Family and early shops
Abraham de Gruchy was born in St Saviour on 29 September 1780, the son of Philippe de Gruchy and Elizabeth, née Le Geyt.
He married Marie Le Brocq of The Yews, St Peter, on 4 June 1808, and on 23 June 1810 bought from Daniel Valpy dit Janvrin the farmhouse near St Peter's Church now called Andover Lodge, with her father, William Le Brocq, making the repayments for the first eight months. The business was probably run at first from the adjoining outhouses and later from a shop in the east extension of the main house. In 1818 he returned from London with a large stock of cloth and cotton goods and the next year, advertised for the first time for tailors, as he had now become a Militia outfitter.
Mr de Gruchy's cousin Thomas de Gruchy, the owner and master of an 82-ton cutter called the Rose, imported all manner of goods to be sold in the shop, including cargoes from France, immediately after the Napoleonic Wars. Marie Le Brocq herself went on buying trips to France and the business grew steadily.
It was in 1818 that he bought from a brother-in-law, Matthieu Horton, of La Fosse, a triangular field, the northern part of which was an orchard, called Le Jardin de Seale, upon which he built a house and premises - now `The Sir George Carteret` public bars and restaurant - from which to operate his business. The advantage of the new premises was that they adjoined the main road and had space for future expansion.
Their customers included Sir Jean Dumaresq and other prominent islanders, including the Lieut-Governor, General Sir George Don, one of whose new roads passed through St Peter's Village and brought a considerable trade to the new shop.
Move to town
Ten years later the town was in the throes of a period of tremendous growth and de Gruchy decided that it was time to move his business into St Helier.
Francis Le Sueur, coal merchant and property owner, advertised that year that his house and shop at the top of Broad Street, (Grande Rue), in St Helier, were to let. The house and shop was 33 Broad Street. In September that year, Le Sueur advertised that he had by then only the upper part, which was the house, still to let. That the new tenant for the shop, the lower part, which is now a part of Barclays Bank, was Abraham de Gruchy, will be seen from Le Sueur`s advertisement shortly before the end of the lease, on 24 December 1824, for a new tenant for the house currently “occupied by Abraham de Gruchy”.
He initially continued to live in St Peter but, in 1822 he advertised that half of his house there, with a good walled garden and 1½ vergées of land, were to let. This was his private part of the premises, reserved for his own use. Soon he moved to Le Sueur`s 'house', which he was quoted as occupying in 1824.
The St Peter`s branch of the business had as managers, from this time until the end of April 1824, Jean Simon and Edouard Collas, the latter being formerly of La Frontière, St Mary. An advertisement placed in the Chronique on 1 May that year, notified the public that Simon and Collas had been replaced by Vautier, Blampied and Miss H de Gruchy, the former being Mr Philippe Vautier and the latter being de Gruchy`s cousin, Henrietta, daughter of his uncle, Noé.
Noé de Gruchy (1764-1845), was a prosperous farmer of Mont au Prêtre, St Helier, who had prior to 1787, as "Noel Gruchy", been a sailor in the Royal Navy. He was among the many Islanders who resented the imposition of English customs dues upon certain goods in Jersey, preferring instead the age-old system of free trade. In 1827 he was discovered with no fewer than 12 chests of contraband tea in his farm wagon and fined £100 sterling, (the equivalent of £4,722 in today`s money), with conviscation of the tea, wagon and two horses. The severity of the fine suggests that this was not a first offence.
On 25 December 1824 de Gruchy purchased from James Poingdestre La Grande Maison in Rue de Derrière, now known as 52 King Street, moving there in the summer of 1825. This house had been the residence of the two 18th century Lieut-Bailiffs, Le Geyt. He transformed it into a store the like of which Jersey had not previously seen.
He employed a master tailor and five London dressmakers, and in 1825 added furniture to his range of goods.
Although Abraham de Gruchy diversified into banking and the Canadian fishery business, his St Helier shop prospered and expanded as neigbouring properties were acquired.
In 1854 the business received considerable praise from Dumaresq’s Tourist’s Handbook to Jersey, which said:
- ”Among many improvements due to private enterprise none reflects so much credit on the town as the handsome shop of Mr Abraham de Gruchy. It will not be saying too much to compare it to the best in London. This immense block of buildings is accessible from three streets, King Street, Dumaresq Street and New Street.”
Abraham de Gruchy was an innovator. The future, Victorian, idea of a department store, that so revolutionized the English retail sector from the mid-19th century, was to de Gruchy, living in the reign of George IV, neither new nor mid-19th century. As early as 1825, for example, he had added upholstery to his drapery and haberdashery business. He was at least 25 years ahead of his time. A carpet department followed in 1845. Gas lighting was still regarded as very much a novelty when de Gruchy, in 1831, had it installed throughout his premises. Innovation evidently ran in the family, as another novelty, in 1883, was electric lighting, which his grandson, Philip Henry de Gruchy installed. In 1851 Abraham de Gruchy was among those who foresaw that British sterling would, in the future, be the sole currency used in Jersey, rather than the dwindling number of French coins. However, the plan to therefore "sell exclusively in British sterling", which he said would make for simpler book-keeping caused an outcry, being described as "arrogance", and had to be withdrawn.
The adjoining property, 50 King Street, was purchased by 1826, in which year de Gruchy was joined in his business by his eldest son, William Philippe, who had previously been at school in Hampshire. The firm now became “A de Gruchy et Fils”. Further neighbouring properties were purchased in the ensuing years and incorporated into the business.
Departments continued to be opened at A de Gruchy and Company, which included the millinery department in 1872, and in 1883, the hardware or ironmongery department and the funeral, or mourning, department.
By the time the business celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 1860, Abraham de Gruchy had retired and his sons William, Philippe and Jean had taken over. Three years later there was further expansion, accompanied by a reconstruction of the whole business.
In 1864 Abraham de Gruchy died, to be followed two years later by his wife.
Disaster struck the family business in 1886, when the Jersey Banking Company, formerly owned by the family and with which they were still involved, crashed, taking the store with it into bankruptcy. However, a limited liability company was formed to take over the assets and the running of the business, with the intention of paying off all creditors within ten years.
Such was the continuing success of the new operation, that after the ten years were up, a proposal was agreed to keep trading for another 25 years and then, indefinitely.
Philip Henry de Gruchy was the last of the original family to manage the business, and he died in 1899.
Notes and references
Click on any image to see a larger version
Andover Lodge, where the original St Peter shop was situated, 1810-1818. De Gruchy and his wife lived in the granite house. The white extension, built between 1795 and 1849, will have been the original 1810 drapery shop. To the left are the outbuildings from which de Gruchy conducted his general business in wine, timber, potatoes and flour
A selection of advertisements from the columns of the Evening Post in 1899
1913 Jèrriais advert