photo of house and shop

Gyfords, The Tailor. Saxham Street, Stowupland.

From the 1911 census we know the Gyford family were living in Saxham Cottage by then but we don’t know for certain who was there before or when it became known as Saxham Cottage. In Ena Carter’s notes she tells us that the Gyford’s commenced trading in 1913.

The Gyford family who owned the shop moved to Stowupland in 1909, having moved to Stowmarket from Norwich in 1897. William Gyford (christened Thomas William but known as William) had been born in Stowmarket but his work as a hawker took him to Norwich where he met and married Mathilda Vincent. Before returning to Suffolk they had 3 children, Charles George Gyford was the youngest. On their return to Stowmarket Charles gained a younger sister Daisy and started his career as a tailor, working in a shop as a clothier.

Their 1909 move was into Saxham Cottage on Saxham Street, next door to an open space where Gyford’s Shop was later built.  We don’t know if the family took over an existing business or decided that Saxham Street and the surrounding area needed its own tailors. The 1911 census shows William Thomas as a licensed Hawker and Charles as a shop assistant, ‘fancy and tailoring’. Later press reports tell us that the family business was established by the time Charles left Stowupland to fight in WW1 (initially in the Suffolk Regiment but in 1916 he transferred to the Royal Air Corps). 

By 1927 Gyford’s Shop was described as ‘an outfitters, boot fitters, cycle dealer, wireless factor and general merchants’ with a phone number of Stowmarket 263. By 1966, the number had changed to Stowmarket 2863, indicating the increasing demand for phone lines. The Gyford’s phone was not in the shop but sited in Saxham Cottage in a small room off the Gyford’s sitting room, and was available for the use of local residents.

We don’t know when the Gyfords decided they needed new premises but sometime between the death of his father in 1926 and the death of his mother in 1933 the shop building (as below) was erected and Chas and his mother were trading as Gyford’s , The Tailors.  However there may well have been an earlier building, as local people suggest that for a time a shed on land opposite was in use while the new shop was built. We know nothing about the construction of the shop, but it does not appear to be brick built more likely ‘bought off the shelf’, prefabricated.In the 1850’s a new factory – Chevington opened selling ready made clothing to London and oversees.)

Following the death of his parents, first his father then a few years later his mother Charles (or Chas as he was known) kept the business going by employing at least 4 shop assistants. In 1934, in the year following his mother’s death, he married Elsie Florence Margaret Garrard. The marriage only lasted 4 years before Charles sadly committed suicide. He was found by Mary Moore, one of the shop girls. The coroner’s report showed that he had been depressed for some time though Elsie reported that there were no business worries. Chas is buried in Stowupland cemetery, under a rose bush and sycamore tree.

The Gyford’s didn’t just rely on customers coming to their shop on Saxham Street but delivered to their doorstep. This has to be in the 1930’s (Chas died in 1938) and Sidney (behind the van) was only 18 at the time of Chas’ death. To the rear of the van stands Rufus Scarlett.

In the 1937 War Survey Rufus’ occupation is given as a tailor’s roundsamn and Sidney’s as a tailor’s assistant.


1930s Gyford's van with Charles Gyford

According to Ena Carter’s notes the Gyford’s had 2 vans on the road, with drivers Ernie Manning and Wilfred Hennessey, though we have no date for this. But by the late 1950s Wilfred was a partner in the business.

Gyfords provided Petrol lamps for Stowupland’s celebrations of the 1937 Coronation in a barn at Stowupland Hall.

The 1939 War Survey lists Elsie Gyford as proprieters of a ‘Ladies and Gents Outfitters’ and shows that following the death of Chas Jean Brooker, another of Gyford’s shop assistants, had moved into Saxham Cottage as a companion to Elsie.  The war survey gives her occupation as domestic duties but whether she also worked in the shop we don’t know. Subsequently (presumably before Jean’s marriage) Jean Hawes moves into Saxham Cottage but she did still work in the shop. She remembers the shop did adjustments to the uniforms of American Soldiers and she had to press the trousers.

 A local resident  Albert Cooper recalled that in the 1940’s,Gyfords was a clothes and drapery business (Telstar, July 2010)

photo of a lady
Elsie Gyford
photo of shop
Gyford's Shop front in the late 1940s
Gyford's shop front with Sidney Scarlett and Jean Hawes

Following the death of her husband, Charles, in 1938 Elsie continued living in Saxham Cottage and running the shop till she she remarried  in 1953. She then moved to Forward Green, leaving her neighbour Sidney Scarlett to move into Saxham Cottage and take over the shop (Chas and Elsie had not had children)..

Elsie Gyford with her dog, cat and a young shop assistant

Elsie can be seen here behind Saxham Cottage.The house has since been extended.

After 1953 Sidney Scarlett took over the running of Gyford’s

What Gyford’s shop was like before the 1950’s we don’t know.  Its footprint was larger than Saxham Cottage (as it was then), so possibly around 75 sq metres. Photos from Jean Hawes show the shop had large plate glass windows which were dressed to display ladies’ outfits, men’s suits and coats.

The shop front is protected from the road by a substantial barrier suggesting that even then Saxham Street was not a quiet street but a well-used thoroughfare with the potential for traffic accidents. There were no street lights or speed limits. One local resident was seriously injured as she crossed the road to use the Gyford’s telephone and on another occasion a local bus skidded and badly damaged the wall of a neighbours house.

Sidney Scarlett managed the shop whilst his elder brother Rufus took over the delivery driving, sometimes accompanied by his wife. They delivered finished garments, collected weekly payments, picked up and returned charged accumulator batteries. In the days before every home had mains electricity and TV, people relied on battery powered radio for news. All towns and villages had businesses which would recharge these batteries often offering a collection and delivery service.

It seems that until the 1960’s or 70’s Gyford’s Shop served Stowupland and the surrounding area with a bespoke men’s and women’s tailoring service; as well as selling additional items such as Salvation Army uniforms, cycles, boots, including wellington boots and in its declining years it sold items of furniture and fresh fruit and vegetables.

The 1966 local phone directory has an entry for Chas Gyford, outftr.cyc.wireless fctr., Stowupland. Stowmarket 2863.

1959 invoice
Invoice from 1959

This invoice was found among Jack Carter’s diaries. It’s importance is not just because it details the type of goods being sold by Gyford’s in the 1960s, ie clothing but also electrical items and cycles but also we now know that Sidney was in partnership with Wilfred Hennessey. Various local people had told us that Wilfred had an involvement in the business but maybe just as a driver.

By the 1970s the shop had ceased trading. Local people remember that in its last weeks it may have still sold furniture, possibly fruit & Veg or been used to store Carpets for Hopgoods. It  was subsequently was demolished and a garage and studio was built on the land.

photo of house

In 2010 this reminder of Gyford’s had gone and the plot of land had been sold off and a hew house built.

On land opposite the shop was a large structure that over the decades had been used for keeping animals, storage or a work shop. The last vestiges of it were demolished in 2020 and a new house built.

photo of old shed
Dilapidated corrugated shed opposite Saxham Cottage

I am very grateful to Jean and her family for sharing her B&W photos and her memories of Gyford’s with me.