Off The Record

Brown Muffs Department Store, Bradford

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The following source list was originally available only on paper in one of the West Yorkshire Archive Service offices. It may have been compiled many years ago and could be out of date. It was designed to act as a signpost to records of interest on a particular historical subject, but may relate only to one West Yorkshire district, or be an incomplete list of sources available. Please feel free to add or update with any additional information.


Market Street was once the bustling centre of trade in Bradford. In 1856 there were almost 80 businesses in this area alone, including three public houses, six hairdressers and a number of grocers, jewelers and solicitors. At number 54 stood the drapers Brown & Muff. This small family run business was soon to become a well known Bradford institution, rivaling Harrods for its reputation in luxury goods.

This old Bradford establishment was founded in 1814 by Mrs. Elizabeth Brown, a 37 year old widow with connections to the drapery trade through her brother and uncle. She was a thrifty business woman, declining any requests for credit in order to give value for money. In 1834 Elizabeth retired, handing the business over to her son Henry (d.1871) who had helped in the shop since he was a young boy.

Elizabeth died in 1845 and Henry decided to go into partnership with his brother-in-law Thomas P. Muff (d.1901). The company changed its name to Brown and Muffs and expanded into new areas. The 1856 Trade Directory describes it as drapers, hosiers, tailors and hatters.

Following the arrival of the railway in Bradford in 1846 business in the city boomed and people would come from far and wide to shop at the marvelous Brown and Muffs, well known for its quality goods. While industry in Bradford thrived however the majority of the population lived in poverty and was unable to shop at this luxury department store. During the years 1847-8, Bradford Poor Law Union was supporting 16,000 people with poor relief. This was 20% of the population (Victorian Bradford by DG Wright). Despite this, the store is still fondly remembered by the ordinary worker for its fabulous window displays.

In 1870, due to street improvement plans, the original Brown Muff building was pulled down and a new one, designed by architects Knowles and Wilcock was built. This building is still standing today and the Brown Muff and Co. sign can be seen on the Bank Street corner. In the 1990’s renovations uncovered the original black and gold Brown and Muff signs which are now kept at the Bradford Industrial Museum.

Over the next 100 years Brown and Muffs became a limited company. They expanded into the corner of Ivegate and Tyrrell Street, Market Street and Bank Street and eventually Darley Street. The company went into carpet making, cutting them to size in the streets outside people’s houses. A beauty parlour was opened as well as a Chapel of Rest. In the 1950s, following the boom in electrical goods, Brown Muffs opened a store in Howard House on Broadway to meet this demand.

An unfortunate downturn came in the 1970’s following massive profit losses. Shareholders were advised to sell to Birmingham based department store Rackhams, owned by the House of Fraser group. In 1995, Rackhams was closed and sadly, the building was split into a number of different shops including Dillons, Boots, Clintons and KFC.

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