PICTURES: Can you remember long-lost Doncaster supermarket Hillards?

It is a name that dominated Yorkshire in the 1970s and 1980s – and a weekly trip to supermarket Hillards was essential to stock up on all your groceries.

By Darren Burke
Tuesday, 19th October 2021, 12:58 pm
People from across Doncaster flocked to the new Hillards store when it opened in the early 1980s. It is now Tesco Edenthorpe.  (Photo: Hillards Charitable Trust)
People from across Doncaster flocked to the new Hillards store when it opened in the early 1980s. It is now Tesco Edenthorpe. (Photo: Hillards Charitable Trust)

It is now nearly 35 years since the store last graced our streets, the name disappearing after supermarket giant Tesco bought up the firm for £220 million in 1987.

Doncaster had to wait until 1983 to get a Hillards store – and the supermarket – now Edenthorpe Tesco was state of the art when it opened.

The store – which advertised its opening with a tethered air balloon which could be seen from miles around – boasted deli and fresh meat and fish counters – with ‘next customer please’ ticket machines seemingly highly futuristic when they were first unveiled.

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Hillards at Edenthorpe was one of the most modern supermarkets in the country when it first opened. Photo: Hillards Charitable Trust

Back in the early 80s, the store, whose external appearance has barely changed, was one of Doncaster’s biggest supermarkets, with people travelling from all over town just to check out the massive new superstore.

The firm existed for more than 100 years, created by John Wesley Hillard, who opened his first store in 1885 in Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire.

The first grocery shop was opened with a £50 loan and within 15 years he had over 20 shops trading under the name ‘Lion Stores’ – after the Lion that graced the outside of Lion Chambers, the building that housed his first shop.

J. W. Hillard Ltd was registered as a private limited company in 1929 with five directors - John Wesley Hillard, his two sons and his two sons-in-law. Mr. Hillard remained active in the business until his death in 1935 at the age of 78.

The store boasted deli counters, a bakery and lots of innovative ideas for shoppers. Photo: Hillards Charitable Trust

By 1951, the number of stores had reached 70 and from the beginning, the company had exploited innovative ideas. John Wesley had provided tea and biscuits to his early customers, along with their return tram fare home.

In later years, free bus services took customers shopping at many of the supermarkets.

Continuing the tradition of innovation, and pioneering the trend in the North, the company opened its first self-service store in Brighouse in 1952, only the second of its kind in Yorkshire. And, despite the initial reservations of some customers, all the shops had been converted to self-service within ten years.

The firm opened its first large store in 1968 in a converted warehouse in Wakefield – and it was followed shortly afterwards by supermarkets in York and Lincoln.

David and Peter Hartley, grandsons of the founder, became joint managing directors in 1970 when the firm took on the Hillards branding.

By the mid 80s, Hillards operated some of the largest and most modern supermarkets in the country; many had in-store bakeries and petrol stations. Some had cafes – all progressive features at the time.

By the start of 1987, annual sales were in excess of £300 million and building work had begun on a centralised distribution facility in Doncaster that would multiply the company’s existing warehousing capacity by seven times.

But in February 1987, Tesco announced a hostile takeover bid. The fiercely contested campaign was front page news in the national press throughout its three-month duration.

And on May, 1987, having twice been forced to increase its offer, Tesco achieved majority control with 56% of the shares, and Hillards ceased to be an independent company.

Thus ended 102-years and four generations of the family’s service to the company's millions of regional customers. Valued at £1.8m in 1972, the company was bought by Tesco for £228m.

In 1988, using part of their share of the sale proceeds, Peter Hartley and his wife Gay set up Gay & Peter Hartley's Hillards Charitable Trust. Other members of the Hillard and Hartley families also set up Charitable Trusts.

The Trust makes grants to social welfare causes in the 45 communities that supported Hillards stores.

And local groups can still apply for grants and funding HERE