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Page last updated: 26/03/23.
This is a record of “The Stores”, a business initially owned and run by James Oakley, as well as the Oakley family. This page has been updated since it was first published and as there was so much information on the Oakley family, it has been split into different pages. This page contains information about the main business but other personal information has now been added to a new family tree page instead. There are also pages detailing properties relating to the Oakley family members:
If you have any photos of this business or any additional information/dates etc, please do get in touch as we’d love to add them. If you have any memories or stories to share, please send them over to us, or enter them in the comments at the end of the page.
This business used to occupy the address 161 – 170 Marketplace, Fleet.
The building numbers have been changed with various developments over the years, first changing to 213 – 217 Fleet Road and then to 271 – 275 Fleet Road.
To see more history and read about other residents of the building, please click below:
SHORT SUMMARY AND RELATED PAGES
James Oakley is an important name in Fleet history, creating and investing in a store that would attract customers from miles around, enabling Fleet to gain the reputation as a prosperous business centre. Oakley’s was essentially a department store, selling everything from groceries, bicycles, millinery and furniture to alcohol and even a funeral and plant hire department.
As well as a number of men, Oakley’s also employed 15 young ladies as dressmakers, shop assistants and milliners – a number of these were housed in the large house that was adjacent to the shop (Albany Lodge).
This, in turn, made Fleet a more desirable place to live, attracting both people and investments in the area. In building the familiar address we all know today, Mr. Oakley also provided the town with its first parish clock.
The Oakley family ran what was known as “The Stores” (then at 161 – 170 Fleet Road; the property numbers were later changed), from the 2nd March 1885 until the retirement of his two remaining sons Archibald and Harold in 1958/59.
OAKLEY STORES AND TIMELINE
Details of the Oakley family and their business. Photos can be found at the end of the page. (view the Oakley family tree for more details).
JAMES AND CLARA OAKLEY (1827 – 1883)
James Oakley was born in 1827 in Hingham Norfolk. His mother was a dressmaker and his father was a carpenter. After leaving school, James was apprentice to an upholsterer in his birth town. After this he gained substantial experience in the field by working in stores in Ipswich, Leeds and London. He also co-managed a department store on Regent Street where he met Clara Slater, who became his wife on 1st June 1880.
Clara was born in Hornsey Rise in London. Her father ran a very lucrative undertaking business and her brother was a successful architect. The couple settled in Cambridge where their children Grace and Ernest were born. James worked in a large store before moving the family to Dogmersfield.
MOVE TO FLEET (1883 – 1885)
In 1883, James Oakley moved his family from Dogmersfield, where his third child Lilian was born, to Fleet in Hampshire. They occupied a small house with a shopfront which they opened for business in 1885, beginning the start of the Oakley empire in Fleet.
The address was then known as 161 – 170 Fleet Road. The postal service hadn’t introduced road numbers at that time, so this was believed to relate to the original numbers of the land plots the premises were built on. At this point James Oakley only employed three members of staff. This was to rise to at least 27 as the business grew in later years.
The photos below show two images of the store that James Oakley bought and opened in 1885, before he expanded it. The first image has been dated 1875 – ten years before the Oakley family would move to Fleet and purchase the building. The second image shows their shop opened.
I am however unsure about these dates, as the first image appears to show the beginnings of an extension on the frontage of the building, which could mean it is considerably later in date. The tree growth appears to also confirm this.
Below: These photos shows the original small store bought by James Oakley and opened in 1885.
In 1891 the members of the household were recorded as James, Clara, Grace, Ernest, Lilian, Olive, Evelyn and Archibald Oakley. There were also staff members Jane Brook, Sarah Burrous and Ernest C Pratt. Although not known for sure, it is likely that Ernest was the son of Mr. Pratt who ran Pratt’s grocery store opposite Oakley’s.
ROYAL WARRANT (c1894)
The early advertisements for the stores stated that it was “Under Royal Patronage”. This is believed to be because Princess Beatrice (Queen Victoria’s fifth daughter and youngest child) visited the shop (believed to be around 1894) and therefore it displayed a Royal Warrant. Years later, around 1920, James Oakley invited Princess Marie Louise of Schleswig-Holstein (granddaughter of Queen Victoria) to The Stores and bestowed her with various gifts.
