The magic of Joplings is to live again – for one night only.
A “reunion to end all reunions” will be held for ex-staff of what was once Sunderland’s oldest store on February 20, at the Port of Call in Park Lane.
“We’ve been swamped by people interested in coming along; the response has been fantastic,” said former Joplings group warehouse and transport manager Sheena Robson.
“People of all ages have been requesting tickets, including those who worked at the store when it burned down back in the 1950s. I’m sure it will be a great night for us all.”
Press gangs still roamed the town when Joplings first opened for business in 1804 – the same year England celebrated victory at the Battle of Trafalgar.
Pubs and shops jostled for position in High Street East and, with 20,000 potential customers living nearby, Thomas Jopling and Joseph Tuer picked No. 184 for their new drapery store.
Wearsiders immediately took the business to their hearts and, in the 1820s, Thomas and Joseph welcomed their sons, James Jopling and Joseph Tuer jnr, into the flourishing firm.
James later took over from his father in the “hungry” 1840s but, in 1859, tragedy struck. First Thomas’s wife, Ann, died and then James committed suicide at his Foyle Street home.
The business continued to do well, however, after Thomas Jopling junior – grandson of the original owner and a keen welfare rights campaigner – took charge at the age of just 23.
Indeed, the store moved to 176 and 177 High Street East in 1868 to allow for expansion and, when extra space was needed over the years, numbers 173, 174 and 175 were added as well.
The partnership of Jopling and Tuer was finally dissolved in 1869 and, although the store continued to expand, Thomas Jopling junior eventually opted to sell out in 1882.
Stephen Moriarty Swan and Robert Hedley took on Joplings, changing its’ name to Hedley, Swan and Co. The Joplings name lived on, however, through advertisements for the store.
Hedley left after just a year and the firm’s former secretary and accountant, Robert Smith, stepped into his role. Smith and Swan continued to flourish - even through World War One.
Once peace was declared, plans were drawn up to open a new base at High Street West in 1919. The opening day proved so popular that police had to be called to control the crowds.
Such was the enduring popularity of Joplings that it flourished through both World War Two and the Great Depression and, by 1954, it was a limited company employing 500 people.
But, on December 13 that year, more than 100 years of history went up in smoke. As flames ripped through the building that night, so the skies above Sunderland turned a fiery red.
Twisted girders and smouldering rubble were all that remained of the store but, within days, Joplings was back in business at a temporary base – and a new John Street shop opened in 1956.
And so the success story continued – until Saturday, June 19, 2010, when the doors finally closed, ending 206 years of shopping history.
“To me it felt like the heart had been ripped out of Sunderland when Joplings closed. It was a huge part of people’s lives – both staff and shoppers. It is still sadly missed,” said Sheena.
“It was a very special place to work, and there was a great camaraderie. This camaraderie obviously still continues today, as people seem very keen to attend our get-together.”
Tickets for the Great Joplings Reunion are now on sale at £5, via Sheena or Taste of Home in Olive Street. The cost includes an afternoon tea from 6pm, as well as an evening buffet.
A display of old photos of Joplings is also planned, as well as musical entertainment and a charity raffle.
“Our room at Port of Call holds 300, and we’ve already sold more than half the tickets. It is proving very popular, and we’re hoping for a great night of reminiscences,” said Sheena.
“Unfortunately, I’ve had some phone problems and may have missed out on contacting some people. If you haven’t heard back from me, please ring again – the phone is fine now.”
l Anyone interested in attending the Great Joplings Reunion can contact Sheena on 07984 644279.