“Upon arriving at business, all assistants will remove hats and coats before clocking in, and be in their respective departments before the doors are opened at 9am.”
Sounds like an edict from Captain Peacock in Are You Being Served? It is actually one of the main rules which has been central to the shopping experience at Beattie’s department store for around 100 years.
The rule book, which was given to all shop assistants on joining the company from the 1890s onwards, gives a fascinating insight into the quaint philosophy behind behind Wolverhampton’s best-known department store.
The guide, which also laid down strict rules relating to how staff should address one another in the workplace, is one of the many fascinating exhibits relating to the history of the store at Wolverhampton City Archives.
The exhibition, entitled A Better Place To Shop after the store’s advertising slogan, features numerous pictures and documents relating to the store’s 136-year history.
Archivist Karen Davies, who herself worked in the pens department of the store during the 1990s, says the rules changed very little during the time the company was in the ownership of the Beattie family.
“We have got another book on display from 1981, which was called Working With Enthusiasm, which rather says it all, and many of the rules were more or less the same as they were in 1896,” she says. “They haven’t changed very much.”
She said that as recently as 2,000 staff were not allowed to fold their arms or sit down.
As well as the order to remove all hats and coats before clocking on, the 1896 rulebook also insisted on formal address when talking to all other shop assistants. “Familiarity between assistants is strongly objected to, when addressing each other please use the terms Mr, Mrs or Miss,” says the book.
Needless to say, shouting to attract the attention of a colleague was out of the question. Staff were also forbidden from writing anything not related to the business, and reading or eating behind the counters was also contrary to the rules. Mrs Davies says the store’s founder, James Beattie, would almost certainly have had a hand in the book. “It was the company he created, and it was a way of ensuring that his ethos ran throughout the company,” she says.