In 1896-97 the main shop was enlarged, giving an additional floorspace of over 4000 square feet on two floors along with a new entrance and the familiar clocktower we still know today. It helped create 100ft of window space along Fleet Road and 60ft of window space along Upper Street. James Oakley also built the family home Albany Lodge to house his growing family where his six other children were born. Three shop workers also lived with the Oakley family. This work was financed by Clara’s Father, James Slater and designed by Mr. J. D. Slater, Mr. Oakley’s brother in law, who was an architect.
Initially there was no mains water or electricity. Water was provided by four wells with hand pumps that were located at the back of the property. Gas lamps were installed for light and these were left burning even when the store was closed, this would have attracted more attention to the store as there were no street lights at the time. The store featured a large awning which was draped over high railings and covered the pavement area. James Oakley also installed a flag pole from which he flew the Royal Standard.
During the expansion of the store, Oakley’s had a clock constructed on the corner of the building, providing the familiar site we still see today. This was the first public clock in Fleet. In the early days the striking of the clock could be heard throughout much of Fleet.
Oakley’s stores were quickly becoming a focal point in Fleet Road – James Oakley was one of the first people in the town to own a telephone. Before long, other businesses soon joined the growing retail sector, creating a thriving local economy, although some found it hard to compete with such a big department-style store. The area became known as the Marketplace – the address at this point was changed to 161 – 170 “Market Place”. The name never really caught on however and it died out in the 1920s.
Below: Advert showing newly extended shop and family home, along with the royal patronage tagline.
At the back of Oakley’s, there was originally a three storey large thatched store shed/warehouse, measuring approx. 50 x 14ft, with a cellar underneath, as well as stables with space for six horses and carriage sheds.
On Monday 24th October 1898, smoke was seen pouring from the back area behind the stores, an event that was later called the largest fire that Fleet had seen. Fire crews from Aldershot and Hartley Wintney, as well as local men and women battled to save the main store after it became clear that the warehouse was beyond saving. Thankfully all the horses were saved. The cause of the fire was established after the event – a warehouseman had been burning rubbish in the corner of the yard and with a stiff breeze that day burning papers were scattered, igniting a barrel of petroleum. The estimated damage of the fire was in the region of £1000 – £1500 (approx. £165,000 – £250,000 in today’s money).
Below: Original newspaper article from 1898, describing the fire.
FROM OFF LICENCE TO COFFIN MAKER (1899)
In 1899, James Oakley was the first person to open an off licence in Fleet. With his enterprising spirit, he made sure he was first in line when Ewshot and Crookham Army Camps opened, securing their custom by supplying wine, beer and spirits to the officer’s messes amongst others. This expanded to include several Aldershot army messes. The stores also offered a horse and van service that made deliveries throughout the local district, including the larger houses.
To make full use of the horse, Mr. Oakley advertised for a cabinet maker capable of making coffins so he could offer undertaker services. Charles Harris came to Fleet from London, and for several years carried out the aforementioned duties. However he soon set up his own business in Albert Street.
FLEET CARNIVAL (1900)
In 1900, plans for the upcoming Fleet Carnival and Torchlight Procession were in full swing. A meeting of the general committee, including James Oakley – discussed the events and the support they received for the carnival. Mr. Oakley offered to open his house to receiving the collection boxes for safe storage overnight and was chosen as one of the judges for the event.
Around 1900 a report was written by “a visitor” to The Stores (thought to be a family friend or relative), which described the store, products and layout as well as details about James Oakley:
Below: This is a scan from a booklet published c1900 and written by “a visitor” to the stores (believed to be a close friend of the Oakley’s).
Hover over the image and scroll up/down to view.
VOLUNTARY FIRE BRIGADE (1901)
James Oakley supported a number of organisations in Fleet. He was one of the people instrumental in establishing the voluntary Fire Brigade in 1901, following a devastating fire which destroyed the stables and a store shed at the back of his property in 1898. The organisation had no pumps, with the hoses being connected directly to the mains water supply and carried by horse and cart (initially borrowed from the milkman when required). The volunteers had to cycle to the scene of the fires and used a ladder mounted on wheels for a fire escape.
In 1905, Mr. Pool of Fleet provided a horse, cart and stables for the use of the Fire Brigade. It is said that one of the horses, upon hearing the fire bell, would kick his stable door excitedly until the fire crew arrived, waking local residents in Albert Street.
