Weatherhead Walters & Son a modest Ironmongers started trading in 1734 on the aptly named Irongate in Derby. The company soon began to grow expanding into agricultural goods and gaining the titles of Gun & Silver Smiths, and Oil & Colour Merchants.
George Bennett, a retired Master Mariner, bought the company in 1864. He expanded the company even further with sports equipment alongside farming tools, toys and guns s well as homewares for country houses! Being an “old sea dog” George had the store laid out like a sailing ship. Wrought iron stairways climb up to nautical-style landings throughout, examples of which can still be seen today as the store retains a ship-like quality.
Bennett passed the company down through his family. He had five daughters and four sons, but only one grandson, who was killed in the First World War. The last remaining Bennett sold the company in 1937 to local property and building company Ford and Weston when it became Bennetts Irongate Limited, but continued to thrive as an independent business.
In 1984 Bennetts was purchased by Blair White (it’s then Managing Director) under a management buyout. Mr White set about expanding the company further with great success. Tragically he was killed in a traffic accident in 1991 leaving his wife Susan to continue running the business. Mrs White continued with the work her husband had started, adding further departments and opening up the original theatre part of the building introducing a successful bistro. Bennetts continued to thrive under the White family ownership as they expanded the business, setting up a successful Bennetts store in Ashbourne as well as opening a further smaller satellite store.
In 2019 following difficult trading conditions that had impacted many department stores in the Uk the business was rescued by local businessman Paul Hurst. Mr Hurst had already rescued one of Englands oldest coaching Inns The Old Bell Hotel following a 2 million pound restoration. A similar restoration plan is well under-way for the the existing Bennetts building or a move to a bigger store within the city.
The Bennetts archive which spans generations is currently being archived and digitised to secure the story of The Worlds Oldest Department store for future generations.