There’s a lion in the linen department…
… and other bonkers tales from the history books of Camp Hopson – a department store celebrating 100 years and have pretty much seen it all.
Shopping in the wild is back, laydee, but the landscape is a little different. So many big high street names have disappeared or lost their way. So does this mean RIP the one-stop lifestyle shop?
Well, no, actually. Case in point, Newbury’s infamous Camp Hopson which is celebrating its 100th anniversary. Founded in 1921, Camp Hopson has seen a lot of change in the town, but remains one of the few independent, family run department stores left in the UK. So what’s the secret? Why has Camp Hopson succeeded where others have failed? Especially after multiple financial crashes and the rise of online shopping – it doesn’t even have a shoppable website.
The heritage of the store actually goes back to the late 1800s. Joseph Hopson is running a furniture business on the corner or West Street and Alfred Camp has just opened Camp’s Drapery Bazaar at 6-12 Northbrook Street in the heart of the town centre.
Joseph and Albert would meet for coffee at the Guildhall Coffee Tavern in Mansion House Street. High on caffeine the pair decided their businesses were so complimentary they should merge.
Meanwhile, Joseph’s son Paul fell in love with Alfred’s daughter Nora. It was match made in retail heaven and the love birds married in October 1920. A year later having merged families, they joined the two businesses. It stayed in the Hopson family until 2014 when it was sold to another retailing family business – independent department store group, Morleys.
Lots has changed and yet nothing has changed – it essentially still sells fashion, homeware, haberdashery and furniture, with beauty, childrenswear and toys and a very nice roof terrace café filling the three floors of the main building today. And the removal and funeral business continue to run under the Camp Hopson name. Like all of the best places, it has a colourful past. Boy, did they do some bonkers things over the years.
The kept lion cubs in the linen department! Yup you heard that right. In early 1970s Camp Hopson had a roarsome idea for a Christmas attraction – invite the Lions of Longleat cubs in store for all to see. The cubs stayed for a whole month and were a huge success – if not a little pongy.
In 1956, they built a furnished four room bungalow on the ground floor. It was a fully functional house with running water, gas, electricity, plus a garden with real flowers growing and crazy paving at the entrance. Inside it you would have found G Plan furniture and Axminster carpets. It was intended to be a permanent feature to display the furniture.2
In 1948, London post-war crime wave hit Newbury when a professional gang stole £2,000 worth of goods – the equivalent of £75,000 today. The thieves targeted ‘coupon goods’ from the store itself and lorry. On the thieves’ shopping list were silk knickers, stockings, dress fabrics and clothing.3
The Queen made a special trip to the store to celebrate its 75th anniversary (she sent a message for their 90th). Her Maj got the visual story of Camps history, and the lowdown on the legendary Newbury Coat. With a 1,000 Guinea bet on the table, John Coxeter was tasked with making a wool coat – from sheep to gentleman – in a just 24hrs.4
To celebrate Camp Hopson’s 100th birthday join the party in store from 30 Sep – 3 Oct for fun activities, surprises and complimentary treats. Word on the sales floor is that there will be Gatsby dancers, caricature artists, children’s grotto, lucky dips and beauty masterclasses.
Camp Hopson, 7-11 Northbrook St, Newbury RG14 1DN