Thursday, 17 June 2021

Caversham Heights Society

THE society held two meetings this month, both illuminating in different ways.

THE society held two meetings this month, both illuminating in different ways.

On November 4 members were enthralled by Gavin Henderson’s story of how the John Lewis Partnership  started.

The first John Lewis trained as a draper and expert in haberdashery in Liverpool before moving to London and joining forces with a Peter Jones in Oxford Street in the 1850s.

In 1864 he branched out on his own in a converted town house in Oxford Street and by 1885 he had five adjoining houses, still largely trading as drapers and haberdashery merchants.

The business was based on four principles which are still in place today — value, assortment, service and honesty.

Meanwhile, Peter Jones had diversified and expanded and had moved into premises in Chelsea.

In 1906 John Lewis and Peter Jones merged. Lewis family members were all part of the business, which soon split into retail and buying.

It was in 1911 that the idea of a partnership between staff and managers sharing ideas and information first began.

By 1929 a trust had been established and a constitution was developed out of which came the idea of distributing the profits on a percentage basis, a principle that has helped to develop the company into what it has become today.

The Waitrose part began in 1908 and merged with John Lewis in 1937, although the first supermarket did not open until 1955.

In 1940 the company took over 23 Selfridge provincial stores and has continued to expand. Today there are 300 Waitrose branches and the John Lewis Partnership operates in 33 countries via the internet, which accounts for one-third of its sales.

There is a John Lewis Heritage Centre in Cookham, open only on Saturdays, where further information can be found.

To mark the Queen and Prince Philip’s 68th wedding anniversary on November 20 we invited Barbara Askew to talk to us about royal weddings past and present. Barbara, who grew up in Eton with a view of Winsor Castle from her window, is a blue badge guide and a renowned expert on royalty, running Windsor Heritage Talks and Tours with her husband Roger. The couple were even invited to the wedding of Prince Charles to Camilla Parker Bowles in 2005.

Her personal snapshots of that day at Windsor Guildhall were among the intimate gems that stood out in Barbara’s exploration of royal marriages since the time of George III.

Members learned about royal wedding dresses, the marriage venues, wedding presents and honeymoon destinations. We even learned how soon after the royal nuptials the first child was born!

We saw a photograph of the first meeting between the 13-year-old Princess Elizabeth and the 18-year-old Philip of Greece, taken at Dartmouth’s Royal Naval College in 1939, when the young couple were said to have fallen in love.

We also saw the first photo of Queen Victoria and her beloved Albert after their marriage in 1840 — the first wedding of a reigning monarch for 300 years — with the young bride staring adoringly into her groom’s eyes.

Though royal marriages are still governed by the Act of Settlement of 1701, which bans Catholics from ascending the throne, and the Royal Marriages Act 1772, which requires the monarch’s permission before any royal marriage can take place, these Acts are nowadays less stringently applied.

Most recent royal marriages have been made for love, despite divorces, but in the past they were a useful way of forging political alliances, although, as today, not all of them were successful!

Barbara showed us a portrait of Caroline of Brunswick, a woman so unappealing to her new husband George IV that he got drunk at his wedding and spent his wedding night asleep in the bedroom fireplace!

The society meets on alternate Wednesdays at 7.30pm in Caversham Heights Methodist Church hall. All are welcome. For further information, call Jill Hodges on 0118 959 530 or email her at

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