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Changing Times | Clothes shop’s service reflected bygone era

When I talk to groups of people around the town it is interesting how they remember shops – by the style of items they sold, by the smell of the shop, its location or service. How many people can remember Hansfords?

 

Can you imagine paying 29s.6d (£1.50.) for a suit, which was even guaranteed to fit? Well, this was the price that was advertised by Joscelyn Hansford in his shop in London Road in 1908. This well known business shows us the rise and decline of this type of shop over the years.

 

Joscelyn was a self-made man from Powerstock in Dorset where he was born on February 10, 1881. He served a five-year apprenticeship in Bridport before moving to Chichester where he acquired his first job in an outfitters shop, where his salary was one guinea (£1.05) a week.

 

He left Chichester to come to Bognor to work as a shop manager. One day in 1908, at the age of 27 he was walking home to have his lunch and called into a shop owned by Harry Nicholson, to buy some cigarettes. Mr Nicholson asked him if he wanted to buy a cash till because he was closing the next day.

 

Joscelyn, by this time, was a branch manager of outfitters and while he knew that a previous tenant of the shop had been outfitters, which had failed, he decided to take over the premises for which he had to pay a guinea a week, and started to sell his suits.

 

This was a relatively small shop at 36 London Road with a frontage of only 12 feet. Within two years, he was to move across London Road to take over No 39 in a new row of shops. When he was told that he was growing too fast, this only spurred him on to greater efforts. He continued to prosper and in 1914 opened a second shop in Littlehampton.

 

Joscelyn Hansford was very active in Bognor and his name is linked with many organisations, such as being a founder of the chamber of trade, connected with the hospital, a founder of Bognor Bowls Club, and involved with the town improvements committee. During the First World War, he also helped to start the town ambulance service.

 

In the 1920s, the shop’s advertising included the phrase, ‘the shop for young men and men of youth’. By the 1930s, gentlemen’s suits had increased in price to 37s 6d (37.5p)with coats costing between £22s (£2.10) to £8 4s (£8.20) for a top of the range topcoat.

 

Hansfords always appeared to remain with the current fashions and, again in the Thirties, it was possible for 3s lld (just under 20p) to buy a shirt complete with an attached collar. The Hansford trademark was always to serve the customer by talking with them what they required and then to try to assist them in achieving their purchase. They did not like the word ‘sell’.

 

By the early Thirties, the company was renowned tailors, hatters and hosiers supplying ‘everything a gentleman could need’. Such was their attention to detail that in 1936 it is reported that hundreds of ties were dipped into a large vat of black dye for the funeral of King George V.

 

The increasing business made it necessary to find new premises and, in 1931, the Church Hall, belonging to the Congregationalists in London Road, was purchased.

 

Here Hansfords built a modern two storey building, which had a 50ft frontage and was to become a familiar sight. This shop was well ahead of its time when it opened. In due course, further shops were opened in Brighton, Littlehampton and Worthing, but sadly these had to close during the Second World War because of the decline in the amount of goods available and the lack of staff. The Bognor shop remained open and, by 1958, another was opened a shop in Chichester.

 

It is interesting when looking through advertisements for Hansfords and other shops of this nature how their trade is a reminder of a very different era. For example, gentlemen would once have owned two or three suits with a summer and winter overcoat in addition to their dinner jacket and accessories.

 

For a time, it was possible for gentlemen to hire their formal wear from Hansfords. Even in the 1980s, a report mentioned men would ‘hire a suit when attending a job interview’.

 

Many people will remember the shop in London Road, not only for its stylish frontage but for the fact that for a number of years part of the premises were used by the county council as a public library, until the new one opened at it’s present site in the Sixties.

 

As a trade, Hansfords moved with the times and, by 1971, they began to sell ladies clothes, alongside their existing ranges. Eventually, with the change to a more casual method of dressing and an increase in our of town stores, trade started to decline.

 

The business was transferred to the High Street, in 1980, to premises that were opposite the site of today’s Morrisons car park entrance. In 1983, Hansfords celebrated its 75th anniversary of ‘serving the public in Bognor Regis’ according to the articles of the time.

 

But the shop closed in the following decade, and the town centre lost a familiar name that offered a personal service to its customer. A service that was ‘never too much trouble’ and where individual ‘care and attention to the customer’ was always offered. The majority of men do not have the number of suits that were supplied by such shops as Hanfords.

 

This was a family name that offered a personal service in what seems to be a bygone age. Hansfords is a name that is still remembered with affection by its customers, however you can still obtain their unique service in Chichester at 17 South Street or visit their website hansfordsmenswear.co.uk

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