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A FAMILY BUSINESS - SUTERS LIMITED - 1929 - 1939 Part Two by Richard Ensor

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"The Uxbridge Skyscraper" 1936 - 1938.

An article included in the Middlesex Advertiser in May 1936, suggests that the Suter partnership, first, developed plans for a "modern" department store in Uxbridge within a year or two of the 1924 acquisition of Carrick & Coles and that plans for the redevelopment of Waterloo House were approved by 1929. The transformation of Carrick & Coles into a modern 'Suters' store for Uxbridge was only deferred when negotiations started for the purchase of 'William Coad' on the other side of the street.

Six years later and within a year of the rebuilding of the Slough store, the company embarked on an even larger and more radical development in Uxbridge.

The opportunity arose as a consequence of the proposal to combine slum clearance with the creation of a new High Street Underground Station which would affect land to the east and north of 'William Coad'. The idea, prompted by the increasing frequency and importance of the 'London Underground' service to Uxbridge also included a second entrance from the London Transport station to a new bus terminal to be located behind the High Street with an access from Belmont Road.

'Suters' Directors became aware of the changes at an early stage and realised that a development of this kind immediately behind their 'William Coad' store provided the opportunity to create a modern department store bigger and better even than that planned, in 1929, for Waterloo House. There was a garden behind 'William Coad' which had, initially, been kept out of the sale to 'Suters' but was, later, let to Arthur Suter personally while he and his family were living in Waterloo House. There was, also, other land adjoining. William Coad now living in Cambridge had no present use for either area and they could be acquired if the company moved quickly.

Clarence Suter's son Tom recalls:

I was friendly at Halidon House School, Slough with Tony Bilbow (Broadcaster later). His father was Architect to either the Metropolitan Railway or London County Council. I can't remember which. At a tea party my mother learnt that there was a proposal to extend the line to Uxbridge and consequently Suters purchased the garden and workshops behind Coads which included part of the turning circle of the Bus Station. It was compulsorily purchased thus helping to pay for the new Uxbridge Store. Tom Suter 2003

While details of the proposals were made public over a period of months it is unlikely that the 'Suters' Directors were the only people in Uxbridge to receive an 'early warning'. It is to their credit, therefore, that they acted promptly realising that now was the time to buy up any 'spare' land behind the store. The purchase was made and while part of the newly acquired land was, almost immediately, compulsorily purchased by London Transport for use in connection with the station development the company was left with a site which, when added to the existing William Coad store was in a prime position and crying out for re-development.

Early in the 1930s we heard that the Metropolitan Line Station in Belmont Road Uxbridge was to be moved into the High Street and a new road built from Belmont Road to join up with a second entrance to the station. We decided therefore to sell the Waterloo House site to Burton's the tailors and move the business and continue it with the Coad's site business to make the present excellent site at Uxbridge. We moved in 1936, commenced building in 1938, and 1939 and finished in 1940. It was not until the 1950s that the windows and front fascia were completed on the Bakers Road elevation. In fact the building was up before the Bakers Road was made. - John Suter - Autobiography.

In order to avoid interrupting the business the redevelopment was planned in three phases.

The first stage was a new four story building constructed behind the existing William Coad shop. According to an article (extracted by Ken Pearce from the Uxbridge Public Library archive) which appeared in the Middlesex Advertiser and Gazette in December 1937, Stage 1 of the development completed in 1936 was 'intermediate' between the original William Coad shop and a second stage completed in 1937 which when opened had a rear frontage to the site of the new proposed road (Bakers Road) to be built as access the Bus Station.

When the Stage 1 extension was completed, it would provide an additional 15,000 square feet of space immediately behind the existing store. Work was due to commence in May 1936 and be completed towards the end of the year in time for an official 'opening' just before Christmas. However, even before the work to create the additional space began the ex Carrick and Coles drapery, china and furniture departments were closed and the business transferred 'over the road' to the existing William Coad premises. An article contained in The Middlesex Advertiser and Gazette on Friday May 1, 1936 confirmed that the transfer had taken place the previous day:

…… With the vast alterations that are coming on [the north] side of the High Street, Messrs Suters Ltd saw the possibilities of establishing a modern store. They disposed of the property known as Waterloo House, with the object of concentrating on the erection of a huge modern store on the site of their premises opposite. With the new road that will run parallel with High Street from Belmont Road to the new station, the new store will have a dual frontage, and the whole of the departments hitherto carried on at Waterloo House will be found a place under more ideal conditions in the new building. The name of Coads, by the way, will no longer be used as a trading name. Practically all the staff have been retained, either at the Uxbridge or Slough branch, with the exception of those engaged in the managerial side, and these are beginning business on their own account. Work on the erection of the new store will commence forthwith, and during construction the business will be continued uninterruptedly.

