December 2018

Gilbert’s Home Furnishings

Gilbert's of Swindon

I don’t know if it’s astonishing or not, but it strikes me as being so, that there should be three long-standing retail businesses   within a few yards of each other. Anyway – be that as it may – having already covered Deacon’s Jewellers and Blaylock’s Shoes it seemed only right to have a look at another long-standing Old Town business: Gilbert’s Home Furnishings.

Gilbert’s then, established in1886, has been in the business of serving their customers for 150 years.

Originally established in 1866, current owner Graeme Gatrill took on the business in 1991.

William Gilbert (1831-1911)

Philip Gilbert, a sawyer by trade, married Sarah Chouls in Great Bedwyn in 1828. Their son, William Gilbert, entered the world in 1831 at Grafton, near Marlborough.

By the time William Gilbert married Susanna Caroline (née Beaven) in Calne in 1860, he described himself as a ‘cabinet maker journeyman’. The couple made their first home in Blowthorn Street, Marlborough. But 1865 saw them living at 12 Belle Vue Road in Swindon and Willian employed as a grocer. A trade he continued to ply at that address for the rest of the decade. In 1867 he added ‘upholsterer’ to his occupations and cabinet maker in 1869. Thus the status quo remained until an unspecified point between 1871 and 1875.

At the earlier date, William Gilbert described himself as a ‘cabinet maker one man’ – though still living at Belle Vue Road. By 1875 though, the Gilbert family, comprising five children with another son on the way, relocated to a house and shop on the Newport Street site. Once there he advertised himself as a cabinet maker, selling a variety of furniture, fixtures and fittings for the home. Alongside all that, and on land at the year, he set up his furniture warehouse on the premises.

By 1881, William had staff. By now he employed one man and two apprentices. Following in his father’s footsteps, Gilbert’s firstborn son became a cabinet maker. As tradition often dictates, the couple’s second child, Emily, did what her mother had done before her and became a dressmaker.

In 1186-1887, the Gilbert clan rebuilt and remodelled the Newport Street shop to provide 6,000 square feet of warehousing space. The family moved around the corner into Ingleside, at 40 Devizes Road. In 1889 the business became William Gilbert and Son. The son, Albert John (AK John Gilbert) became the effective business boss in 1900.


In 1904 the new-fangled trams came to Old Town and the Gilbert business found itself a mere few yards from the Old Town terminus. The canny business owner capitalised on his serendipitous proximity to the tram terminus by telling his customers to ask the conductor for fares to ‘Gilbert’s furniture please!’

The elder Gilberts were still at Ingleside in 1906 when Susanna died. The following year, William wed Rosanna Breakwell, 23 years his junior.

From their website:

‘Gilberts have been offering a superb selection of carpets and furnishings in Old Town, Swindon since 1866.
Today, we continue to provide our customers with a fully comprehensive service and knowledgable, well-trained staff, like no other. Our showroom is open every day except Sunday, where you’ll find our dedicated carpet & flooring room plus home furnishings & upholstery on display.

‘Gilberts is particularly proud to have served generations of customers for nearly 150 years.’

On both Gilbert’s own website and on Swindon Web here, you’ll find a nice bit of video chronicling Gilbert’s and the Great War.

Find Gilbert’s in the ether

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