The family favourite which stayed in Sunderland for 140 years

The Blacketts store in Sunderland in 1972, shortly before its closure.
The Blacketts store in Sunderland in 1972, shortly before its closure.
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It was a favourite with shoppers in Sunderland but who remembers Blacketts.

The High Street West store pulled in punters for 140 years until its doors shut in 1972.

Blacketts at Christmas.

Blacketts at Christmas.

But more recently, staff were still meeting up for reunions in 1992.

We would love to hear from former employees, people who loved to shop there and anyone who wants to step back in time.

Chris Cordner reports.

It was known as a family store.

The friendship, spirit of cameraderie and feeling of being part of one big happy family that existed in the store is being revived at Christmas 1992 with the second reunion of staff

Sunderland Echo reporter, 1992

Perhaps that was best indicated 20 years after it closed when 140 former workers turned up for a reunion.

It was a chance to catch up on old times, and the size of the catch-up perhaps reflected on the whole attitude of ‘one big happy family’.

The Blacketts story was a one of the rise and fall of a well-established Wearside retail name.

An Echo story in the 1990s described it as “the store which brought life into the heart of Sunderland’s shopping area.”

Blacketts demolition in 1978.

Blacketts demolition in 1978.

The story had started in 1826 when William Blackett started a linen draper’s business in the street.

He was so keen on running it himself, he used to travel from his home in a dog cart and drove the pony himself.

But as time passed, he moved in above the shop and had his family of two sons and four daughters while he was living there.

Two of them, Charles and William, were the next to keep up the family theme when they joined the business as apprentices.

And when they moved up to take charge, they expanded the company in High Street West between 1860 and 1900.

That included taking over shops including Walton’s toy premises, Charlton the butcher, Korfitsen’s boot shop, Leadbitter the chemist and Cobb the seed merchant.

As time passed, there was no sign of the good times easing up and by 1928, expansion was on the cards again.

This time, the firm bought stores on the west side of the building for a furniture department. The lane between the two properties became Blacketts Arcade.

But a global conflict badly hit Blacketts. It was bombed during Second World War air raids in 1941 and left badly damaged, as was Binns and the Museum and Winter Gardens.

Yet once again, the attitude of ‘we’re all in it together’ shone through again.

From the directors to the store staff - they all worked together and hand-in-hand to clear the debris. Thanks to their joint efforts, the store was able to open as normal at 9am.

Sadly, the store was hit once more in another bombing raid in 1942. Every window was shattered, displays were damaged and so were the shop fittings.

And yet again, the store still opened.

Perhaps another indication of the store’s success was in the number of workers it employed.

By the 1950s, there were more than 500 people on the books at a time when Blacketts was celebrating its 125h anniversary.

And perhaps that success is because it was a store which followed the changing times.

By the 1960s, it had a haven for music lovers on the second floor. You could buy the latest records after listening to them in one of the music cubicles. Top ten singles retailed for just 6/8d.

But the times were a changing and so were people’s shopping habits. They had lots more choice and in Sunderland alone, there were lots of other department stores to choose from such as Joplings, Binns and Liverpool House.

In 1963, there were four Blacketts stores and they were taken over by the Hide group. Those changing habits led to staff numbers dropping.

And by the time the end came in 1972, 150 people were out of work.

Managing director Mr H.L.L. Leach told the Echo at the time: “The decision has been taken with regard to the trading potential in Sunderland. Sunderland has three other similar department stores.

He added: “Our staff enjoy a high reputation for training, and I hope that many will find suitable employment elsewhere.”

We want to hear from anyone who has recollections of Blacketts.

What did you love about shopping there? Was it your Wearside favourite? Get in touch and tell us more.

Email chris.cordner@jpress.co.uk with all your recollections.