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York House

York House (Born 1879)

The Junior Army and Navy Stores, also known as York House, was founded in June 1879 by Major Clench as a cooperative society. They commenced trading in the following November. Their abridged prospectus published in the London Daily News of the 23rd January 1879 stated that they were established to meet the desire felt by many members of the Services who are unable to obtain shares in the Army and Navy Co-operative Society. The suspicion is that they formed after a dispute and split of members of the Army and Navy Store, who were formed 8 years earlier. Certainly, the A&N CSL took them to court to try to prevent them using the Junior Army and Navy Store name but without success. The York House name comes from the grand 5 story building that the company occupied at 15 Regent Street, London which was also recognised by the name Club Chambers. It seems their ethos, the variety of wares and the method of operating with agents across the world was very similar to the A&N CSL. Their rules for selling were a little more lax than their namesake and travellers from America or the Colonies could buy a membership ticket for 2s.19d, upon introduction from a member, in order to gain access to the store. They soon opened branches in D'Olier Street, Dublin and Union Street, Aldershot. They also had depots at Portsmouth, Gibraltar and Malta. Their export trade was conducted from King Street and Hart Street, Covent Garden. The company grew quite quickly and confusion with the original Army and Navy CSL to the general public naturally occurred then as it still does today. The customers of each store would not have shared this confusion as you had to be a member to patronise them. Kelly's directory of 1894 even listed them as the Army & Navy Furnishing House, 20 Regent Street and the Army & Navy Depository 120 Kings Road. They supplied a number of regimental canteens and officer's messes, even going so far as supplying and managing the SS Borodino, an Admiralty ship used as a store ship and for recreation. By 1893, the firm had grown to 600 employees.

Their services were very similar to the Army & Navy Store offering everything from furniture, groceries and clothing to hairdressing and a Box Office for tickets. The campaign furniture that they sold was comparable to most of the other London makers at the time and they offered all of the standard items such as chests, Douro chairs, shelves and washstands etc. Indeed, in June 1882 they were even found guilty of infringing the copyright of Maple & Co. by copying their furniture illustrations in their catalogue. Most of the campaign furniture that we have seen by the company has had a round inset makers plaque with the name York House and address of Regent Street. Other items and adverts seemed to also use the Junior Army & Navy Store name but this difference could be down to the time period.

York House continued to update itself and in 1909 it amended its rules to allow the general public to shop there. It looked to take advantage of the American Expeditionary Force in 1918 by advertising itself as America's Blighty Store and described itself widely as the best store for all soldiers to buy their equipment during the Great War. However, after the war, the workforce demanded better conditions and pay and went on strike to achieve their aims. In settlement of the strike, wages were increased but cuts had to be made elsewhere to balance the books. In February 1920 it was announced that the Junior Army and Navy Store would close to meet these cuts. They had already amalgamated with the Civil Service Co-operatives Stores in Haymarket the previous year and some saw the increase of wages simply as an excuse to close York House.

The Junior Army and Navy Store had had a good run, lasting 40 years. It is ironic though that the Army & Navy CSL's original fear that the Junior Army & Navy Store's name would confuse customers with theirs has come to pass today. The court disagreed with the A&N CSL in 1879 but now most people wrongly believe that York House was an off shoot of their more famous predecessor.

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