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Horsham Window Dressers

Horsham Window Dressers

06 Jul 2020


With the shops re-opening we now get to experience that delight of real shopping, the window displays. Good displays show you something you didn’t know you wanted, but suddenly desperately need. These displays are a window into a world of possibilities, just seeing something and taking it home - no scrolling down, and no waiting for the post.

You may think that the art of creating eye-catching window displays is a recent invention, however, as documents in Horsham Museum & Art Gallery’s archives reveal, 100 years ago Horsham was considered a town to visit simply for the quality of its shop windows.

In 1909 Horsham Chamber of Trade was formed, and the following year the organisation ran the very first Horsham Shopping Week from 4-7 May. The week-long event included a window dressing competition in which, according to the promotional leaflet, traders “will make a ‘grand display’ such as has never been seen before”. It would appear that the Horsham Association of Displaymen was also formed at the same time as, or soon after, the Chamber of Trade came into being. Unfortunately as yet no documents relating to the group have surfaced, though they are referred to in various reports on window dressing and advertising or promotional events.

One such event was the British Empire themed Horsham Shopping Week.  It seems to have included the ambitious use of window displays when it ran in March 1926. The town had run a similar event in 1922, but this time the aim was to show what the British Empire could provide for the Horsham customer. The Chamber of Trade and the Urban District Council ran the week to stimulate trade, improve window displays, and give a better service to the public. The County Times ran a long article on the window competition noting that:

"Some surprise was expressed on Tuesday at the judges decisions in regard to the window-dressing competition. Light is thrown, however, upon their awards by the list of points upon which they worked. They were as follows; - selling force 30: originality, 20: workmanship, 20: ticket and show cards 15; general attractiveness, 15. The results were as follows:

Class A - Things to Eat pts

1. Humphrey & Co, West Street 82

2. J. H. Sayers, West Street 79

3. A. Peirce. Station Road 78

Class B - Things to Wear

1. Phelps & Son. Carfax 82

2. Tanner & Chart Middle street 78

3. F. D. Glanville. Part Street 75

Class C - Things to Use

1. E. T. Lane & Sons. West Street 91

2. Horsham Gas Co. London Road 90

3. S. F. Lampard, North Street 82.”

Prizes were also awarded by companies such as Nestles Milk Ltd who gave an award to H. W. Timbrell of New Street for the most attractive display of the brand’s specialties. The paper also gives details of the popular vote before describing some of the shop windows:

  • Messrs Humphrey & Co, West Street - “Splendidly arranged display of shell and fresh fish set off with aspidistras, with a fishing boat in the surf as an appropriate background”
  • J H Sayers - “Pyramids of ice and goldfish in a transparent tank, plants being utilised in effective decoration. …pity the display had to be so quickly broken into”
  • H Elliott’s, West Street - “One window was devoted to a superb show of fruit, with “British Empire” in red letters on a green ground in the foreground; and another contained three full-sized New Zeeland sheep on grass with the Union Jack at the side. Special photographs of this were taken at the request of the New Zeeland Government.”
  • Messrs. Phelps and Sons - “consisted of light footwear attractively arranged in artistic surroundings, including a triangular green and gold background flanked by pictorial screens, and red flowers and foliage”
  • F. D. Glanville, Park Street - “devoted to two-piece suits and stockings, had as centre piece a large flower constructed of art muslin in patriotic colours. Delicate shaded stockings were twined with wave-effect on two black discs”
  • Messrs E T Lane and Sons, West Street - “loose covers and curtains was the subject the colours toning harmoniously in amber, amethyst and apple green : and an illuminated clock enforced the slogan of the Empire’s Ambassador (The Prince of Wales) “But British goods all the time” Shaded lamps were a feature of the display”
  • Horsham Gas Co, London Road - “accentuate the luxury and advantages of a hot bath by a brilliant picture of sports, with geyser &c.”

The Town authorities and the Chamber of trade continued to use window dressing to complement and promote aspects of their activities, for example, in June 1928 it was announced that the Horsham Association of Displaymen would be arranging a window dressing competition for Cricket Week.  In April the following year the Displaymen were called upon to promote the Council’s Health Week.

In October 1938 the Chamber of trade announced that agreement had been reached to introduce Colour Scheme Weeks. From 31st October to November 5th shop windows were to be dressed in green and mauve, from November 14th to 19th the colour would be red.  Another innovation agreed upon was for a whole page of advertisements in the local paper with some 40 shops listed.

In January 1939 the Horsham Journal reported that:

“A new special feature of the (art) school is the window-dressing class, which affords shop assistants an excellent opportunity of studying window dressing, ticket writing and experimenting with colour schemes. A large model shop window, made to scale in the proportions of a real shop window is used, and the pupil is taught how to dress a window artistically and practically, and acquire experience in such things…There is an examination in window display…set by the National Society of art Masters”