The Lost Precinct Advent Calendar – #23: Queensway

Everyone’s a winner (though ultimately some won more than others)

So, we go to our penultimate door within The Lost Precinct Advent Calendar. We hope you have enjoyed the journey so far and that it has got you talking to your younger relatives about forgotten foodmarkets or defunct discounters.

The Ad of Christmas Past

Each Christmas Day and Boxing Day, there seemed to have been an arms race between furniture and carpet discounters on ITV. Along with Queensway, there would be MFI’s ad; one for Allied Carpets; sometimes Wades would chip in. Depending on where you lived, ELS or any of the smaller regional chains. It was either them or the holiday adverts.

For our penultimate advert, add a tried and tested formula used by Mullard Furniture Industries or TESCO. Then, choose a chart-topping musician for your soundtrack; plus slightly reassuring terms that ‘everyone’s a winner’. A winner for what? Kowtowing to the God of consumerism and lining their pockets.

The advert is cheap, cheerful, brash and didactic. 45 seconds of double beds, a rotating ‘Q’, more furniture, and carpets. Had I, the author of this piece been born 20 years earlier, it wouldn’t have been enough for me to stop me maintaining my loyalty with the Ashton-under-Lyne Cooperative Society’s flagship store (God rest its soul!).

Subsequent adverts would continue the money shots of furniture and red Futura Condensed Bold lettering. Yet we, the consumer at large, lapped up their offers till Black Friday came in ’87.

The Shop of Christmas Past

In my formative years (thank you Greater Manchester Transport, and the 400: Trans-Lancs Express!), I always thought Queensway had Rochdalian leanings. With Queensway bisected by the 409 route at Lower Place, I thought the Rochdale store next to MFI had something to do with the arterial road. How wrong I was.

Queensway was founded by Anthony Parish in 1967 with £50 start-up capital. He chose to apply the same style of retailing as discount supermarkets to furniture showrooms. His first branch was situated in Norwich, in a disused warehouse. The chain gradually expanded throughout Eastern and Southern England.

Ten years on, Mr Parish, after ill health, sold the company to Philip Harris. As Harris Queensway plc, expansion continued as did aggressive cost-cutting and regular sales. Business as usual? At least it was till the Black Monday crash in 1987. Philip Harris’ chain took a battering, so he sold the chain as Lowndes Queensway. Its successors were hit by the late-1980s early-1990s recession, with the chain folding in 1992.

Lowndes Queensway later became part of Allied Carpets. Philip Harris was installed as Baron Harris of Peckham in 1995, during John Major’s Conservative government. He remains a key donor to the Conservative party’s coffers and has interests in equestrianism. He has three horses co-owned by fellow Tory peer Graham Kirkham, founder of rival furniture store chain DFS.

S.V., 23 December 2015.

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