THE RADIO,TELEVISION & ELECTRICAL BUSINESS OF PERCY POWELL
Written By: Edward James Gilbert-Thunder Bay,Ontario,Canada
Date: August 14,2015
Percy Powell (1893-1977) had been born in Tunbridge Wells and during his lifetime in the town became well known as a pioneer in the sale of radios and televisions from his premises on the High Street and also ran an electrical business which had been started by his father. He was the son of Edwin Powell (1856-1951), who became known in the town for his business as a gunmaker, cycle and motor car maker and an electrical engineer, who had established his business in the 19th century on Grove Hill Road,later moving to the High Street. The Powell family had settled in the town of Tonbridge in the 19th century and were known there as gunmakers,and although most of the family remained there, Edwin Powell, one of the sons of gunmaker Peter Powell ,moved to Tunbridge Wells where he established his business and raised a family.
Percy Powell initially worked with his father but later stuck out on his own establishing a radio business on the High Street by the name of Percy Powell (Radio) Limited, later adding the sale of televisions to his business at a time when televisions were a new and exciting technological development. Percy’s son Peter Powell (1924-1988) joined his father in the business and he and his father reacquired Edwin Powells electrical business called E. Powell Limited. Both businesses fell on hard times in the 1970’s and in 1977 they were wound up and liquidators were appointed. Percy Powell died November 11,1977 at the Kent & Sussex Hospital, but had before his death been living at a seniors home called Harewood Lodge in Mayfield, and before that had lived for a time with his married daughter Pamela F. RIhal. Percy was survived by his son Peter and daughter Pamela. His wife Charlotte Janet Lynn ,who he married in 1921, predeceased him.
During the operation of the radio and television business in the 1930’ she employed two gentlemen who are related to the author. The first was Ernest Ronald Skewis (1900-1992) who married Joyce Elizabeth Gilbert (1909-1993) in 1935 and who’s daughter Christine J. Harrison, who lives today in Tunbridge Wells with her husband Alan, is my second cousin. The second gentleman who worked in the Powell business was Ernest’s brother George Skewis (1904-1987).
This article reports on the Powell family with a particular emphasis on the Tunbridge Wells branch and the life and career of Percy Powell and his son Peter , with information included about the Skewis family members who worked for the company.
THE POWELL FAMILY OF TONBRIDGE
The patriarch of the Powell family, for the purposes of this article is Peter Powell, a gunmaker born 1825 in Ticehurtst,Sussex.All of the census records from 1861 to 1891 record Peter and his family at 77 High Street,Tonbridge. His wife was Mary Powell,nee Hartnup, (1828-1897) was born 1828 in Maidstone,Kent. and died at Western Road,Tunbridge Wells January 21,1897.leaving an estate valued at 189 pounds..Mary was the daughter of Harry and Elizabeth Hartnup. She and Peter Powell were married in the 3rd qtr of 1852 at Tonbridge. Mary had been baptised at Maidstone June 6,1828. At the time of the 1851 census Peter single and given as a gunmaker master and copper smith employing two men. In 1853 Peter wed Mary. The 1861 census, taken at High Street,Tonbridge gave Peter as a gunmaker and living with him was his wife Mary ; their children Henry, Edwin,Frank and one servant. The 1871 census, taken at the same place gave Peter as a gunmaker employing one man and a farmer of 6 acres employing one man. With him was his wife Mary and his children Henry,Frank and Horace. The 1881 census, taken at 77 High Street,Tonbridge gave Peter as a gunmaker. With him was his wife Mary; his single son Henry,age 27, a gunmaker and another son Horace, age 18, single, a gunmaker.The 1891 census, taken at the same address gave Peter as a gunmaker and farmer. With him was his wife Mary and their children Henry, a gunmaker and cycle maker; Frank, a drapers assistant, and Horace, a gun maker.Probate records gave Peter Powell of Tonbridge who died November 24,1899. The executors of his 2,298 pound estate were his sons Henry Arthur Powell and Edwin Powell, cycle manufacturers.
Peter and his wife had the following children;
1) HENRY ARTHUR POWELL, born 1854 in Tonbridge and baptised there on April 30,1854, who up to at least the time of the 1881 was living with his parents and siblings at 77 High Street Tonbridge where he was a gunmaker and cycle agent. In the 4th qtr of 1898 he married Ruth Walter, who had been born in in the 2nd qtr of 1866 at St Leonards,Sussex, the daughter of Thomas Walter (1837-1901) and Sarah Walter, nee Tinker (1824-1904).. It appears from census records that he and his wife did not have any children. The 1899 probate record of his father listed his occupation as cycle manufacturer.The 1901 census taken at 47 High Street, Tonbridge, gave Henry as s cycle maker and cycle agent. With hum was his with Ruth ; his mother in law Sarah Walter, a widow, and one servant. The 1911 census, taken at the same address gave Henry as a employed at home working as a cycle engineer shop keeper. With him in 8 rooms was his wife Ruth and it was noted that the couple had no children. Probate records gave Henry of Broadview Hayesdfen,Tonbridge (on his farm), when he died May 17,1922. The executor of his 5,345 pound estate was his widow Ruth. Probate records gave Ruth Powell orf 26 Uridge Road,Tonbridge, widow, when she died April 26,1940 at Dry Bank House, Dry Hill Park Road,Tonbridge. The executors of her 2,711 pound estate was William Batfchelor, retired gas official and Cecil Eccles Robinson, radio dealer.
