After reading Dawson’s Department Store, I’d like the reader to be clear that what I found upsetting was that no one seemed to care about the place! Obviously time passes and fashions change and unless one moves with the times, an idea, a trend or even a store becomes out-modish and perhaps irrelevant. It is a question of adapt or die, and in the case of Dawson’s, close down and then demolition. Of course not all buildings suffer the same fate and many have found another use. However in some cases demolition may be a kinder end and avoid just being left to fight the elements before crumbling with decay. Whenever I see Wickham’s on the Mile End Road I wonder if it might not have been better to redevelop the site when it first closed.
Anyway, to return to Dawson’s: in the hope of finding out if anyone else remembered the store, I appealed to readers of this website to share their memories and any photographs that they might have. And then I sat and waited …………. and waited.
Meanwhile, while waiting, I wrote to various London Boroughs and found myself directed to their Archives divisions where I inquired if they had any information about the store. Out of my correspondence with several archivists came the knowledge that I had been mistaken in believing that the store was in the one-time Borough of Finsbury or in the more recently expanded Borough of Islington. Apparently since Dawson’s was on the east side of City Road, its one time-geographical location would have placed it just inside the confines of the Borough of Hackney. Actually, I suspect that this area would have been part of the old Borough of Shoreditch, but since this borough was gobbled up when London boroughs were rationalised in 1965, it slipped into the confines of Hackney. Hackney? Who knew? I was surprised to learn this fact.
I also learned that the store had been actively involved in trading as early as 1877 and that it was demolished in about 1980. Several stores were apparently built on the site and several pictures are in the hands of the Archives showing them.
An Archivist at the Borough of Hackney also informed me that their information on Dawson’s was maintained in the De Beauvoir Library, which is currently closed. Apparently the contents of this library is contained in a number of strong rooms, which are awaiting move to the new home of the Archives in the Dalston branch of Hackney Public Library. These rooms contain a number of papers, pictures and photographs of the Shoreditch-Hackney area. I was also informed any information regarding the architect and store construction would have to wait finding until after unpacking and cataloging were complete. As a result, I settled back to wait for this move and discovery to take place.
I also learned that Dawson’s Department Store was mentioned in the 1881 census where its address was noted to be 119-125 City Road, Shoreditch and that the proprietor was William C. Dawson who was a master draper from Norwich. Later, the store was annexed into the Borough of Finsbury. Seemingly a local historian has complied A Walk Around Shoreditch/Finsbury where local people talk about the area and several mention the store.
As I mentioned at the end of my story, I had received a message from someone who remembered the stores, but sadly was unable to shed any further light as to the architect, construction and modifications made to the store.
And then, after weeks of waiting, quite recently and completely out-of-the-blue, as it is said, I received a message from a reader who not only remembered Dawson’s well, but also included a photograph taken during the late 1950s for me to see.
Needless to say, I was happy to receive the message and over-the-moon to receive the photograph. The reader also said that the stores was well known to her and her family and that she once lived and worked close by. Here is what she had to say about the stores:
I remember Dawson’s as standing at the fork in the road where East Road joined City Road. Even as a child, I thought the stores to be a bit quaint and old-fashioned and a place that did not keep up with the times. What I remember especially about the store was its huge amount of window space and I often wondered how they managed to fill them with window dressing and how much cleaning there was to do.