Marks & Spencers in Chesterfield

It’s the end of an era in Chesterfield as the town centre branch of Marks & Spencers (M&S) closes on 29 November 2022, to be replaced by a newer facility in nearby Ravenside Retail Park. We thought we’d take a quick look at M&S in the town to mark the event.

Marks & Spencers – a familiar sight on Chesterfield’s High Street and Market Place, but is set to move to a new home at the end of November 2022.

Early history

The early history of Marks and Spencer is well-known, so we won’t repeat it here – suffice to say that Michael Marks, after starting a simple market stall in Leeds went on to open a series of ‘penny bazaars’ in various towns and cities before the First World War. Thomas Spencer was Mark’s business partner from 1894.

The original retail concept came under pressure by rising inflation and was subsequently reinvented by Simon Marks (Michael’s son) and Thomas Spencer after the First World War. Public listing gave expansion plans a boost and a series of shops were opened across the country. It wasn’t until 26 May 1933 that M&S opened their shop in Chesterfield. They selected a site on 2-6 High Street. The original building comprised the left-hand section of the present reddish brick and white stone structure.

New store for M&S – from the Derbyshire Times of 7 May 1933. The illustration to the top is misleading as the newspaper clearly describes the building as having ‘… two floors over the sales floor level, which are utilised for stock accommodation, office staff, tea room.’

The Derbyshire Times of 27 May 1933 enthusiastically reported that much interest had been caused in the town by this new ‘super store’, erected by ‘Messrs. Bovis, London, the striking frontage of Empire stone and Jacobean brick being 150 feet in height and 40 feet wide. On the ground floor the sales department is divided into approximately 20 departmental counter displayers, comprising a wide range of merchandise.’ Two floors above were used for ‘stock accommodation, office staff, tea room, etc.’ Fifty girls from Chesterfield and district were employed at the store.

Previously the Derbyshire Times (1 October 1932) had reported that M&S had practically completed negotiations with the owner of their proposed site. Apparently, this had been occupied for many years by Mr. HJ Cook, who had moved his business to Cavendish Street. ‘The store, we are informed will occupy a part of the yard and back premises of Mr. Peter Warner, fishmonger, with whom readjustment of lease has been made, and will stretch right through to Knifesmith Gate. We are informed that it is hoped to have an entrance both from the Market Place and also from Knifesmith Gate.’

Extension and reconstruction

The store was obviously successful as it was reconstructed and extended in 1938. It took over the former shop of Blackshaw & Sons, who were bakers at number 8 High Street.

Under reconstruction in 1938. The ‘ER’ just visible to the extreme left marks Warner’s fishmonger’s shop. The reconstruction was rather clever, in that it included redesigning the fifth bay and installing a new stone window surround at first floor level. Today you would never know that the original store ended at that bay – the reconstruction resulting in a near perfectly symmetrical frontage. (From TF Wright’s History of Chesterfield, volume IV).
The M&S store after reconstruction and extension in 1938. Note the bays added have been carefully designed to blend in with the original five bays, which were nearest the camera. Peter Warner’s fishmongers’ shop is next up towards the camera, followed by Hadfield’s butchers. (M&S Archive – P2/87/66).

Recent history

It’s not entirely clear when further modernisation to the premises was made, but the Knifesmithgate elevation and goods loading bay appears to have been substantially remodelled, perhaps in the 1970s.

M&S were still clearly on an expansion trend in the town.  In 1965 the well-known Hadfield’s pork butchers and provision merchants closed. M&S appear to have bought the site for expansion, but standing between this site and their shop on High Street was MacFisheries, as successor to Peter Warner’s shop. A new shop was constructed on the site of Hadfield’s in about 1967 – MacFisheries moving to this shop – their old shop next to M&S was then demolished – leaving a  gap, which was filled by scaffolding and a hoarding for some years.

This late 1960s postcard shows the Market Place and High Street, just prior to the demolition of buildings for the Littlewood’s store (now Primark). If you look carefully MacFisheries new store can be seen after the white pillared building (TP Wood’s – though there‘s an out-of-view building between Wood’s and MacFisheries), with a gap between the new MacFisheries and M&S. This was the site of Peter Warner’s/MacFisheries’ old shop.

The Derbyshire Times of 6 October 1978 announced the ‘shock’ closure of MacFisheries’ store ‘by early next year’ (when the ‘freehold’ property was described as having been constructed 11 years ago). By 1980 work was underway to convert the former store as an expansion to M&S. On opening access to the converted MacFisheries was via a short walkway, inside, to/from the left of the left-hand M&S High Street entrance. This took shoppers into the converted ground floor of the former MacFisheries’ building.

The former MacFisheries’ building (to the left) vacant on 2 September 1979. This was constructed about 1967 on the site of the well-known Chesterfield butchers and provision merchants S Hadfield & Sons. The original M&S building of 1933 is to the extreme right. Notice the signpost on this M&S building – ‘High Street’ – for this marked the end of the Market Place and beginning of that street. (P Cousins).
By June 1980 conversion of the former MacFisheries’ building was well underway into an extension of M&S. (P Cousins).

In the early 1980s the former MacFisheries’ (now M&S) building and the space between that and M&S main High Street store, were filled by a modern building, which brought a first-floor coffee shop to M&S for the first time – a feature that will be missing in the new Ravenside shop.

More interest?

As one might expect, buildings in this area have an interesting history, which we hope to explore in a future blog. In this area, for example, was the failed Chesterfield & North Derbyshire Bank, the Derbyshire Courier offices (a now defunct Chesterfield newspaper taken over by the Derbyshire Times in the 1920s) and also the town’s first post office. To add to the interest, at some stage Peter Warner had also occupied a building on the site of Hadfield’s. Both this building and their shop next to M&S were separate properties, but appear to have been possibly re-fronted as some stage in the same style.

You can access a 1959 view of the Chesterfield Market Place and High Street areas on Picture the Past by following the link – On that image the premises of Hadfield & Sons can be seen with Peter Warner’s fishmongers sandwiched between them and M&S. Both Hadfield’s and Warner’s former sites form part of an extension to the M&S Chesterfield High Street branch, set for its last trading day on 29 November 2022.

Sources used in this blog have included our ‘Chesterfield streets and houses’ book, T F Wright’s volume IV of the ‘History of Chesterfield…’, contemporary editions of the Derbyshire Times and Borough of Chesterfield official directories from 1959, 1965, 1967, 1971 and 1973.