'Are you being served?'

The north side of Western Road, at the corner of Marlborough Street - 29 January 1955. During this year the Golden Cross Inn, which like Johnson's had been completely rebuilt in 1928/30, was sold to Johnson Bros. who reconstructed the premises as an extension of their shop. Click on the photo to open a large version in a new window.
Image reproduced with kind permission of The Regency Society and The James Gray Collection

Started work straight from school

From 1963 until 1969, I worked in Johnson’s Department store in Western Road. I started work there straight from school and I enjoyed it very much. I worked in the ‘China and Glass’ section in the basement, and then graduated to window dressing. I do remember that all us ‘young things’ who worked there had a great social life together.

A bit like ‘Grace Brothers’

People I remember were General Manager Mr Johnson, Ian in ‘Haberdashery’, Roger and Tony in ‘Carpets’, my old mate Janet Jeffs in ‘China and Glass’, Janet and Julie, Miss Faulkner, Mrs Jestico, Miss Cole, Mr Fogarty in ‘Hardware’, my boss Mr Yonwin head of ‘China and Glass’, Billy and Paul, and David Field. It was a really old fashioned store a bit like the shop ‘Grace Brothers’ in the TV show ‘Are you being served’. Every Thursday all of the juniors went and got the stationery from upstairs in the stock room; this was our highlight of the week.

Fined for singing

Stocktaking was a chore and involved counting everything, right down to the last egg cup. Janet Jeffs and I were caught singing ‘Rag Doll’ at the top of our voices in the stockroom by General Manager, Mr Johnson. But he only spotted me and so I was fined ten old shillings. I remember running upstairs with a 21pc tea-set or dinner set because it was quicker than the lifts. The lifts took a long time to come because they were attended in those days.

Upper-class clientele

It seemed that our customers in those days were quite upper-class and often had charging accounts; and of course the goods were of a high quality. The store closed half day Saturday and we all used to pile into the pub at lunchtime. It was an excellent place to work, and I have many happy memories of the time. When the store burnt down on 5th Nov 1970, I stood outside watching, and cried my eyes out. A lot of the staff relocated to a store in East Street where The Reject Shop used to be.

If you have any memories of Johnson’s Department Store, please share them by leaving a comment below.

Comments about this page

  • We still have a couple of items of china bought in your department, Pam. I hope, though, that you won’t mind my saying that the most nostalgic memory evoked by the accompanying photo was that it was once possible to park with impunity in Western Road.

    By Brian Dungate (17/11/2011)
  • Ah,yes, parking where you want to step out. Those were the days. I remember the Johnsons well, Pamela. As a child growing up in Brighton ’46 onwards there are very many places I have walked, visited and shopped. Of course Johnsons would have been a favourite place to visitor Santa’s Grotto in December and receive something from the lucky dip box. Later in my married years I too bought a dinner service. It was one of those inspirational flash moments when you have no design to buy a bunch of plates. But there it was ‘Harvest’ I think it was called. Sheaths of brown wheat on white background and a brown border to finish. I took dinner and tea plates, plus cups and saucers to round off the set. If I remember rightly I went back another time and bought two lovely tourines for serving the vegetables in and also the in between size plates to match. I also collected tea pot, sugar bowl and milk jug. You can’t call it a set if you don’t cover all the bits needed. Right? Well that’s a woman’s point of view I guess. It was quite modern at the time and I loved it. In fact it is a style I would still enjoy today if it was still around. long gone now. Don’t know if I would recognise Western Road now. I am sure it will have changed many times since I was last there. Thanks for the page, 

    By Sandra Bohtlingk (19/11/2011)
  • I remember Pam Jones, a crazy window dresser at that store, we had great fun working in the store, with many great times spent at the golden galleon after work on Saturdays. I finished working with Mr Viney in curtains and blinds. If I was missing he knew where I would be wouldn’t he! Do you remember Mr Truelove?,   good friends Roger, Julie and Christine. Thanks for reminding me of the good times we had in those late 1960s.

