By Vincent Dorrington

From the late 1800s and for much of the 1900s Huddersfield became a rich and wealthy town that was the envy of many.

Huddersfield’s people in its mills, engineering plants and chemical works earned good money that made Huddersfield prosper.

It was into this new age that Huddersfield Corporation was created and fine buildings of architectural note were created ranging from the Town Hall to the Market Hall.

Great theatres, cinemas, banks, shops and department stores transformed what once was a market town into a thriving commercial town.

Many fine shops emerged to meet the growing needs of a growing town. Edinburgh had its Royal Mile and Huddersfield had its commercial mile stretching from the Co-op on Buxton Road, past the Market Place dominated by Rushworths department store down to St George’s Square with its glorious railway station, buildings and shops.

Out of these changes came great shops and department stores which were the pride of Huddersfield. Perhaps the most notable flagship department store of this time was Rushworths.

Like Kayes and Heywoods department stores, Rushworths was a family-run business. It was started by the business brains and driving ambition of one man – Aquilla Thomas Rushworth (above).

Aquilla was a wool comber at Ogdens Mill in Bradford, who had an eye for making money. In 1875 and aged only 25, he leased a double fronted shop at 10 Market Place, facing Huddersfield’s market cross.

Rushworths was a fancy goods shop which made its name by selling mechanical toys made in Germany. Aquilla bought his toys from the same importer that supplied Hamley’s toy department store in London.

Advertising was the key to the early success of Rushworths with adverts being regularly placed in the Huddersfield Examiner. Posters were to be seen on the billboards of Huddersfield and on the side of trams as Rushworths called itself the Bazaar.

By 1887 over £3,000 a year was being made so Aquilla Thomas moved to premises a few yards away on Westgate. This key location led to the expansion of Rushworths as a department store. In 1894 it was the first department store in Huddersfield to be fully illuminated with electrical lighting.

Overwork may well have been a factor in the early death of Aquilla Thomas in 1902, aged only 52. Rushworths was now run by Aquilla Ernest, the brother of Aquilla Thomas, and Ernest’s two sons.

Between the wars they made Rushworths the Harrods of Huddersfield. By 1920 Rushworths became a limited company in order to grow. The basement and three floors above it were used to create new departments.

Rushworths’ drapery and toy department were its biggest earners. From a staff of four in the 1880s it grew to over 100 by 1930. Staff training (an apprenticeship lasted four years) emphasised the importance of never overselling and the importance of being courteous.

Girls from Greenhead College were seen as ideal shop assistants but they had to work the same long hours from 8.30am to 8.30pm Monday to Friday. Workers were given Wednesday afternoon and Sunday off but they were expected to work up to 10pm on Saturdays.

The customer always came first. They had to be called ‘sir’ or ‘madam’ and expected the door to be held open for them.

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Opulence and luxury could be seen everywhere in this great store with its fine mahogany and glass display cases. Grey Austin vans, with Rushworths’ red logo to their sides, could be seen all over Huddersfield and its suburbs (from the late 1920s) delivering goods to the homes of Rushworths’ customers.

Adverts emphasised that the 30 departments in Rushworths guaranteed quality and service and that the great store could meet the needs of Huddersfield and its people.

By the 1950s the range of items sold varied from luggage to vacuum cleaners to wedding presents and toys and much more. A range of services were also provided including hairdressing and fashion displays. Special events were also catered for.

By the late 1950s Rushworths was at its height. Many shoppers still remember the elaborate shop window displays that won local and national awards, at times outshining the great department stores of Leeds, Manchester and even London.

An elegant cafe was opened in 1958 and the store expanded along John William Street and there were even plans to expand along Westgate to the Byram Arcade.

In 1960 the famous Rushworths rotating clock was mounted above the store’s entrance adding to the imposing presence of this great store. Even the actress Pat Phoenix (Elsie Tanner from Coronation Street) visited Rushworths to promote it.

However, time waits for no one and in 1967 Rushworths was bought out by a Leeds chain of department stores.

Promises were made to uphold and maintain the standards and traditions of Rushworths but things were never the same. In 1977 the clock came down and the store closed. The age of Huddersfield’s great department stores was coming to an end.

At present Nando’s restaurant stands on the site of this once great store. Rushworths’ building still stands on Westgate as a proud reminder of what it once was – Huddersfield’s premier department store, the Harrods of Huddersfield.