2) EDWIN POWELL, born 1856 in Tonbridge and died in Tunbridge Wells in 1951. This is the Edwin Powell referred to in the overview who established a gunmaker, cycle maker, motor car maker and electrical business in Tunbridge Wells and was the father of Percy Powell, the central figure in this article. More about this branch of the family is given in the next section of this article.Another source of information about this branch of the family is my article entitled ‘Edwin Powell-From Bicycles to Motor Cars’ dated August 18,2013.
3) FRANK POWELL, born 1859 in Tonbridge. He inherited his father’s gunsmith business in the town of Tonbridge and worked as a gunmaker in the town for many years but when the busines fell on hard times he went bankrupt in 1906. Frank, at the time of the 1891 census was living with his parents and brother Henry and Horace and working as a drapers assistant. The 1901 census, taken at 99 High Street,Tonbridge gave Frank as a gunsmith on own account. With him was his brother Horace, a brickmaker and one servant. The 1911 census, taken at his 4 room residence at 9 Douglas Road,Tonbridge, gave Frant as a cycle shop assistant. With him was his wife Elizabeth Caroline ; his children Cecil,age 7 and Phyllis,age 4 and one boarder. Frank married Elizabeth Caroline Bisack and with her had two children (1) Cecil Frank Powell,born December 5,1903 in Southborough (2) Phyllis Powell.His wife Elizabeth Caroline Powell had been born 1877 in Southborough. Frank died in the 2nd qtr of 1933 in Tonbridge. Probate records for Elizabeth Caroline Powell gave her of Rock House, 58 Quarry Road, widow, when she died March 6,1944 at the Pembury County Hospital. The executors of her 1,765 pound estate were her children Cecil Frank Powell, doctor of philosophy and Plylis Edith Powell, spinster. Shown opposite is an 1896 image of the High Street in Tonbridge.
4) HORACE POWELL, born 1862 in Tonbridge. Horace had begun as a gunmaker and was still working as a gunmaker at 77 High Street, Tonbridge at the time of the 1891 census.The 1901 census, taken at 99 High Street,Tonbridge gave Frank as a gunsmith on own account. With him was his brother Horace, a brickmaker and one servant. The 1911 census, taken at his 6 room residence at Hatysden, Tonbridge gave Horace as a bookmaker working at home. He was single and in fact never married. Probate records gave him of The Hospital Farnborough,Kent when he died April 25.1950. The executors of his 4,678 pound estate was his brother Edwin Powell of Tunbridge Wells, an electrical engineer, and Claud Longhhunt, accountant.
From the above I reported on Cecil Frank Powell (1903-1969), the son of Frank and Elizabeth Powell. Cecil had been born in Southborough December 5,1903 and died in Italy August 9,1969 while walking in the foothills of the Alps near Valasssina. Online can be found a detailed document entitled “Cecil Powell-Fragments of Autobiograph” published by the University of Bristol as a memoir of his own account of his life and the early part of his career; his boyhood, his time at Cambridge and the early years at Bristol. This document goes on in great detail for some 28 pages and includes some photographs of him, one of which I have shown opposite. He was baptised at Southborough March 13,1904 and in the 2nd qtr of 1932 he married Isobel Theresa Artner (1904-1990) and with her had at least one child. In 1950 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics “ for his development of photographic method of studying nuclear processes and his discoveries regarding mesons made with this method”. This record provides a wonderful first hand record of the history of the Powell family and covers family patriarch Peter Powell and his four children through their childhood and adult lives, with a particular emphasis on his father Frank and his mother and explains the financial hardships his branch of the family suffered. I would suggest accessing this record for a fuller picture of the Powell family in Tonbridge. I will mention that in this account some interesting information is given about his mother and her side of the family in Southborough, where his maternal grandfather lived at ‘Fern Terrace’ at the bottom of Southborough Common near the road to Tonbridge and that his grandfather had run a small boarding school for many years. He also makes reference to his uncle Edwin Powell’s shop in Tunbridge Wells and that for a time one of his uncles worked there. Shown opposite left is a memorial bench and plaque dedicated to Cecil Frank Powell at the site of his death. If you have an interest in obtaining more information about his life and career there are no shortage of websites that can be consulted.
In the next section I reintroduce Edwin Powell of Tunbridge Wells.
