From drapers and dressmakers to milliners and shoe shops, over the last 100 years Letchworth has had a variety of shops to cater to women's taste for clothes and fashion. Early Letchworthians had few options.

from The Heritage Museum

Snowden & Co. Drapers, c. 1908.This early Letchworth shop opened in Station Road in 1907 but shut in 1911.
Wenda Morris in her new shop 'Wenda Fashions' on The Wynd, c. 1986.
An advert for E. E. Spinks, a drapery store, (938. Barbara Barry Parker remembers "Ken and Lesley Spinks came to the town from Great Dunmow [inEssex], and Ken owned a fine drapers shop, which served the town well from many years. His brother Lesley had a men's outfitters across the road, both shops being in Leys Avenue..."

For those able to afford tailor-made clothing, there were dressmakers like Barker Direct. But most women would have bought fabric to make clothes at home from drapery stores such as Snowden’s or Cramp’s.

In 1920, Letchworth had 3 dressmakers including Porter, Perry & Blandford, and 5 drapers & milliners such as Spinks’ and Wightman’s. There was also The Wool Store for hosiery. By 1930, the shopping options for women had grown. There were now 5 dressmakers, 13 milliners and drapers, 6 hosiers and 3 shoe shops.

Popular shops included Tilley Brothers, a dressmakers and drapers store on Leys Avenue, Lilian Reed which specialised in underwear and hosiery in The Arcade, and Rogers & Son, ‘shoe artists’, on Leys Avenue.

With the rise of ready-to-wear clothes and a less formal style of dress, the shops on British high streets have changed from dressmakers, drapers and milliners to the sort of womenswear shops that we have today.

This page was added on 09/02/2011.

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  • The 1914 Kelly’s Directory shows my Great Aunt, Minnie Perry of Porter and Perry, as Dressmakers of Leys Avenue. I guess the person Blandford must have joined them Later

    By B. Perry (25/01/2021)
  • the Spinks family were bought out by my Mother Audrey Poynter in either late 70’s or early 80’s. the store became an arcade of individual shops in 1988-9. A move that was necessary in order to meet the increasing business rates. The company is still E.E Spinks Letchworth ltd. We are again having to move with the times and have a planning application in to alter the rear of the building. The upper floors will hopefully increase to 8 spacious apartments and the commercial area will change in accordance with future demand, whether retail or restaurant ? The Esquires cafe on the corner of garden square, opposite wh smiths was originally Nicholls. The name was visible during the fitting out of the cafe originally Surfin Cafe.

    By Denise Poynter (04/01/2014)
  • I think there may have also been a Nicholls ladies shop on the corner of the Arcade and Leys Avenue. I remember the Spinks brothers well and also getting measured up for my Grammar School uniforms at the men’s shop. One of the younger Spinks boys was at this school at the same time as I was.

    By Dave Thompson (03/05/2013)