Memories of Luton’s Blundell store

THE name Blundell was well-known on Luton’s streets for 125 years.

Sunday, 18th March 2012, 9:59 am

Henry Blundell founded the department store that is so fondly remembered by many Lutonians of a certain age.

He was just 18 when he opened a small shop on Market Hill in 1852, between the Black Swan Inn and Seabrooks the corn merchants.

Henry called the business Blundell Brothers because he hoped his younger brother Thomas would join him in the venture, but Thomas died before this was possible.

The shop had no official closing time, often serving until midnight, and as custom grew Henry rented, and later bought, the building on the corner of George Street and Cheapside. The site eventually became the much larger store, pictured above.

Five years later, buildings in Cheapside were bought and rebuilt, making the original shop the furniture department.

Henry purchased more property in Castle Street and Chapel Street during the 1880s and the Market Hill shop became the first in Luton to have a plate glass window.

In 1887, Henry was elected Mayor of Luton having given long public service to the town.

Reporting on Blundells’ 50th year in business in 1902, the Luton News said: “At Messrs Blundell Brothers’ establishment in George Street and Cheapside there is an exceptionally grand display.

“Both these large premises of business have been stocked and decorated for the Christmas season with a profuseness and magnificence seldom seen in the provinces.

“Indeed, the firm may be congratulated upon having saved the Luton public a very considerable sum in railway expenses as it will now be quite unnecessary to visit any of the London emporiums.”

The Lamson Pneumatic Tube system for carrying cash from counters to the office was installed at this time and the first customer lift arrived in 1906.

But a fire destroyed the Market Hill premises and Henry Blundell died in 1907, with one of his three sons, Percy, taking control of the company.

During the 1920s, it was possible to furnish three rooms – dining room, kitchen and a bedroom – for £50 at Blundells.

In 1951, when the picture of customers queuing during a sale was taken, the first floor in Cheapside was remodelled to form a fashion floor.

At the time The House of Blundell had 50 departments and a staff of 190. The picture above shows the home furnishings department in 1953.

In April 1973, Blundells became the major department store in the new Arndale Centre, doubling the size of their previous premises at a development cost of half-a-million pounds.

But life in the Arndale was short-lived and in January 1977 the name Blundell officially disappeared when the company was sold to become the department store we recognise today – Debenhams.

> The full story of Blundells can be found in Bob Norman’s book Were You Being Served?, which remembers 50 Luton shops of yesteryear.