    By Ean Ross (05/02/2012)
  • Hi Ean, I remember you too, I went to your birthday party, remember? I really fancied you, ha! It was great working there, I remember Julie not Christine, Mr Truelove? When it burned down I stood opposite and cried, they were great days. I remember the lift man and yes I remember Roger, Tony, Mr Yonwin, and Miss Virgo. Remember Janet, my friend? She now lives in spain. What did you go on to do Ean? I’m still in retail, I will always have really fond memories of Johnsons, did you leave before me? Half day closing on Saturday can you imagine that now, yes we used to head straight to the pub, usually someone was having a party that night too, even better! I never dreaded going to work there it was fun. Thanks for the memories Ean.

    By Pam (Jones) (04/03/2012)
  • So so good to read your reply! I often wonder what happened to everyone from “Johnsons” it really was as you described it – “Grace Brothers”. I left just before it burnt down, and it wasn’t me! I still live in Brighton, and have worked in the building trade for the last 40 years. I can’t believe how much time has passed, we were so cool back there in the 60s! Work was fun and I have great memories of so many who worked there. Where do you work now, are you still window dressing? Thanks again for your account of life at “Grace Brothers”.

    By Ean (12/03/2012)
  • I worked for Johnson Bros for 25 years. Firstly as a salesman under a Mr Wedlock, and then when he retired a Mr Keen took over. There was a Mr Walker and a Mr Blair there as well. I became the buyer/department manager a few years later, moved up a floor to the furniture department after Mr.Stace left, and for the final year before closing on 1975 I was the general manager responsible for giving everyone their redundancy notices. I’m surprised there are so many of you still around as I am now 87. Happy days, in the main.

    By Tony Viney (14/03/2012)
  • Great to hear from “Mr Viney” not sure if you remember me, but I worked in your dept for a while, finishing my time in the blinds dept. I can still remember Mr Johnson standing by the lift on Saturday mornings, welcoming all to the store, and advising what floor they were to get out- just like Grace Bros really, as Pam Jones described it. Mr Viney you were a good boss, but did like things to be orderly, especialy keeping all those fabric rolls tidy. Those were the days, we didn’t earn much, but it really was a friendly family run business, not like today. Does anyone know where Roger Godding is now? We were good friends then. I hope you are well Mr Viney. I did see some of our workmates in Hanningtons, but even that store is long gone. I really enjoy catching up after all this time, hope Pam will remind you of me, you did spend a lot time searching for me in her stock room on the top floor! bye .

    By Ean Ross (14/03/2012)
  • Hi, it’s me again, so lovely to readthe comments that are coming in, Mr Viney, great to read what you had to say. I can still picture you, how long did you work there? I hope you’re keeping well. I remember our staff canteen- wasn’t it great? Cissy used to keep us all fed- I used to love her cheese rolls. I haven’t seen Roger Godding since leaving. Wasn’t his wife called Virginia? Ean, I work in Churchill Sq, still Western Road. No I’m not still window dressing, how many children do you have? I’ve got two. So nice to be in contact with you after all these years. Bye for now.

    By Pam (Jones) (16/03/2012)
  • Ah! So many names, so long ago ! I started with Johnson Bros in 1954. A Mr. Brown was the carper buyer (he was a Director too, I recall) with George E. Mr.Barton-Tales was in charge of the linoleum department in the basement. Everyone had their title in those days – no first names. We didn’t have a canteen until the Golden Cross site was added. Before that we slipped out to the British Home Stores cafeteria for a drink and a smoke. Supposedly limited to 15 minutes – frequently overran. I believe it was a Mr. Dumbarton as buyer for the linen dept. Upstairs in furniture wre Mr.Stace, Mr.Evans-Smith and others I can’t remember. A book could be written about the Company with all its employees over the years, and the circumstances of its closing down after having survived the massive fire.

