Sunday, 4 January 2009

Cobb’s Department Store, Sydenham

There are more pictures of Cobb's here

For 70 years or more Cobb's was perhaps the most prestigious department store in SE London. In 1900 The Times mentioned it in the same paragraph as Debenham & Freebody, D H Evans, Harvey Nichols, John Lewis and Marshal & Snelgrove. Cobb's was founded by Walter Cobb in 1860 and closed in 1981.

Walter,the son of Frederick and Maria Cobb, was born at Mercery Lane, Canterbury in 1835. His father was a grocer, his shop within yards of the entrance to Cathedral Close. By 1851, when he was 15, Walter was an assistant at a draper’s shop in Dover.

In 1860 he came to Sydenham and opened his own draper’s shop. It was in a newly built parade of shops called Lawrie Place, between what is now Spring Hill and Peak Hill Gardens. His original shop was on the site of the present 301 Kirkdale and Cobb called it “Regent House”, a name that still survives. Walter Cobb, his new wife Mary and two sales assistants lived above the shop.
Walter Cobb was an astute businessman, and the shop prospered. Over the next 30 years he acquired other shops in the terrace, on either side of his original shop. By 1898 Cobb's store extended from 297 to 301 Kirkdale. He also bought other property in Sydenham: 270 and 272 Kirkdale (St Christopher’s Hospice and the paint shop), a depository in Silverdale (recently converted to flats) and 1-3 Railway Approach where he had an estate agents and funeral parlour. Cobb’s became the leading store for the fashion conscious of Sydenham and a considerable area around. People even travelled from Bromley to shop at there.

The shop that Walter Cobb must have coveted most, the present 301 Kirkdale, on the corner of Spring Hill, remained unavailable. From 1861 it had been a butcher’s shop, owned by William Glass. In about 1900 the shop finally became available and Cobb lost no time in rebuilding it to provide a grand entrance to his department store. The upper floors had large arched windows, the central one surmounted by a pediment with carved decoration and the date it was built, "1902". Above this was a lead-covered dome, topped by a flagpole.

Walter Cobb lived above his original shop for a few years, then in Silverdale Lodge, Silverdale and Peak Hill Avenue. In about 1898 he moved to The Old Cedars (then called "Wunderbau") before finally moving to Sussex where he spent his retirement growing prize-winning orchids. He died in 1922.

On 25 October 1940 Cobb's was hit by a bomb. About "three quarters of the building was destroyed with all contents”. The principal material loss was most of the original Lawrie Place. The surviving parts of the building, mainly the 1902 rebuild, was “adapted and fixtured to maintain the restaurant and other departments in condensed form”. Cobb’s suffered other damage, and after the war was rebuilt and restored.

During the restoration much interesting detail was lost. The arches of the second floor windows were filled in. The stonework in the pediment was plastered over, and “1860” (the date the shop was founded) replaced the original “1902” (the date of the building). Cobb’s declined, and finally ceased trading in 1981

In 1997, when the 1902 building was converted to flats, the the original window arches were exposed and restored and the carved stonework in the pediment (and date) was revealed.