Knight & Lee remembered: staff picture from the 1956 reopening

Last Saturday was the final day of trading for Knight & Lee at Southsea.   The store reopened, after being destroyed in the Second World War, on Monday, September 24, 1956, on the corner of Osborne Road and Palmerston Road and the frontage had changed little since that day.

By Bob Hind
Wednesday, 17th July 2019, 4:59 pm
Staff at Knight &  Lee celebrating the reopening of the store after the Second World War. Picture: Wright and Logan
Staff at Knight & Lee celebrating the reopening of the store after the Second World War. Picture: Wright and Logan

As you may have seen in my last two days’ columns the store was a little bit special especially back when Southsea was still the premier shopping location on Portsea Island.

The company, and indeed the staff, had old fashioned ways about them and knew how to serve customers. It was always ‘sir’ and ‘madam’, never ‘what can I do for you guys?’ or ‘yes mate?’ as happens in some places today, although never at Knight & Lee.

Regular News correspondent Jon Cole, of Old Portsmouth, lent me a copy of The Gazette, a staff magazine produced by the John Lewis Partnership which contains the picture reproduced here which was taken to mark the reopening.

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In the photo I have given some of the people letters to help identify them. Jon thinks some may still survive. Some Christian names are not known so I have put an X before the name.

A, Captain Cooper, general manager whose wife was the personnel manager; B, X Dunn; C, funeral director; D, X Albertolli; E, Mrs Huntley; F, Denis French; G, Jon Cole; H, Terry Thomas; I, Mrs Jean Farmer; J, Mrs Campbell.

Please let me know if you can see yourself.

Jon recalls: ‘Fate changed my employment future. Our menswear buyer was unusually a young man and we built a good relationship.

‘Returning to London by train with him after his quarterly visit he inquired if I would like to join the John Lewis Organisation.

‘He said he could not poach  me – I had to casually inquire. I did so, received an invitation, got the job and handed in my notice.

‘I was ordered to the office where the deputy general manager, a Mr De Vriendt, was in situ. He offered another 10 shillings (50p) a week to stay.  I declined and was sent to see Captain Cooper, the boss.

‘He was curt and adamant.  “Don’t sit down Cole. You are not leaving. You’re too valuable here. That’s the end of the matter,” he said. He did not even look up.

‘I was stunned. I handed in my notice and left for a future more lucrative career.  But often wonder how life would have evolved in London.   

'Despite this, retail training in that era taught me to cope with a demanding clientele, imbued confidence and, behind the scenes, a lot of fun ensued – Are You Being Served often summed it all up,’ Jon adds.

With the coming of the computer age and online buying, not to mention Southsea as a shopping area going downhill, we have lost Knight & Lee forever.

Will it be missed? Well, perhaps. But if all those people who turned up for the last day had used the store more often it might have stayed open.

n Last Saturday fellow columnist Blaise Tapp wrote about traditional values and the current fad for not wearing a tie in the office.

I believe a man is not properly dressed unless he is wearing a tie. I have more than 50. They are rolled up in the bottom drawer and I wear them on different occasions throughout the year.

I refuse to dress down. It’s just not my thing. I always say, you never know who you will meet.

I think it started way back. There was no money in the family so we were dressed in rummage and jumble sale second hand clothes and shoes. 

When I joined the navy I wore clothes never worn by anyone else before. It was wonderful. When I started earning I bought clothes as a priority. My first pair of Cuban-heeled Chelsea boots for wearing on leave were a dream. 

n After many years of playing parks cricket, usually at first slip, bowling a few googlies and visiting many cricket ground around the south, I have never seen anything like last Sunday's World Cup Final at Lord’s. Quite amazing.

How many fans knew an overthrow hitting the bat and going over the boundary would count as a four, plus the runs taken? That rule was unknown to me.

I was not too happy about the rule that we had more boundaries so won. Perhaps a drawn FA Cup Final after extra time and penalties could be decided on the number of corners each side has won?

One thing that would have annoyed me, the blasting out of pop music between overs. It’s not needed and it’s not cricket.

Still, congratulations to England on a superb effort.