Home & Haberdashery Since 1933 – The History of Closs & Hamblin
The Founding of the Company
Closs & Hamblin was founded on 1st April 1933 by a Mr Harold Closs and a Mr Cyril Hamblin. The original shops were based in London, specialising in silks and other dress-making fabrics, as well as paper patterns. This was at a time when the off-the-peg garments we now all take for granted were few and far between, and sewing and dress-making was very much the norm for every day families. Fabrics were purchased from the textile mills of Northern England and The Midlands, while more specialist cloths were sourced from Italy and further afield.
The Company was set up with the principal goal of offering a wide range of good value products, allied to experienced and knowledgeable staff offering the very highest levels of customer service. This remains our Company mission statement to this day.
The War Years
The onset of the 2nd World War made business tough for ‘C&H’ as it had by then become known, just as it was for the rest of the nation. The Company had grown to 6 shops in the North and East of London. Staff numbers dwindled from 200 to fewer than 20, as people left to sign up or work in the munition’s factories. Shop windows were blown out during raids, and the rationing of fabrics as well as other essential materials made staying it challenging to open the doors. Barry Hamblin, the late Company President and son of Cyril Hamblin, had joined the family business in 1938, but spent most of his first 5 years flying Spitfires over Europe and North Africa, followed by two years in POW camps. He and his brother Keith, who left the services in 1948, began a steady rebuilding process after the war, and managed the Company back to prosperity through the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s. The Closs family interest in the business ended after Harold retired.
A New Era
By the mid-1970’s, the focus of the business shifted from it’s London base to the prosperous market towns of South East England, and stores were opened in Tunbridge Wells, Guildford, Bromley, Eastbourne, Brighton and Maidstone, some of which still exist today. Barry’s two sons, Bryan and Bryce took the business on at that stage. As the art of dress-making started to dwindle into more of a hobby than a necessity, so to the Company evolved, and the 3rd generation introduced furnishing fabrics to the offer along with a curtain and blind making service. Comprehensive ranges of Haberdashery, Knitting Yarns and other Crafts were also added to complement existing ranges. As with Dress Fabrics, C&H set out to become a specialist in these new product areas. By the 1980’s, more stores had also opened in Ilford, Canterbury and Winchester. The company continued to expand, and by the mid-90’s employed around 400 members of staff.
The Fourth Generation
In the early 2000’s Bryan’s 3 sons James, Tom and Roddy joined the family business and took over the helm with Bryan remaining as the Company Chairman, offering invaluable experience in all parts of the business and mediating on occasion as only a Father can! The online website was launched in 2008 and has become an integral part of the business.
Having traded as C&H for the better part of 80 years, in 2016, the 4th generation decided it was time to reposition the Company for the challenges of retail in the 21st Century, and the name was changed to ‘Closs & Hamblin’; a direct acknowledgement to the original founders of the business. The new strapline ‘Home & Haberdashery since 1933’ is also an acknowledgement to the heritage of the Company, as well as the ongoing commitment to specialisation in the products we sell. We recognize that we may always remain as C&H to our tremendously loyal customers and long-standing members of staff, and we wouldn’t want to have it any other way! Our values are still very the same today as they were in 1933 – Quality, Value & Service.
Time to Change – The Showroom
As shopping habits changed and more and more people have chosen to shop in new ways C&H has had to find a different path. The ever-increasing impact of internet shopping on the High Streets, made substantially worse following the COVID lockdowns as people relied less and less on physical shops our model of lots of space in great towns filled with interesting stock has become impossible to run. With customer numbers 30% lower than 10 years ago and costs increasing we have had to change.
In 2021 we began a process of downsizing the stores in all of our existing towns to a model selling only bespoke curtains, blinds and shutters. Winchester and Brighton were the last stores to be converted early in 2023.
Sadly, this has meant that we no longer hold any stock of Dress Fabrics, Haberdashery, Craft, Knitting Yarns or Gifts. Nor will our regular customers be able to ‘knit & Natter’ over a scone and a cuppa in our coffee shops. Times have changed and so must Closs & Hamblin.
Fortunately we are seeing some very positive results and our expertise in curtains, blinds and shutters becomes stronger and stronger through the teams in each store. We have the best collection of fabrics in the country from Jane Churchill and Zoffany to Prestigious and Sanderson. Superb quality blinds from Luxaflex and shutters from a local company in Kent.
Our website still has a lot of premium interior product and our web team would be happy to help with any questions
The future is looking bright and we hope to bring the new showroom model to more towns and areas further afield delivering high quality merchandise and great service to more people in the UK.
If you’re passing pop in and say hello!