Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: September 12, 2019
Webpage updated: September 12, 2019




Messrs Coster's Limited, drapers, was located at numbers 3 to 7 Frankfort Street and number 73 George Street before the Second World War and in various premises until the new store was opened in New George Street in 1954.

This business was founded by Mr Alfred Coster (1844-1906), who was born in Great Marlow, Buckinghamshire, in 1844.

At the time of the 1871 census he was a manager at the linen draper's business of Mrs Lydia Barron, in West Street, Ewell, Surrey.

In 1881 Mr Alfred Coster and his wife Mary Ann, were living at 5 Prospect Street, Plymouth, and he was described as a "Draper's Shopwalker". 

By 1891 he had become the manager a drapery store and lived at 11 Headland Park, Plymouth.  The store he was managing was that of Messrs John Yeo and Company, in Bedford Street, Plymouth, which he left in 1894 to set up on his own account at number 5 Frankfort Street.

Mr Alfred Coster died suddenly of a heart attack on Tuesday April 10th 1906.  He had attended to his business on the preceding Friday, Saturday and Monday and was reading Tuesday morning's newspaper when he complained of pains in his chest and passed away.

Legend has it that the business was then purchased by members of the Leatherby and Prynn families for the princely sum of 100 gold sovereigns (100).

Mr Edward B Prynn was a tailor and outfitter at number 10 Tavistock Street in Devonport.  He and his wife, Ellen, had several children, of whom the eldest was Bessie, born in 1858.  They later had two boys, Ernest and Bertie, who both joined the business as apprentice tailors.

In the meantime, Miss Bessie Prynn had met a shipwright by the name of Mr Edward James Francis Leatherby and on December 26th 1883 they married at Stoke Damerel Parish Church.  While still continuing his job as an overseer of shipwrights in the Royal Dockyard, they opened a draper's shop at 34 Flora Street, Plymouth, on the East Stonehouse side of the Great Western Railway Company's line to Plymouth Station at Millbay.

Edward and Bessie had at least two sons: Edward Stanley Leatherby was born in 1884 and Francis George Leatherby in 1886.

It has been impossible to identify exactly who purchased Coster's business but the two Leatherby sons certainly went on to take a very active part in running it in later years.

Mr Edward Stanley Leatherby married Miss Emily Sarah Proctor at Cobourg Street Primitive Methodist Chapel on March 13th 1910.  Mr Francis George Leatherby married Miss Ada Leigh at the same Chapel on April 17th 1912 and on December 29th 1913 they had a son, Mr Geoffrey Gordon Leatherby.

As properties in Frankfort Street became empty the Leatherby's bought them and added to the store.  In 1931 their building in Frankfort Street was given a major revamp.  By buying the former Capital and Counties Bank at the rear in George Street, they were able to construct a glass arcade, over an eighth of a mile in length, between the two Streets.  The frontage in Frankfort Street was increased from 170 feet to 370 feet and the number of windows from 52 to 120.  The architect for the work was Mr Barron, the structural contractor were Messrs Pearn Brothers and the construction of the arcade was in the hands of Messrs Harris, of George Street.  Including the branches at Exeter and Torquay, the business was employing some 250 staff.

New suits for men were being advertised in August 1940 at between 1 5s and 3 3s.  A striped tweed one could be had for 1 15s.

In November 1940 Coster's were advertising grey and dark grey flannel trousers for youths of 26 to 31 inch waist at 5s 11d and the same for men, 32 to 40 inch waist, at 6s 11d.

A pair of winter pyjamas cost 7s 11d at Coster's in November 1941 and a dressing gown was 1 10s.  Winter overcoats were on sale at 1 4s 11d for boys; 1 12s 6d for youths; and either 19s 11d for a men's blue coat or 2 2s for a men's Tweed Topcoat.    A coat for a toddler cost 16s 11d while flannel trousers (presumably for boys) were priced at 12s 6d.

When they were bombed out of Frankfort Street they moved into the ground floor of the Prudential Building, which had survived the Blitz although not entirely intact.  But that was demolished in 1951 because of concerns about its safety. They had hoped to be able to erect a temporary shop behind their premises in Ebrington Street but were unable to do so when the General Post Office declared it wanted the site.

Mr Edward Stanley Leatherby died in Plympton on Tuesday March 23rd 1948 at the age of 64.  In addition to his role as joint managing director of Coster's he is credited with having turned Plymouth into a holiday resort.  It was his personal dream that the City should overcome the problem of having no beach by providing a lido and sun terraces, which came to fruition in his term as Mayor of Plymouth for 1933-34.  He was a member of the Liberal Party and to commemorate his year as Mayor he gave a fishermen's shelter on the Barbican, which is now used by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

By January 1952, Coster's had shops at Belle Vue Place, North Road; at 74 Cobourg Street; a temporary, prefab shop in what remained of George Street, opposite Derry's Clock; one on the corner of Market Avenue; one in the Pannier Market itself; and two in Ebrington Street.  In January 1952 they bought the drapery businesses of Bowden's at numbers 34/35  Russell Street and Derries at 24 Cornwall Street, and invited their owner, Mr R A Smith, to become a director of Messrs Coster's Limited.  He thus joined Mr F G Leatherby and his son, Mr Geoffrey G Leatherby, and Mrs P M Cooper, the daughter of the late Mr E Stanley Leatherby.

Once the reconstruction of Plymouth's City Centre got underway, they opened a new store in New George Street.  That was at 9.30am on Thursday July 22nd 1954.

Mrs Ada Leatherby died on Saturday August 4th 1956 at 72 years of age.

Mr Francis George Leatherby died at the South Devon and East Cornwall Hospital, Greenbank, Plymouth, on the evening of Saturday June 15th 1957.   He had first joined Plymouth Borough Council, as it then was, in 1928 as a representative of Compton Ward and he continued to be their Councillor right up to the time of his death.

He was elected an Alderman and in 1936-37 was chosen to be Lord Mayor.  He was again chosen in 1939 but stood down in favour of Lord Astor, whose influence, it was felt, would be of great value to the City.  He did eventually get to serve a second term in 1949-50 and was the first of Plymouth's Mayors to serve from May to May instead of November to November as it had been for around four centuries.

In October 1949 he and the Lady Mayoress, Mrs Ada Leatherby, had welcomed the young Princess Elizabeth to the City when she came to unveil a tablet to mark the commencement of the reconstruction of Saint Andrew's Church.  And the following month they welcomed home the crew of HMS "Amethyst" after their adventures on the river Yangtse.

During his life, Mr Leatherby had been a member of the Chamber of Commerce and the Plymouth Mercantile Association and for 15 years was the chairman of the Plymouth National Savings Committee.  He had also been a director of Plymouth Argyle Football Club and a committee member of the City of Plymouth Amateur Operatic and Dramatics Society.

Control of the business passed to their son, Mr Geoffrey Gordon Leatherby, a former pupil of Taunton School and Plymouth College, while the daughter, Miss Patricia Leatherby, married Mr David Cundy, one of the farming family of Plympton.

After a massive three-week long "Sale" the business ceased trading in November 1978 and the building was converted in to a new store for Messrs W H Smith & Son Limited.  They have continued to occupy the premises since it re-opened in December 1980.

Mr Geoffrey Gordon Leatherby died at his home in Seymour Road, Mannamead, Plymouth, on Saturday December 7th 1985.  He was 71 years of age.