Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: July 07, 2019
Webpage updated: February 26, 2020




The Plymouth business house of Messrs John Wheel Limited was founded after the Second World War.  Claims that its history goes back to the 1870s cannot be substantiated.

John Wheel's shop on Mutley Plain, Plymouth, 1953.

John Wheel's shop on Mutley Plain, Plymouth, 1953.
City of Plymouth Museum and Art Gallery.

At the time that the premises in Cornwall Street were opened it was stated that the history of the business went back to the 1870s, when Mr A Cohen started a business selling prams, bicycles and toys.  In fact, it would appear the family were not even in Plymouth at that time.  The first mention of Mr Abraham Cohen, his wife, Henrietta, and their children is in the 1881 census, when Mr Cohen was a tailor and general dealer at number 33 Vauxhall Street.  Both Abraham and Henrietta were born in Prussia but the two eldest sons, Joseph and Phineas, were born in New York, USA, in 1877 and 1878 respectively.

It would appear that the family then moved to England because Isidore Cohen was born in Plymouth at the end of 1880 and the remaining two boys, Moses and Herman, were both born in the Town.  Mr Abraham Cohen was now a pawnbroker and they were living at 45 Frankfort Street.

Mr Isidore Cohen married Miss Phoebe Robins at the Plymouth Synagogue on August 7th 1907.

By the 1920s the business as pawnbroker and jeweller was in the name of Mr Isidore Cohen and he appears to have also had a tailors shop in Flora Street.

Exactly when Mr Isidore Cohen opened his shop for the ale of prams, bicycles and toys is uncertain.  The premises were stated to be number 30 Market Place.  It is said that business prospered and another shop at 6 Drake Street was opened exclusively for the sale of bicycles.  Both these premises were destroyed during the Second World War and the business transferred to a private residence at Seymour Park, Mannamead.  Later it moved to 6 Townsend Hill and then at the end of the War to premises at 40-42 Ebrington Street.

In 1948 Mr Cohen opened a shop at 52 Mutley Plain.  This was exclusively for the sale of prams (or perambulators as they were known).  At the same time the business was turned into a limited liability company, with Isidore Cohen as the managing director.  This is probably when the name became Messrs John Wheel Limited as there is no mention of it before then.

Mr Isidore Cohen, of "Winsford", Compton Park Villas Road, Mannamead, died suddenly on December 29th 1950 while on a visit to London and was buried at the Jewish Cemetery in Plymouth on Sunday December 31st 1950.  The business was continued by his widow, Mrs Phoebe Cohen, his two sons, Mr Godfrey Cohen and Mr Jack Cohen, and Isidore's younger brother, Mr Herman Cohen.

By 1953 they had added a third shop to the business, at number 34 Ebrington Street, which was exclusively for the sale of bicycles, just as the old Drake Street premises had been.

At 10.30am on Thursday October 30th 1958 they opened a new store in Cornwall Street.  It was designed by Messrs Narracott and Partners and built by Messrs A N Coles (Contractors) Ltd, of Plymouth.  Blue and white were the dominant colours used in the building: the window pillars were blue and the internal pillars were white.  Even the sun blinds were in blue and white stripes.  The upper floor was in the form of a gallery, which enabled shoppers on the ground floor to get a glimpse of the products on sale above.  The staircase was a special feature of the store.

It is not known when the business ceased but it was probably as a result of the death of Isidore's widow, Mrs Phoebe Cohen, on August 30th 1969.