Stockport-based Stephensons, where tradition and taste go hand in hand
PUBLISHED: 00:13 05 July 2012 | UPDATED: 21:35 20 February 2013
Tradition and taste go hand in hand at Stockport-based catering supplies company, Stephensons, which goes back over five generations<br/>WORDS BY CARL NAGAITIS
The print version of this article appeared in the July 2012 issue of Cheshire Life
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Enterprise, success, rags to riches, wars, scandal and a family business that spans five generations: the story of H.G. Stephenson Ltd, catering equipment suppliers, has more than enough intrigue and drama to rival any period television saga.
As Henry, the sixth Stephenson across five generations to hold the Managing Directorship of the Stockport business settles into the role he took over last year, his father and company chairman Michael has been looking back at its 144 year history.
And although more than a century and a half has passed since his great grandfather H.G. Stephenson moved to the Manchester area from the North East, Michael has compiled a fascinating array of memorabilia which throws some light on the early days of a family business which is still at the heart of the North West.
Henry George Stephenson left the North East in 1860 and moved down to Manchester, a powerhouse of the industrial revolution, explained Michael. I believe his father was a butcher but I havent managed to find much detail.
However, there is a suggestion that HG may have been distantly related to steam pioneer Robert Stephenson, creator of Stephensons Rocket.
H.G. rented a stall on what was known as Salfords Flat Iron Market and began selling pottery made by Wood and Sons and made a weekly trek to Stoke-on-Trent familyto collect his wares.
We believe he worked in one of the potteries for a short time and that is how he was introduced to pottery, explained Michael. His market business went so well, he was able to move into the Barton Arcade in Manchester in 1868.
Henry George lived in Broughton, Salford and went on to have 11 children, nine of whom went into the business. The business went from strength to strength and he loved to go to work in his chauffeur-
driven horse drawn carriage, often passing his children as they walked to work.
As the Stephensons product range grew eventually including any and every item used in catering so did his retail outlets. Shops were purchased in Manchesters Piccadilly, St Anns Square and Cross Street as well in Lytham St Annes, a popular holiday destination for wealthy Victorians.
Success followed success with H.G moving into the supply of crockery and glassware to railway companies, breweries, hotels and even hospitals.
H.G. was doing well as I have seen from his bank books of those days. He had balances of 14,000 and 15,000 which was a very substantial sum, added Michael.
The business was incorporated as a limited company in 1900 and enjoyed steady growth until the Great War of 1914-18 which brought a crippling recession due to the lack of labour and product.
H.G. decided to stand down in 1916 and hand over the reins of the business to his son J.V.G. Stephenson, affectionately known as Vincie.
However in 1922 an investigation discovered Vincie had misappropriated a large sum of money and he was dismissed by the board.
It was quite a scandal, recalled Michael. Vincie decided to move to Canada while my Great Uncle Ernest, the sixth son of HG, took over the Managing Directorship and remained at the post through World War Two when the Barton Arcade headquarters was partially destroyed in the Manchester Blitz of 1942.
The business was forced to close for the remainder of the war but began trading again in 1945 despite severe shortage of stock other than plain white earthenware and basic glass.
Trade picked up through the 1950s but the companys retail shops closed in 1961 when the company decided to concentrate on supplying the catering industry.
Harold Stephenson MD in 1965, oversaw the companys move from the Barton Arcade to its current HQ in Stockport in 1967. In 1970 his son Michael was appointed MD.
Today we are a progressive, modern distributor with unrivalled experience in the market and that is recognised by our clients, added Michael, who lives in Hazel Grove.
Were currently supplying crockery and glassware that will be used in events to celebrate our Queens Diamond Jubilee.
However, when you consider that this business was also supplying stock for similar celebrations for the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria, it puts our unique history into context, he said.
And while newly appointed MD Henry is respectful of his companys rich heritage he is quick to point out that Stephensons cannot just rest on its laurels.
While the world has moved on with the advent of the internet, social media and smart phones, the basic rules of retailing still remain: the right product at a competitive price and giving great service, said Henry.
One wonders where Stephensons will be after another 144 years