KEEPING IT IN THE FAMILY
Miranda Jessop stocks up on pet supplies as she finds out all about the history of Percy Chapman & Son Ltd from Neal and Gareth Chapman
There's one shop in Twickenham where four-legged furry friends are always welcome. At Percy Chapman & Son, there is even a bowl full of doggy treats by the till. When I arrive to meet owner Neal Chapman and his son Gareth, their own dog is curled up in the corner while the shop's large ginger cat purrs contentedly on the counter. This is clearly a family that love animals, so much so they have made pet supplies an important part of their business.
The roots of the shop can be traced back to 1882 when Neal's great grandfather Alfred Chapman moved to Twickenham. Alfred, who was from a farming family, bought Twickenham Green Dairies but it was rumoured that his strong faith prevented him from working on Sundays so he sold up and started a corn and seed shop on the Green. The story goes that Alfred's son Percy (and Neal's grandfather) established the present business under the name of 'P Chapman' in 1886 when he was only sixteen years old. It is not clear whether he set up a new business or traded from his father's shop but it is believed that the location was on the Green next to the Baptist church. Neal shows me a wonderful old black and white photograph of the shop, most probably taken around 1900. "They were predominantly corn and seed merchants but they used to sell all sorts of other things," explains Neal, pointing out the old signs in the photo which read 'Split peas and lentils', 'Chick Foods', 'Rice' and 'Molassine Dog Cakes'.
Charles Henry Chapman took the business over from his father, Percy and the shop moved to its current premises in Colne Road in the 1930s. At this time, the family lived at the impressive Knowle House in Colne Road. Charles' son, Neal joined the business in the mid 1960s when he was sixteen and over the years the nature of the business has changed. "Obviously people don't have goats, pigs and sheep in their back gardens any more," laughs Neal. As well as being a garden centre, the shop now sells a wide range of products including fishing tackle, gas bottles and hardware. But the mainstay of their year-round business is pet supplies and food. "We never used to have a pet toy over thirty shillings but now people think nothing of picking up a toy for seven or eight pounds. The pet market has just exploded."
At 66, there is no sign of Neal slowing down. His son Gareth who has spent most of his career in garden centres, joined his father full time in 2011 and is ready to carry on the family business when the time comes. "As one of Twickenham's oldest family-run businesses, we pride ourselves on an old-fashioned polite and helpful service and that will always be the way," says Gareth.
On my way out, there is just time for me to pick up some kitten food for my own new addition and when I see a door dangler full of cat nip 'for cats who love to have fun', of course I can't resist. I don't have any shillings in my pocket and, it might be an old-fashioned shop, but luckily Chapmans has moved with the times and one swipe of my contactless card means I am going home to one happy kitten.
Percy Chapman & Son Ltd
2-4 Colne Road
020 8892 0665