Delving into the archives

Delving into the archives

When retired Systems Director Peter Cox began to delve into Partnership archives two years ago, it was more than just a trip down memory lane. He was researching the entire history of the business for his book, Spedan’s Partnership: The Story of John Lewis and Waitrose, which launched this week – just in time for the 100-year anniversary of John Spedan Lewis’s vision for a Partnership, in October.

Peter, a Partner from 1968 to 2003, already has two self-published books under his belt, Sixty Summers (about English cricket since World War II) and Set Into Song (about folk music and radio). However, the writer in him itched to tackle another subject. He admits: “I’ve always had a yen for big challenging projects.”

His challenge came in the form of Dudley Cloake, the then President of the Waitrose Council, who explained that there was nothing suitable to give to Branch Managers or Councillors about the history of the Partnership. As Peter had previously researched and penned a revue recounting each decade of the Partnership in 2000, he was struck with inspiration. “I recognised what a great story it was,” he says. He approached Chairman Charlie Mayfield in late 2008 with his idea for the book, two sample chapters and a synopsis – and the result was that Peter was soon authorised to research the Partnership’s history.

While the book is independently written and self-published, Peter was permitted to speak to Partners, past and present – which he did, clocking up 120 interviews. He even spoke to four of Waitrose’s last five Managing Directors. However, he had rich pickings from 90 volumes of the Gazette dating back to 1919, which the Odney Club’s Event Manager Derek Bond gave him, and which became his main resource along with the Partnership archives.

“The Partnership has a great hidden resource in its archive, and Judy Faraday is a brilliant archivist who has been hugely helpful.” In exploring the archives, he discovered old personal files of deceased Partners. “That gave me the feel for Spedan when he was just starting out, a brilliant original, rather than the institution he became, the God-like ‘Founder’,” explains Peter.

He is also fascinated by shopkeeper Stanley Carter, who turned round the fortunes of Waitrose in 1967 and became its Managing Director until 1973. “One thread running through the book is the survival and then spectacular flowering of Waitrose, which was bought in 1937, and was nearly sold off several times in the following 30 years. A good job it wasn’t!” Costing £12.50 in person (Peter has been promoting it at Bracknell and John Lewis and Waitrose branches) and £15 if ordered by post, the volume – of which just 2,000 copies have been printed – is rich in detail and intriguing anecdotes, containing early Waitrose advertisements and photographs of John Lewis Oxford Street pre and post-Blitz.

He is pleased with the result, and hopes that Partners will benefit from reading it. “It’s a great story, about a great business. That it’s still a unique one would annoy Spedan, who wanted other businesses to copy his idea. Perhaps now, at last, they will.”

Lucy Coelho with Laura Foster

Go to www.spedanspartnership.co.uk or follow a link on JLPnet to find out more and purchase your copy of Spedan’s Partnership: The Story of John Lewis and Waitrose

Waitrose Chronicle Volume 70 – no 39 2 October 2010

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