©  Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: October 28, 2017.
Webpage updated: October 28, 2017




Messrs Popham, Radford & Company, were drapers and house furnishers in their early days but were classified as a departmental store after the Second World War, by when they were known as Messrs Popham's Ltd.

Before the War they were located at 39 to 44 Bedford Street, on either side of the Bedford Arcade, and afterwards were at the top of Royal Parade, in what is currently the Lloyds TSB Bank.

Advert for Messrs Popham's Ltd of Plymouth

The business was started in 1844, following the marriage of Mr Thomas Wilcocks Popham and Miss Hannah Radford.  Thomas was the eldest son of Thomas Popham, victualler, and his wife Elizabeth, having been born on October 10th 1819 and baptised at Saint Andrew's Church, Plymouth, on April 24th 1820.   Hannah was the eldest child of Daniel Radford, baker, and his wife Elizabeth (née Lock).  They had married at Saint Andrew's Church on March 15th 1818 and Hannah had been born the following year.

Mrs Elizabeth Radford was quite a character.   Widowed when her husband, Daniel, died in December 1832 at the young age of 49, she was left with seven children to bring up on her own.  Sadly, one of them, Elizabeth, died in July 1834 at the age of 4, but the remainder, Hannah, Jemima, George David, Lydia, Mary Ann and Daniel survived in to adulthood.

The inspiration for the business is said to have been Daniel Radford.  He was an invalid and in order to provide a future for him his mother apprenticed him to Messrs Radford and Stather, drapers, in Bedford Street, Plymouth, before sending him off to London to learn his chosen trade.  In the meantime, Elizabeth bought up two run-down properties in Bedford Street - a fruit shop and a wool shop - and had them demolished to make way for brand new shop for her son.   But the premises next door was also a draper's shop, owned by a Mr Parkhouse, and he did not appreciate having a competitor quite that close.  There being no planning regulations in those days, the only way he could object was to argue that the new building would obstruct light through a tiny, insignificant window on the top floor.  But Mrs Radford was having none of that nonsense and had the new shop built set-back a little to allow the light to reach the window.

But the business was still not opened yet.   Mr Thomas Wilcocks Popham had also been apprenticed to a local draper, Messrs Adams and Company, and after meeting and marrying Miss Hannah Radford, he joined with Mr Daniel Radford to form the partnership that was have its name over the door for many years to come - Messrs Popham, Radford and Company.

Mrs Hannah Popham became the dutiful wife, of course, and Mrs Elizabeth Radford retired from the bakery business to live at number 12 Woodside, Greenbank, Plymouth, so by 1851 the Radford's interest was vested in her eldest son, Mr George David Radford.  He and his Cornish-born wife, Catherine, and their two young daughters, Kate and Phoebe, lived at 7 St Michael's Terrace, Saltash Road, Plymouth.

Mrs Elizabeth Radford died on May 1st 1852.  Her daughter, Mrs Hannah Popham, died on March 10th 1868 of heart disease.  She was just 48-years-old.  With a family of seven children to bring up, Mr Thomas Popham married again at the end of 1870, his bride was Miss Dorothy Ellen Balkwill, daughter of Mr Richard Balkwill of Yarde, Kingsbridge, Devon.

Some major redevelopment work was undertaken in 1865/66.  To the rear of Popham & Radford's, at the back of the Plough Inn in East Street, was an old slaughterhouse that had become a public nuisance.  This was demolished and replaced with two buildings, a Brussels Carpet room and a warehouse for storing summer goods.

In addition, a handsome and capacious six-storey building had been erected fronting East Street on the ground floor of which was the general clothing department, accessible from the main premises through folding doors.  There was access from East Street to the cellar area, in to which goods would be received.  The cellar was taller than usual, 9 feet 6 inches, which had been achieved by lowering the sewerage system beneath it, at considerable expense.  From the cellar inward bound goods were raised by means of a hoist to the "marking" room on the first floor, where they were priced and then distributed to their respective departments.