    By Tony Viney (19/03/2012)
  • Hi everyone, I remember the canteen, but, not being very keen on smoking, seeing across the room first thing in the morning and inhaling all that smoke was not all that pleasant. How things have changed now! Good to read your account Mr Viney, perhaps you should write a book? Pam, in answer to your question for us – no children, married for 37 years, a real old timer now, can’t believe where time has gone. But keeping well; don’t take any medication yet! You said you worked in Churchill Square, but where? Would really like to say hello! How is your sister who also worked at Johnson’s? Sorry, cannot remember her name. 

    By ean (21/03/2012)
  • Hi, me again. Yes I agree, Mr Viney you should write a book, you certainly have all the knowledge – it would make very interesting reading! Ean, I don’t mind telling you where I work, would be great to see you after all these years. I’ll email it to you if you give me your address. Sadly my sister Sally died at the age of 49 a good few years ago, it was a big shock to all of us. She didn’t work at Johnson’s very long. Speak soon.

    By Pam (Jones) (22/03/2012)
  • So sad to hear about Sally, I remember her as being so bright and bubbly, she used to work in the accounts desk by the lift, didn’t she? Good to see Mr Viney is still around, and able to work these awful computers – still have problems with them. When we were at work, we didn’t even have calculators then, did we? Everything was worked out by brain-power. Those were the days! Sorry Pam, don’t know how to contact you, but hope to see you soon.

    By Ean (24/03/2012)
  • Hello again. Listening to Gold Radio today, I heard Gary Pucket sing ‘Young Girl’. That song always makes me think of you Pam, do you remember why? Really loved the 60s, music was great, could still go out and enjoy a drink without bouncers on every door! mob. 07773746553.

    By Ean (06/04/2012)
  • Hi Ean, I don’t remember the connection with the “Young Girl” song. I know the song well and have always loved it. Please remind me. I will definately contact you on email if you give me your email address- it would be so nice to catch up. 

    By Pam (Jones) (09/04/2012)
  • Hi Pam, good to hear from you again. I left my mobile number on the last comment. I would love to hear from you. It is my work phone so only on during daytime. It will remind you of song.

    By Ean (11/04/2012)
  • Sorry Ean, I will only be contactable by email if you care to give me yours. Is there a problem doing that? 

    By Pam (Jones) (12/04/2012)
  • Sorry Pam, I thought the phone easier. My e.mail is eandeeross@yahoo.co.uk. I look forward to hearing from you after all this time.

    By Ean (14/04/2012)
  • Hi Pam. I certainly remember you and Janet. you seemed to be always pulling and tugging those large wicker trolleys of china on and off the goods lift! I started like you from school in 1963 but left after 18 months. I was in the window dressing team. I was also relief lift operator and spent time in the workshops at the back which was full of ladies making up special orders, mainly curtains. I remember Jill Boniface from the basement  and also a lively lad called Russell and also Mr Viney. I had a varied career. I worked 12 years backstage in the West End theatre and came back to retail in 1984 by opening a shop in Burgess Hill which I ran for 25 years.

    By Howard Burrell (31/08/2013)
  • Bernard Johnson was the owner,referred to as BJ, and he carried an air of importance and superiority about him. I was working as a junior salesman in the ground floor curtain department and I was approached by a refined elderly lady wishing to purchase velour curtain fabric.

    By Howard Burrell (22/10/2013)
  • This was my first job after leaving school in Jan 1959. I worked in the office as a junior bought ledger clerk. I was put on the lampson tubes cash/accounts in the lunchtime.  The boys had a laugh & arranged to send lots of bullets up the tubes so they arrived at the same time.  Just to give me a panic. the only department that had its own till was in the basement for the small items. I met Rob Chalk & we married in 1961 & celebrated our golden wedding in 2011, still going strong. We are still friends with Roger Watts, his dad was director in the Accounts Dept., I have lots of good memories & there were lots of junior staff & we had a good social life. Beach lunchtime was a favourite.

    By Joyce Chalk (21/06/2014)
  • My Mum worked at Johnsons straight from school probably from around 1946/7 until 1958. She made curtains in the the soft furnishing dept. Some names she remembers: the twins Betty worked in curtains and Peggy worked in carpets, Eva Gardener, Mary, Mr Wedlock. She speaks of the place with fondness.