The Waterloo House is finished. It will be demolished and the developers Messrs Burtons Estates, Ltd, will erect a new block of property which will be set back on the Windsor Street frontage so as to give a wider entrance to the thoroughfare by the Church. In the High Street, it is presumed, the entrance to Grainge's Yard will be closed, and the right of way diverted to a point in Windsor Street which will give a wider access to the property in the yard. - The Middlesex Advertiser and Gazette, Friday, May 1, 1936

Following the sale of Waterloo House Suters retained a tenancy of a garage and workshop at the rear of 30 and 31 High Street. A rent demand survives from June 1938 and Tom Suter remembers them from when he joined the company after the war.

A photo supplied by Uxbridge Public Library shows the former Suters store on the Carrick & Coles corner site as it was during the 'transfer of business realisation sale' which preceded the move over to the William Coad premises on the other side of the road.

(Plate 87 fig 09.28 left). A further picture also from Uxbridge Public Library shows the rear of the William Coad premises during the course of demolition works.

(Plate 87 fig 09.29 left) From May to December, Suters management, staff and customers must have struggled to cope as the two businesses squeezed into the existing William Coad building accompanied by background noise from the builders starting work behind the shop. Then, two weeks before Christmas, Phase 1 was complete and the combined and extended premises was open for business on 12th December

When it came to the major expenses of life, 'Villa Bungalows' could be bought in Hillingdon from £625. These contained 3 or 4 bedrooms, 2 Living rooms, a tiled kitchen and bathroom, gas, electric light and fittings and the 'latest labour-saving devices'. In Gutteridge Street, Hillingdon Heath a house with 3 bedrooms, 2 reception rooms, kitchenette, hall and large bathroom could be had for £595 freehold. In both cases the advertisement stressed said that both road charges and legal costs would be paid (by the builder).

The Middlesex Advertiser of the 11th December 1936 carried an advertisement (also extracted by Ken Pearce)

(fig 09.30 left) for the 'opening' which described the improvements as including a 'New Fabric Hall' on the ground floor, a 'Fashion Salon' on the first floor and a 'Furniture and Glass' Department on the second floor. There was a 'lift to all floors'. Suters advertised itself as 'The complete store'. It still boasted the original William Coad telephone number 'Uxbridge One' but the William Coad name had disappeared.

To the Uxbridge shopper looking for Christmas presents the 'Suters' advertisement in the following week's 'Advertiser' made helpful suggestions.

(fig 09.31 left). Ladies could consider a linen 'Afternoon Tea Set' with 'coloured embroidery, Ecru Ground [i.e. grey to pale yellow in colour]and 4 napkins' for 2s.11½d or a Beaded Evening Handbag, 'cream and silver bead, lined with artificial silk and fitted with a mirror' at the same price. Alternatively, if she was looking for a more expensive present, a dutiful husband could be pointed towards a 'Ladies Grip Bag in Morocco, lined with artificial silk, fitted with lock and key and safety catches at the ends' in black, brown or navy for 18s.11d. If buying for a gentleman the lady might look at the special Christmas offer of a 'Man's Woven Poplin Tunic Shirt in smart check and stripe designs, latest shades of grey, fawn, blue etc. Roccola make, complete with two Trubanised collars to match for 6s.9d.

While Christmas shoppers in Uxbridge happily tried out the store, the builders were at work on the second stage which consisted of a further four story building immediately behind stage 1. This will have included the section which originally lay behind the building later demolished to provide North Thames Gas showrooms and the wider pavement area adjoining the High Street. There was a side elevation to the passage eventually known as Bakers Yard which now connects the High Street and Bakers Road.

Stage 2 opened for business just before Christmas in the following 'Coronation' year, 1937, and was described in the 'Middlesex Advertiser and Gazette' on 3rd December.