EDWIN POWELL OF TUNBRIDGE WELLS
As noted in the preceeding section the main branch of the Powell family of particular interest in terms of the history of Tunbridge Wells is Edwin Powell (1856-1951) who left Tonbridge and established a prosperous gun maker, cycle maker, motor car maker and electrical business in Tunbridge Wells.As there is no archive of previously published articles of mine on this website, the best way of describing his life in career is by republishing here, in its entirely, my article “Edwin Powell-From Bicycles to Motor Cars” written August 18,2013. The original article has been slightly altered and updated since its first publication.In the next section I zero in on the central figure of this article Edwin’s son Percy Powell who established a radio and television business in Tunbridge Wells on High Street, details of which are given in the section after Edwin Powell.
Edwin Powell was a rather industrious chap who in the 19th century,began his career as a gunsmith and then a bicycle maker/seller. At the turn of the century he became one of the first in Tunbridge Wells to enter the motor car industry and when he left motor cars he finally presented himself as an electrical engineer/contractor.He had been born in Tunbridge Wells, and apart from a short departure from Tunbridge Wells in the early 1880’s, lived and worked the rest of his life in Tunbridge Wells,becoming well known in the community.
Edwin had been born August 1856 in Tunbridge Wells and was baptised there on August 31st. His parents were Peter Powell, a gun maker born 1825 in Ticehurst,Sussex, and his mother was Mary,born 1828 at Maidstone,Kent and based on the 1861 census was one of three children born to the couple. Edwin is found in the 1861 Tunbridge Wells census living with his parents and three siblings and one domestic servant. His father at that time was a gunsmith and Edwin learned that trade from his father.
Edwin however did not remain as a gunsmith for long. The 1881 census, taken at 61 Lower Fort Street in Warwickshire records Edwin as a 24 year old single chap working as an engine fitter and turner. He was living at that place as a boarder with police inspector Richard B Coombs and his family. Not long afterwards he returned to Tunbridge Wells and in the 3rd qtr of 1886 he married Florence Withers. Florence who had been born in the 3rd qtr of 1862 at St Pancras,London, the daughter of William John Withers, born 1833 at Wucombe,Buckinghamshire and Martha born 1841 at Ryenorth,Bedforshire.
Florence,based on the 1871 census of Tunbridge Wells, was one of five children born to the couple. The marriage documents record that Florences father was a gentleman and Edwin’s father is not mentioned. Before marrying Edwin, Florence was , in the 1881 census of Tunbridge Wells, working as a domestic servant for the Francis Pritchard family at Brook House.
In the 1880’s Edwin opened a shop at #12 Grove Hill Road. Shown above is a photograph of Grove Hill Road circa 1900. Powells shop was located in this part of Grove Hill Road just up the street from the Advertiser premises on the corner which is shown in the right hand foreground. Powells’ shop was probably at or near the location of the Renault & Rover Cars sign .
The 1891 census, taken at 12 Grove Hill Road records the presence of Edwin Powell who’s occupation was given as cycle maker and electrical engineer, who was employing assistants in his business. Also present was his wife Florence and their two children Ellen, born 1888 and Edwin born 1890. Both children were born in Tunbridge Wells. Edwin and his family were obviously living on the premises of the shop.
An advertismemt for his business appeared in the 1909 Town Guide, in which Edwin is primarily promoting himself as an electrical motor and cycle engineer carrying all the leading makes of cycles, with “25 years of experience in electric lighting and specializing in motor repairs and the provision of accessories with premises at 10 and 12 Grove Hill Road. An article by Keith Hetherington entitled “Tunbridge Wells and the Early Motor Trade” showed the same image but added the following text below “ Advert of E. Powell, who left the motor trade to concentrate on his electrical business”.
In a book by Roger Farthing entitled ‘Royal Tunbridge Wells’ published in 1990 is the photograph opposite of an old motor car. The note on the back of this image is reported by Roger to state “Built in 1900 on Grove Hill Road by Mr E. Powell,electrical,motor and cycle engineer.”
Keith Etheringon in his article,referred to above, stated “ Many local tradesmen who saw the 1895 Motor Show (in Tunbridge Wells) realized that the motor car was here to stay and some began to adapt their businesses to the accommodate the motor car. One of the first men to do so was Edwin Powell, who had established a cycle and electrical shop on Grove Hill Road in 1872.At the turn of the century he became interested in the motor car and employed Frederick Bernard Winser as his mechanic.They were thought to be the pioneer motor traders in the town. When Mr Winser left to start his own business in Prospect Road, Mr Powell decided to sell off the motor car side of his trade and concentrate on his other interests.Winser and a partner,Mr Martin, bought Edwin Powell’s motor car business and moved it to Vale road,trading as Martin,Winser & Co. Ltd.Later Mr Winser took over the business and he traded as Winser’s Garage until 1925 when the business was acquired by G. Stevenson(Kent and Sussex Garage Ltd).Mr Winser was considered a master of his trade and was working on a motor for Mr Lloyd in Southborough when he collapsed and died January 1930. Shown above is an advertisement from the Etherington article for “E. Powell Automobile Engineer, Grove Hill Road”.
