Former Hulburd department store in Sittingbourne, later Wetherspoon’s pub and Kaspa’s dessert parlour.

It started life as a humble grocer and clothier’s shop before becoming a main street staple for over 150 years until its closure and subsequent incarnations as a Wetherspoon pub and dessert parlour.

Hulburd’s stood at the eastern end of Sittingbourne’s high street and was a popular shop in the town before it closed in 1988.

Hulburds department store in 1950

The store opened between the 1820s and 1830s and was run by father and son John and George Tonge – and was originally called John Tonge & Son.

Allen Whitnell, chairman of the Sittingbourne Heritage Museum, said the shop was originally a grocer, linen clothiers, tallow sellers and maltsters.

Various partners were engaged over the years, but it took on the name we know it today in 1868 when James Hulburd of Maidstone took over the business after the retirement of George Tonge.

Allen said, “James Hulburd was described as a shrewd businessman and the shop flourished. In the 1870s and 1880s the business began to offer such services as ladies’ outfitting and tailoring.”

James Hulburd died in 1908 and passed the shop on to his son, George.

James Hulburd, of Maidstone, took over the business in 1868
James Hulburd, of Maidstone, took over the business in 1868
During the 1870s and 1880s the store was called Hulburd & Clarke, after its partner John Arthur Clarke.
During the 1870s and 1880s the store was called Hulburd & Clarke, after its partner John Arthur Clarke.

George then sold the business to the last owner, Rex Boucher, in the early 1930s, and at the same time a modern storefront was built to replace the old Victorian storefront.

The 50s, 60s, and 70s were supposed to be the peak years for the store, and people saw it as an important part of the community because they didn’t have to travel to buy the things they needed.

Branches of the shop were also open in Herne Bay and Sheerness in the 1960s and early 1970s.

In 1963, every department of the store was modernized – the grocery and supply department became a food hall, and the fashion floor was made more attractive to young people.

Nine years later, the store underwent a major renovation, which included a huge amount of demolition and reconstruction. This new building had three stories, with storefronts on the ground and first floors.

Hulburd staff in 1946
Hulburd staff in 1946

Allen added: “I remember working on this project as a student worker, both in the early stages of the demolition and during the installation of the new storefront, which is the one that remains. today.

“Purchases made were wrapped in brown paper and tied with tape, and the staff were called Miss or Mrs and Mr.”

There was a management buyout in 1985 after the death of former owner Rex Boucher, but this resulted in the closure of a number of departments.

The store eventually closed in January 1988 and has since been replaced by a number of businesses. A pool club was opened on the first floor and in 1998 a Wetherspoon’s moved into most of the ground floor.

The pub, which was called The Summoner, moved in 2016 and there is now a Kaspa dessert restaurant on the ground floor.

A Carnival float in 1949
A Carnival float in 1949

Sally Wright, who is now retired, moved to Sittingbourne in 1969 and recalls that the shop “was still going strong back then”.

The 71-year-old said: “I loved walking around the lovely old shop, I had just gotten married so I couldn’t afford to buy anything, I just looked around.

“The clothes were absolutely adorable and I seem to remember that there were creaky floors.

“All the staff were polite and attentive, and it was the kind of place I would go to if I wanted to buy a special gift for someone.

“When I went there, I always looked at all the things in the house and the ornaments. It was a little wonderland.”

What do you remember of the department store before it closed? Email [email protected]