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54 Suffolk Road (formerly Bon Marche)
In 1881 this property, the Bon Marche, came up for sale. It was described as being situated at the corner of Suffolk Road and Great Norwood Street, as the adjacent building (on what is now the street corner) had only recently been erected. About thirty years earlier there were no buildings at all in this row between Great Norwood Street and the Suffolk Arms and the infill had occurred only gradually.
"Bon Marche" was understood in the 19th century to roughly translate as "good value" and the fact that this name was in use here by the time of the 1881 sale suggests that these premises had already found a commercial use.
The directories indicate that the Bon Marche was unoccupied at the time of the sale in 1881 but by 1883 it was home to Ralph and Jessie Negus and their new-born son Montague. Ralph seems to have been a dynamic businessman, although it isn't clear whether he founded the shop, or bought into an existing business.
In 1886 Ralph Negus advertised a "Bazaar and Fancy Fair" to be held at this address. The shop was known as a Fancy Drapery & Fancy Bazaar and was advertised prolifically in the local newspapers. In 1890 Ralph Negus obtained permission from the council to hang a large lamp out over the shop and also decided, in common with other drapers in the town, to close at 4 pm instead of 5 pm on Wednesdays, as a concession to the shop staff. Early shop closing on Wednesdays was still common in Cheltenham well into the 1960s.
At Christmas 1906 the Bon Marche sold aprons, gloves, hosiery, post card albums, watches, clocks, dolls and toys. It may have resembled a small department store rather than a drapers. By 1909 they had a "penny counter", where everything could be bought for one penny (not so different in principle from shops that sell everything for a pound today).
The Bon Marche continued to trade here throughout the Great War. Ralph's and Jessie's younger son, Ralph Albert Negus, a 2nd Lieutenant in the Gloucestershire Regiment, was killed in action on 18th April 1916 but business carried on, although the advertising seems to have been more muted. The shop closed sometime after 1921, without fanfare, and these premises were offered for sale in 1924 with vacant possession. Ralph Negus suffered chronic ill health later in life and died in the arms of his son Montague on 12th February 1927, at the age of 71.
In 1925 came a complete change of trade when Messrs Reed and Patterson took over these premises and renamed them the Grafton Garage. They were the authorised distributors for Daimler motor cars, with saloon models priced at £700 (the average weekly wage was about £5). They moved into new premises in Bath Road in 1926 and the Grafton Garage then came under new management .
By 1927 the shop had become a branch of Cheltenham and Gloucester Car Mart Ltd which, as the largest car dealers in Gloucestershire, also had premises in the Promenade and in Winchcombe Street. Amongst others, they were agents for Talbot, Austin and Alvis motor cars.
In 1930 the property seems to have been empty but in 1932 and 1933 it briefly became a second hand furniture shop called the Grafton Furniture Mart.
The motor trade resumed here in 1933, when the Suffolk Garage (proprietor Hugh Spencer Jones) took over the premises. This company began in about 1920 in Suffolk Parade and by 1938 they were agents for Austin, Standard, Morris, Hillman and Lagonda.
Gloucestershire Motors sold new and used cars, provided service and repair and hired cars by the day. During the difficult years of the Second World War they advertised mostly used cars for sale and also purchased vehicles for "Government Service". Later in the War they diversified into motor cycles.
With the end of the War, in 1946 Gloucestershire Motors advertised as American car-servicing specialists and became the Citroen County distributors - the first hint that new cars were once more available to purchase. They continued to trade at 54 Suffolk Road until at least the late 1960s.
By 1975 there had been a complete change when Christopher Galloway Associates were here as Interior Decorators.
For some local memories of this property follow this link.
Research: Stuart Manton (Nov 2016)
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