106 Lewis Lewis
In 1898 Harrods in Knightsbridge installed a “moving staircase” or escalator. The first
Lewis Lewis was a large family-owned store which specialised in high-class products of all types. Its many large shop windows faced onto the street, always among the best set out in
Born in 1843, Lewis Lewis, who like fellow draper Ben Evans, was from Carmarthenshire, took over no. 27 High Street, at the junction with King Street (now Kings Lane), in 1866. He sold items at fixed prices, instead of the time-consuming bargaining between seller and customer that was then prevalent, thus creating a more dignified atmosphere in his shops. For he later opened shops in other South Wales towns like Briton Ferry, Neath and Llanelli, as well as enlarging his High Street premises by taking over numbers 28 and 29 by 1891, and extending behind the High Street frontage. A delivery service was available to homes and railway stations by horse-drawn vans; at the back of the shop five horses were stabled which he exhibited at the annual Swansea Agricultural Show. Furthermore errand boys could deliver parcels to homes, or to railway stations in time for train departures.
Shop hours were long – closing time was usually 7.30pm, even later on Saturdays, with half-day closing on Thursdays at 1pm. Several shop assistants lived on the premises, with a housekeeper in charge, and their responsibilities included putting up the shutters over the windows when the shop closed, and removing them the following morning. Gerald Gabb’s research shows that the 1891 census lists 36 draper’s assistants, 7 milliner’s assistants, a clerk and a draper’s apprentice, along with a housekeeper and 9 servants, all living “above the shop”. Most of the staff were Welsh speakers, as well as being fluent in English. Usually female members of staff were single, though when Tycoch widow Mrs Davies worked there she was required to become “Miss Taylor”. The staff would enjoy an annual outing paid for by the firm – in 1889 as many as 200 people (friends as well as employees) travelled by train to
In “Under Milk Wood”, Dylan Thomas has draper Mog Edwards write to Miss Myfanwy Price: “I have come to take you away to my Emporium on the hill, where the change hums on the wires.” This refers to the means by which purchases were paid for and change delivered at Lewis Lewis and other major stores, via wire cash carriers. A network of pulleys and metal cups was suspended just below ceiling height, the entire length of the premises. The money and receipt of a purchase would be placed into a metal container, the shop assistant would pull back and release the handle, and the container would wing its way above the heads of shoppers into the cash desk, whence it would return with the change.
A kindly man, Lewis Lewis would be visited on Fridays by destitute people for financial help. He died in January 1911 aged 67 at “Corrymore”, which formerly had been the Sketty home of Ben Evans, and he was buried in Oystermouth cemetery.
The department store’s centenary was celebrated in 1966, before the business closed, for the site is now occupied by
Today escalators in shops and underground stations are commonplace – there is even an outdoor one in