Few Reading institutions have been more beloved in the town’s recent history than Jacksons of Reading.
Jacksons was famed for its traditional approach to service and its long history as a family business. Visits to the store became a rite of passage for Reading children, where they would acquire their latest uniforms for school, Scouts, and Guides. Though the store closed its doors in 2013, its Hollywood-style signage still stands tall over Reading’s eponymous Jacksons Corner, and its legacy endures in the imagination of our town.
In this blog, join us as we look back at the history of Jacksons Corner and trace the story of this Reading landmark from its earliest days as a china and glass shop, to Edward Jackson’s arrival, and the building’s life beyond Jacksons’ closure. Each of these are themes that form the heart of our latest community exhibition: Jacksons of Reading.
Jacksons’ vast story begins in a much smaller premises.
In 1848, a man named Henry Fox established an outfitting store at 6 High Street, Reading. Fox’s shop provided all kinds of tailoring services, and Fox’s roles included being a clothier, woollen draper, hatter, hosier. An example of the kinds of clothes Fox produced can be found in papers held at the Berkshire Record Office, in an 1874 bill for ‘deerskin trousers, waistcoat and coat’.
Just under thirty years after the establishment of Fox’s business, his shop was purchased in 1875 by a man named Edward Jackson (who often traded as E. Jackson), born in Sherfield on Loddon, Hampshire. This is the date that Jacksons always regarded as the year of the company’s foundation. The business remained on the High Street for several years before E. Jackson moved to the space on King’s Road (formerly home to a glass and china store owned by Adnams & Sons), which has been known as the home of Jacksons of Reading ever since.
Over the course of many years, from the 1870s onwards, Jacksons' business grew both financially and literally, as neighbouring buildings were purchased and adjoined, new departments opened, and further services offered. These were complemented by substantial extensions and refurbishments, such as the building of new showrooms, stockrooms and warehouses in 1936, and the construction of an even larger extension in King’s Road in 1954, widening the vast range of items and departments all the more.
It was on the fiftieth anniversary of Jacksons’ foundation in 1925 that a new frontage was constructed on the entrance of the building at the corner of Broad Street and King’s Road. Appearing in its iconic giant letters for the first time, that corner became Jacksons Corner, which is how it remains today.
As Jacksons' size and appearance evolved over the many years in which the store was open, so too did the store's ways of working, with new and changing technology arriving to support the business's operations. Perhaps the most memorable of these for the shop's former customers (and many Reading residents) will be its iconic Lamson pneumatic system which was used for handling cash and payment. This system was fitted in the store by Lamsons in the 1940s and upgraded in the 1960s. For an idea of how it operated, the system was known as a 'cash railway'. Clerks would place payment in aluminum torpedo-like cannisters. These cannisters would then be propelled by an air blower in the building's basement, flying through tubes between different departments and the store's central cash desk. Several department stores across the country acquired similar pneumatic systems throughout the 1960s, but Jacksons kept its system in use for longer than anyone else.
The Lamson system, and the unparalleled length of its retention in the store, perfectly demonstrates how Jacksons charmed and capture the imagination of its shoppers and Reading people. This was a place at the cutting-edge of retail and trends, and also an institution that valued tradition and legacy.
Another way in which tradition was so important to Jacksons was that this was a family business, which it became early in the company’s history. In 1904, E. Jackson brought his two sons – Edward Russell Jackson and Robert Henry Jackson – into partnership, and the company began trading as E. Jacksons & Sons Ltd, a name that remained in use until at least 1961 (and possibly much later). And though Edward Jackson passed away in 1928, the two sons were still running the business well into the 1950s, alongside E. Jackson’s grandson Edward M. Jackson and great-nephew John Howard Jackson (who worked for the firm for more than fifty years until his death in 1985). The business remained in the Jackson family until its closure in the 2010s, spanning four generations and doing the firm’s slogan proud: ‘Jacksons, The Family Store’.
It was Jacksons’ deeply personal and family-oriented nature that made Jacksons so beloved during its more than one hundred years of business. As the face of business across England grew increasingly anonymous from the 1980s onwards, Jacksons made virtue of its traditional service and values. It was this deeply personal touch that made Jacksons such a valued part of Reading’s townscape, and a large reason for its continued endurance in the town’s collective imagination.
Whilst Jacksons’ deep ties to Reading’s past and history was one of its major advantages over competitors, the progressively competitive landscape of business in the 21st century – catalysed by the rise of online shopping – became more and more difficult for independent high street retailers to vie with. As the 2010s continued, Jacksons’ management recognised that they were no longer able to compete, and the store sadly closed its doors for the last time on Christmas Eve, 2013.
Fortunately, this closure was not before Jacksons’ company archivist Thomas Macey, together with Reading Museum, were able to collect items from the store’s vast and rich history, and add these to public collections held both at Berkshire Record Office and Reading Museum. This includes ephemera, signage, and papers from the store’s past, to ensure that its story remains part of Reading’s memory for future generations.
In 2021, work is currently underway on carefully redeveloping Jacksons Corner to create spaces for independent retailers and residences. The work is being sensitively undertaken to ensure that the new site retains much of the memory and identity of Jacksons, including the maintenance of the iconic Jacksons logo, so that Jacksons Corner will remain in Reading’s townscape as Jacksons Corner long into the future.
Learn more about the history of Jackson Corner in our display Jacksons of Reading, which can be enjoyed in Reading Museum until the 24th July. Please note: the model will not be on display on the 8th July as it will be starring in a private view at the Jacksons building.