A Tale of Three Families
Berkhamsted’s Bailey & Sons jewellers celebrates its 150th birthday this year – but the history of the business is intertwined with three different families.
Bailey & Sons was founded by the Bailey Family on Castle Street in Berkhamsted in 1872 – they were jewellers and silversmiths and watch and clockmakers.
John Henry Worner Bailey, who originated from Kent, was married to Annie Johns. They had seven children in all – all born in Berkhamsted. The couple lived at 116 High Street and John joined the family jewellery business, which was situated in adjoining properties at 1 Castle Street (now The Castle Hairdresser). Both properties were rented from a Miss E.K. Miller.
John ran the business until his death in 1923, and his sons took over.
Meanwhile, in Brixton Hill, London, Hewitts’ Jewellers was established in 1919. Fred Hewitt was only 20 when he and his brother bought the business from the German owner who had decided to return home after the First World War. They bought the shop lock stock and barrel – so started off with a shop that was stocked with pre-war items and very much in demand.
After escaping London following the Blitz, the Hewitt brothers opened a second shop in Amersham on the Hill. Fast forward quite some years, and Fred’s son Ron joined the business and the London store shut so they could concentrate on their Buckinghamshire shop.
Back in Berkhamsted, in 1929, John and Kathleen Sparkes bought the Bailey & Sons business. They lived at 2 Tennis Court Cottages, Lower Kings Road. Mr Sparkes was an expert watchmaker, and he went into the Air Force as an instrument maker during World War Two, returning to run the shop in 1945.
After his death in 1968, at the age of 55, his wife continued with the business until the Hewitts purchased it in May 1981. It was important to Mrs Sparkes to sell the business to a family who would keep the Bailey & Sons name and continue the long-established heritage. Unusually, Mr Sparkes is buried in Rectory Lane Cemetery with his mother-in-law Catherine Rolfe. While Kathleen lived until the age of 91 and died in Tring in 2004.
In the meantime, back in London in 1931, the Hewitt brothers were continuing with their entrepreneurial ways – it was at this time that Britain abandoned the gold standard (the system whereby most countries fixed the value of their currencies in terms of a specified amount of gold, or linked their currency to that of a country which did).
The brothers saw an opportunity as they realised the precious metal in a gold sovereign was worth more than its 20 shilling face value. They bought sovereigns for 26 shillings each and had queues of people waiting to trade their coins in – you can see in the photo they proclaim themselves as the ‘originators of the Gold Rush’! Fred would hop on his motorbike to the bullion refiners with the coins – making a profit of one shilling and sixpence on each one.
In 1974 at the age of 18, Ron’s son Nigel joined the business and seven years later the opportunity to buy Bailey & Sons in Castle Street, Berkhamsted arose. Nigel and Jane (who had joined the company as a sales assistant in Amersham) took on the shop from Mrs Sparkes and re-energised it – within two years it had become a thriving business.
In November 1985 Bailey & Sons (now owned by the Hewitt family) moved to the current premises in Lower Kings Road. The subsequent large extension out the back, overseen by Ron, enabled Nigel and Jane to expand the business and bring in more stock. The pair had plenty in common, and a year later they were married. Thirty seven years later, a few front window changes and now a fourth generation, Bailey & Sons is run by their daughter Charlotte – who tells us that there are exciting plans for the outside of the shop to mark the 150th anniversary.
It is still very much a family concern – Charlotte’s brother Miles is the technician who works out the back of the shop.
How many other businesses can proudly claim such an illustrious history in the town? We would love to hear from other Berkhamsted businesses with such a long history.