A Brief History of Charles Hart Jewellers
Jewellers For Almost 200 years
Charles Hart as a business has been in existence in one form or another since the early part of the nineteenth century and is now one of England’s longest established High Street jewellers, and still owned by descendants of the original family. The business originally from Birmingham has been in the small market town of Frome since 1898, where our shop can be found in a medieval street in the centre.
We are often asked why we chose the name Vintage Tom for our online business that has been known as Charles Hart in the town of Frome for well over 100 years. We wanted to offer up a name that we could to some extent brand, other from being a family jeweller in the town, and whilst it is an excellent and well-known business, we named the online business after Thomas, who back in the early 1800s was the father of the founder.
That story began in the Birmingham area of Aston. Birmingham in the early 1800s. Charles was a silversmith and according to the records we have been able to ﬁnd worked with his brother Samuel. These artisans would have small workshops all over the city and even today this is still the case with a busy jewellery quarter.
Although the business was small it was run by family descendants in the same area until another Charles moved to Wiltshire in the late 1800s and opened a small jewellery shop in Bradford on Avon. He lived with his four sons above the shop which today is occupied by a solicitor, oddly the very solicitor used by our company. It is strange to sit in their ofﬁces and imagine how one’s great great grandfather and his family would have lived.
Charles moved the business to the current town of Frome in Somerset in c1895, now more of a terraced house in Palmer Street. The chance came along to purchase an existing jewellery business on a steep hill called, Bath Street. Charles decided to buy the business and this shop was run by him until his death in 1926, and then his son George took it over. His brothers went their various ways, one to Taunton to open his own shop, one to the Isle of Wight to do the same, and another to Yeovil to become an optician.
George had two sons, Philip and Michael, and Philip, the current owner’s father moved to the Frome shop, whilst George opened a shop in Yeovil, joining with his brother now in Taunton. They felt it would be wise to open other shops in the area, and the business expanded to Melksham and Weston Super Mare, and even to what then were small villages in Bruton and Castle Cary. We still have ring boxes with all these branches listed.
The second world war certainly hindered business and we still have records showing what our income was during the war, and it was pretty small! The entry for VE day was interesting as we were closed! In 1964 George passed away, but now the business faced a terrible situation as death duties and taxation meant that the sons would face a large tax bill and may have to close the business down. It was saved by selling the Weston shop and closing the small village shops. Michael ran the Yeovil shop and Philip took over the less income providing shops of Frome and Melksham.
However, as time progressed Philip’s housekeeping had to be stringent and he would save every penny to keep the business going. With his manager at Melksham and another employee called John Knight they opened a shop in Chippenham, Wiltshire. Meanwhile, with the changing of shopping priorities in Yeovil, this shop had to close down as Princes Street in the town went from becoming a main trading area to very much a secondary one.
Philip opened another store in Warminster, Wiltshire where in 1968 the present managing director Christopher started his life in the jewellery trade. As the 1970s progressed with the many strikes, 3 day weeks, and other difﬁculties in running a number of shops Philip decided that he had had enough. He sold off the Chippenham shop to John, and Christopher purchased the Melksham and Frome shops allowing Philip to invest the sale money into his lifelong dream of purchasing woodland and managing it near Lyme Regis in Dorset, where he then lived until his death. Like those before him running retail jewellery businesses can be interesting and rewarding. But security, theft and shoplifting is the curse of the trade. In 1967 the Chippenham shop was ram-raided at night. Almost everything including the watch makes tools were stolen. The generous thieves believed to be from London kindly parcelled up the tools and sent them back!
On another occasion when the shop in Frome was still in Bath Street, this notorious hill was often the scene of runaway lorries. One day a Jaguar car lost control careering through the main shop window and ended up in the showroom. Mercifully no member of staff or customer happened to be there at that moment. It was an awful event that got national coverage, with rings, watches, and other items of jewellery scattered across half the hill!
Christopher then went the way of his father and grandfather, opening branches in Street, Weymouth, Warminster and Trowbridge.
However as time went by in the late 1980s he decided to sell all the shops with the exception of Frome. He moved this shop into the famous trading thoroughfare known as Cheap Street.
This street dates back to medieval times and the word ‘Cheap’ is the old English word for market, this being the main trading area in the town. The current shop, occupied since 1983 by the business dates back to the late 1500s. It has been occupied by many different types of trade, and an old painting shows pheasants and other fowl hanging outside.
In more recent times it was known as the Colonial Stores, and before the company purchased it, a tobacconist. Extensive alterations were done to the building including installing stairs as there were none!
In 2010 the current owner’s son, Alex decided to join the business having worked for Goldsmiths in Bath for a few years. He is now the mainstay of the business and becomes yet another direct descendant who will run the business for certainly the foreseeable future.
The shop continues to this day to offer the townspeople of Frome a wonderful service for repairs and services, and provide a good selection of rings, jewellery, watches and gifts. The internet business has helped to widen the business across the world, with beautiful items of jewellery going to every corner, from the USA to Australia, from Edinburgh to Amsterdam.
The business is still up to date and modern, and now with the Vintage Tom website, we are able to show a huge range of antique and pre-owned jewellery, including Rolex and Cartier watches, from Victorian to Edwardian rings to suit every pocket.
Charles Hart Jewellers are now just two years away to be celebrating its 200-year anniversary in the jewellery business. It is wonderful to think that a business can come through all events, wars, recessions, downturns and upturns and still be able to continue with the same bloodline started all those years ago by ancestor Charles. Long may it continue, and so it will if our wonderful customers far and wide continue to celebrate with us and enjoy our website.