Kays of Worcester

Shopping over 200 years – the History of Kays of Worcester

by Bernard Mills
Thursday 27th November 2014


Bernard Mills worked for Kays of Worcester for 30 years, from 1973 till 2003, and is the Chairman of the Kays Heritage Group. In a very interesting talk, laced with much humour, he traced the history of the company from its origins in 1794 to its closure in 2007.

Its origins lie in the watchmaker’s shop of John Skarratt, which opened in Goose Lane, Worcester in 1794.  This flourishing business was taken over by John Skarratt Junior who in turn handed over to his son who operated from premises in Broad Street.

In the 1881 census a young man by the name of John Kilbourne Kay, described as a “jeweller’s assistant” was living in lodgings in Park Street. By 1883, now married and employed by Skarratt’s, he was living above the Skarratt premises in Broad Street.

In 1886, in partnership with an architect named George Jones, he started his own company – Kay, Jones and Co of Worcester.  The partnership was dissolved in 1890 and the company became “Kays of Worcester”.  In 1896, the amalgamation of Kay’s with Skarratt’s enabled John Kay to claim that his business had been established for over 100 years.

Originally selling goods on a strict “cash with order” basis, and selling clocks, watches, jewellery and household items only (no ladies’fashions for example), the company flourished in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Thanks to the business acumen of Mr Kay it managed to change with the times and expand to become the major employer it was during the middle part of the twentieth century.

Bernard Mills delivered this fascinating and entertaining talk with deep knowledge, insight and humour. Much appreciated by all; an excellent evening.

For those interested, Bernard has written a history of Kay’s!

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