Williams and Cox: A Torquay retail legend

Portrait of Harry Williams, Mayor of Torquay, wearing his regalia that can be seen on display at the

Portrait of Harry Williams, Mayor of Torquay, wearing his regalia that can be seen on display at the museum - Credit: Jonty Williams

The next letter in Torquay Museum’s Archive Alphabet aka A-Z of Torbay is W and to represent it we have chosen a very well-known family run business Williams & Cox.

Williams & Cox, Drapers and Milliners were established in 1837 and developed through various name changes and forms to occupy 4A, 5 & 6 Strand.

Separately from the Drapers business was Williams & Cox, House Furnishers located at 12 Strand.

On September 21, 1939, the furnishing store caught fire and caused major damage within and also to Bobby’s premises next door.

The firm moved to temporary premises at 35 Torwood Street and eventually re-located to 16 Strand, which had been vacated by T. Oliver & Sons Ltd.

Williams & Cox, Drapers and Furnishers both ceased trading many years ago. They had a proud record of service exceeding 140 years. In 1982, the premises were taken over by Hoopers department store.

In 1982, the museum was given a collection of mayor’s regalia which can be seen on display in the Explorers Gallery.

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The regalia dates to 1919 and was made for Harry Williams of Williams and Cox, Mayor of Torquay from 1919-22.

It was used again by Ronald P. Williams who became mayor from 1964-65. The regalia was supplied by F. J March, Tailor and Hosier at Castle Circus and is an object with many local connections to the retail world 100 years ago.

After posting a few photographs of Williams & Cox on social media we received some amazing comments and memories from the local community.

Carol said: “I worked there for a little while in the gown department. When I walk in Hoopers now, I walk in my young teenage shoes again remembering the glass cases with sliding doors and all the Cinderella gowns displayed. It seemed like another world to me.”

Mark also shared a memory: “Mum had her wages docked for stripping a mannequin and leaving it ‘naked’ in the window. By all accounts a customer tapped her umbrella on the window and demanded to see the manager. She was also reprehended for insolence after a customer who tried on many pairs of gloves didn’t want any.”