    By Karen Pattinson (20/10/2014)
  • Reading some of the above memories recall a lot of nostalgia for me. I was apprenticed in 1953 switching to all the various departments before doing my National Service, demobbed,and doing my National furnishing diploma and returning to Johnson Bros as a technical rep. Some further names for you to recall are Mike Robbie (now lives in Florida), Paul Rusby, Julie Cox Joy Barnard, Ted Garnett (display manager), Mary Baker (became my first wife) Mr Skilton, Mr Bolton, Margaret ??, (Tony Viney will remember her surname!), Roger Watts, Dale Johnson (son of BJ), George Emmens,  Mr Williams and Grace Gander. I could probably think of some more if I put my thinking cap on. I recall the lunch time beach parties, the football team and the table tennis team and the dances that I organised in the canteen. I also remember a lot of the workroom staff names under Mr Wolf the manager.  Best wishes to all

    By Frank Edwards (07/04/2017)
  • I’m ust re-reading these posts. Barnard Johnson lived near Hampers Lane Storrington, he died a few years back. We have friends nearby and am still in touch with Roger Watts who lives in  Sussex. His father was a director and another family member too. I remember some of the names but I wasn’t there that long however I have fond memories of my time there, my first job in 1958, the rock ‘n roll era, Johnson coach trips and the beach at lunchtime. By the way I noticed long after I left, still Thursday for stationary, was one of my jobs to keep invoices in number order, give out pens etc. The directors’ room was just along the corridor.  Rob my husband stayed much longer and because I met him there and we married in 1961, we celebrated our 56th Anniversary this October.  He always had a motorbike and one morning Mr Barnard (we called him that so not to let on to customers he owned the store) saw that he had a scrape of some sort. He thought he had a fall off his bike and warned him to give it up. Of course he didn’t and it wasn’t due to a tumble either. We still have a Goldwing bike now. 


    By Joyce Chalk (18/11/2017)
  • I have an old brass Johnson Stores, Tea and Coffee specialists, High class groceries, Wine and spirit merchants, Ryde Esp. Phone 182, shop stamper! I bought it in a charity shop a long time ago.

    By Mrs Jennifer Levonian (21/02/2020)
  • I worked at Johnson Brothers from 1952 until 1956 when I left to work in Germany and subsequently in the United States. I was first interviewed by Mr. Bernard in the front window while he was instructing Mr. Garnett how he wanted the furniture to be arranged. He was called Mr. Bernard so as not to have been confused with his father who had died relatively recently. Just like Frank Edwards I was moved from department to department every six months to learn every facet of the business. I started on the second floor with Mr. Evans-Smith and Mr. Skilton and then moved down to the first floor with the buyer Mr. Tassel, Bert Sharp the head salesman plus Mr. Davey, Mr. Maxwell, Mr. Phillips and Mr. Girling. Then went on to Carpets under the buyer Mr. Brown, Salesmen George Emmons, Mr. Williams and Mr. Hunter. From there I spent six months with Mr. Garnett doing window dressing and in soft furnishings with Mr. Wedlock, Mr. Walker and Mr. Keene. Sometimes I would go out on house calls with director George Stace to measure for curtains and upholstery. Other people I remember from Johnson Brothers are Sally Gill who I went to school with at Ellen Street Júnior school, Daphne, Julie, Gene the porter who was a ballroom dancing champion, Tony in China in the basement who married a pretty blond girl who sat in the accounting kiosk next to the lift, Edward the ancient lift operator who fell asleep in the employee cafeteria and took two hour lunches, Mr. Rose in linoleum whose wife ran the cafeteria, Sam Woolf the works manager, Ray Tee the carpenter’s apprentice who accompanied me on a bicycle tour of France, Belgium and Holland, Mac and Ernie on the loading dock who both got upset with me because I suggested that we could not have won the war without the help of the Americans. I am still in touch with Frank Edwards after all these years. Whenever I watch episodes of “Are you being served” on Youtube I am always reminded of the wonderful time I spent at Johnson Brothers.

    By Michael Robbie (29/06/2022)

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