27th June 2011. What Happened to T.J.Hughes?

T.J. Hughes was acquired by JJB Sports in 2002, but sold 18 months later to a private investment company. Nine years later Today in 2011 it was announced it was going into Administration.

It was surprising for a company which seemed to be doing well in the discount clothes and consumer hardware business and had grown by 20 stores since 2003 when it was acquired by Silverfleet Capital Private Equity.(1)

However three vital aspects caused their downfall: Cashflow caused by overstocking; withdrawal of credit insurance for suppliers, after Hughes’ battle to secure working capital, and increased competition from Peacocks, Primark, Matalan, TK Maxx, but also by the traditional food retailers Sainsbury, Asda and Tesco moving into clothing and consumer goods.

T.J. Hughes, Liverpool 1950.

There are five competitive forces that determine profitability: Suppliers and their bargaining power, substitutes or threats, buyers and their bargaining powers, potential entrants and the rivalry existing among existing competitors.

The collective strength of these five competitive forces determines the ability of firms to earn, on average, rates of return on investment in excess of the cost of capital. T.J Hughes fell foul of many of these forces.

In those areas where the five forces are favourable as in pharmaceuticals, soft drinks, data-base publishing, many competitors can earn attractive returns, but in some areas rubber, steel and video games, few firms command attractive returns despite the best efforts of management. Industrial profitability is not a function of what the product looks like or whether it embodies high or low technology but of industrial structure.

Mundane industries/companies, like T.J.Hughes can be profitable, whilst High-Tech computers and cable-television are not profitable for many participants.

The year 2011 as well as T.J. Hughes, saw the demise of the Faith Shoe Chain, Officers Club, Oddbins, Home Form (Moben kitchens/Dolphin bathrooms), Habitat and Jane Norman.

Liverpool was once the home of retail department stores: Blackler’s, Owen Owen, Littlewood’s, Lewis’s, and T.J. Hughes, but are now only a name.

In September 2012, JJB Sports followed T.J. Hughes into Administration. 

(1) Hughes’ Gross Profits rose about 50% from £3.6m (2003) to £7.9m (2004) to £12m (2006). The 2007 Pre-Tax of 5.1m to January 26th was up from £1.2m the previous year, with operating profit up 299% to £2.9m for year to January 2010.

streetsofliverpool.co.uk/July 2011/Pic.

26th June 1657. Doleful Sunday.

Mrs Crupps, David Copperfield’s landlady had a constitutional objection to ‘spies, intruders and informers and named no names, let them the cap fitted wear it’.

Petty officialdom love telling the rest of us how to live our lives, which in the 17th century was enshrined in one person: Oliver Cromwell, and his Puritan supporters. 

The Second Protectorate Parliament in England sat for two Sessions, with Thomas Widdrington as Speaker. In its First Session, the Commons was the only Chamber; in the Second, an ‘Other House’ (Lords), with power to veto was in evidence.

John Taylor Pamphlet Vindication of Christmas. 1652. Bridgeman Art Library.

The First Session ran from September 1656 until Today in 1657 which saw an Act, ‘For the Better Observation of the Lord’s Day’. (1)

Cromwell and his Puritans, in the Lord’s Name, loved to ban things: the Second Chamber of Peers, for ten years from 1649; Christmas and celebrations on Holy Days were seen as superstitious, contraventions being reported by a system of spies.

In addition Sundays, (The Lord’s Day), became extremely doleful as the 1657 Act said: [banning anything]: ‘Adjudged prophanation of the Lords Day, Travelling, Innkeeping &c; Entertaining such &c; Persons being in Taverns, Inns &c; keeping open door, Dauncing, Singing &c; Washing Whiting &c; Burning Beet, Gathering Rates, melting Tallow or Wax, Brewing, Baking, Butchers and other exposing Wares to Sale, Taylours, Barbers, Fairs, Wakes, Revels &c; Walking in Times of Publique Worship, Travelling and Carrying Burdens or Doing Worldly Labour’.

One such victim was the diarist John Evelyn who wrote about living through the time of the Commonwealth. In 1657 he and his wife went to London to take part in a ‘Christmas service to be held in secret’.

The authorities were alerted, soldiers broke up the service and arrested those present, but Evelyn records that after a few hours under arrest at a private house where he wasn’t deprived of his dinner, the prisoners were released, and Evelyn and his wife after an examination by officials, were allowed home.

Sundays in the Author’s lifetime were days of restrictions on all types of entertainment and one wasn’t allowed to play in the street. The Lord’s Day Observance Society still cast its shadow over life.