Returning to the earlier image of Powell’s premises at 10 and 12 Grove Hill Road one can see various signs on the windows. Among them is mention that he was selling Singer Cycles, Swift Cycles and Rover Cycles . The Singer Cycle Company of Coventry was founded by George Singer, who left his job at the Coventry machine shop of James Starley to form the company in 1875.He manufactures sewing machines and safety bicycles and patented a cycle fork with the ends curved which made for a smoother ride.Singer purchased Coventry Premier in 1920 and the company sold bicycles using that name.No bicycles were made by them during WW 1 but after the war production resumed and continued until 1928. The Swift Motor Company made Swift cars in Coventry from 1900 to 1931.The business began from James Starley’s Coventry Sewing Machine Company as a cycle maker and later as a motorized cycle manufacturer.The company had been founded in 1859 and initially and began making bicycles in 1869 and in that year the company became known as Coventry Machinists. In 1896 the company became the Swift Cycle Company and started making motorcycles in 1898 before expanding into the making of motor cars.The Rover Company was founded as Starley Sutton Co. of Coventry in 1878. The company manufactured the Rover motor cars between 1904 and 1967 when in that year the business was sold to the Leyland Motor Corporation .They had moved into the manufacture of motor cars after their 1895 development of the Rover Safety bicycle. The first Rover was a tricycle made in 1883.The company had been founded by John Kemp Starley and William Sutton in 1878.Starley had previously worked with his uncle James Starley who began manufacturing sewing machines an switched to bicycles in 1869.The company became J.K. Starley Co. Ltd in 1889 and in the late 1890’s the Rover Cycle Company Ltd.
The 1901 census, taken at 17 Sunderland Road records Edwin Powell as a cycle builder employing assistants. Living with him was his wife Florence and their children Edwin,age 10; Percy,age 7, and Kate,age 4 with all of the children born in Tunbridge Wells. A 1903 Kelly directory gives “Edwin Powell, 12 Grove Hill Road, under the heading of ‘Cycle Manufacturers”.
The 1911 census, taken at 17 Sunderland Road, records Edwin Powell as an electrical and cycle engineer. Living with him was his wife Florence and children Ellen,age 23, who was assisting in house duties; Edwin,age 20 who was a turner and fitter, just as his father was in 1871; Percy,age 17 who was working for his father as an electic light wiremans assistant; Kete,age 14 and Florence age 4 as well as one servant. The census records that the family was living in a 9 room house, that they had been married 24 years and that all of their five children had survived.
In 1909 Edwin moved his shop premises from Grove Hill Road to new premises on the High Street. The 1913 Kelly directory records “Edwin Powell, electric light engineer, 41 High Street.Shown opposite is a postcard view of High Street near Payne & Son's jewellers and watch makers at #37 High Street where there clock can be seen hanging over the sidewalk. The address of 17 Sunderland Road given in the 1901 and 1911 census was the families private residence.They are still at that address in a 1922 Kelly directory and in fact continued to live there for the rest of their lives. As I have already noted above Edwin Powell had by this time abandoned his interest in motor cars and sold that part of his business. To the right of the clock can bee seen the sign of "Powell". Shown below left is another view showing Paynes Jewellers at No. 37 with No. 39 shown next door with the start of the sign "E. Powell" and the word "Electrical".
Edwin Powell passed away inTunbridge Wells on January 17,1951. His will was proved by Bertram Thomas Stevenson,chartered accountant, and he left an estate valued at about 4,000 pounds. Edwin was buried in the Tunbridge Wells cemetery on January 19th. His wife Florence died May 23,1928. Probate was to her son Edwin, an electrician, and she left an estate valued at about 286 pounds. Both Edwin and his wife were living at 17 Sunderland Road when they died. After Edwin died his son Edwin took over the business. Florence was buried in the Tunbridge Wells cemetery on January 14th. There was no obituary published in The Courier for Edwin, just a very brief death notice on January 19th giving his name,address,date of death and his age (85) and that “he died peacefully” and that the funeral service was held at the Holy Trinity Church and that the family requested that no flowers be given.It is unfortunate that a more detailed obituary was not given for the man.
Directory listings for E. Powell Ltd, electrical engineers at 39 High Street can be found from 1948 to 1957 with Edwin Powell junior living at 29 Claremont Road. Although some have stated that the Powell company continued until 1976/1977 the London Gazette of January 24,1964 gave an announcement regarding E. Powell Ltd with respect to a winding up order for the business in which creditors were requested to submit their claims to the liquidator H.B.C. Sandford of 12 Lonsdale Gardens, Tunbridge Wells. This announcement was dated January 21,1964, thus bringing to an end a very interesting local business.
