We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more
Bainbridge, Emerson Muschamp (1817–1892), department store owner, was born on 25 August 1817 in Eastgate, Weardale, co. Durham, the youngest child in the family of two sons and five daughters of Cuthbert Bainbridge (1772–1850), a farmer, and his wife, Mary Muschamp (1774–1850), the youngest child of Emerson Muschamp of Brotherlee, near Eastgate, bailiff to the bishop of Durham. His parents were devout Methodists.

Bainbridge was educated at Eastgate village school, and from 1830 to 1835 was apprenticed to Thomas Kidd, a draper, of The Side, Newcastle upon Tyne. After spending two years in London working for Lewis and Allenby, a famous silk and shawl warehouse in Regent Street, Bainbridge returned to Newcastle in 1838. There he joined W. Alder Dunn in setting up a woollen and linen drapery business at 12 and 14 Market Street, in the newly developed city centre, opposite Grainger Market. On 22 August 1839 he married Anne (Annie) Hudson (1821–1902), the second daughter of Thomas Hudson, a tanner, of Newcastle. They had fifteen children, ten of whom survived childhood.

From the outset the new drapery business was innovative. Dunn and Bainbridge marked their goods with fixed prices, which was less intimidating for the customer than was the old practice of individual bargaining, and they extended the range of goods, moving into ‘novelties’ such as gloves, stockings, and ribbons, and cords and tassels to go with their household fabrics. In 1841 the partnership was dissolved, with Dunn continuing to trade next door while Bainbridge operated from 12 Market Street, which he named Albert House. Bainbridge went into partnership with his cousin John Bell Muschamp, and the firm continued to expand the range of its merchandise, so that by 1845 their stock included mourning clothes, furs, and ready-made muslin dresses. In 1846 Bainbridge and Muschamp bought 11 Market Street and opened a ‘French room’, with goods imported from Paris. In an advertisement of 1846 they stated that ‘Bainbridge and Muschamp are resolved that they will not be undersold by any House in the Kingdom’. By 1849 there were twenty-three separate departments, making Bainbridge's probably the first department store in the world, predating Au Bon Marché of Paris, which opened in 1852 and was the model for American stores in the 1860s.

The expansion continued in the 1850s. Bainbridge and Muschamp began to manufacture clothes on the premises, and in 1852 they bought two more adjoining shops and moved into men's ready-made clothing. The partnership with John Bell Muschamp ended in 1855, and from then on the business was called Bainbridge & Co. Bainbridge was successful partly because he was able to take advantage of the growth of the city centre and the expansion of the lower middle classes, who flocked into his store, eager to benefit from the lower prices, high quality, and wide range of drapery and haberdashery products. In 1865 he bought a 500 foot block of buildings behind Market Street, and a few years later he knocked them down and built a new store, four storeys high. He added a carpet-planning showroom in 1881 and a new building to house his carpet-beating machinery in 1884, and in 1885 he bought the Coach and Horses inn in Bigg Market, demolished it, and built a new furniture department. He extended the business to Leeds in 1883, when he bought a factory there to manufacture boys' and men's clothing, and in 1889 he moved his boot and shoe manufacturing business to the city, where by 1892 he employed a staff of nearly one thousand.

At the 1887 Jubilee Exhibition in Newcastle, Bainbridge & Co. set up a sumptuous house-furnishing exhibit. Bainbridge installed electric light in his store in 1890, and it was one of his employees who invented the ‘Ariel messengers’ to carry cash through the store by overhead tubes. By 1892 Bainbridge's employed a staff of 600 in Newcastle, and the store had 11,705 square yards of floor space. Shopping at Bainbridge's was seen as a pleasurable social activity, and the store offered not only a wide range of goods but also services such as funeral arrangements and house removals. Bainbridge had a paternalistic attitude towards his staff. He housed many of his workers in special accommodation, and before his death in 1892 he had established a benevolent society, offering sickness and holiday benefits, social activities, and sports teams.

