Oldest ironmongers goes out of business after 480 years

July 8, 2010 | by | 0 Comments

Britain’s oldest hardware store is to close because of the recession after trading for nearly 500 years.

The original ‘Open all Hours’ store – Gill & Co was the first ironmongers in Britain when it opened in Oxford in 1530 – a staggering 480 years ago.

The independent shop has been in business ever since and survived the English Civil War, two World Wars, two depressions and three recessions.

It has also continued trading six days-a-week through the reign of 20 monarchs and 76 prime ministers.

But the shop has become the latest victim of the global recession and will close its doors for the final time next month when the current lease on the building runs out.

Gill & Co’s owner Victor Hunt, 48, blames the recession and larger chains like B&Q and Homebase for the store’s demise.

He said: ”The shop has been here at this address for over 50 years. Gill’s is the oldest ironmonger’s in England, so we are coming to the end of an era.

”Sales have declined in recent years and we are moving out before we start to lose money.

”Our client base is over  45s and some of the customers are considerably older than that. Inevitably, as time goes by, we lose a few.

”The younger customers seem happier these days to drive to B&Q and other out-of-town stores.

”It is such a shame that after so many years the shop must close but unfortunately that is the climate small businesses are facing now.”

Gill & Co originally provided ironware for residents when it opened during the reign of Henry VIII in 1530.

Over the years it has stocked chimney sweep brushes, scythes, iron nails and hay rakes.

The shop has operated from a number of buildings in Oxford before moving to its current location in the High Street.

It has also added household items including tools, tin tacks, lightbulbs, compost, charcoal, rat repellents and candles in a bid to compete with the larger chains.

But Vincent, who bought the store 10 years ago, said despite the changes customer numbers had gradually fallen.

Vincent, who also runs a hardware store in Chipping Norton, Oxon., added: ”A lot of independent stores in Oxford have closed and the city is now full of clothes shops and cafés.

”We must be one of the last few independents in the High Street.

”Oxford is full of multiples now which means it ends up offering the same as any other city.”

Graham Jones, of Oxford High Street Association, said: ”Gill’s is an Oxford institution. It is a loss not just to the High Street, but to the whole of the city centre.

”A lot of the handymen who work for the colleges go in there and they will definitely miss it.”

Michael Read, 62, from Kennington, who has worked at the shop for the past seven years, is one of the three staff to lose their jobs at the store.

He said: ”I’m being made redundant, which is quite tough at my age. All the customers seem very sad to hear we are closing. It’s a sad loss.”

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