Edwins son Percy went into the radio and television business in about 1922 after having served in WW 1. Directories of 1930 to 1938 gave his premises at 54 High Street and that he was a wireless engineer. He later incorporated his business and directories of 1970 gave the company as Percy Powell Radio Ltd at 54 High Street. The 1071 directory gave the business address as 39 High Street. Directories of 1975 and 1976 gave the company at the same address but noted he sold both radios and televisions. The London Gazette of March 4,1977 noted that the company could not continue due to liabilities and it was decided to wind up the business and a liquidator was appointed. Percy had been married and had children. He died in Tunbridge Wells in November 1977 and was cremated at the Kent and Sussex Crematorium on November 17,1977.
THE LIFE AND TIMES OF PERCY POWELL
Percy Powell (1893-1977) was born in Tunbridge Wells on May 9,1893 and was one of a number of children of Edwin Powell (1856-1951). Details of his early life from census records etc have been given in the preceeding section.
I begin my account with the 1911 census taken at 17 Sunderland Road, which records Edwin Powell as an electrical and cycle engineer. Living with him was his wife Florence and children Ellen,age 23, who was assisting in house duties; Edwin,age 20 who was a turner and fitter, just as his father was in 1871; PERCY POWELL,age 17 who was working for his father as an electric light wiremans assistant; Kate,age 14 and Florence age 4 as well as one servant. The census records that the family was living in a 9 room house, that they had been married 24 years and that all of their five children had survived.
Shown above is a photograph of Percy Powell dated 1917 on his motorbike. Percy like many men at this time had developed a keen interest in motorcycles, something I reported on in my article entitled ‘Motorcycling in Tunbridge Wells’ dated March 28,2012 (updated February 24,2015) and noted from that research “Although patents for electric motorcycles date back as far as the 1860's it wasnt until about 1911 that a reliable type was developed for sale to the general public”. The Tunbridge Wells Motorcycle club,now called the Tunbridge Wells Motor Club (TWMC),was founded in 1911 and today is one of the oldest still operating in Britain.Percy’s interest and knowledge about motorcyles evolved from his involvement in his father’s cycle and motorcar business, and no doubt knew more than most about making,repairing and maintaining them.
Although Percy was age 21 in 1914 when WW 1 began, a prime age for serving in the war, the date on this photo of 1917 suggests that at least by then he had not enlisted. A search of military records for him did not turn up any reliable results, but this in itself is not proof that he did not serve, for the majority of service records were destroyed during the bombing of London during WW II. I should mention ,and give credit to ,my relatives, Alan and Christine Harrison of Tunbridge Wells for supplying this photo from their collection of old family records and photographs. More about the Gilbert/Skewis/Harrison connection to the Powell family is given later
On December 24,1921 Percy married Charlotte Janet Lynn at Hailsham,Sussex. Charlotee had been born in the 2nd qtr of 1893 at Stenning,Sussex. His obituary of 1977 stated that Percy began his business in 1922 in Tunbridge Wells on Vale Road.
Percy and Charlotte had just two children namely (1) Pamela F. Powell, born in 2nd qtr of 1928 in Tunbridge Wells (2) Peter Powell born 2nd qtr 1924 in Tunbridge Wells. And died in the 4th qtr of 1988 and was cremated at the Kent & Sussex Crematorium November 7,1988. Pamela F. Powell married Maximilian J.M. A.A. Rihal in the 3rd qtr of 1960 in Tunbridge Wells. Directories of 1962 gave a Pamela F Rihal at Brompton and those of 1963 and 1964 record her at Celsea. Those of 1981 and 1982 gave her as P.F. Rihal at Mayfield,Kent. Further research about her and her husband and possible children was not undertaken.
The Sevenoaks Chronical and Kentish Advertiser of August 10,1928 posted an advertisment listing for “Percy Powell, 54 High Street,Tunbridge Wells Phone 1334. Please arrange a free demonstration of our radios”.
Shown opposite is a photo dating from the 1930’s showing the lorry of Percy Powell’s wireless business .The gentlemen standing in front of it are from left to right Peter Powell (Percy’s son); Ernest Ronald Skewis (1900-1992) and Ernest’s brother George Skewis (1904-1987). This image was sent to me by Christine J. Harrison and her husband Alan. As you will see later Christine J. Harrison was the daughter of Ernest Ronald Skewis and his wife Joyce Elizabeth Skewis, nee GILBERT (1909-1993). The connection to my Gilbert family is by way of Ernest’s wife Joyce, details of which are given later. Alan Harrison reported to me that “The Powell family had 2 shops in the High Street, E. Powell Electrical shop and a separate Radio and Television ship on the opposite side. Chris said her father Ernest did repairs and George Skewis did the deliveries on the television side.We think the shop closed in the 70’s a few years after Cris’s dad retired. Percy Powell ran he radio shop at 54 High Street when Chris’s dad and her uncle George worked for many years".