Brought up in a Methodist household, Bainbridge became a Methodist lay preacher and a leading member of the Brunswick Place Methodist Chapel in Newcastle, and he was active in the temperance movement. He preferred to employ Methodists, often from the lead-mining districts of co. Durham. As his wealth increased he was able to build in the late 1860s a large family house in Newcastle, Leazes Villa, and to buy in 1877 a 1775 acre country estate, Eshott, near Felton, Northumberland. Here, at Eshott Hall, he lived the life of a country gentleman. He made additions to the house, including a tower, improved the land, built labourers' cottages, erected a chapel, and started a library, and he enjoyed game shooting as a sport. At the same time he continued to be actively involved in the business, and his energy remained remarkable. Bainbridge was a director of the Consett Iron Company and of several collieries. He was a Liberal and served as a JP.

Bainbridge died at Eshott Hall on 21 February 1892 after suffering a stroke. Three of his four surviving sons, Thomas Hudson Bainbridge (1842–1912), George Bargate Bainbridge (1850–1944), and Arthur Emerson Bainbridge (1862–1930), had joined the firm, and in his will Bainbridge left them each a third share in the business. Another son, , became a colliery manager and owner. The firm continued to prosper under the second and third generations of the family. George Bargate Bainbridge served as chairman until his death in 1944; and his son, (George) Aubrey Bainbridge (1881–1950), was managing director of Bainbridge & Co. until 1946. However, the firm ran into difficulties during the 1930s, and in 1938 Bainbridge's of Leeds went into liquidation.

The only member of the fourth generation of the family to enter the business was George Vivian Muschamp Bainbridge (1910–1976). Born on 15 November 1910 at Lough House, Benridge, Morpeth, Northumberland, he was the elder of the two sons of (George) Aubrey Bainbridge of Morpeth and his first wife, Mary, the daughter of Robert Atkinson Turnbull, a dentist, of Newcastle upon Tyne, and the great-grandson of Emerson Muschamp Bainbridge (1817–1892). Having read modern languages and psychology at Christ's College, Cambridge (c.1929–1932), he entered the business in 1932 and the following year was one of four new directors appointed to the board. On 8 February 1934 he married Pamela Ann Fenwick (b. 1913/14), the youngest daughter of of Newcastle upon Tyne, the son of , founder of Fenwick's department store [see under ]. Bainbridge was in the Territorial Army and served with distinction in the Royal Artillery during the Second World War, reaching the rank of major. After the war he found time for voluntary work, serving as chairman of a number of organizations in the north-east, including the Murray House community centre and youth club, the Northumberland and Tyneside Council of Social Service, and the Byker community development project.

Bainbridge and his cousin Bill Sanderson became joint managing directors of the business in 1948 under the chairmanship of Sir Robert Burrows (who was married to the daughter of Arthur Emerson Bainbridge, the son of the founder of the firm); but without large amounts of capital it was impossible to revitalize the business, and in 1952 Bainbridge's was sold to the John Lewis Partnership. With the help of capital investment from John Lewis, Bainbridge later modernized the store and by the time of his retirement in 1974 he had built Bainbridge's up to be one of the leading department stores in the country. When new premises were opened in the Eldon Square shopping centre in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1976, Bainbridge's became the largest John Lewis store outside London. Bainbridge was appointed OBE in 1974. He died on 29 April 1976 and was buried on 4 May at the parish church at Corbridge, Northumberland.

Anne Pimlott Baker

Sources  

A. Airey and J. Airey, The Bainbridges of Newcastle: a family history, 1679–1976 (1979) · B. Lancaster, The department store: a social history (1995) · A. Airey, ‘Bainbridge, Emerson Muschamp’, DBB · J. Goodchild, ‘Bainbridge, Emerson Muschamp’, DBB · The Journal [Newcastle upon Tyne] (30 April 1976) · A. Adburgham, Shops and shopping, 1800–1914: where, and in what manner the well-dressed Englishwoman bought her clothes, 2nd edn (1981) · M. J. Winstanley, The shopkeeper's world (1983) · m. cert. · d. cert. · b. cert. [G. V. M. Bainbridge] · m. cert. [G. V. M. Bainbridge] · Cambridge historical register

Likenesses  

M. Rizzello, bronze bas relief; known to be at Bainbridge's, Eldon Way, Newcastle in 1976 · photograph (G. V. M. Bainbridge), repro. in Airey and Airey, Bainbridges of Newcastle, 189 · portrait, repro. in DBB, vol. 1, p. 102; priv. coll.

Wealth at death  

£407,715 0s. 7d.: resworn probate, 1893, CGPLA Eng. & Wales · £29,760—G. V. M. Bainbridge: probate, 14 June 1976, CGPLA Eng. & Wales