I had a fascinating and agreeable conversation last night with one of our rough sleeper guests, while helping out with the mini-bus run from Warrior Square to the church hosting last night’s night shelter. Opposite to where we were standing is a building that at one time incorporated the old Keddies, which closed in 1996. The rise and fall of Keddies, which was once an important and prominent Southend feature, and some of its history, including its flourishing heyday, has been well documented by Wikipedia!
It happened that our guest once worked as a security guard at Keddies and he had many interesting memories. It also happened that so did I and what then transpired was a journey down memory lane as we reminisced on what went on in the past and the part Keddies played in Southend’s retail economy. For those not inclined to check out the above link, Keddies was a department store that catered for all sorts of items one might want in the home, with the exception of food. It could be classed as a Southend’s answer to Harrods, but not so out of range for those of lesser means that they could not shop there. One of those who did was my mother, who was taken with the quality and service on offer and often saved up her pence to buy stuff and it was invariably the first port of call when seeking out gifts. She was always on the look out for bargains and these could often be found at sale time. My early childhood memories included visiting a well thought out Santa’s grotto and thereafter on several occasions, which in those early days included an impressive toy department. I recall being mesmerized by an impressive railway set up and the ultimate in Meccano buildings, albeit out of our price range. One memorable visit was purchasing my first set of dumbbells and arranging the collection with my mother in tow! I recall spending time in the book section – and in that regard little has changed! The last occasion had a touch of sadness: we got married January 1996 at a time Keddies were going into administration. My sister had purchased a dinner service as a gift and it was touch and go given the circumstances prevailing then whether we would get this – in the end we did!
In talking to my rough sleeper friend, we exchanged various stories, and as a security guard he had a particular perspective that was intriguing. He spoke about the then owner, David Keddie, who had a unique, individual style, who was quite demanding yet also treated his staff well and was community minded. We reflected that the place was buzzing, drawing many loyal customers from far afield, and played an important part in the life of the town. Toward the end, changes were needed, given the changing economic times, and this included outsourcing some of the operation. But it wasn’t enough and when the Royal’s shopping centre opened up, taking some of the business away, it proved to be the writing on the wall and like with many similar such operations, Keddies could not compete and so it closed. What has also become evident is that the change in retail shopping patterns e.g. with out of town shopping centres, large superstores, national chains and the ability to shop online, have changed considerably over the years and the High Street where Keddies took pride of place has changed almost out of all recognition, and many will say for the worse.
At the time it did close, I recall a sense of sadness given it was a part of my growing up and despite there being new businesses starting up that took on some of the gaps left by Keddies, it was never the same. With due respect, stores like Debenhams do not even come close. The High Street has changed almost beyond recognition to when I was a child. It is easy to say this is for the worse, especially when highly regarded stores like Keddies close with none to match what it offered by way of being a family run, community oriented, customer centric service. But change is inevitable and unlike the nearest like it, Havens in Hamlet Court Road, Keddies was unable to adapt to the changing times. But even to this day, my memory of Keddies is positive and is unmatched by any other retail outfit.