This photograph shows that they were also insurance agents and land salesmen. They were more than that though and as the sign says, they were ‘General Merchants’. In the early part of the twentieth century Hamilton enjoyed the services of a number of general merchants and by general they meant ‘general’ as in, ‘if there’s a demand we’ll deal to it’.
Mostly general merchants dealt in hardware as found on farms and in manufactories. Eventually they would expand their ranges to cover about anything a farm would require. ‘Merchants’ also usually meant the business would supply retailers and other businesses and were often importers of goods. This was not the same as a general store which tended to be a grocery with the addition of some hardware – usually gardening accoutrements – seldom ever trade tools or machinery. Companies like Bisleys would most likely branch into household items and perhaps limited lines of grocery items if customers demanded.
The buildings however remained until (we think) the late 1960s when they were demolished. What a shame. Look at the architecture. Whatever would you call that style? Is it a style? Whoever was the architect? And this is what draws me to this photo.
Everything about the decoration of this building (or should that be ‘these buildings’?) is exactly that – decoration. Mock, faux or just wrong, it is an interesting mix making for an interesting study. I for one, would always be late back from lunch if I had to pass this building. The columns, which are not columns – they are pilasters – are as nothing I have ever seen anywhere. Perhaps there is someone who can tell me they are Moroccan or Persian. The capitals look like a liberal translation of Ionic or Etruscan style. The pedestals are however, suitably impressive. Anyway, I’m putting my money on the columns being a hybrid of Doric, Tuscan and rusticated. It’s the pediments above each pilaster that amuse. Above those, a plain unadorned sign-written frieze surmounted by a castellated parapet.
And that is just one half of the building.
In days gone architects did what architects do now and that is, generally, follow the requirements of the client. Could this confusion of architectural bits and bobs be at the behest of A M Bisley Esq? I like to think to think so. He wanted a distinctive building; an arresting building. This façade would have looked like a bank in 1926 and that would be enough to reassure the customers so it would be good enough for him.
The lorry on the right is a Renault of about 1912 though perhaps could have been later and it’s still on its solid rubber tyres. And look at the fellow standing alongside to the left – he means business. That leather apron has seen some goods moved. The black lines in front of his legs are where the stock has rubbed over time. His was a strenuous job yet still he wore his hat and his tie!
Oh, last thing – see behind the lorry? Garden Place hill encroaching on Ward Street.
Addendum: – new (to me) information I found when searching for four people in a Model T. The building was occupied by FAC before Bisleys – who knew?
By Perry Rice, Hamilton Central Libraries.
Email Perry here – and quote HCL_08657 regarding this wonderful pic. (N8N’s husband David Riddell says he remembers his farming parents talking about Bisleys…)