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How it all started

The roots of Empire Stores mail order company lie in a village off Lake Como in Italy where Antonio Fattorini was born in 1797.

In 1815 at 18 yrs of age Antonio set off to fight with the British against Napoleon , but before empire stores - Antonio Fattorini he would reach Brussels, the battle of Waterloo had been fought and the French army defeated. Instead of heading back to Italy he decided to try his hand at making his fortune in Britain or as it was then known 'the workshop of the world'.

Antonio set about looking for work in Dewsbury in the north of England and within 5 years he had set himself up in business as a travelling packman.

Over the next few years Antonio built his business selling watches, jewellery , looking glasses, scissors and penknives. Travelling pedlars would attend the local weekly market or annual fare and were the only way rural communities could buy goods as they had no shops. Pedlars could often make on the first day of a fair the same as an agricultural worker could make in a year.

However due to the industrial revolution, changes in how ordinary people shopped were coming. empire store catalogue cover In Liverpool a permanent covered market was developed that benefited from gas lighting and toilet facilities. It was so successful that other large towns followed suit and in 1827 two markets were built in Leeds. Antonio rented a stall for 1s 3d selling his usual watches, cheap jewellery and fancy goods.

By 1830 the Fattorini family had 3 sons and Antonio had moved to a shop in the Bazaar section of the market and he was selling much better quality jewellery.

Around the same time Marks and Spencer started as the Penny Bazaar in Leeds and Kendal Milne began in the Manchester Bazzar.

As standards of living improved the market for luxury goods grew and Antonio was able to open another shop in Harrogate that was eventually left in the capable hands of his eldest son also named Antonio, he then moved again to Bradford to establish a far larger branch of the business.

Bradford was rapidly expanding as the coal, iron and stone industries grew, with the connection to the Leeds -Liverpool canal and the railway system. The population had expanded from 6,400 in 1801 to 34,500 in 1831, including the surrounding villages the population was upwards of 70,000 and growing.

Antonio saw the potential for growth in his jewellery business and opened another shop aided by another of his now 7 sons whilst another son opened a branch in Skipton.

In 1852 another family member joined the business, Antonio's youngest son John who had completed a 5 yrs apprenticeship as a watchmaker. It was John who's ideas led the family into the beginnings of mail order.

John saw the need for working men to have a watch, an item that had prior to the growth of the industrialization had not been a necessity. With the agreement of the family he formed the first Fattorini Watch Club.

The idea was innovative but simple, a club would be formed where members met in a local pub and over a period of 50 weeks would pay 6d a week into a common fund, they would have a committee, chairman and empire stores watch club treasurer. When the sum of 1.5s had been collected there would be a raffle and 1 member would receive a watch, he then continued to pay his subs for the year and in turn over the year each member would get their turn to receive a watch.

The combination of a social gathering with the opportunity for lower paid workers to purchase expensive items over a period of time was a great success and clubs grew rapidly. The range of available items grew to take in cutlery, clocks, rings, chains, musical instruments and metal tea pots and as some of the clubs were quite a distance from the shops a catalogue of goods was produced and payment and goods were exchanged by post.

In 1859 Antonio died at the age of 63, such was the success of his business that Fattorini was a household name in the West Riding. On his death the business was split into 3 parts, though they all continued to advertise jointly, by producing one catalogue with 3 distinctive covers. Sons Edward and John took control of the Bradford business, son Innocent continued at Skipton and son Antonio inherited the Harrogate business. As the younger Antonio never married it was subsequently left to his sister Marie Tindall and it remains in Tindall hands today.

A third Antonio, grandson of founding Antonio also became a watchmaker and as he was a keen sportsman he soon became known all over Britain as a sporting timekeeper, eventually acting in this capacity at the Olympic Games. With his sporting connections he was able to promote the family business in designing and producing sporting trophies this led eventually to the Football Association paying 50 guineas (52.50) for the FA Cup to be made and this is the same trophy played for today.

By 1890 the shop in Harrogate had extended to include household goods such as blankets, sheets, rugs and mats and this formed the basis of the mail order catalogue eventually including clothing, footwear, furs, bedsteads, bicycles and piano's.

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