An article in the Kent & Sussex Courier, from which the photo below was obtained, entitled “Television’s ‘,magic circle;’; Our earliest days ensnared” gives an interesting account regarding the early days of television “ At a time when TV was available only to a select few in 1939” and “for a while it was only those lucky enough to live within around 35 miles of the BBC transmitter at Alexandra Palace, who had been able to watch the televised coverage of King George VI’s coronation procession in May 1937 or the 1938 Cup Final. The first high definition television service by the BBC was in 1936 allowing some 20,000 homeowners to watch this new technology, a technology that Percy Powell took great interest in and added it to his radio business.The article continues in its report on the wonders of television by stating in part “ Retailers like Percy Powell in Tunbridge Wells High Street and St John’s Electrical Co in St John’s Road were among the first to stock the new TVs which, they promised, offered “steady,flickerless pictures”, were straightforward to operate and easily adjusted. The Kent & Sussex Courier of May 17,1940 gave “Percy Powell-The Local radio specialist for 18 years, High Street,Tunbridge Wells, Tel 1334. The Radio Times Archive of 1937 gave the listing “ Percy Powell, 54 High Street, Tunbridge Wells”.
It was customary at that time for retailers of TVs to display them in their shop window and like today turned them on to capture your attention. Percy Powell did this and advertisments in the local newspaper encourage residents to come to his shop for a demonstration. However as the article states “ The BBC abruptly pulled the plug on its television service at lunchtime September 1,1939 two days before the war on Germany was declared, amid fears for national security….seven years later television service resumed in June 1946. Obviously this long disruption of service meant an end to Percy’s attempts to sell televisions during the war years but with the resumption of a signal in 1946 his business took off and grew rapidly in the 1950’s and 1960’s. During the war most people had a radio or bought one for entertainment and news of the war during those dreary years of bad news and deprivation and so Percy and other retailers and servicemen of radios did well.
Directory listings for E. Powell Ltd, electrical engineers at 39 High Street can be found from 1948 to 1957 with Edwin Powell junior living at 29 Claremont Road. Although some have stated that the Powell company continued until 1976/1977 the London Gazette of January 24,1964 gave an announcement regarding E. Powell Ltd with respect to a winding up order for the business in which creditors were requested to submit their claims to the liquidator H.B.C. Sandford of 12 Lonsdale Gardens, Tunbridge Wells. This announcement was dated January 21,1964 but it appears that the business did not end and was taken over and operated under the same name for many years later. Proof of this appears in the obituary of Percy Powell of 1977 which in past stated “ Together with his son Peter, Percy Powell re-acquired the old family firm of E. Powell Ltd, also trading on High Street and until recently carried on business at 39 High Street with two generations of decendents”. Shown below is a photo during WW II of a family in England listening to the latest news about the war on their wireless.
Other directory listings are given below;
(1) 1930-1938…….. Percy Powell 54 High Street, Tel 1334 Wireless Engineer (2) Powell E. Limited, electrical engineers, 39 High Street with works at Little Mount Sion
(2) 1948-1957…….E. Powell Ltd, electrical engineers, 39 High Street
(3) 1970………..Percy Powell Radio Ltd, 54 High Street
(4) 1971………..Percy Powell Radio Ltd, 39 High Street and electrical engineer
(5) 1975-1976….. Percy Powell Radio Ltd, Electrical Engineers, 39 High Street
(6) 1975-1976……Percy Powell Radio Ltd Radio and TV, 39 High Street.
The London Gazette of March 4,1977 gave the announcement regarding Percy Powell (Radio) Limited that an extraordinary meeting had been held February 21,1977 at 39 High Street,Tunbridge Wells, and that two resolutions were passed. The first stated that the company was to be wound up “as the company cannot by reason of its liabilities continue the business. The second resolution appointed as liquifdator Nevill Fraser Shearman of Mordant, Latham Co of 185-192 High Holborn.This notice was signed by “P. Powell, Chairman”.
Percy Powell died November 11,1977. His obituary in the Courier dated November 16,1977 gave the following details “ On November 11,1977, peacefully, Percy Powell, aged 84 years, of Harewood Lodge, Lake Street, Mayfeld, formerly of Tunbridge Wells. The cremation took place yesterday. He lived with his daughter and died at the Kent and Sussex Hospital on Friday. The son of the late Mr Edwin Powell, he was born in Tunbridge Wells where he lived and worked nearly all his life. He was educated at Judd School, Tonbridge, and shortly after leaving he joined his father in an engineering business which specialized in cycles, cars and guns in Grove Hill Road, where they installed the first electric lighting to be seen in the town. Mr Powell was probably better known as Percy Powell Radip Ltd, a firm he began in Vale Road in 1922, later moving to the High Street. Here he pioneered the introduction locally of both radio and television apparatus. Together with his son Peter he re-acquired the old family firm of E. Powell Ltd, also trading in the High Street, and until recently carried on business at 39 High Street with two generations of decendents. In addition to those he served lodcally, Mr Powell was well known to the country’s electrical and electronic manufacturers and had interests in several. He leaves a son, a daughter and 3 grandchildren. The funeral took place at the Kent & Sussex Crematorium on November 17,1977”. It is perhaps ironic that this obituary appeared on the same page as a large advertisement for the sale of televisions. Percy was predeceased by his wife.