The addition which has come into use this week has three shopping floors and the fittings and furnishings are similar in design and style to those in the departments opened a year ago, except the men's outfitting department which is in Australian walnut. At the far end of the store, from the High Street entrance, is a magnificent staircase to the upper floors. This is of the circular type in oak embodying the latest idea in easy access from one floor to another. On the ground floor in the new building is the men's department, equipped with modern fittings. This department will be reached either through the main door at the rear, which will give access to the new road, or now through the High-street main entrance. On the first floor will be found the juveniles' complete outfitting, and male footwear departments. A space is also devoted to a travel goods department. The third floor extension provides additional space for household, furniture, carpets and linoleum as well as the china department. Thus, with the existing departments, the scope of the establishment covers almost everything required for wear or use. There is, of course, a lift to all floors for the convenience of customers.

Away from the eyes of patrons there is a great deal of space devoted to the service side of the store. One room of large dimensions will have the name of the Central Cash Railway Station. This is the terminus for cash received by tube from some forty stations and represents a masterpiece of organisation. Another large place is staffed by clerks dealing with orders and correspondence. Then there is an interview room. Apart from these, administration offices, including the private offices of the principals, there are the stock rooms, staff rooms, cloak rooms, as well as wash rooms for patrons.

Near the main entrance is the unloading dock and dispatch room, with which is connected the service lift. For the time being and until the new broad to the station is made, the space that has been provided for the window arcade will be devoted to other uses.

An interesting innovation by the architect, Mr David Hartley, of Slough, is a ramp up which perambulators may be taken without the necessity of lifting them up four or five stairs from the ground floor of the intermediate section of the building to the new section, which has this week been opened. Owing to the ground levels the latter is about four feet higher.

Central heating is provided, and the lighting is natural. The huge amount of window space at the rear gives adequate daylight for the new area of the store, and it even extends to the intermediate section, where it is supplemented by daylight from the roof through an unobstructed well to the ground floor.

The building, already known as the Uxbridge skyscraper, has been erected by the local firm of Messrs Fassnidge, Son and Norris Ltd, builders with a splendid reputation in the south of England.

Patrons with cars will rejoice to know that adequate provision is made for parking. Cars should be taken underneath the archway opposite the policeman on point duty to the rear of the store.

A later photo (supplied by Ken Pearce) of the rear of the completed store taken from beyond the car park and bus station can be seen in above.

The display advertisement in the 'Middlesex Advertiser' on the 3rd December 1937 (fig 09.33. below) demanded: "Where in Uxbridge, but at Suters, would you expect to find such a wonderful array of Christmas Gifts"

Shoppers were exhorted to "Make Suters your Gift Shop this Christmas" and there was Suters Christmas Toy Fair at the High Street entrance with thousands of Toys and Games from 6d. (2½p). Examination of the detailed descriptions of the toys on offer reveals. "Animals on Wheels - Various Animals mounted on strong metal frame" for 4s.11d (25p.). Wendy-Ann's 'Bruin' is an example and still survives. Good value for 25p even allowing for the inflation of 65 years! A parent looking for a rather more expensive present might choose a "Triang Pedal Kar - Steel construction, disc wheels with white tyres. Rubber pedals with handle grips" for 8s.6d. (fig 09.34) Photos survive of Richard driving one at Eastnor Lodge. (fig 09.35)

(fig 09.34) The kind of car every young man should have

(fig 09.35) You wait, this is only the first! - Dick Suter in 1937

Left:1937 Suters Slough Advertisement

Sadly, by now, Uxbridge telephones had been modernised and Suters lost 'Uxbridge One'. Nevertheless, a customer using one of the new dial phones had the comforting assurance that while the new number was Uxbridge 1620 there were now two lines!

The final, and potentially most disruptive, stage in the redevelopment began after the store closed at 9.00 p.m. on Saturday February 5th 1938. The whole of the existing William Coad building was to be demolished and a single story arcade constructed from the High Street to the entrance of the main 'Stage1' building.

A report in the Middlesex Advertiser and Gazette the following Friday treated the commencement of works as if it were an enemy invasion. In 1938, talk of war was topical but still pleasantly distant.

The report was headed: Uxbridge shows America how to really hustle

Warned that an army of nearly three dozen men of the labour corps were approaching their stores shortly before nine o'clock on Saturday night, the staff of Messrs Suters in High Street Uxbridge, hurriedly prepared defensive schemes.

At 8.45 p.m. work in the store was continuing normally, and at 9 the last customer had been served.

Meanwhile the staff inside were hurriedly clearing the stocks from the windows and from that part of the store which is to be superseded by a new building forming the third and final section of the new Suters.

Thereafter the communiqué from the front line showed the following times:

9.0: Labour corps took possession. No resistance. Defenders retired to strategic line in front of the new inner building.

