There are many Bathonians who will remember buying provisions from Cater, Stoffell and Fortt – a famous company name in Bath’s retail history and a firm regarded by many as the Fortnum and Masons of the provinces.
The company went out of business in the 1980’s but one of its city shops was in Margaret’s Buildings and – miraculously – much of its original fittings survive.
Local historian Andrew Hill – who covered the history of the company in his book ‘Biscuits, Banquets and Bollinger’ – has been lucky enough to look behind the shutters.
Here’s his report and some of the photographs he took.
“Behind the shutters of 8 Margaret’s Buildings can be found a fascinating relic of Bath’s retail history. From 1890 to the early 1980s, the firm of Cater, Stoffell and Fortt was a byword for quality, variety and service in Bath, Bristol and the West Country.
It was claimed that it could provide anything from fish fingers to foie gras and custard powder to caviar, and it was regarded as the Fortnum and Mason’s of the provinces.
As well as Margaret’s Buildings, the firm had branches in the High Street, Milsom Street, Southgate Street and Green Street as well as two stores in Bristol and the Bath Oliver Biscuit factory in Manvers Street.
The premises in Margaret’s Buildings offered a high class service to the “carriage trade”, especially the wealthy residents of the Circus and the various nearby crescents. When the shop finally closed in 1981 it became an antiques emporium and the new owner retained the original shop fittings and signage.
Now the shop has been sold again, but the new owner and Savill’s estate agents permitted Andrew Hill (author of “Biscuits, Banquets & Bollinger, the History of Cater, Stoffell & Fortt Ltd”) to have a look around and take some photos, as seen here.
They are a souvenir of a bygone era when the well-heeled customers sat on chairs at the counter and dictated their orders to the staff who arranged for deliveries to the door in a matter of hours.
In its heyday, customers came from as far away as Shepton Mallet to take their pick of the huge variety of goods available, including up to 40 different types of cheese and such exotic delicacies as shark’s fin soup, mussel soup and kangaroo tail.
Few traces of Cater, Stoffell & Fortt now remain but it is encouraging to hear that the new owner of these premises intends to preserve the ground floor shop interior unchanged.