Over the "marking" room, again fronting east Street, was a room 20 feet square that was to be fitted out as a library for the use of 'the young people': it is not clear if this referred to the staff or customers.  On that floor was also to be a separate sitting room for females, again presumably female staff.  The remaining floors comprised twelve lofty bedrooms for thirty young male staff.

In the front shop a large number of improvements had been made, including gas lighting and new means of ventilation, 'the most improved process being brought into requisition'.  Offices had been erected for clerks, 'who have each appointed to them their respective duties, and the system adopted is so simple that the customer will find an entire absence of that confusion which too often bewilders a purchaser at large establishments'.

The back portion of the shop was divided into three compartments, with the silk and fancy dress department in the centre and rooms for Kidderminster and Brussels carpets on either side.  A large staircase, accessible from front and back, took customers up to the shawl and mantle, mourning, millinery, baby linen and bedstead and upholstery departments.

Mr Ambrose was the architect of the new buildings and Mr Finch the contractor.  Messrs Plimsaul Brothers supplied the gas fittings and a stove for heating the building.  The entire premises measured 163 feet from front to back and 80 feet in width, all being six storeys high.

During the afternoon of Friday January 25th 1878 Mr Thomas Wilcocks Popham was about to take tea at his shop when he was suddenly seized with severe pain, which continued through the night at his home, Burleigh House, Pennycross.  Despite the attention of no fewer than three eminent gentlemen, Doctors Hingston and Prance and Mr Square, surgeon, the pain caused by an obscure intestinal stoppage failed to cease and he died shortly after 6pm on Sunday January 27th 1878.  He was only 58 years of age.

The business then came into the hands of Mr Arthur Frederick Popham of Woodside, Plymouth, Mr John Heynes Radford of Inceworth, Compton Gifford, and Mr Charles Horace Radford of West Axtown, Buckland Monachorum.

A new store was opened in Bedford Street in May 1880.

Mrs Dorothy Ellen Popham died on April 9th 1905 at the age of 84 and in 1931 the business was incorporated as Messrs Popham's Ltd.

In November 1940 Popham's had a special offer of Easy Chairs in their East Street window.  With 'softly spring seat and back' they were offered at 69s 6d (£3 9s 6d) each.

Their premises in Bedford Street were destroyed during the night of Friday/Saturday March 21st/22nd 1941 during the Plymouth Blitz.

Commenced in July 1955, the Company's new premises at the top of Royal Parade were opened on Thursday February 27th 1958, filling the gap between the Norwich Union Building and Messrs Spooner's store.  Lord Westwood of Newcastle, a director of the Company, performed the ceremony, with assistance from Mr Dennis Price and Mr Alistair Grainger, both former Royal Navy men, who hauled the huge silver-bronze doors open with a white ribbon.  It was a grand, five-storey building designed by Messrs Easton and Robertson of Bedford Square, London, and constructed by Messrs Richard Costain Ltd.  The frontage of 132 feet filled the last gap in the post-war reconstruction of Royal Parade.  It had a restaurant on the top floor.

Part of the building was used by Lloyds Bank Ltd for their banking hall and offices.   There was also a small apartment on the third floor of their section.

Mr Sidney Newman was the chairman of the directors, while the joint managing directors were Mr Stephen Hubbard and Mr C K Rudkin-Jones.

Unfortunately, times were changing and Plymothians were no longer interested in elaborate service or spending much on their meals and the Company soon ran into financial difficulties.  Messrs Popham's (Stores) Ltd, formed in 1957 prior to the opening of the post-war premises, was purchased by Messrs E Dingle & Company on September 3rd 1962 and in mid-November 1974 they started their last "Sale".  The restaurant closed on Friday June 21st in preparation for a farewell party and Popham's ceased trading at 5pm on Saturday June 22nd 1974.