Search

Win a £100 Amazon voucher in this week’s Recorder

On sale July 3

SW Adams - iconic ironmongers in Romford Market; Founder’s grandson recalls shop’s history

18:00 30 March 2014

The staff in 1970, with nearly 700 years of service between them. Picture: David Adams

The staff in 1970, with nearly 700 years of service between them. Picture: David Adams

Archant

There’s more to family history than tracing your ancestors. How they made their living tells a story too, about them – and changes to the town they lived in.

The shop and St Edward’s Church in 1905. Picture: David AdamsThe shop and St Edward’s Church in 1905. Picture: David Adams

Take my grandfather, Sydney Adams. He was born in 1876 in Western Road, Romford. His first job was at an ironmonger’s shop at 7 Market Place, next to The Lamb pub. When the owner retired, Sydney, not yet 24, decided to try to buy it.

Although his father was quite well-off, Sydney was one of 13 children, so he couldn’t expect much help from there – nor from the banks.

So he did what enterprising young men did in 1900 – he approached relatives, his father’s friends and his church and scraped together enough in loans to buy the shop.

Sydney advertised himself in 1902 as “ironmonger, gasfitter and tinplate worker; large stock of dairy utensils and apparatus.” Dairy farmers were important customers: Romford was still an agricultural market town. And people ate their food off tin plate, enamel-coated on the premises. The shop flourished, but the 1914-18 war caused problems, “owing to the shortage of business staff and the consequent extra work.” The 1916 accounts were a landmark: Sydney spent £32 on “horse-hire”, but for the last time. There was a new accounting item: £17 for “motor-expenses”.

Sydney Adams. Picture: David AdamsSydney Adams. Picture: David Adams

Peacetime after 1918 was good for business: by 1931, Romford’s population had doubled, to 36,000. Sydney saw his chance, diversified into being a builders merchants, and never looked back. House building boomed, and so did SW Adams Ltd.

They sold the first Marconi wireless sets in Romford, they fitted telephones, they provided plumbers, electricians and heating engineers, they manufactured tiled fireplaces, they did replacement windows and vehicle repairs. They even had their own railway siding in Victoria Road.

SW Adams was all today’s hardware superstores and electrical warehouses under one roof – plus your local plumber and electrician.

The boom didn’t last for ever. War loomed again. The firm’s records note that in September 1938 “the international crisis caused a collapse in the building trade and sales were halved”. Although things got worse when war broke out the following year, the Luftwaffe gave SW Adams a lifeline. Sydney secured a government contract to provide materials for emergency repairs to bombed properties.

Trade recovered a bit in 1940-1 and again in 1944-5 “due to the exceptionally high turnover of Ministry of Works Emergency stock during the recent V1 and V2 attacks”. Call-up of men meant that for the first time women were employed in the shop.

The business recovered after 1945 as Romford continued to grow – to 88,000 by 1951, with the building of most of Harold Hill still to come. Sydney’s son Frank took over, and SW Adams continued to flourish until it closed in 1970. The 25 staff had worked there an average of over 30 years, two of them more than 50. How times change!

0 comments

Latest News Stories

Yesterday, 15:34
The air ambulance arrives on the A13. Picture: Jeff Dance

A man, in his 20s, has died from a serious traffic collision in the A13, near Ferry Lane.

Yesterday, 17:02
Mayzi, four, with her mum Stacie, her brother Logan, 18 months, and her dad Paul

A disabled youngster is a step closer to having her life changed forever after well-wishers donated thousands of pounds to her family.

Yesterday, 15:25
Janet Hutchinson and Clare Kelly from First Step

Youngsters are encouraged to put their creativity to good use by taking part in a card-making competition for First Step.

Yesterday, 12:08
Cumberland Avenue. Picture: Google Maps

A man was stabbed in the chest when a gang stormed his home and attacked him with a meat cleaver and an axe.

Most read news

News from your area

WW100

Click on the banner above for full coverage of the centenary commemorations of the outbreak of the First World War.

Competitions

Y6 pupils unpack the rice

A school challenged their pupils to become enterprising individuals as they took on the national 90kg Rice Challenge.

Good times with Greenall's!

Good times with Greenall’s, a Great British gin sponsors Great British racing.

Escape to the picturesque sights of Cornwall

Summer is finally here, and what is the number one holiday location in the UK during the warmer months? Cornwall, of course!

Digital Edition

Image
Read the Romford Recorder e-edition today E-edition
Family Notices 24


Our trusted business finder