THE GILBERT/SKEWIS/HARRISON CONNECTION
Shown opposite (right)is a pre-WW 1 photo of the three Gilbert brothers. Shown on the left is the eldest brother Robert Herbert Gilbert (1879-1967). In the middle is my Grandfather Francis Reginald Gilbert (1882-1975) and to the right is Edgar Alan Gilbert who was killed in WW 1 and is recorded on the Tunbridge Wells War Memorial. The brothers were the three sons of Robert Charles Gilbert who had settled in Tunbridge Wells in 1881 with his wife and son Robert. Francis and the youngest brother Edgar were both born in Tunbridge Wells.
Robert Herbert Gilbert married Rosaline Love (1880-1973) June 22,1935 in Tunbridge Wells, and with her had three daughters of which Joyce Elizabeth Gilbert (1909-1993) is the link to the Skewis family for she married Ernest Ronald Skewis (1900-1982) on June 22,1935 at Tunbridge Wells. Shown opposite left is a photo of Robert and Rosaline taken later in life.
Ernest Ronald Skewis had been born May 8,1900 in St John’s Wood, London, one of four children (all sons) born to Edwin Skewis (1854-1909) and Emily Skewis, nee Tozer (1874-1936). In 1901 Ernest was living at Louisa Villa in Great Clacton Town,Essex with his parents and brother Edwon. Ernests father was given in this census as a buider’s surveyor..Ernest and his brother Edwin Henry Skewis (1899-1917) had been educated at St Matthew’s School In the Borough of Westiminster, and both were there in the school records of 1903.
The 1911 census, taken at 6 Cambridge Street on Tunbridge Wells gave Emily Skewis as a widow and head of the family. With her was her children Edwin, Ernest,Frank and George. All of the sons were attending school and the family’s residence consisted of 7 rooms. Also present were two boarders.
Ernest Ronald Skewis enlisted for service in WW 1 having enlisted in 1918 (reg # 83213) with the 53rd YS Btn the Rifle Brigade, part of the BAOR Division.He was appointed corporal February 7,1919 and embarked with his battalion at Dover March 26,1919.,disembarking at Dunkirk. He was transferred to IV Corp Cyclist Btn June 7,1919 and discharged November 1919. Like Percy Powell Ernest had a great interest in motorcycles, as can be demonstated by the photo of him opposite on his motorcycle with sidecar dated 1917, a photo that was provided to me by his daughter Christine J. Harrison.. It is perhaps because of his interest and ability to ride a motorcycle that he ended up during the war in the Cyclist Btn. Ernest's brother Edwin Henry Skewis (1899-1917) was with the Navy when he died at sea in 1917, his body never being recovered. His brother Frank Skewis (1902-1949) married Winnifred Kate Baker in the 4th qtr of 1930. She had been born in the 4th qtr 1896 at Bridge,Kent.Frank died in the 2nd qtr of 1949 at Canterburym,Kent.His wife Winnifred then remarried, this time to Stephen J. Waorgen in the 3rd qtr 1949 at Bridge,Kent. Winnifred was found in the 1911 census at Holmlia, Wickhambreux, Kent, living with her widowed mother Olive Mary Baker and three siblings. The census recorded that her mother had been married in 1894 and of her seven children only five were still living. Winnifreds parents were Jesse Baker (1866-1911) and Olive Mary Baker, nee Chapman (1864-1964).
In 1932 Ernest Ronald Skewis was working in the electrical and radio shop of Powell’s according to his daughter. On June 22, 1935 he married Joyce Elizabeth Gilbert (1909-1993) the daughter of Robert Herbert Gilbert and Rosaline. their wedding photo is shown opposite right.Joyce had been born February 12,1909 in Tunbridge Wells and was baptised in the town on April 11,1909.Before 1935 Joyce was working as a teacher at the village school in Cowden.With her Ernest had a daughter Christine J. Skewis who went on in the 1960’s to marry Alan Harrison and raised a family. Today Christine and her husband are living in Tunbridge Wells and I had the pleasure in July 2015 of visiting Tunbridge Wells and spending time with them. Shown below left is a photo of the three of us together on one of our outings.
From 1935 to 1980 Ernest and his family lived at Fairfield Road and from 1980 onwards Ernest lived at Claremont Gardens.Ernest passed away in 1992 and was cremated at the Kent & Sussex Crematorium January 27,1992. His wife Joyce Elizabeth Skewis died in the 4th qtr of 1993 at Barnet,Hertforshire.
The other Skewis to work for the Powell business was Ernest’s brother George Skewis (1904-1987). George had been born July 26,1904 at Paddington,London and as stated earlier was at the time of the 1911 census living in Tunbridge Wells at 6 Cambridge Street with his widowed mother and siblings. A good image of George can be seen in the group photo beside the lorry of Percy Powell which I gave above.
