AS the famous Bearman's department store is marked with a commemorative blue plaque, JOE CURTIS takes a look at the man who brought the West End shopping experience to Leytonstone.

Frank Bearman opened his shop in the north end of Leytonstone High Road in 1898 and ‘the store with the personal touch’, as its preserved tube station advert still proclaims to this day, remained a thriving family business for the next 64 years.

Mr Bearman, a draper by trade, was just 27 when he started the business on the site of an old vicarage with money borrowed from relatives.

And he is said to have worked around the clock to make it a success.

Leyton and Leytonstone Historical Society member David Boote said: "It wasn’t just a nine to five job. He and his young family lived in the shop, it was their only livelihood, so he gambled everything on it.

"Frank did well so that’s fantastic but if he went the other way it would’ve been a disaster."

In fact, Mr Bearman's gamble paid off and eight years later he took over a nearby furniture shop.

And in 1910 he built his crowning glory, Bearman’s Arcade, which led to the then popular Rialto Cinema.

Mr Boote continued: "He copied the style of successful London shopping arcades, with a glass roof and the highest quality goods on display.

"He was saying he’s as good as those shops, that people should come here rather than making the trip to central London."

People from all over east London flocked to Bearman’s, buying a wide range of products, including vinyl records, toys and clothes.

Mr Boote said: "He was thriving. He would sell anything he could make a profit on and he knew what people wanted."

The store even survived the Blitz, shutting just once for two weeks when a V2 rocket landed in nearby Lemna Road in 1945 and damaged the shop.

Mr Bearman continued to expand the business, opening an extension in Kirkdale Road in 1957 with what was claimed to be the first store outside London with an escalator, with 450 employees now at the store.

But following Mr Bearman’s death in 1956, the shop suffered from increased competition in the 1960s and was sold to London Co-operative Society for £1 million in 1962.

The store eventually closed in 1983.

Mr Boote said: "There were shopping centres, like the one in Ilford, and there were lorries all the time down High Road, so safety barriers were installed and a footbridge. It all made shopping there less attractive.

"Also I don’t think his sons were as committed to putting in the hours their father had. He was constantly on the phone urging them on before he died."

The blue plaque has been placed on Matalan, which occupies a new building on the Bearman's site.

The historical society is compiling a commemorative booklet on Bearmans. Send your memories to