9.15: First plate glass removed from High-street frontage.

9.16: First ration party left war front for local hostelry for refreshment. G.O.S. ordered ration parties not to be more than two men at each journey.

9.30: Hoardings being fixed. Other plate glass windows removed.

Throughout the night work proceeded and by 9.a.m. the demolition party were in complete possession of the old building. An arcade with display cases ready for dressing had been fixed, giving the public access to the main body of the store.

Already the work of rebuilding and extending Messrs Suters has been completed by the erection of two new sections backing on to the road that is to be constructed to the new station.

The front section that is now to be dealt with is first being demolished, and during this week the roof and walls are gradually disappearing in clouds of dust. It is expected that the whole store will be ready for business by June.

The "great upheaval" on Saturday night was watched by a large crowd as being something spectacular and certainly unusual for Uxbridge. There was general agreement that so far as hustle was concerned, Messrs Suters had left America behind. - (The Middlesex Advertiser and Gazette , Friday, February 11, 1938)

The work continued during the Spring and by the beginning of June was sufficiently complete to allow for the refitting of the second floor, China and Glass, Ironmongery and Hardware departments. This work was undertaken by Samuel Elliott & Sons of Reading. It was their third contract and the cost as estimated on the 7th June 1938 was for £900. Some additional finance seems to have been needed at this time. The four brothers, Arthur, Clarence, Frank and John Suter all signed a bank guarantee in favour of Barclays Bank of the 3rd May 1938.

The works were finished by midsummer 1938 in time for an official 'opening' at 11.30 in the morning on Thursday the 23rd June.

The Middlesex Advertiser started by describing the completed works:

The last section to be tackled meant the speedy demolition early in February, when an army of housebreakers took possession at nine o'clock on Saturday evening and had the old block razed to the ground in a few days.

Within four months the new section has been erected, and now the complete store, new from one end to the other, is open for the use of the public.

….. By an ingenious method of wells from the roof to ground floor, and extensive lighting areas at the back and front of the building merchandise bought in any part of the building can be inspected in natural light

… The ground floor and first floor each measure 11,212 square feet, and the second floor 8,814 square feet. Patrons will specially note this spaciousness when they see a modern five-roomed bungalow in the furnishing department. In this a home is fully furnished. This bungalow seems in no way to diminish the available floor space for display of furniture.

Another impression of the vastness of the store was given at yesterday's opening ceremony. On the first floor for the mannequin parade there was seating accommodation for five hundred people!

….. The front main entrance is behind the extensive arcade with an area of display window of 2,173 square feet. Here, as through the entire building, the architect has had special regard for ample display space. Above this arcade is a balcony to be adorned with flowers and shrubs.

The fittings and furnishings of the completing section are similar in design to those in the departments previously opened. The scope of the establishment covers everything to wear and use. The latest addition is a large perfumery department and the one devoted to art needlework is being extended and of course there are increased display facilities for every existing department.

The opening ceremony was performed by Mrs Lovibond. (fig 09.36 Left) (a later photo from Uxbridge People) There is an account in The Slough, Eton & Windsor Observer of the following day the 24th June, 1938: A high tribute to the enterprise of the directors of Suters Limited was paid by County Councillor Mrs K. Lovibond J.P., when she performed the opening ceremony at Messrs Suters new store at Uxbridge on Thursday morning.

Mr G.W. Suter presided over the gathering of several hundreds which packed the large saloon on the first floor.

In his opening remarks Mr. Suter expressed his very best thanks to the public for supporting the venture and for the continuation of their patronage during the difficult times covering the period of the alterations. He expressed the hope that the new premises would afford the district every satisfaction. On behalf of the firm he tendered his thanks to the architect, Mr. David Hartley of Slough, and to all those who had been associated with the erection of the building, especially the workpeople

Mrs Lovibond, he said, needed no introduction to the gathering, and on behalf of his board of directors he thanked her for finding time to attend and declare the Store open.

Mrs Lovibond said that the new store was a great step forward in local trading conditions and she considered that the building was beautifully planned, and said that there was no doubt that the County Council would rejoice in its heart at the size of the building, which would help the rates (laughter).

She arrived in Uxbridge in 1917, on a cold snowy morning, and had remained there ever since. "I have seen", she said, "a great many changes during my period of residence in Uxbridge. Well-known landmarks are disappearing in one way or another, old mansions are being pulled down and miles of villas are being put up. Such changes are taking place all over Middlesex, and in fact people are coming into the county at the rate of 1,400 every week. A good many are coming to Uxbridge."

