Fairfax Street , Broadmead, Bristol Bs1

A Memory of Bristol

This 1960s photograph shows Bristol's Fairfax Street in the Broadmead area. The large building on the left shows the former Fairfax House Department Store, later pulled down to build Bristol's Galleries Shopping Mall.

The Co-op's Fairfax House was demolished and replaced by The Galleries car park. When it opened, as the Bristol Co-ops flagship department store, at 11am on Thursday March 29. 1962. the general manager Mr Cavender said optimistically: "Fairfax House can become Bristol's Picadilly Circus". Needless to say it didn't. At the slap-up lunch in the store's own restaurant he concluded Fairfax House has been designed "with the desire that it should be a credit to the city of Bristol and particularly to our own membership and it can truly be described as the only store that has been built for from the savings of ordinary people."

Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, the Bristol-born VIP who had been a Labour and Co-op MP in Sheffield until 1950, cut the whte ribbon tape at the Union Street entrance and said, as much to the store's detractors as to the 1,000 strong crowd, "It's not owned my a couple of capitalists, it's yours."

It was a devil of a building to construct, 500 feet long and squeezed between Farfax Street and what was then Narrow Wine Street. Straddling the River Frome, and with the marshy ground sloping away in two directions, it didn't help that the foundations had actually been constructed for a million-pound shop, cinema and restaurant development which never came to fruiton. It was a difficult building to get around, with three levels of entry, four main elevations and a narrow strip in the middle. You'd go in at the ground floor Union Street entrance only to discover that you were on the Fairfax Street second floor. Despite this, the building did include many innovations. It was six stories high and had its own multi-storey car park and was the first Brstol building to be clad in glass modaic. It was also an early example of a mantenance-free exterior the best shopfitters were called in and did an excellent job. But plans for miniature railway and a Japanese tea garden came to nought.

But with everything from its baby clothes department to its funeral service under one roof, the Co-op was said to provide everything you might need from the cradle to the grave. In 1985 Fairfax House was sold for £6 million to Ladbroke City, and County Land, the company behind the Galleries development at that time. It was demolished in 1988.

A memory shared by Paul Townsend , on Dec 28th, 2009.

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