Inside Hessle Road’s Henry Hird Ltd and the secret of its success
LONG HISTORY: Hird the jewellers on Hessle Road, now run by Philip Smith, has been around for 165 years
You won’t get all the glitz and glamour you might expect from a jewellers but what you will get is an honest, personal service.
And this is the key to the longevity of Henry Hird Ltd in Hessle Road which has existed for an astonishing 165 years. It is almost certainly Hull’s oldest jewellers and probably one of the city’s oldest shops.
Henry Hird’s son, also Henry, took over in 1921 and when he passed away it was inherited by his long-serving employee Phyllis Price – the grandmother of current owner Philip Smith.
Originally opening in Cumberland Street in 1852, the jewellers moved to Hessle Road in 1900 into purpose-built premises.
Philip Smith has been running Hird the Jewellers for around 20 years
“My grandma began working with Henry Hird in 1921 and she remained there for 69 years,” director Mr Smith, 42, said.
“My uncle also worked there for 41 years until he died in 1997. I began working there when I was ten years old and then began giving my uncle a lift to and from the store when he wasn’t so well.
“I trained as a joiner but, before long, I found myself working there full time.”
Right up until the early 1980s, the fishing industry provided most of Hird’s customers. The jewellers was where the fishermen would go to get their wedding rings after a few drinks in the nearby Rayner’s pub.
“The fishing industry kept us going for all those years,” Mr Smith said. “I remember lots of fishermen coming in to buy things for their girlfriends and wives, particularly at Christmas time.
“The fishermen would flash the cash and it could be really busy.
Henry Cook Hird took over from his father in 1921
But there were lean times ahead as many of the terraces off Hessle Road were knocked down in the 1950s and 60s and people were moved to the likes of Orchard Park and Bransholme.
“After the houses were knocked down it wasn’t quite as busy,” Mr Smith said. “A lot of customers moved to Bransholme and all round Hull. How do you attract people back who may pass five other jewellers before getting here?”
Hird’s still relies on loyal customers who have used the store for generations.
“Things evolve but we still have loyal customers,” Mr Smith said. “My gran dealt with the grandparents of people I deal with now.
“But the hardest thing is trying to attract new customers. But we have quite a few eastern Europeans round here now and they often come in which is great.
Philip Gray has worked at Hird’s for more than 30 years. He explained that Henry Hird hadn’t left the business in great shape when he died.
“Mr Hird passed the business on to Phyllis as part of the inheritance but the business wasn’t in a great way. It had been mortgaged to the hilt,” he explained.
“But she had a great work ethic and she knew the business. She was able to turn it around.
“The big problem was people moving away from Hessle Road when the homes were demolished. But, luckily, we still had factories down here and that was enough to sustain us.”
Mr Smith admits it took him a while to live up to the standards of the rest of her family.
“I don’t have the work ethic of my gran, my mum or my uncle and it took me a while to grow up,” Mr Smith admits. “I was a joiner trying to run a jewellery shop.”
One of the keys to the shop’s longevity maybe a surprising one – not being too ambitious.
“In the last few years there hasn’t been that much money to be made,” Mr Smith said.
“A few places have closed because they haven’t made the money they wanted but we have been happy just making a few quid here and there. We are still going
Mr Smith says you won’t find the Crown Jewels in Hird’s and much of their custom is repair work, but what you will find is excellent service.
“We repair and make jewellery,” he said. “We are a traditional jewellers with a twist. You won’t find high end stuff here but if you want a good personal service at a reasonable price then that is us.
“Much of our work is providing new batteries and straps for watches and silver jewellery is very popular. It is mainly stuff people can get for £10, £20 or £30.
“We do also make things and we recently turned a wedding ring into a pendant for a woman to keep her husband’s ashes in.”
Phyllis Price was at Hird’s for 69 years while Philip Smith’s uncle David Whincup ran it for decades
Another key to the success of Hird’s is the staff.
“Phil Gray has been here for over 30 years, Sandra Cole 20 years and myself over 20 years too,” Mr Smith said.
“We all have different ways of approaching customers but it is a good mix and we are all very experience. We also have a very good repairer in Shaun Atkinson.
“It is the customers that keeps me doing this job. I just love the Hessle Road people. They are honest and what you see is what you get.”
Being targeted by criminals is a hazard of the job as a jeweller but Mr Smith says he has been lucky.
“We have not been hit for around 20 years” he said. “And that was when thieves broke through the wooden shutter. Now they are all metal.
“I don’t remember being robbed. But we don’t sell anything that valuable and it is easier to take cash from a store than try and sell on jewellery.”
The question now is, can Hird the jewellers last decades more?
“As long as people still need watch straps and batteries then we will keep going,” Mr Smith said.
“People think that because we have been here so long we will always be here but it can all change. We always need to attract new customers.
“We would like to thank those customers who have supported us over the years.
“We will never be millionaires but we will just keep trying to do our best and hopefully people will keep coming.”