One of the wonders of Dartmoor is the National Trust’s Castle Drogo near Drewsteignton. Construction began in 1911 by Britain’s best known architect Edwin Lutyens and the owner Julius Drewe. This was an epic project representing the ambitions and dreams of Drewe. This short post tells of the story of where Drewe derived his money to embark on such a grand scheme.
It is a story of major Victorian and Edwardian entrepreneurship and success. In 1883 Julius Drewe set up the company in partnership with John Musker – the business consisted of a single grocery shop on the Edgware Road in London – the shop mainly specialised in tea and traded initially as the Home and Colonial Tea Association. Shops were opened in Islington, Leeds and Birmingham. The company then rapidly began to expand – by 1900 there were over 100 stores and by 1903 there were over 500 – it was now known as home and Colonial Stores Ltd.
During the 1920s various acquisitions and mergers occurred and by 1931 there were over 3000 branches. This expansion and growth is as impressive as anything we have seen since in the food retail sector!
The company’s aims were to sell food to people from Britain and from her Empire – introducing shoppers to food and drink (particularly tea) from around the world. By 1955 it was the 27th largest company in the country.
I am of a generation that was born after the end of the British Empire and therefore never experienced this company but many of an older generation do remember it. By 1961 reflecting the end of the Empire the stores were rebranded as Allied Suppliers. In 1972 the business was sold and eventually it became part of the Safeways chain in 1981.
At Castle Drogo today the importance of the Home and Colonial Stores is remembered as a key part of the history of Drogo itself.