History of Hillards Supermarket

This concise history of Hillards Supermarket is based on interviews with Mr Peter Hartley conducted in 2016 and 2017.

The Beginning

Hillards was founded by John Wesley Hillard, born of Shepton Beauchamp, Somerset in 1859, son of a skin hide merchant. John Wesley was an apprentice of the tea trade, who upon finishing the apprenticeship went to Paris where he managed a grocery store. After a year in Paris he travelled to Tralee, in Southern Ireland, where he managed three grocery stores. In 1885, it is said that he borrowed the sum of £60 (the equivalent of £6900 in 2017) and bought a store in Cleckheaton in the West Riding of Yorkshire. A store in which a number of previous attempts to establish businesses had failed, John Wesley was “given six months”. John Wesley however did not fail and within a few years he had six stores, and went on opening stores in the surrounding area.

The stores were usually end of terrace houses, where the front living room and been turned into a little shop of roughly 150 to 200 square feet, a common practice at the time. By the time of his death in 1935 John Wesley had built up a chain of almost seventy small stores, all within 15 miles of Cleckheaton. He also acquired a chain of 15 stores, called Jubbs Grocers, in Huddersfield. John Wesley named is shops Lion Stores, as the original shop in Cleckheaton was in Albion chambers, and on top of the building was a stone Lion.

Early 20th Century Change of Management

Following the death of John Wesley Hillard the business was carried on by Percy Hartley (father of Peter Hartley), who had joined the company in 1908 having trained and worked as an accountant. Percy Hartley married one of John Wesley Hillards four children in 1913, and worked as an accountant in the company until John Wesley’s death in 1935, where upon he took over management. John Wesley’s sons, Charles and Jack Hillard, had worked in the company, however John was very much in control and they had had only limited input into its running. Soon after their father died they retired from the company.

Charles emigrated to Australia with his Partner and wrote his letter of resignation as a company director on board the ship. However, on arriving in Australia they discovered the climate not to their liking and returned on the same ship. On his return Charles was re-appointed as a director, and remained so until the company was publicly floated in 1972, but took little part in the running of the company. Jack Hillard had no involvement in the running of the company, but was a major shareholder.

Percy Hartley ran the company from 1935 until he was forced to retire due to ill health in 1951. Following his retirement the company continued for a time without a clear management structure, comprising David Hartley (one of Percy’s sons who joined the company in 1947 from the RAF) and two assistants.

Post War Management Difficulties

Peter Hartley joined the company in 1955 after spending time gaining experience outside of Hillards in Allied Stores and Express Dairies (which also had a supermarket chain called Premier Supermarkets in London).