During WW II George Skewis served with the British Army home guard with the rank of Sergeant. In the 1st qtr of 1937 in Tunbridge Wells George married Marjorie Constance Cronk.The couple did not have any children. Marjorie had been born September 13,1904 and died in Tunbridge Wells in the 1st qtr of 1979. Marjorie was cremated at the Kent & Sussex Crematorium on June 21,1979.George died in the 4th qtr of 1987 in Tunbridge Wells and was cremated at the Kent & Sussex Crematorium on November 4,1987.
For more information about the Gilbert/Skewis/Harrison families see the articles on page 5 of this website and also my Gilbert family tree on Ancestry,IK.
THE MARKS AND SPENCERS SHOP ON CALVERLEY ROAD
Written By: Edward James Gilbert-Thunder Bay,Ontario
Date: August 21,2015
On Friday March 20,1015 the retail giant Marks and Spencer celebrated 100 years of trading in Tunbridge Wells.A special centenary event was held at their Tunbridge Wells shop for customers which gave them a trip down memory lane as employees presented the store’s history.Collette Marsh, store manager, said “So much has happened to M&S Tunbridge Wells over the past 100 years, we’ve grown in size and developed such a fantastic and loyal following of customers.As one of the longest standing retailers in the town, this is an important milestone for both the store and opur customers.We are very excited to be welcoming customers to visit us and enjoy our special celebrations with us as we mark this historic milestone”.
The company itself began in 1884 when Michael Marks opened his “penny bazaar” in Leeds. In 1894 he and Ton Spencer went into partnership and boasted the five principals of their business as quality, value,service,innovation and trust. Shown opposite left is a photo of Michael Marks and to the right is Tom Spencer.
Today the company’s headquarters are in the City of Westminster and have some 60,000 employees woldwife with revenues of 10.3 billion. They operate some 450shops in 30 countries. They expanded into the Canadian market in 1973 and established 47 stores there, but sadly they are all gone now, the last of them being closed in 1999. The company had expanded into France in 1975 and in other countries at other times, becoming a worldwide operation. The companys profits peaked in 1997/1998 and slump in trade followed as peoples purchasing habits changed and a cheap price for merchandise seemed to take precedence over the principles the company had adopted.
In 1915 Marks and Spencer opened their first shop , a “penny bazaar”,in Tunbridge Wells “with free admission”. In 1915 the company had 145 branches.The shop at that time was small in comparison with its present one, and was located at 38 Calverley Road in the section of the road that today is closed to vehicular traffic, but at the time of its opening was the scene of pedestrians doing their shopping, amongst vehicles and still some horse and wagons. The shop itself, according to company records, had a frontage of just 15 feet and a sale area covering only 520 square feet.A photograph of this shop is shown opposite, along with an early 20th century postcard view of Calverley Road taken at 5 Ways.
Company records show that this first branch closed in 1927 and that their new store opened on June 27,1927 at 33/37 Calverley road, with a frontage of 68 feet and a sales area of 10,600 feet. Shown opposite is a photograph of the shop taken in 1935. In 1927 the price limit of 5 shillings per item was set by the company.by 1939 the company had some 234 shops in the UK and more than 17,000 employees. During WW II about ½ of the companys shops were damaged or destroyed during bombing.
The area of this shop was expanded in October 1935, March 1939 and May 1961 which increased the store sales area to 16,900 square feet. A later extension in November 1970 added 5,700 square feet to the rear of the store. Re-measuring in July 1974 revised the store sales area to 21,900 square feet. Shown opposite left is a photograph of the store in 1958, and the one on the right shows the shop in 1970.Shown below left is an interior view of the shops “Café bar”.
In 1983 the store hosted a charity fashion show in the autumn. During the centenary year in 1984 the store donated its portion of the centenary fund toward a day room at Highland House, a home for the elderly.
In 1992 the store underwent a refurbishment including a modernization and extension which increased the selling space by almost one third. The opening ceremony was carried out by Betty Cloutt, age 78, who won the chance to cut the ribbon through a local newspaper competition. In autumn 1992, Sue Madfarlane and Sharon Hudson from the store, presented Princess Diana with an Marks and Spencer posy during her tour of the new Royal Victoria Place shopping centre, which Princess Diana did the official opening for that year.
Tunbridge Wells was a pilot store for a programme designed to encourage store staff to become shopkeepers in their own departments in 1999. The ‘Probe’ way of working aimed to develop teams to focus on customer priorities and deliver sustainable sales increases. In April 1999 store staff raised 500 pounds for Kent Air Ambulance through a cake sale and a raffle. Today the shop is thriving and when I visited Tunbridge Wells in July 2015 my travelling companion, Mrs Susan Prince, enjoyed some retail therapy in this shop, and I was ‘the bag man”. Shown opposite is a view of the shop as it appeared in 2013, and is a multi- level shop that can be entered either from Calverley Road or from within Royal Victoria Place.
Although the product range varies to some degree by shop the company continues to offer high quality, great value clothing and home products as well as outstanding quality food.
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