Who: Cribb & Foote Ltd, Ipswich’s leading department store for over 125 years. Founded by Benjamin Cribb (1807–1874) and John Clark Foote (1822–1895), and subsequently operated by generations of Cribbs and Footes. Initially trading as the ‘London Stores’, Cribb was sole owner up to 1855, when he partnered with Foote. From 1925 to 1937, it was under Cribb family ownership until it became a public company in 1937.
What: A general merchant and draper that became a major department store and Ipswich landmark, specialising in fashion amongst a comprehensive range of goods.
Where: The store occupied a prime position on the corner of Brisbane and Bell Streets in the main shopping district of Ipswich’s CBD. The site is so well known that when the shop burnt down in 1985, a new central landmark, Ipswich City Square, was built in its place. Over the 19th and 20th centuries, Cribb & Foote developed franchise stores in Brisbane, Rockhampton, Warwick, and Gatton, but the Ipswich store was always the jewel in their crown.
When: The original Ipswich store was built in 1849 and stood until 1985. In 1972, the company was bought out by Walter Reid & Company—following an offer made in 1971—and was registered as ‘Cribb & Foote Pty Ltd’. In 1977, it was relaunched as ‘Reids’.
Why: Cribb & Foote was not just an icon of Ipswich, it was a major figure of Queensland’s shopping past, predating most of its competitors in Brisbane. In fact, it predated the independent colony of Queensland by ten years. The outpouring of public grief when it burnt down in 1985 is a testament to its shaping of Ipswich’s identity. It was an important local employer as well as the heart of the high street.
A merchant by trade, Cribb emigrated to Queensland from England in 1849, carrying goods to sell in Brisbane. He immediately purchased premises at the corner of Albert and Queen Streets in Brisbane, after which time he strategically relocated to Ipswich, where he was to establish the ‘London Stores’. His first newspaper adverts included ‘linen drapery’ and ‘slops clothing’ (inexpensive, ready-to-wear clothing), amongst general produce such as tea and liquor. After this first shipment, the London Stores steadily expanded the imported range of garments, footwear, and drapery.
His was the first general store set up in the newly named town of Ipswich, and so with limited competition, Cribb was an important source of supplies for the small, but growing, European settlement. His dominance over this market perhaps made up for the many complexities in getting imported goods to Ipswich—overseas imports were infrequent and often had to pass through Sydney and Brisbane first. 1852 advertising boasted better quality, lower prices and newer styles than Sydney, thanks to the firm’s direct connections with the largest exporters in England.
In mid-19th century Ipswich, there were many needs yet to be met, and therefore much opportunity for savvy businesspeople to take advantage of a burgeoning market. Cribb was at one point postmaster and a ship’s agent, and at another, Cribb & Foote acquired the Bank of New South Wales (Ipswich’s first bank). Similarly, opportunities in Brisbane abounded, and in 1853, Benjamin Cribb opened a second store called ‘Moreton House’ on the corner of Albert and Queen Streets, which he ran until it was sold in 1855. It was at this time that he went into partnership with John Clarke Foote, joined by Benjamin’s nephew Robert Cribb Jnr (Robert eventually sold his share back to his uncle, but continued on until 1866 as Cribb & Foote’s accountant).
By 1855, Cribb & Foote had a drapery department and a fuller range of imported ready-to-wear fashion, including hats and garments made up in fine fabrics and ‘new styles’. Expansion occurred in 1860, with a new showroom and footwear department, and in 1863 they introduced a tailoring department offering same-day made-to-measure suits, a men’s outfitting department, and a shawl department with a full range of embroidered, lace and printed shawls, capes, and coats. As business grew in the 1870s, fashion goods at times outweighed other imports. At this point, there were around one hundred employees across their many departments.
Cribb & Foote celebrated their golden jubilee in 1899, but no longer were Benjamin Cribb or John Clarke Foote with the business. Benjamin Cribb had died in 1874, leaving his widow Clarissa as senior partner. In 1891, John Clarke Foote and Clarissa Cribb transferred management to the next generation of Cribbs and Footes. Towards the end of the 19th century, the former corner shop looked like a substantial emporium with a strong architectural presence and attractive window displays, modelled on the grand department stores of London and Paris. Fashion was stocked in a more serious manner, with a staff dressmaker creating made-to-measure gowns.
In the early part of the 20th century, country customers were highly valued by Cribb & Foote. They were serviced by a large fleet of delivery vehicles and dense mail order catalogues, usually featuring seductive fashion images on the covers. Former Cribb & Foote Director Keith Jarrott believed that the mail order department was far too expensive to run in order to be profitable, but was nonetheless necessary to establishing brand awareness across Queensland.
