Written by Abingdon town archivist Jackie Smith

IN MY last article, the history of Tomkins and Harris ended with the business being inherited by William Beesley.

Unfortunately, he did not live long enough to enjoy the fruits of his inheritance.

The business of ‘Tailors and Outfitters’ passed to his widow, Susan, and son, Ernest Herbert, trading under the name of Beesley & Son, with branches at one time in Wantage and Reading.

With the death of Susan in 1895, there was yet another change, to EH Beesley; a name which survived well into the 1970s.

In 1908, Oswald Barrett, from West Hanney, joined the staff as errand boy and trainee salesman, but left four years later.

After war service in India, Mesopotamia and Russia, he rejoined Ernest Beesley in 1921 as his business partner.

He also entered into a second partnership with the family, by marrying Beesley’s eldest daughter, Gladys.

An advertisement from 1910 reveals that the business of tailors, clothiers and outfitters was aimed, for the most part, at men.

‘Tallymen’ were employed to drum up custom in the villages around Abingdon, initially using a pony and trap but eventually moving into motorised transport, with a De Dion van.

In the 1920s, the partnership flourished, acquiring several Abingdon businesses, notably Chivers, which occupied large premises at numbers 7 to 9 High Street; its large, new-fangled, plate-glass window crammed with goods designed to entice the ladies of Abingdon. It even boasted an Oriental and Fancy Goods department.

An advertisement from this period describes Chivers as ‘The Leading Drapery House’.

Duponts in the Market Place, a smaller ladies’ wear shop on the Market Place, JN Paul, a shoe retailer and watchmaker, and the Abingdon Carpet Company were other acquisitions at this time, although these were all sold in the late 1940s.

The business, now concentrated at numbers 22 and 24 High Street, extended its ranges to include ladies’ wear, household linens, fabrics and school uniforms.

When Mr Beesley died, his three daughters, Gladys, Marjorie and Phyllis, became Oswald Barrett’s partners.

By the 1960s, the firm was totally in the hands of the Barrett family. JN Paul, now at 26 High Street, ceased to trade independently and was incorporated into the main business, leading to the final change of name to EH Beesley (Abingdon) Ltd.

The firm remained in business until 1984, when Hodges Men’s Wear, later known as Dunn’s, moved into 22 High Street. Oswald’s son, David Barrett, and his wife, Mollie, continued to offer a specialist school wear outlet only from 26 High Street until 2001.

These premises are now occupied by the Cooperative Funeral Service.

It is ironic to note that, when the new cemetery opened in Spring Road in 1861, Tomkins and Harris was one of the first businesses to offer bespoke funerals.

Beesley’s was typical of the family businesses I remember, offering a personal, unhurried service by knowledgeable staff.

There was always a chair provided for those who found standing difficult.

I am grateful to David Barrett for access to his reminiscences and permission to use his copyright photographs.