PROBABLY the most iconic and loved store in Northwich has closed.

Bratts had almost anything the town centre shopper could wish for. A superb selection of just about everything from frying pans to furniture. If you couldn’t find it or something like it in Bratts, you would probably not find it anywhere other than online. And therein lies the problem, not just of Bratts but all brick and mortar stores.

Bratts was one of the last true department stores in Cheshire. Browns of Chester and Debenhams, to name two of the competition, have also closed their doors for good. These are massive losses to the county and Bratts in particular.

In Northwich, the café was loved by all who visited there whenever shopping. The staff were second to none, friendly, helpful and very well-liked and remembered.

Bratt & Evans circa early 1900s

Bratt & Evans circa early 1900s

Similarities with the TV show, ‘Are you being served?’ was a compliment and looked back at how department stores used to be and stores like Bratt & Evans were becoming rare.

But let’s go back and see how it all started.

Henry Bratt opened his first shop in Northwich in 1860 with the name H Bratt & Son, General Drapers and Outfitters, Milliners and Carpet factors; his son was Miles Bratt.

However, Miles pre-deceased his father. At the turn of the last century, Henry took on his fabric buyer Jack Evans, and the pair went into partnership under the name Bratt & Evans.

Henry Bratt

Henry Bratt

Henry Bratt became a Northwich JP and lived at The Poplars, Winnington Hill. In 1890 Henry provided the finance for another shop in Hanley with another businessman Oliver Dyke, and it is still known as Bratt and Dyke.

Bratt & Evans went from strength to strength, aided by being suppliers to his friends Brunner and Mond, of which Henry became a shareholder, and the shares did very well. To such an extent that Henry could retire and go on a world cruise.

While onboard off Melbourne, Australia, he sadly died. The business was left to his partner Jack Evans. But back to 1902 and the employment of an excellent employee in the form of Mrs Emily Minshull, an apprentice. She worked her way from the millinery department to being a member of the board.

Jack Evans may have been a good fabric buyer but was not really up to running the business, and Mrs Minshull became the figurehead in the company that limped along.

H Bratt & Son 1891

H Bratt & Son 1891

In 1928, John Arthur Gray, an agent for a silk merchant, persuaded Evans to sell him the business, and Mrs Minshull stayed with the company until retirement in 1953.

By 1934 the store title was Bratt & Evans Ltd, general drapers, costumiers, ladies and children’s outfitters and carpet factors.

John was joined in the business by his two sons – Jack in 1936 and Donald in 1946.

In 1949 the store was modernised entirely, but two years later, John Arthur Gray died. The store was very successful under the brothers, still maintaining the Bratt & Evans name.

In 1968 a new store was opened in Knutsford. There was a longstanding store in Nantwich called Stretch and Harlock Ltd that the brothers purchased in 1971.

Bratts circa 1980

Bratts circa 1980

The store then became Bratts Department Store, Nantwich, and it is still open for business.

The company is still in the Gray family and is run by Tim Gray, Donald Gray’s son.

Like many companies, the Covid virus has had an adverse effect, not helped by the Northwich floods and online stores; accordingly, it was uneconomic to continue Bratts in Northwich.

The closure came as a shock for the many loyal customers and speaking to Councillor Sam Naylor; it was also a big shock to Cheshire West and Chester Council.

An approach was made to the Gray family, telling them that the council wanted to explore options and incentives. These incentives were in line with those made to John Lewis and Debenhams in Chester and were to keep Bratts trading.

It did, however, prove to be fruitless as the decision to close down was final. So sadly, Northwich has lost another longstanding and much-loved shop.

What the future holds for bricks and mortar stores in Northwich and in fact, throughout the county, when online shopping has proven efficient, if nowhere near as enjoyable, as having a store like Bratts on Witton Street.

n Paul Hurley has a thriving Facebook Group called Mid Cheshire Through Time, and all are welcome.