RACKHAMS in Skipton is due to close; in September, 1961, its predecessor Brown, Muff’s opened after buying up the former Amblers. Both stores had prospered under the guidance of ‘enterprising women’, reports Lesley Tate

EVEN the directors of Brown, Muff and Co were surprised by the warmth of the welcome their move to Skipton had been given, so said the Craven Herald in September, 1961.

Brown, Muff’s, an established, Bradford-based department store, bought the former Amblers in High Street in the late summer of 1961, and after a brief couple of days of ‘minor adjustments’ reopened as Brown, Muff’s.

In a series of large advertisements in the Herald, the family-run business, which was started in Market Street, Bradford, by Elizabeth Brown, joined by her son, Henry in 1928, and later Henry’s brother in law, Thomas Muff in 1846, the store announced: “We’re a bit upside-down” but following stock taking and a spring clean would re open ‘full of vigour’.

Amblers, and Brown, Muff’s had many similarities over the years, said its owners. “Both stores had their beginning in a small way; both prospered under the guidance of enterprising women founders; both have always preferred to sell reliable, good value, better quality merchandise, and each has won a sound reputation, and by constant improvement has served its community well.”

Now, the two stores had ‘become one’, they continued, and without ‘fanfares or fuss, ‘another chapter opens in the story of Skipton’s development’. For a while, Brown, Muff’s of Skipton, would not be very different from the Amblers that everyone knew, but there would be small improvements, and soon there would be new stock, fashion ideas and ‘accessories from all over the world’.

Less than a month before, Amblers, had announced that ‘having accepted an offer to purchase their business’ it would be holding a final clearance sale for three days. Selected garments in all departments would be ‘drastically reduced’ and many at ‘less than half price’ and it urged bargain hunters to watch its windows for bargains in coats, dresses, suits, shirts, blouses, knitwear, and children’s and babywear.

A reporter, dispatched to review the new store noted that it was not only shoppers who gave the new Brown, Muff’s a warm welcome, but also shopkeepers.

“As a shopping rendezvous, Brown, Muff’s in Bradford has an unrivalled reputation, and the people who shop in Skipton are naturally pleased that they can now have their own Brown, Muff’s to go to. I t is realised too, that any development which improves Skipton as a shopping centre is bound to be to the advantage off all concerned.”

In just three weeks since Brown, Muff’s had taken over from Mrs Ambler Ltd, there had been a ‘transformation’ said the Herald.

“At first, one could only sense the change; there was something in the atmosphere, in the suppressed excitement of the staff,” enthused the reporter. Over the three days of closure, the staff, together with a team of specialists from Bradford had ‘worked miracles’. There was a new fascia, carpets, new stock and new displays.

And, what did the many new customers see? “They noticed at once that the corsets and lingerie now had their own more intimate setting on the first floor, and with a much larger selection than before. Also on the first floor are new stocks of rainwear fashions and millinery - a lovely choice”.

New on the ground floor was a special department for jewellery, and what an extraordinary display it was. Beads in the latest shades of clove carnation, hunting green, harvest tones and Tahiti pearl, and crystal beads to wear with anything in any colour.”

There was a ‘lovely selection of new long stem pins in pretty leaf designs’ while nearby were displays of knitwear, blouses, skirts and slacks, stockings, gloves, hankies and scarves.

Director, Oliver Marriott, commenting a the time, told the Herald: “We have been more than pleased to have had the opportunity of talking to people and of finding out what they want. As newcomers, we are willing to learn and are anxious to have our customers guidance. “

The Herald also warmly welcomed the store, and wrote: “It their early days in Skipton are anything to go by, this is a shop worth watching. For many years, their main store in Bradford has set a standard which is highly regarded throughout the country; their coming to Skipton will certainly add to the attraction of the High Street and the town as a shopping centre for the Dales.”

Brown, Muff’s suffered financially in the 1970s and the share holders were advised to sell to the House of Fraser. In 1977, the business of Brown Muff and Co was transferred to the Rackhams division of House of Fraser. The only store in the former Brown, Muff empire to still be open as a House of Fraser was in Skipton.