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Looking back: A store with a special place in Brighton and Hove's history
7:00pm Monday 8th July 2013 in News
Dubbed the Harrods of Brighton, it employed more than 200 staff across 70 different departments and dominated North Street for nearly 200 years.
It was the most prestigious shopping address in Brighton, synonymous with quality, elegance and glamour.
But in the 1980s the vast department store was well past its prime and found itself stuck in a time warp.
Competition from out-of-town rivals, with lower prices and free parking, heaped on more pressure and it was eventually sold for more than £20 million in September 2000.
The store was set up by the family of Charles Smith Hannington, of Hurstpierpoint, whose son James Hannington was the first Anglican bishop of East Africa.
While the Brighton-based family established itself in the retail trade missionary James was killed in Uganda.
The Bishop Hannington Memorial Church in West Blatchington, was built in 1938 to commemorate him.
The store experienced a fair amount of drama over the years.
In the 1980s a sewer outside the building collapsed, leaving the road in ruins and in need of major work.
Fire at Hanningtons in 1986
More devastating was a blaze that tore through the building in 1929. Despite causing extensive damage the store was open again within weeks.
Meanwhile some report the building is haunted by long-dead staff.
Maria Gibson, who worked at Hanningtons all her life would not tolerate tardiness, poor customer service or immodest behaviour.
Witnesses say her ghost is angered by the modern boutiques and that handbags, mini-skirts and lingerie go missing.
A popular attraction in the 1970s and ’80s at Christmas time was Santa’s Grotto. Children were escorted on to a “lift” by elf Sue and mysteriously transported to see Father Christmas.
Santa's Grotto in 1987
Marilyn Coates said: “My children never seemed to work out that having gone up or down three floors on the magic lift we were back in the same place. Children will believe anything if they want to.”
Many staff were employed at Hanningtons their whole working lives and were understandably sombre when it closed its doors in 2001.
Peter Godding, of Lewes, worked there for 56 years from the age of 14. He said: “Hanningtons has been like a family to me. There was always a personal touch to Hanningtons, but you go to these big stores today and you are just no one.”
Bernard Harding worked for 31 years and was general manager when he retired in 1995. He said: “Hanningtons has always been a family oriented business.
But sadly the property prices have outstripped the demand for business.
Hanningtons in 1989
During the years the character of the shop did not change much. It was modernised in terms of escalators and tills, but it kept its traditional values.”
Gay Charles, who worked at Hanningtons for 26 years, said: “I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like on Monday when I don’t need to go to work. Without Hanningtons there is just going to be this big hole. Its old fashioned nature really fits in with the Pavilion and the Lanes so it’s a shame it’s just going to vanish.”
In 2004 big name Kurt Geiger joined Mango, Benetton and L.K.
Bennett to establish the eastern end of the store as a high-quality, fashion led enclave.
A £150 million scheme to revamp the area was recently announced with plans for a new lane – Hanningtons Lane – between Brighton Place and Meeting House Lane, replacing the part-derelict Hanningtons service yard.
ON THIS DAY
1946: The bikini went on sale after debuting at an outdoor fashion show in Paris.
1811: Venezuela declared independence from Spain.
1610: John Guy set sail from Bristol with 39 other colonists for Newfoundland.
The Argus’ popular “Looking Back” feature has been compiled into an A4, soft back book which catalogues the events that have made their mark on the people of Sussex. The fascinating archive of “Looking Back” images dates back to the 1930s when The Argus first started to print photographs. The book costs £6.99 including postage and packing. To order please visit theargus.co.uk/store
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