's office was on our floor. We had to line up in the morning to welcome him. It was 'Good Morning Mr.Gibson' as he walked past us. Great Times.

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  20. Hi there my name is Peter Field I worked at H/G in the 60s/70s Iworked with my father on the lorries doing home deliveries and we were taught to be civil to customers as they were our future if they went so did our jobs. I started as a van boy and ended up driving some of their lorries. My father was employed just after the fire,when it was rebuilt they had at least 13 lorries running out of a warehouse in Ley street, plus they had a shop next door known as fords supermart which sold not such high class goods.I remember Jack Gibson as he sometimes turned up in his chauffer driven Ford Thunderbird.If I remember correctly it was taken over by Maples furniture stores in late 70s. I had 2 brothers work there as well in the carpet dept as a fitter. Those were great days we woked with a lot of great people who also worked there some of whome I still know today.enough of the ramble.A great blog Tony thank you very much.

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