The firm survived two World Wars and multiple economic downturns, typically choosing to retain staff where possible despite immediate financial challenges. Staff loyalty was important to their customers’ perception that the business had continued the family-style service, even after the Cribbs and Footes had departed the firm. Over their 128 years, Cribb & Foote boasted at least thirty-five employees who had given forty years or more service.
The 1960s saw some changes to the firm’s formerly steadfast nature. 1965 saw record sales followed by years of steady profits, allowing for costly additions to the menswear department in 1969.
Whereas Brisbane had experienced a sharp move towards suburban shopping in the 1950s and 1960s—catalysed by the success of Allan & Stark’s Drive-In Shopping Centre in Chermside—Ipswich retail retained its CBD focus throughout this period. The high street more or less resisted the influx of interstate chains, and was instead populated with a number of well-loved, established and local names, the best known being Cribb & Foote. This all changed dramatically in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when major commercial development hit the Ipswich CBD.
By 1971, profits at Cribb & Foote had dropped by six percent. A purchase offer was made by large retailer Reids and accepted in 1972. The name and staff of Cribb & Foote were kept for a period—until it was relaunched as Reids in 1977—though locals still referred to it as ‘Cribbs’. Cribb & Foote’s old-fashioned service continued at Reids, retaining personal touches not seen in competing department stores of that period, such as attended lifts.
The transformation of the once historical urban streetscape of Ipswich reached its climax in 1985, when a massive fire wiped out Reids. Tragically, the original ‘London Stores’, trading continuously since Benjamin Cribb had it built in 1849, was razed to the ground. For a long time the CBD struggled to recover from its devastated high street, just as Reids struggled to regain its trade after moving to a nearby premises. It closed not long after in 1987.
The Kern Corporation, who had undertaken complex and controversial negotiations with the Ipswich council prior to the fire to create a major shopping complex on the site, moved to develop in 1986. The loss of the heritage Cribb & Foote building helped to expedite their plans, and ‘Ipswich City Square’ was opened in 1987, with Brisbane department store McDonnell & East at its centre. The new development would face an immediate downturn in the early 1990s as a result of the national recession, the insolvency of the Kern Corporation, and the growing competition of suburban shopping centres in Ipswich. After McDonnell & East closed in 1993, the Ipswich city centre lost its link with its thriving department store past for good.
- 1849 ‘Classified Advertising.’, The Moreton Bay Courier (Brisbane, Qld. : 1846 – 1861), 15 September, p. 1, viewed 16 January, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3712805
- 1850-1973. Cribb and Foote Families Papers (OM73-63). John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.
- 1855 ‘Classified Advertising.’, The Moreton Bay Courier (Brisbane, Qld. : 1846 – 1861), 20 October, p. 3, viewed 16 January, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3713423
- ca. 1860s. The Brisbane and Ipswich Rose. George Slater & Co, Brisbane. Joseph, Myers & Co, London. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.
- 1863 ‘Advertising.’, Queensland Times, Ipswich Herald and General Advertiser (Qld. : 1861 – 1908), 24 October, p. 1, viewed 16 January, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article123605551
- 1899. List of Christmas and other specialities : Jubilee year 1899. London stores, Ipswich. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.
- 1899. Jubilee menu : 1849-1899. Cribb & Foote Ltd. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.
- 1934. Memorandum and articles of association. Cribb & Foote Ltd. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.
- 1971 ‘Company News, and Comment’, The Age, 25 March, 1971, http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=sdxUAAAAIBAJ&sjid=ppADAAAAIBAJ&pg=2982%2C5246912
- 1965 ‘Cribb & Foote Record Sales’, The Age, 12 March, 1965, http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=ITpVAAAAIBAJ&sjid=ZpUDAAAAIBAJ&pg=4788%2C2149565
- 1971. Offer by Walter Reid and Company Limited to purchase all the issued ordinary capital of Cribb & Foote Limited. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.
- 1972. Cribb & Foote Ltd, Letter to the Chairman of Directors of Walter Reid & Co. Ltd. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.
- 1972. Articles of association as amended by resolutions passed at an extraordinary general meeting of members of the company, Cribb & Foote Ltd. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.
- Blythe, Andrew. 2003. A Retailing History of the Ipswich Central Business District (CBD): From the mid-1970s to 2003. City of Ipswich (report). http://www.ipswich.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/8578/scholarship_report_1_retail_history.pdf
- Foley, Peter. 2012. ‘Inferno that scarred Ipswich’. Queensland Times, http://www.qt.com.au/news/the-heart-of-ipswich/1247311/
- Foote, N. M. 2001. The Families Cribb & Foote. South Hobart, Rosemary Sandford. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.
- Jarrot, Keith. 1998. Pins, Petticoats and Ploughs. J. K. Jarrot.
- OMDG, Cribb and Foote (London Stores) Records, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.