She said that it was to cope with increasing demands put upon local trade by those conditions that such premises as the new store were being erected. She was very glad to see a local firm developing in the splendid way that Suters had, and she felt sure they could be relied upon for quality and service. The new premises were clear evidence of all that was best in local trading conditions.

She wished to remind her audience that Suters Ltd was a private company, where the directors were to be seen about their premises, and was not part of a huge multiple concern where a shop was just a unit in an organisation. She did congratulate Mr Suter and his directors on their new enterprise, and also the Architect and Surveyor and workmen for their share in the building. She wished the store all success possible.

After the ceremony a mannequin parade was staged in front of a large audience. The new models were paraded to the accompaniment of music, and an interesting commentary radiated over an amplification system. The articles displayed included lingerie, swim suits, sports and knitted wear, morning frocks, afternoon gowns and ensembles, and evening wear, and needless to say attracted a great deal of attention from the ladies who formed the bulk of the gathering.

The report continued with a description of the new store and concluded:

The building presents a very imposing appearance, and immediately over the façade is an attractively laid roof garden.

The report of the opening also carried in the Middlesex Advertiser recorded an important additional fact missed by 'the Observer':

A bouquet of red roses was presented by Mr and Mrs J. Suter's elder daughter.

Wendy-Ann, doubtless, carried this off with all the dignity of a four year old!

According to the Suters display advertisement in the 'Middlesex Advertiser' on the 18th June (fig 09.37 above left) the opening ceremony was accompanied by "Special Trade Displays in our spacious Fabric Hall and Fashion Salons". The audience for Mannequin Parades mentioned in the Slough Observer received a programme covering the events of the three days following the opening

Though it was open the new Uxbridge store was still not, fully, completed.

The new Uxbridge Store was not finally completed until after the war. The tiled face at the rear required a question in the House of Commons (I think by Frank Beswick? MP) to obtain licence for sparse materials. I doubt any back-handers were then necessary! - Tom Suter 2003

Wendy-Ann Ensor (John and Bobbie Suter's daughter) had been born a few months before the decision by the Suters' directors, to create a new modern department store in Uxbridge.

Work began in 1936 and the two existing Uxbridge shops were combined in May of that year. By the end of 1937 the greater part of the building work was complete and Bobbie, now with two children, was able to explore and gradually become 'at home' in the new departments. There was a Toy Fair just before Christmas and it is probably no coincidence that Wendy-Ann's 'Bruin' and the pedal car she shared, somewhat grudgingly, with Richard (Dick) were both featured in the display advertisements. The final stage of the work was completed in the summer of 1938 and on the 23rd June the family attended the official opening and Wendy-Ann presented a bouquet to the important lady who performed the ceremony.

These were busy years for John and also a time of increasing anxiety. The building of the Uxbridge store corresponded to the period from Hitler's re-occupation of the Rhineland in March 1936 to the Munich 'crisis' in September 1938. Smokers collected cards with 'Air Raid Precautions' on the back and both John and his brother, Arthur, decided to volunteer for service as an 'air raid warden'.

A photograph (supplied by Uxbridge Public Library) shows the High Street probably on a quiet day during the Second World War. Two policemen are on duty at the junction with Windsor Street and the Suters shop front is just visible on the left of the picture. (fig 09.39) and the new building erected by Burton Estates to replace Waterloo House can be seen on the right.

The main part of the new store (Stages 1 and 2 in the rebuilding) was set back from the High Street at first and second floor level and followed a new building line which was also applied to the Woolworth's store immediately to the west when this was later redeveloped. Both Suters and Woolworth's were able to build forward as far as the old frontage at ground floor level only. The front of the new store is shown in a photograph taken in March 1939 by E. Pollard & Company for the architect W. David Hartley

(Plate 89 fig 09.40 left) and supplied by Tony Suter and this can be compared with a later photo (supplied by Ken Pearce) taken soon after the war

(Plate 89 fig 09.41 left) The post war photo from the roof of the Market House shows the front elevation after the construction of Woolworth's. The building to the east of Suters has been demolished and replaced by North Thames Gas set back entirely to the new building line. Both photos can be contrasted with the front following further redevelopment carried out in time for the Queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977.

