Colin Richardson looks back at the changing history of one of the most well known family businesses in the town…
The Richardson Group is currently best known for The Charles Bradlaugh, The Picturedrome, The Church Restaurant, The Old White Hart in Far Cotton, and until recently, Auntie Ruth’s and The Black Bottom Club. It’s therefore interesting to know that this business all started from a small chemist shop on the Kettering Road.
Its life began in 1944 when Peter Richardson (father of Colin and John) bought the lease of the pharmacy at 193, Kettering Road (now a sari shop opposite Derby Road). As a qualified pharmacist, he’d been managing it for 7 years since 1937 for a Mr. Wolf.
This purchase was a bold decision because the war hadn’t yet finished and Peter was away on war service, leaving his wife and two sons living over the shop. The prescriptions were dispensed by an ageing locum, but the general business was managed by his wife, Hartie.
Peter funded the purchase of the lease by a number of informal loans from friends who had total confidence that he would honour the debts.
He returned to the pharmacy after the war and unleashed his energy to make his pharmacy an essential part of the community. This philosophy of serving the community remains a strong influence with the business three generations later.
Running the pharmacy after the war was a big challenge because the whole country was faced with a period of great austerity. Goods were in short supply and people’s disposable incomes were very small.
Three years after the war had finished, in 1948, the NHS was introduced and the parameters of pharmacy were more clearly defined.
It was at about this time that Peter took a mortgage on a house so that he could get on the property ladder for the first time.
In the following years, he worked with amazing energy to build a strong reputation for his business, in which his wife played a very active part until she gave birth to a disabled child in 1950. Their daughter Gill had a form of muscular dystrophy which was later to claim her life on Christmas day in 1972. She was 22 years old.
In the meantime, Colin obtained his degree in pharmacy from Nottingham University and after a period of working in London, joined the family business with the opening of a second pharmacy on the Wellingborough Road.
It was on the 1st floor of this second pharmacy that John opened his first hair salon.
For the next 35 years, pharmacy and hairdressing were the main themes of the family business.
During this period, some 12 pharmacies and 10 hair salons were opened – with one of the salons being in Spain.
During this pharmacy era, Richardsons Chemists had one of the busiest dispensing businesses in the Midlands and were by far the biggest deliverers of domiciliary oxygen to NHS patients. The core activity however always remained the concentrated focus of looking after the community in which each pharmacy served. Peter Richardson’s influence was always present.
During the hairdressing era, the highest profile salon was in George Row which in the 1970s had specialised in Sassoon geometric cutting and had even had Vidal Sassoon appear at one of their hair shows. These lavish affairs also used Labi Siffre and George Melly as entertainers during these highly popular annual events.
Because of the salon’s reputation, our leading stylists were often invited during the 70s and 80s to European countries by Wella International, to demonstrate cutting techniques in particular.
In 1997, Richardsons effectively made an exit from retail pharmacy.
Time brings on a change, and it was decided that the pharmacies would have a healthier future and the staff a more secure future if they were sold to one of the big pharmacy chains. This big decision came as a shock to many, but was calculated to be the right one by those who had the ultimate responsibility.
As far back as 1981, the Black Bottom Club had been created as an occasional and not-for-profit music venue which was focussed on the passionate promotion of traditional New Orleans revival jazz. Ginger Pig, which was created by Colin and John, was the house-band at this exceptional venue.
From 1981 till 1990, The Black Bottom, even though slightly “underground”, was a great success and promoted some great music in its dedicated genre.
There were promotions of some very impressive national jazz bands, such as the Sammy Rimington Band, as well as famous international bands such as the Preservation Hall Band and the Kid Thomas Band from New Orleans.
In addition, there were quite a few individual musicians from America who were on European tours and who had heard of the fast-growing reputation of the BBC. They were keen to play there.
On the opening of Auntie Ruth’s in 1990, the flavour of the bands promoted widened considerably and included such acts as La Mar and Amy Winehouse.
Auntie’s became an institution during the ‘90s and played host to a phenomenal array of both locals and celebrities – particularly sporting celebrities. This was made possible by the adoption of Auntie’s by prominent Saints players such as Matt Dawson, Paul Grayson, Tim Rodber, Harvey Thorneycroft, Nick Beale, Ian Hunter, Gary Pagel, Freddie Mendez, Ali Hepher, Martin Bayfield et al.
The package of entertainment included Auntie’s as a great bar, the BBC as a live music venue, an impressive roof terrace for summer evenings and the Basement which was a DJ-led night club.
As previously stated, “time brings on a change” and the whole of this property has now morphed into the Student Union for the town’s university.
We wish them well and hope that their presence in our town centre has a positive impact.
In 1997, the Charles Bradlaugh was opened on the Mounts. It now specialises in a burger kitchen, a great selection of beers and the promotion of local bands which includes a jazz and blues session every Wednesday night.
The sunny garden and car park has helped the popularity of the pub which has just enjoyed a refit to celebrate its 20th anniversary.
1998 saw the opening of the Picturedrome on the Kettering Road. This property has the historic distinction of being the first purpose-built cinema in Northampton, opened in 1912.
The Picturedrome has also recently enjoyed a refit and still hosts live music, film nights and comedy shows
The management take pride in offering a fine selection of food and drink and continue to provide an essential service to the community as well as those who travel to find a discerning offer.
The Thursday afternoon Tea-Dance is a great favourite with the older customers and was started as a project to give something unusual to the community. After eight years it’s still going strong and has seen quite a number of older people start permanent relationships as well as marriage.
The Church Restaurant is a venue that the company has great pride in.
As a Grade 1 listed building, it has been beautifully restored and provides a wonderful historic setting for high quality value-for-money food.
This venue is also very popular for conducting weddings and providing impressive wedding receptions. Although deconsecrated as a church, it is authorised to conduct weddings on site.
The Old White Hart just over South Bridge in Far Cotton is a wonderful Victorian building that provides a spacious interior, a private hire room, a great garden and good-sized car park.
It has gained great popularity over its 11-year life and very much looks forward to the opening of the very closely located new university campus.
Peter Richardson, the founder of the company would be proud to see that his grandson Jake Richardson, together with Emma Eyton-Jones, continue to focus on serving the community well, and that their efforts are an effective way of “bringing people together”.
Check them out on www.richardsonsevents.com