For more than a century a Preston family business proudly served the community from a shop on the city’s Friargate.
Now the site of Richard Bamber & Son, one of the city centre’s best known retailers and universally known as Bambers, is beginning an impressive new chapter in Preston’s history.
And Donald Bamber, whose grandfather Richard started the house furnishers business in 1909, returned to the site for a very special presentation to mark the transformation.
Portergate Developments (Preston) Limited, the company building an £18 million mixed-use development on the site as part of the regeneration of Friargate, presented the 76-year-old with the original shop sign.
The closure of the shop in 2009 marked the end of an era for Preston and Donald’s family. Now he’s looking forward to a bright new future for the area where he worked from leaving school to retirement.
Bambers was a true family affair. Over the years, Donald worked in the shop with his grandfather, his father Harry, his elder brother Richard and Richard’s wife Jean and younger sister Helen.
Later on he worked with his wife Dorothy, daughters Gillian and Susan, Richard and Jean’s daughter Sarah, as well as son-in-law David.
Donald, who received the family sign from Portergate chairman Anthony Jackson, was impressed with the new plans for the Friargate and the drive to revive it.
The transformation of the 1.5 acre site, which also includes the old Blitz nightclub, will bring two new retail premises and the creation of a 253 bedroomed building aimed at providing boutique hotel-style accommodation to students at the nearby University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).
Part of that high-quality accommodation on offer is also aimed at post graduate students at the university and apprentices and key workers in Preston’s high-tech manufacturing sector and new Enterprise Zone.
Donald, who lives in Fulwood, said: “The area has changed over the years; it used to be one of the prime shopping areas in Preston.
“I also remember the Blitz nightclub when it was Worsley’s Ballroom in the good old days!
“Out of town shopping has really had an impact and, as a result, all city centres have changed. When you look back on it, people only used to go shopping on a Saturday.
“This development is going to bring Friargate back to life, which is fantastic, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the new building take shape and the area changing again, for the better.”
Thousands of Prestonians made purchases in Bambers during its long and distinguished history as it offered them quality furnishings, including chairs made by the renowned firm HJ Berry of Chipping.
The shop was open through four Preston Guilds and Donald revealed how his grandfather started out selling second hand furniture, and began his business life pushing a handcart through the streets
He said: “It was a real family business, with my dad, brother and sister all involved. It was also a way of life.
“I worked in the shop for over half a century, from leaving school to when it closed its doors for the last time, apart from National Service, working five and a half days every week you could try here. We really were an institution in Preston, a shop that was open for a century. Everyone knew us.”
Donald missed the “Friargate Brow community” and the loyal customers whose parents and grandparents had dealt with his family over the years.
But he is now enjoying retirement and keeping occupied, with gardening, walking and visiting friends and relatives.
He said: “I’m really grateful to Anthony and his company for presenting me with the sign which was such a part of our family history, although I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it at the moment!”
Anthony said: “We were delighted to invite Donald to come and see the work that is going on here on Friargate and to present him with a true piece of his family history.
“Thousands of Prestonians must have passed under his shop sign as they made their way along Friargate over the years and it has been fascinating listening to Donald’s recollection of the life of the street and his family business.
“We’re now working on the start of what we believe will be an exciting and vibrant new chapter for the area.
“We see our project as a catalyst for regeneration in the area. It is one of the first new developments to come forward in the city for some time and we’re looking forward to the building taking shape over the next few months. These are exciting times.”
Portergate, which already offers hotel-class student accommodation in Salford, has plans to roll its concept out across the North West.
Preston-based Eric Wright Group’s Construction Division is building the new development and demolition work is currently taking place on the site. At the height of the building project around 200 workers will be employed on the Friargate development site.
The shop and apartment complex has been designed around open garden areas while being conveniently in the heart of the city, only a short walk from the university.