(Plate 89 fig 09.42) A 10 day 'Household Sale' was in progress when the architect's pictures were taken in 1939. Displays of furniture and fabrics can be seen to the left and right of the entrance. From there an arcade led into the store. Two very clear photos also by E. Pollard,

(Plate 90 fig 09.43 and 44) lead today's reader past an elegant display of ladies fashions - all clearly priced - Bondor and Bear Brand hosiery - towels - sheets and gloves. Upstairs photos taken by King and Hutchings some time before 1951, and supplied by Tony Suter, give an idea of the Men's Department,

(Plate 91 fig 09.45) the Boys Department

(Plate 91 fig 09.46) and the steps leading to it from the adjoining Shoe Department all on the First Floor.

(Plate 91 fig 09.47).

9.5 And a 'Second Rebuilding' at Slough?

In the last years before the war there were further changes in Slough. The town received its charter as a borough in 1938 and enjoyed three days of celebrations from the 14th to the 17th September regardless of the Munich crisis. (See Chapter 10 below). The new borough had acquired a Town Hall in 1937 (fig 09.48 above left) and a large Social Centre (fig 09.49 below left) which had recently been visited by the King and Queen and also Queen Mary.

The official charter souvenir booklet was also proud of the Licensed Victualers' School (above) promoted by the Chairman of Slough Estates and opened by the Duke of Kent shortly before the charter celebrations. A public library was being built and while there was, still, no hospital in Slough a "movement was on foot" to provide one.

The pace of development in Slough was faster even than in Uxbridge and the 'Suters' store rebuilt, in 1935 was enlarged in 1938 by the purchase of an outfitters' firm occupying numbers 95 and 97, next door to 'Suters'. Hopkins & Sons was a well established men's outfitting and shoe business.

(Fig 09.50 left) shows an advertisement dating from 1927. John Suter, who had been trained as a tailor, was given the job of looking after the new shop in Slough and divided his time between Uxbridge and Slough.

In 1938 we purchased the men's outfitting and shoe business of Hopkins & Sons. This was next to our Slough premises where earlier we had purchased Blanchett & Son, piano tuners and sellers. (Mrs Blanchett had taught the piano to Bobbie) This latest development was later to become Slough's greatest store. I had the job of looking after that business so I spent my time divided between the Slough and Uxbridge businesses. - John Suter - Autobiography.

By the end of the 1930s, George William and the Suter brothers realised that their next step in Slough should be a complete rebuilding in Slough High Street which would create a department store in Slough similar to or even larger than the one in process at Uxbridge:

In 1932 the [Slough] shop was quite capable of serving all customers, even on crowded Saturday afternoons and in pre-Christmas rushes, but with the greater growth of Slough in the years immediately before the war it became obvious that there were more people wanting to buy from Suters than ever before - more, really, than the store could conveniently cope with.

In 1939 [sic] Hopkins and Sons' business, adjoining the present building , was bought and this was, and still is, the men's and footwear departments. But this acquisition was not the real answer to the space problem, and even before Hitler decided to wage war G.W. Suter and his sons, Clarence, Arthur, Frank and John had decided that a large and ambitious rebuilding scheme should be put into operation.

Then in September 1939, 19 years after the first Suters was opened, came the war. Thoughts of expansion had to be temporarily forgotten and two of the Suter sons, Frank and John changed from businessmen into service-men - Frank deciding on khaki, John opting for RAF blue. - Windsor Slough and Eton Express - Friday 16th September 1960 - Suters 40th Anniversary Supplement

A photo of 'Suters' in Slough from Memories of Slough taken in about 1950 shows the Hopkins and Sons premises bearing the Suters name. (fig 09.51 left) A second photo also from Memories of Slough gives a view of the shop front unobstructed by an awning. (fig 09.52)

1939 - The first months of war

On the surface, the first few months of war brought few alterations in the lives of either the 'Suters' stores or the Suter families. Air raid sirens sounded in London on the day war was declared but despite all the terrifying predictions no bombs fell anywhere in Britain for many months.

Nevertheless, the 'emergency' brought changes which would turn lives upside down These included national registration and the extension of conscription from the 30th September 1939 to all men up to the age of 41. With registration came the issue of identity cards to all British citizens. The cards contained a 'description' of the card holder but no photograph. They also contained a 'Certificate of Official Capacity' where the card holder was a member of the armed services, civil defence, or other public department or authority.