This continued until around 1920 when the council was approached and a motorised vehicle was requested. The council though were loath to invest in this and instead offered a faster horse and better stabling. This resulted in threats from the firemen to resign and eventually a vehicle was purchased, although there was still no pump on board (this wasn’t provided until 1934).
James and his eldest son, Ernest Oakley, had a tradition of offering any voluntary fireman a glass of wine on New Year’s Eve, as long as they were standing by the Oakley’s clocktower when the bells struck midnight.
Below: The first crew of the volunteer fire brigade in Fleet in 1903.
1905 – Fire Brigade horse and cart.
SECOND STORE (1903)
In 1903, James Oakley opened a second store (“The Clothing Stores”) at 212 Fleet Road. This sold women’s clothing and was located across the road from the main shop. This was possibly due to renovations being carried out at the main site. The store had been built (and was owned by) Mr Pratt from Pratt’s grocery stores, who reclaimed it for his own business after 1910. At this point, the clothing was incorporated into the Oakley’s main store, becoming the largest department there, with fitters and dressmakers employed to keep up to date with the latest fashions. There was a showroom for mantles (cloaks) and jackets, with an abundance of fabrics and colours to choose from. Mourning clothes were also offered.
Below: Oakley stores pictured on the left hand side. This was pre-1903 (between 1870 – 1903) as the store opposite (in the space next to Darracott’s) which Oakley’s used temporarily, hadn’t been built yet.
Below: Photos showing Oakley’s stores on both sides of the road…and later in 1912 the store reverts back to the owner, Pratts.
Click to view full size.
Below: Spring goods advert from “The Fleet Express and District Advertiser” dated April 13th 1904.
TRADESMEN OF FLEET (1906)
By 1906, James Oakley was Vice Chair of the Tradesmen of Fleet. The association were involved in the upkeep of Fleet, including issues from street repairs to future business prospects in the town.
Below: Newspaper article from 1906.
BUSINESS PRACTICES (1910)
By this year, the name of the business had changed from “The Stores”, to “James Oakley”.
In 1910, James Oakley advertised that if a customer was unable to find home furnishings from the supplies in the store, he could arrange for them to visit his manufacturers to view a larger amount of stock. As an added incentive, he also stated that the return London railway fare would be refunded upon purchases of £5 or over.
As he invested more in some areas of the business, he cut down on others and by 1910, food was no longer sold at the store. He did however continue selling wine and spirits until at least 1939.
With his interest in local affairs, James soon became Honorary Secretary of Fleet and District Fancier’s Association, which was a body devoted to promoting the breeding of both domestic and exotic fowls.
Below: James Oakley advert.
FLEET HALL AND CINEMA (1911)
Also by 1911 James Oakley was treasurer of the Rate Payer’s Association and chairman of the Directors of Fleet Hall – which he also owned. He was later to sell the hall to a developer and the building would become Fleet’s first cinema.
A “Miss Oakley” replaced Miss Pusey in the cinema, playing the piano and providing a soundtrack to the silent films that were shown. It isn’t clear who this was but it is possible this was one of James Oakley’s daughters.
Below: On the right is the original Fleet Hall building next door to Albany Lodge and further down is Oakley’s Stores, pictured in 1909.
THE FIRST RETIREMENT (1914)
In 1914, James Oakley retired aged 67, passing over the running of the business to his son Ernest, whereupon the name of the stores changed to “Ernest Oakley”. A large amount of stock was sold off and a business called “Fosters” placed an advertisement stating that they had purchased James Oakley’s stock at a large discount and in turn, could offer their customers “bargains the like of which they had seldom or never seen before”.
Below: The stores under Ernest Oakley’s management.
Below: Advert showing resale of Oakley’s discount stock.
ERNEST OAKLEY DEATH (1918)
The incarnation of the stores as “Ernest Oakley” was not to last long, as only four years after he took over the running of the store, Ernest was to pass away aged 36 on 27th October 1918. At this point James Oakley came out of retirement and ran the business once more.
OAKLEY BROS. (1922)
After the (second and final) retirement of their father in 1922, Harold and Archibald Oakley took over the running of the business and the name was changed to “Oakley Bros”.
The brothers made the decision to let out floor space to other businesses, including Cooper’s Electric who rented space from 1945 and David French Furnishings who were established in Fleet from 1956. Both remained when the brothers retired and the store changed owners.
Below: A 1929 advert from “The Pocket Guide” 1929, showing Oakley Bros. run by Archibald and Harold.
