Chichester House of Fraser: Department store faces ‘existential crisis’, report says

SAVE Britain’s Heritage, a small charity campaigning to save old buildings, today (Monday April 4) released its ‘Departing Stores’ report.

The report documents the “best examples” of UK department stores, the challenges they face and what can be done to “reinvent” them for modern times.

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The study then mentions the House of Fraser site in West Street, which was one of several sites across the country that had to close in early 2019 after the company went into operation.

West Street, Chichester. Image via Google Streetview

After its closure, the Grade II listed building was purchased by Incerceptor Opportunity Ltd.

The company told this newspaper it would retain an active frontage and was in talks with Chichester District Council about the development.

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Owners hint at what awaits the site of Chichester House of Fraser

While the consultation process is still ongoing, a company spokesman, Paul Pressland, assured there would be an “active facade” indicating that residents can expect to see retailers fill spaces on the ground floor.

Marcus Binney, Executive Chairman of SAVE Britain’s Heritage, says: “London has Fortnums, Harrods and Selfridges, but across Britain the country towns, county towns, spas and seaside resorts are home to beautiful department stores. built on proud corner sites or prominently on main streets.

“Many were designed by renowned local architects and founded by prominent local families and all the destinations themselves. Yet a decade of online shopping and Covid has resulted in an avalanche of closures. A race is now underway to bring them back to life. It is a difficult challenge, but as Hattie Lloyd’s report shows, there is also hope.

The report says the red brick building was designed in 1904 by Sir Reginal Bloomfield and was built as the Oliver Whitby School, originally founded in 1702 and which remained on the site until 1950.

He adds: “Indicia of its earlier use survive in the school motto in gold lettering, Vis et Sapentia, engraved on the first floor, and the cartouche bearing the arms of Oliver Whitby above the door.

“The JD Morant department store had operated in Southsea since 1910 but was destroyed during the Blitz in January 1941. The business moved to Chichester and St. George’s House, later spreading to the rest of the school after its closed in 1950.

“Morants was acquired by Army & Navy Stores in 1955, itself taken over by House of Fraser in 1973. The store was one of several branches to close in early 2019 after the business

went into administration.

“The site was sold at the end of the year to Interceptor Opportunities Ltd., who have promised to retain an active frontage but are pursuing a mixed-use model. Currently, it is believed they are in talks with the council over the possible scope of The building, meanwhile, sat vacant for nearly four years.