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1959-2001 – The tale of Bradford’s C&A

| December 24, 2013 | 0 Comments

At 11.30am on Thursday 31st May 2001, the UK’s last C&A transaction took place in Bradford. One of the most well known names of the British high street was to disappear forever. C&A had blamed fierce competition in the clothing market for its financial downturn and this resulted in the closure of over 100 stores.

C&A - a familiar name on the British high street until 2001

C&A – a familiar name on the British high street until 2001

C&A was founded in 1841 as a textile company by brothers Clemens and August Brenninkmeijer. Following success in Germany and Holland, C&A started trading in Britain in 1922, opening its first store on London’s Oxford Street. Stores followed in Birmingham and Liverpool before the end of the decade.

The store in Bradford was opened on 12th March 1959 by the then Lord Mayor, Alderman N W Durrant. In his speech, Alderman Durrant said, “It is not merely the opening of a store – it is to my mind the laying of the foundation stone for the new Bradford. This ancient city which has grown up around the great textile industry has many difficult contours from a building point of view and has expanded more or less naturally with very little planning. After many years of frustration in regard to redevelopment, there is now visible proof of our intention to rebuild the centre of the city.”

C&A in 1958 - foundations had just been laid and steelwork begun

C&A in April 1958 – foundations had just been laid and steelwork begun

And C&A were genuinely happy to be joining the city centre traders. Francis Drake, from C&A’s head office, said, “In the opening of this store, we have the privilege of becoming citizens of Bradford.”

“In the opening of this store, we have the privilege of becoming citizens of Bradford.” – Francis Drake, C&A

Using over half a million bricks in construction with 36,000 sq ft of glass and over 30,000 sq ft of floorspace, the opening of the store was described by many as one of the most notable events in Bradford. The T&A report of the day was “Thousands of people went to see the opening of the new C&A store in Bradford today. When the doors were opened at noon great crowds surged inside from Broadway. Five minutes later, there was still a queue round to the back of the building.” In fact, the Lady Mayoress, who had suffered a heavy cold forcing her to miss her first engagements that week in her ten months of office, was caught joining the shoppers.

C&A on Broadway, 1970's Martin O'Connell

C&A on Broadway, 1970’s
Martin O’Connell – www.bradfordeye.co.uk

The clothing stores became a household name in the UK and had a common presence on high streets all over the UK. C&A became synonymous with the nylon slacks worn by TV’s Alan Partridge and the slogan “Man at C&A” derived from a song by The Specials, which later came to define the store.

“If it was raining and you were meeting someone in Bradford, you would always wait under the canopy at C&A”

However, its downfall began in 1995 when the company’s UK operation began to lose money. A new wave of competition from Next and New Look as well as the expanding Marks & Spencer chain knocked the steam out of C&A’s sales. The dominant influence of Germany on C&A’s clothing fashions proved disastrous in the UK. In 1998, C&A announced a £200 million investment programme which included upgrading well-performing stores and closing down the poorest performing.

C&A Newspaper Advert, 1970 David Boocock

C&A Newspaper Advert, 1970
David Boocock

But, the investment programme failed and C&A’s losses grew bigger.  In early 2000, the nationwide company suddenly announced its intention to exit the UK market entirely blaming competition that had cost the company “£1m a week in the past five years.” The news was broke to the staff on 15th June 2000 that they were to be made redundant. It was to close all of its UK stores with the loss of 4,800 jobs across its 113 stores, Dublin store and three distribution centres. Staff were told that the majority of C&A stores were to close by the end of 2000.

Most stores closed in January 2001 and the small handful of stores that remained after that were only open because the new tenants weren’t ready to move in to the sites. C&A’s last trading day in the UK was on Thursday 31st May 2001 when its two final stores closed down in Hounslow and in Bradford. Staff in these two stores had intended to open the stores for three hours shutting doors for the final time at noon. But by 11am, staff at the Hounslow branch had sold out and just half an hour later, a shopper in Bradford became the firm’s last ever UK customer.

2001 - The doors of C&A close for the final time in the UK Courtesy of BBC

2001 – The doors of C&A close for the final time in the UK Courtesy of BBC News

In its last week, C&A had sold more than 100,000 items of discounted clothing. Primark bought 11 of the C&A stores soon after their closure. But, C& A appears to be having similar problems in mainland Europe and they are now reinventing themselves by improving the quality and hence the cost to attempt to rid itself of the low-budget image it picked up. The Bradford Broadway store was later demolished in the mid-2000’s and the site it once occupied will become part of the Broadway shopping centre – now due to be completed before Christmas 2015.

The plan for the new Broadway shopping centre, to be opened winter 2015

The plan for the new Broadway shopping centre, to be opened winter 2015

Many people will have childhood memories of C&A school blouses and “sensible shoes.” But the store which was once an economical trademark became outdated and this inevitably cost C&A its position on the British High Street.

 

 

 

 

 

The Local Leader History in partnership with All About Bradford – the Facebook page with over 15,000 likes dedicated to promoting the history of our city!AAB

Written by James Slater with assistance from Phil Robinson. If you have any questions or comments, please e-mail philrobinson005@gmail.com to assist with our investigation. Alternatively, you can comment on this page if you have an account.

Some of the photos on this page, and throughout our website, are from Martin O’Connell who runs the fantastic website at www.bradfordeye.co.uk – which is well worth a look at. You can see many more historic photos of Bradford on there as well as bits and bobs surrounding the history of our city.

 

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