Of the Suters Directors, John was approaching his 31st birthday and would be liable to conscription, as was Frank who was 38 on the 13th July. Both Arthur at 44 and Clarence 43, had taken part in the Great War, and were now exempt. Registration for National Service proceeded in stages starting with the younger age groups and by May 1940 only men to the age of 27 had been registered. Arthur's National Registration Identity Card (below) was not issued until August 1943 and certified that he was a District Warden with Uxbridge Civil Defence.

There was little point in calling up men until the army was equipped to receive them, and it was as much as it could do to provide for the existing territorial divisions. Thus, while many men joined the services in the first months of the war they were, mainly Territorials or in one of the officer reserves. There was no rush to enlist as had happened in 1914 nor were younger men in 1939 subjected to moral pressures from family, friends, church and the press of the kind applied to Arthur, Clarence and their contemporaries. Conscription was accepted in 1939 without enthusiasm but as a fact of life. Frank and John knew that the war would have to last for a year or so before they would be 'called up'.

More information about Frank Suter Here | More information about John Suter Here

More information about Clarence Suter Here |More information about Arthur Suter Here

Fear of a devastating attack from the air also prompted mass evacuation. Three and a half million people were moved out of London and other urban areas such as Uxbridge or Slough deemed at risk.

'Bobbie' Suter (John's wife), Wendy-Ann and Richard (Dick) plus 'Bobbie's sister 'Ginger' and daughter Joan were sent away from the dangers of Uxbridge and Ruislip. Similarly Frank Suter's wife, Vera, and their three sons, Tony, Ian and Michael left Slough as, also, did Clarence's sons Tom and David and Winifred and her two daughters Elizabeth Ann (Beth) and Janet were sent away from Ipswich. The east coast was, until the summer of 1940, considered the most likely target for any German invasion. Ledbury was the destination chosen by all the Suter 'evacuees'. Arthur and Dorothy were heavily involved in the local work for the 'Home Front' and their family did not join the exodus.

Children, everywhere, were provided with identity discs in case they became separated from their parents in the confusion of war time.

On arrival in Ledbury, experiences varied. Winifred, Vera and their children stayed at the Eastnor Arms Hotel just outside Ledbury. Conditions were not 'ideal' and it took time to get used to a toilet at the bottom of the garden. However, they remained in rural safety for several weeks before returning home and Beth remembers attending Miss Wade's school in Ledbury. Tom and David stayed with Jeffrey and Daisy Bill at Raycombe Farm, Wellington Heath also outside Ledbury. They were there three weeks whilst their parents made arrangements for them to attend school Thorne the preparatory school for Taunton School. Wendy-Ann (aged 5 in 1939) cannot remember where Bobbie, Ginger and their families lived but it was not for long.

Joan (aged nearly 12) recalls: we all went together to Ledbury and then the two fathers left us. The conditions were not ideal and the main one I remember was sleeping (or attempting to sleep) on a chaise-long with a shiny leather or imitation cover. I do not think we were there for very long. Joan Rickard 2003

The Milner sisters were not impressed by the arrangements organised by the men-folk and, within a week, John and Joe had been told that they were on their way back!

Building the 'Home Front' - 1939 to 1942

Much of the task of organising communities in the face of war was handed over to urban and rural district councils and glimpses of what was involved can be found amongst Arthur's papers.

Arthur had been Secretary of the Uxbridge & Hillingdon West Nursing Association since 1936 and had become Secretary of the Uxbridge Conservative Association in 1938. In November 1939, he attended a meeting at the Uxbridge Council Offices, which had been called to form a local branch of the Soldiers', Sailors' and Airmen's Welfare and Comforts Committee.

There were about sixty present in the Council chamber - a mixture of councillors, wives of councillors and people representing political parties and other local organisations. The first speakers were Councillor Pomeroy who was the Chairman of the Urban District Council and Sir Howard Button, on this occasion, representing the County 'Comforts' committee. Both were well known to Arthur.

Many had fought in France during the Great War and, as they met, a new British Expeditionary Force was settling into positions along the Belgian frontier. The BEF was larger than originally estimated. In 1938 Britain had informed the French that our contribution would be limited to two Regular divisions. By March 1939 policy changed and by May 1940 there were ten complete divisions in France plus elements of three others which were still completing their training.

The task of the meeting at the Council Offices was to form a local committee which would organise the dispatch of 'comforts' parcels to 'men at the front' or in the Navy. Arthur had received many such parcels during the Great War. Four sub-committees covered - 'Finance and Executive', 'Comforts', 'Welfare' and 'Library' each of which had about a dozen members and which, together, also made up the General Committee. Arthur is shown in the minutes as a member of the Library Committee and from the end of January 1940 was representing the Library Committee at the monthly meetings of the Finance and Executive Committee.