(1) The  2 sessions from 17th September 1656 until 4th February 1658. The first ran until 26th June 1657.

Ref: British-History.ac.uk/report.

Ref: Acts and Ordinances of 1642-60 originally published by HMSO. London 1911.

Ref: wikipedia.org/cromwell_protectorate.

Ref: historyextra.com/Pic.

25th June 2003. Route to Muscovy.

This evening President Putin of Russia attended a dinner at the Guildhall, London in 2003. The last Russian, as opposed to a Soviet Head of State, to experience this hospitality, was Tsar Alexander II back in 1874, who had a choice of twenty-two courses which included seven desserts.(1)

That impressive menu was headed: ‘Reception By the Corporation of the City of London of his Imperial Majesty, The Emperor of All The Russias, at the Guildhall’ followed by the date: in 2003 it just said ‘Menu’.

Map of Muscovy by Anthony Jenkinson and Gerard de Jode. 1593.

The President was here to celebrate 450 years of trade links with Britain, and marked the day when Richard Chancellor accidentally discovered the northern route to Russia, via the White Sea, which led to the formation of the Muscovy Company in 1555. (2)

The history of Arctic exploration goes back to 14th September 1553 when Sir Hugh Willoughby of Risley, the Arctic explorer, sailed into a bay near to the present border between Finland and Russia. His chief pilot was Richard Chancellor, under the auspices of what was later to be called the Muscovy Company, to find a north-east route to Cathay (China).

Seal of Muscovy Company founded by Richard Chancellor, Sebastian Cabot and Sir Hugh Willoughby.

In the 15thc the Cabots and Columbus journeyed largely unnoticed, and Geography where taught, was based on the out-of-date ‘disc’ maps which displayed Britain as the ‘utmost corner of the West’, instead as the island outpost ideally placed to become the intermediary between the old world and the new.

The greatest mathematicians of the day were thus to produce by the latter part of the 15thc a Nautical Almanack and Manual of Navigation. But we lagged behind however in these matters for Britain, down to the time of Henry VII, was anything but a maritime people.

The oldest arithmetic books were simply Ready-Reckoners. Commerce implied ships and this implied navigation, and the ability to set a course by compass and chart.

Checking a position by even the simplest observation of a star something more than arithmetic was needed. The ship-master must be familiar with the measurement of angles.

Navigation was primitive, so two Cambridge scholars, Robert Recorde, John Dee and Richard Chancellor were brought to London  to give the most up to date training in the science of navigation that Europe could provide; thus, ‘Shooting the Sun’ began to replace ‘Rule of Thumb’.

The ability was now needed to fix the latitude of the sun and to understand the solar declination which alters daily. Thus astronomy-‘shooting the stars’ for navigation, acquired a practical significance.

By the time Henry VIII had died in 1547, a group headed by the Duke of Northumberland had embraced the project of discovering a short Arctic passage to Cathay, and accepted that maths theory was fundamental to technical advance in navigation: the beneficiaries were the Muscovy and later trading companies.

(1) May 18th 1874.

(2) The City’s first commercial links with Russia were established when Tsar Ivan IV granted a charter to the company giving it the monopoly of English trade with Russia.




24th June 1909. Nuclear Deterrent.

Today Sir William Penney a member of the team that developed the British nuclear bomb was born in 1909. Later a life-peer he died at 82 from liver cancer which may have come from a life-time’s exposure to Uranium.

Successive governments have denied any link between nuclear tests and ill-health, but links with liver cancer are well known.

Penney’s son later said, ‘his father never wanted to do the job but did what Attlee, and later Prime-Ministers asked of him, and regretted the death and suffering which had made his father’s name.

Sir William Penney. Hulton Pics.

Mathematician of Imperial College, London, Sir William worked on the original atomic bomb in the USA with Robert Oppenheimer in the 1940.s, and their use in Japan in 1945.

He was in charge of Tests between 1952-67, in Australia and the Pacific, Christmas Island, when over time, 20,000 servicemen were used as witnesses to the explosions without adequate protection. They were told to put groundsheets over their heads (they were only wearing shorts), turn round and close their eyes.

In 1985 Penney gave evidence to a Royal Commission into the Tests, the only time he had commented, saying, ‘the public were in the dark about size of ‘fall-out’. He said there ought to be a balance between East and West, and that all he wanted was to be professor’.

He also revealed that in 1958, ‘he and the top brass fled the area from the fall-out at Christmas Island, unsure of what was to happen. 

