The Founding of the Company
C & H Fabrics Ltd. was founded on 1st April 1933 by Mr. Cyril Hamblin and Mr. Harold Closs. The original shops were small by our present standards, and although they specialized in dress-making fabrics and paper patterns, this was a time when off-the-shelf were few and far between and sewing was a standard part of the school curriculum.
Fabrics were purchased for keen prices from the textile mills of Northern England and The Midlands, while more specialist cloths were sourced and milled from Italy and further afield. The company immediately sought to distinguish itself from its many competitors by offering a wide range of good value, quality products, allied to experienced and knowledgeable staff offering the highest levels of customer service.
The War Years
By the start of the Second World War in 1939, the Company had already grown to six shops in the North and East of London however the following years were to be tough for the nation and C & H was no different. Bombs blew out shop windows, which could not be replaced then. Stock could seldom be bought and few had the money to buy anyway due to rationing. Staff numbers dwindled from around 200 personnel to fewer than 20, as people left to join the armed forces or work in munitions factories.
Barry Hamblin, the late Company President and son of Cyril Hamblin, had joined C & H in 1938, but most of his first five years with the company were spent flying Spitfires over Europe and Northern Africa, followed by two years in POW camps. His younger brother Keith Hamblin joined the company after leaving the services in 1948, and together they directed the Company through the 1950's, 60's and 70's.
After the War, a slow, steady rebuilding of the Company took place with the brothers at the helm. The Closs family interest ended after Harold retired. The focus of the Company shifted from its London base to the prosperous market towns of South East England. New stores were opened in Tunbridge Wells, Guildford, Bromley, Eastbourne, Brighton and Maidstone to supplement those in the London area. A separate Head Office was established in Tunbridge Wells to support the expansion.
A New Era
Barry's two sons, Bryce and Bryan Hamblin, joined the Company during the early 1970's. As customers needs and habits changed, the art of dress-making dwindled to become more of a craft hobby than a necessity. The Company was forced to evolve too, and furnishing weight fabrics and a making service for curtains and blinds were introduced. Other hobby-related products were also added and in the shape of comprehensive Haberdashery, Knitting Yarn and Craft departments.
As with dress-making fabrics, C & H set out to become the main specialist in each of these product areas. This was accomplished through a wide range of quality, good value products, and investment in the development of experienced and well trained staff. The expansion of the product range required bigger units and new stores were opened in Ilford, Brighton, Canterbury, Eastbourne and Winchester. The Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells stores were respectively doubled and tripled in size.
With the increase in store size and product range, came a requirement for a greater sophistication and development of the Head Office team and in 1995 C & H introduced computerized technology between its stores and the Buying Offices. All stores held well over 30,000 product lines and the epos system was vital in managing this stock to facilitate the expansion of the Company while maintaining the availability of the bestselling lines for customers. By the mid 1990s the Company boasted around 400 members of staff.
The Fourth Generation
The family involvement continued after the new millennium as Bryan's three sons, James, Tom and Roddy Hamblin joined the business. James now heads up the Personnel and Property side of the business; Tom oversees the Buying teams and purchasing of our vast product catalogue; Roddy looks after the Finance team as well as IT and the Website. Bryan is still very much involved in his capacity as Chairman of the Company, offering support in all areas of the business.
More latterly, the Company has looked to reposition itself for the challenges of retail in the 21st Century. In 2016, we have taken the decision to undergo a substantial rebrand to 'Closs & Hamblin'; a direct acknowledgement to the two founders of the business, and the continued family involvement to this day. Our new strapline 'Home & Haberdashery since 1933' is also reflective of the age and heritage of the Company, whilst acknowledging the two core product areas we specialize in. Read more about our Rebranding here.
We recognize that we will always be C & H to our long standing members of staff and tremendously loyal customers, and we wouldn't have it any other way! We would also like to encourage new customers of all ages and interests who may be less familiar with the unique and diverse product range we offer.
Our values are still the same today as they were 83 years ago - Quality, Value & Service.
We hope these changes will allow us to maintain our traditional heritage within a more contemporary retail experience. Thank you for reading this far and for your continued business and loyal support. We hope to still be thriving in another 83 years time!