The function of the Library Committee was to collect books and periodicals for the troops. The house of each committee member was used as a collecting depot and a main collecting depot was established at the house of Mr. Wade who was a member of the Uxbridge Rotary Club and whose wife had come to the first meeting in November. They lived in Belmont Road. The committee was urged to make sure that the books and periodicals collected were really 'suitable' for the troops.

Some months previously - the date is uncertain - both Arthur and his youngest brother John joined the Uxbridge ARP. They underwent training and John was allocated to an ARP post near to Uxbridge Common. Arthur appears to have been put in charge of Post 17 in the Uxbridge North District. There is a letter included in Arthur's papers dated 7th September 1940 addressed to him as 'Post Warden of Post 17. By the end of October, however, he seems to have been promoted and the address changes to G.A. Suter Esq., District Warden, Uxbridge North. Clarence, similarly, became a warden and eventually was promoted District Warden for Cippenham.

North Uxbridge Post 18 was at Bakers Road just behind the Suters department store and the other High Street shops. The wardens wore a distinctive 'uniform' with 'warden' shoulder flashes and badges of rank. Arthur kept his shoulder flash and 'sergeant's stripes'.

On the 23rd April new orders made under the Defence Regulations made wardens subject to the same level of discipline as applied in the armed services. It became an offence punishable by imprisonment to disobey orders. Special arrangements were also made to cover communications in case a telephone exchange was hit.

Arthur's youngest brother, John, was a part time 'warden' attached to the ARP post on Uxbridge Common and Bobbie became accustomed to him going out on patrol at night and, when there were raids, being on duty all night. John installed an 'Anderson' shelter in the garden. The shelter was named after Sir John Anderson who was Home Secretary at the start of the war. It was a prefabricated unit made, initially, from six curved sheets of steel bolted together at the top, with steel plates at either end and measuring 6ft 6in by 4ft 6in.

So far as the Suter children were concerned, some of the activity brought by the war was quite exciting. There was the journey down to Ledbury, long, tiring and not very comfortable or happy when you got there, but nevertheless something to be remembered afterwards. The Anderson shelter arrived and there was plenty to watch while it was being put in place.

The shelter was equipped with a sump, as recommended, and water was pumped out using a stirrup pump. Having a father in the ARP attracted a certain status. John's children, Wendy-Ann and Richard, watched their Daddy who was a warden and wore either a beret or a tin hat cycle off in the evening. Indeed, he soon began to cycle everywhere as the grey Vauxhall car in the garage could not be used because of the petrol shortage. Like many others it was raised up on bricks and was not used again until John returned home in 1946.

Both Wendy-Ann (Right in photo above) and Dick (on left) had real tin hats so were 'just like Daddy'. Nevertheless, the war and particularly the air raids disrupted basic routines always important to children. There was the siren wailing up and down and a rush of people gathering you up out of a nice warm bed and hurrying down to the shelter in the garden. There were benches to curl up on and, perhaps, sleep and then as it got light it was time to go back to the house and into bed again for a hour or so. Some nights the children could hear the bangs of bombs exploding and once or twice in the morning there was a red glow of the fires in London.

Arthur Suter and his family lived fairly near to Bobbie and John in Fairfield Road. Bombs dropped close to their house, Krithia, though it was not hit. 'Su' Suter (aged 14) saw the stick of bombs fall. Dr Vickers house, nearby, was hit and had to be pulled down. Su's mother, Dorothy, was blown over on one occasion when bombs fell near Park Road. There were deaths there. A land mine also fell in the canal just down the hill from 'Krithia' and the blast blew the front door open! One afternoon after a big raid which created a lot of damage in the road the three children were all sent over to Eastnor Lodge for some light relief. It was a Sunday and Su remembers them all sitting in the schoolroom. 'Su' drew on the blackboard.

At first, Arthur's family all walked over to a shelter in the garden of the Kirby family who were neighbours. Later, Arthur had the house reinforced and they were able to stay at home. The 'Krithia' porch was blocked up in order to protect the front of the house. Su Suter remembers that Ruth slept under the stairs and 'Su' in a passage. Everyone except Arthur slept downstairs. Arthur was on duty at night.

©Richard Ensor - January 2005

Go to Life in the High Street - The Suters Stores, 1939 to 1945

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