We will be delving into the back stories of some of the greatest Yorkshire companies – finding out about the people behind them, their humble beginnings, how they became household names, and where they are now. Today we take a look at W.Boyes and find out how a small store in a poor part of Scarborough turned into one of the most familiar chain stores in the North.
In the middle of many Yorkshire towns, along with a market square, a smattering of pubs and an old church is a branch of Boyes. This staple of the northern high street has had a long history in the region and still remains a favourite haunt for shoppers looking for a bargain.
The Boyes story starts on the poverty stricken streets of Scarborough in 1881. William Boyes had the idea of setting up a small store, selling odds and ends from local merchants. These odd lots and remnants of things such as cloth and buttons, for example could be bought and sold cheaply. Word soon spread around this tightly knit community about this new store, where material could be bought cheaper than anywhere else. In those days dresses and coats would be made in the home, rather than bought in a shop. A store like Boyes’ in 19th Century Scarborough meant customers could spend less of their hard-earned money on buying things to make their own clothes.
Trade increased to such a point that Boyes needed bigger premises in order to operate. He bought two corner units on Market Street and Queen’s Street, which were knocked together to make one large store. He named it, “The Remnant Warehouse,” still known as “The Rem,” by Scarborough’s older residents.
With more space to fill, Boyes increased his range and bought more clearance lines from merchants and developed it into a department store.
Around the turn of the century, Boyes’ started to expand into other Yorkshire places. The first store to be opened outside its hometown was on Ouse Bridge in York. Another shop on Prospect Street in Hull soon followed. Over the course of the 20th Century several stores began to pop up on Yorkshire high streets.
In the second half of the 20th Century more shops were opened, including some in foreign territory like Co Durham and Lincolnshire. Their stores still fulfilled a need for selling useful household items at a bargain price.
Several of William Boyes’ descendants have held prominent positions within the firm, including his youngest grandson, Paul, who spent 67 years of his life; working for his family’s company. He started in 1944 on the shop floor in the gentlemen’s department at its flagship Scarborough store, before enjoying a spell as the manager of the Grimsby branch. In 1968 he was appointed onto the board and remained there until his death in 2011.
In recent years, W. Boyes & Co is run by descendent, Andrew Boyes. The company has found its niche once more, amid hard economic times. Evidence of this has been its recent expansion into the Midlands and South of England, to places such as, Chesterfield,, Cleethorpes, Brigg, Heanor and Eastwood.
In April 2014, the 50th store in the chain was opened in Coalville, Leicestershire, while one year later its most recent and 54th shop at the time of writing was launched in Acomb, York, much to the excitement of its residents.
Boyes has thrived through over 130 years of economic highs, lows, wars, and changing shopping habits. Like an old friend it has always remained the same, an Aladdin’s Cave of wool, haberdashery, hardware, stationery, kitchenware, clothing, cards, chocolate..the kitchen sink and about anything you can think of! A truly inspired Yorkshire institution.