Our first Atomic Test took place on the 3rd October 1951, with the Blue Danube, Plutonium Bomb, being tested next year in the Monte Bello Islands off North-West Australia. Remarkable in that Churchill, then Prime Minister, had taken part in the last cavalry charge at Omdurman.

The first H-bomb detonation took place on 15th May 1957, leaving Harold Macmillan as the first Prime Minister to have his thermonuclear finger on the trigger.

The earliest British hydrogen bombs, the Yellow Sun Mark 11.s were fitted to V-bombers from 1961 onwards, after their successful testing under Operation Grapple on Christmas Island four years previously.

It was revealed fifty years later on a BBC Radio 4 programme that despite popular thinking we never produced an operational H-bomb in the 1950.s. It appears that the bombs in Operation Grapple on Christmas Island were fission devices, not fusion, devised to fool the media and convince the Americans we now had the H-bomb, despite be denied American co-operation after the 1946 U.S. McMahon Act.

In 2009 the victims of the nuclear tests were granted the right to sue the Ministry of Defence, at a time of only 3,000 surviving  servicemen who had been involved and experienced the effects of radio-active fall-out.

We are all victims to some extent and do what is expected of us and I speak as someone drafted to carry arms at the government’s behest. William Penney as a mathematician was drafted into government service in World War II and things developed from there: all he wanted was to be professor.


mirror.co.uk/news.penny-nuclear-radiation. 1.3.2009.



23rd June 1503. Alum.

Henry VII had enriched himself by trading alum in 1486, after alternative sources from the Ottoman Empire had been found. Previously the pope had controlled a monopoly being mined only in Tolfa, Italy, in the process making a fortune for the Pope. 

The chemistry of textile dying, which required alum, developed from unforeseen circumstances relating to the Treaty of Betrothal of Henry VIII to Catherine of Aragon, which took place Today in 1503.

Alum Crystal.

However at the time of Henry’s annulment of the marriage, the pope who had controlled the source of alum, essential as a mordant in cloth dyeing, in retaliation, cut off supplies.

Remains of alum liquor channel.

Abandoned Alum House in North Yorkshire..

Alum is a mordant which binds the dye, like a glue, to the cloth fibres, without which the colours are less vivid and soon wash out. Thus without the Papal alum, the race was on to find alternative sources in Britain. 

It was textile manufacturer Sir Thomas Challoner in 1600 who realised, after visiting Italy,that the shales in North Yorkshire, were similar to those at Tolfa.

So returning with key workers he set about quarrying the grey shale from the cliffs on the coast at Ravenscar, North Yorkshire.(1) 

The industry was to continue in Yorkshire until the mid-1800.s and the remains of track-ways for horse and carts, and harbours, where flat-bottomed ships berthed, are still evident.

The shale was roasted slowly for nine months on a bonfire and either toasted seaweed and ammonia from stale human urine was added.

It has been said that ‘Taking the P***’, came from ships’ captains transporting urine from London, when asked the contents of their cargo.

The liquor collected in big lead pans until a fresh chicken’s egg just floated on the surface. After a long time cooling, out came beautiful colourless crystals of pure alum.

Chemistry as a science was not officially developed for another 150 years, but this blend of alchemy and trial and error became the first chemical industry in the country.

Over the next 250 years thousands of tons of alum were made in north Yorkshire all resulting from the rift of Henry VIII from Rome.

Alum was vital to our woollen trade originally based in the West Country, East Anglia, and Coventry where  textiles at the Whitefriars had flourished since the 1340.s, (with its ‘true blue’ dyed cloth), thus establishing the fourth largest industry outside London.

(1) The names Alum Bay in the Isle of Wight and Alum Chine in Dorset testify to the activity there to find alum.


bbc.co.uk.coast-walks.north yorkshire.

wikipedia.org.alum/Pic of crystal.




22nd June 1402. Welsh Triumph.

As Merlin once predicted the Welsh would once again rule England, but whilst not to be, at least they gave the English a ‘bloody-nose’ after the Battle of Pilleth in 1402, which the English prefer to forget.

Site of Bryn Glas (Blue Hill) or Pilleth where the Welsh occupied the domed hill and English from this angle up the River Lugg, and not far from the Border and Offa’s Dyke. The Welsh were buried by the Wellingtonia tree clump; the English left to rot.

It happened on the Welsh Borders near Knighton, Herefordshire, and an English humiliation on such a grand scale, that within days, news of the casualties said to number 8000, had reached Rome. It was a bloody business and was also the last and the most complete Welsh victory over the English.

