Foster Yeoman Ladies’ Wear traded at No. 26, Station Road from 1910 to 2003. Designed by Arthur Anscombe, the building was erected in 1906 and Mr John Foster Yeoman started his drapery business there in 1910, selling uniforms for girls in Service to the Gentry of Harpenden.
Mr and Mrs E.F. Jowitt acquired the business from him around 1959 and Mrs Margaret Harrison took it over in 1966 when Mr and Mrs Jowitt retired to Suffolk. Specialising in corseterie and underwear, the business stocked many well-known ranges, plus a full range of Smedley’s wear. It also sold nearly everything for ladies including “Top Wear”– suits, skirts, blouses, slacks- and knitwear, hosiery and rainwear. A range of Donegal tweed garments and Irish jersey wool suits provided an interesting stock variation.
At this time business was thriving and with the additional stocks maintained, there was difficulty in providing enough space to cope with the increase in trade, which was further enhanced by a reputation for customers being able to find specific items of clothing unobtainable in other areas. In 1968 an article in Harpenden Free Press revealed how the enterprising Mrs Harrison converted the shop basement into an exclusive corseterie, lingerie and underwear salon. A flight of private stairs had been removed to make way for the conversion, and all the alterations were carried out by local building firm Messrs V & R Ganderton of Roundwood Lane. Electrical work and heating were installed by R. Jackson (Electronics) Ltd of Westfield Road. Skirts, blouses and hosiery were to be sold from the ground floor and customers would be able to reach the basement via stairs leading from the shop. The basement would also house additional stock rooms. The premises were to be completely close-carpeted by Messrs Jackson and Rose of the High Street. Whilst expanding its stock of more youthful garments, the firm continued to maintain all of the specialities for which it had become known throughout its lifetime, particularly those items which catered for the needs of the more elderly customers.
Further changes in ownership
Subsequent proprietors of the business were Mr S. Hurrell from 1975 to 1984, followed by Lorenzo and Glynis Medri from 1984-1987, who also ran “Margaret’s” in conjunction with Foster Yeoman. The next occupiers, from 1987-1997, were Alistair and Thelma Yuill. By this time the business had focussed on supplying the best in lingerie, hosiery, nightwear, swimwear and numerous small goods including scarves, socks and hankies.
Foster Yeoman, which had recently attained the title of “Harpenden’s oldest surviving retail outlet”, was taken over again in July 1997 by local businessman Michael Sanders. Born and bred in Harpenden, the son of Brian Sanders (who traded in men’s wear from an adjacent shop in Station Road until his retirement), Michael did not want to see Foster Yeoman disappear after the previous owners decided to move on.
With regular 1 or 2 page advertising features in Harpenden Free Press and Village Voice Foster Yeoman kept readers informed of their forthcoming sales, new stock items, and the availability of a complementary measuring and fitting service provided by manageress Linda Smith, who, by 1997, had been employed by the company for 14 years. They also confirmed “Gentlemen are most welcome and will be given every assistance in choosing gifts”. In December 1997, a special evening opening was advertised, “for Gentlemen to browse and acquire those special Christmas presents in relaxed surroundings with a glass of wine”.
End of an era
The final proprietor of the business was Mr Gardiner. Following the demise of Foster Yeoman Ladies’ Wear in 2003, it was succeeded by another fashion business – Chiffon, which traded from 2004-2011.