Below: The store under the name “Oakley Bros” pictured in the 1940-50’s showing the popular nickname for the area “Oakley’s Corner”. You can also see the Fleet cinema (white building).
HAROLD AND THE COUNCIL (1926)
Although James Oakley was highly involved in many local events, he never became a councillor. However by 1926 his son Harold was a member of the Fleet Urban Council. He was also a member and treasurer of Avondale Tennis club.
JAMES OAKLEY DEATH (1927)
On 29th August 1927, aged 81, James Oakley passed away in Albany Lodge. He was buried in All Saints churchyard.
MANDARIN CAFE (1929)
By 1929, the Oakley brother had set up “The Mandarin Cafe” on the ground floor of 215 Fleet Road, next to the main store. It was described as an upmarket establishment where people would meet for afternoon tea. They were served by waitresses in orange and white uniforms and were offered a selection of homemade cakes, afternoon teas and confectionary.
Below: An advert from “The Pocket Guide” 1929, showing the Mandarin Cafe next to Oakley Bros.
CHANGE OF OWNERSHIP AND BUILDING NUMBERS (1933 – 36)
Although it is assumed that James Oakley owned the property, it appears as though it may have stayed in the hands of his wife’s (Clara) family.
There are records of a reversionary lease (a lease executed by the tenant of the property that commences at some point in the future when an existing interest ends), between James Thomas Slater (Clara’s father) and James Oakley, for the period 1907 – 1923, possibly ensuring Oakley’s use of the property in years to come.
In 1913 however, James Thomas Slater died. His probate details list the names; James Dench Slater (son and architect), James Oakley (listed as a draper) and Washington Herbert Broome (music publisher). Surrender is dated in 1933 (in common law, surrender is the term describing a situation where a tenant gives up possession of property held under a tenancy as a result of which the tenancy ends).
In 1933, three properties were bought by Herbert Pool, including Albany Lodge in 1925, land adjoining Albert Street and Upper Street in 1935 and land adjoining Fleet Road in 1937.
Between 1933 and 1936, building numbers were introduced in Fleet Road. Albany Lodge was listed as number 223.
More details of this can be found in the Family Tree.
COOPERS ELECTRIC (1945)
In 1945, Mr. Cooper of Cooper’s Electric rented part of the stables at Oakley’s for his business. He remained after the closure of the shop and were still in existence in 1962, as shown by their advert in the Fleet Carnival brochure from that year.
Below: An advert from Coopers Electric which rented space at Oakley’s from 1945.
CLARA OAKLEY DEATH (1951)
Clara Oakley passed away aged 93 years old on the 5th January 1951 and was buried in All Saints churchyard. At this point, she resided at 239a Fleet Road.
OAKLEY’S CLOSES (1958/59)
In 1958/1959, the remaining Oakley sons, Archibald and Harold, retired and “Oakley Bros.”, as it was then known, closed for the last time.
Other related information after the closure of Oakley’s Stores.
ADDRESS CHANGE (1970)
In 1970, long after the closure of Oakley’s, the address was changed again and 213 Fleet Road became the address we know today – 271 Fleet Road.
OLD EMPORIUM (1995)
In later years, this building was to house the “(Old) Emporium” pub. It was named in recognition of the original use of the building by James Oakley. When the pub chain took over the building, they carried out renovations that substantially altered the interior layout.
BUILDING HERITAGE (2016)
The history of the property was officially recognised in 2016, when it was listed as a building with heritage value. In 2016 it was also listed as an Asset of Community Value.
OAKLEY PARK ANNIVERSARY (2020)
The 25th February 2020 marked the 100 year anniversary of James Oakley gifting Oakley Park to the people of Fleet.
The site of Oakley Park is owned by Fleet Town Council. It was formally transferred to the Town Council from Hart District Council by an Order dated 15th October 2009.
The Oakley’s remained in Fleet for the rest of their lives and are buried in All Saints Churchyard.
Even though Oakley’s is long gone, original features of the store such as the clocktower, tiled entrance and some original archways still exist.
To this day, the area is still referred to by some people as “Oakley’s Corner”.
Here you will find a full list of all the occupants of 271 Fleet Road. Click a name to see more details.
All information and articles on our website which feature this business, or the address(es) it occupied are listed below:
Do you have thoughts, comments or memories to share? We’d love to hear from you…so please leave a comment!