It was to be pay back time for the victory of Edward I over Llewellyn ap Gryffid in the 13thc which made Wales an English dependency, and the previous onslaughts by Hugh ‘Lupus’ D’Avranches, Earl of Chester, who in 1070, was given the town and county charge of the Palatine of Chester against the Welsh.

He was thus called the ‘fat’ or the ‘wolf’, by the Welsh whom no doubt were relieved when he died on 27th July 1101.

One won’t find the battlefield in the Ordnance Survey, ‘Complete Guide to the Battlefields of Britain’, though there is no uncertainty over the site. The disaster was so absolute that it was days before the vanquished could even approach to bury their dead. The result is that for 600 years it has been kept from their descendants.

For two years Owain Glyndwr had been a rebel against Henry IV and had made the mistake of proclaiming himself Prince of Wales, a title appropriated by the English Crown after the conquest of Wales in 1283. 

It was in June that a large English levy under Sir Edmund Mortimer pushed westwards in search of Owain Glyndwr, who would have known many of the opposition sweating in armour, as the long column came up the valley of the Lugg, and they would have recognised him.

Until then it had been a sporadic business of guerrilla ambushes and attacks on English colonial towns in Wales, but things were changing as the mercenaries from the French wars were coming home bringing their expertise with them.

The Welsh scholars from Oxford brought their enthusiasm and the gentry joined along with labourers with little to lose, in this gathering in the hills which the English hoped to snuff out. There are no eyewitness accounts, and little remains except reminders of the slaughter where four redwood trees were planted, near where a plough turned up a mass grave at the end of the 19thc.

Only two things are known for certain: the church was set on fire by Glyndwr and the Welsh archers on the English side changed allegiance, having probably recognised the flag of Glyndwr. Whatever, the English were possibly ambushed by a smaller force and caught between the marsh and hill.

This was all a far cry from the 10th century when Hywel Dda allied with the English and gave his son an English name Edwin, and when Welsh kings bowed to Edgar at Bath.

However it might be apposite to remember that historically the Welsh probably had more to fear from the Irish than the English, as the Roman fort at Cardiff was built against Irish pirates whose raids intermittently terrorised the west coast of Britain until the Norman invasion of Ireland in 1170.

Later much of Wales was laid waste and the principality was subsumed under England, by Henry VIII in 1536.

A painting, by Brian Palmer, in the heroic style, captures the Battle of Pilleth showing the burning church and flying arrows and general mayhem.


geograph.org.wk. powys/Pic.

21st June 1786. The Big Three of 18thc Furniture Design.

Today George Hepplewhite died in 1786. Famous as a furniture designer he was to join two others from the north of England whose names still resonate.

Hepplewhite style table.

Little is known of Hepplewhite, almost a contemporary of Thomas Chippendale, another furniture designer, except his death certificate, and no pieces of his making are known to exist, his name living-on in his distinctive style of the last quarter of the 18thc.

Shield-Backed Chair. Hepplewhite.

Shield-Backed Chair.









He was apprenticed at Gillows in Lancaster before moving to St Giles, Cripplegate, London where his distinctive features are slender, curvilinear, shorter, curved chair-arms, straight legs and shield-shaped backs.

On his death his widow Alice continued the business and in 1788 published a book of 300 designs in ‘The Cabinet Maker and Upholsters Guide’.

He followed in the footsteps of Thomas Chippendale, born in Otley, Yorkshire, whose 1754 Gentleman’s and Cabinet Maker’s Director, was the first of the three to publish, his Book of Design, showing his Rococo and mid-Georgian style.

Chippendale, Pembroke Table for Paxton House. 1775.


Chippendale Gothick Tracery Style with Splat Back.

Thomas Sheraton was the last of the three (1751-1806), being born, again born in the north, at Stockton on Tees, where he was apprenticed as a cabinet maker before, as the others, moving to London.

Sheraton Rectangular-Backed Chair.

He was later to publish 4 volumes of the Cabinet Maker and Upholsterers Drawing Book, but no furniture, as with the others, none traced to his hand.

Where does this leave people today keen to buy antique furniture? How does one know the difference between: Fake, Reproduction and Revival?

The short answer one can’t unless it has impeccable ‘Provinence’. With the ravages of time even genuine period furniture needs some restoration until what’s left is little of the original.

Clever fakists can fool any ‘expert’ and it is well to remember, for example, that on the centennial of Hepplewhite’s death in 1886, thousands of reproductions in his style were made, ironically now valued antiques. Caveat Emptor.