Tag Archives: Oxford Street

Manchester’s Oxford Street 1936

30 Oct
The Odeon Cinema, formerly the Paramount Theatre on Oxford Street in 1936. Image courtesy P. Stanley.

Oxford Street in 1936 showing the Odeon Cinema, formerly the Paramount Theatre in the foreground. Image courtesy P. Stanley.

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Thomas Armstrong & Brother Ltd – 1825 -1968

12 Sep
Thomas Armstrong & trial lens case and lenses

Thomas Armstrong & Brother Ltd lens case and lenses. Date unknown. Image courtesy P.Bell.

This is a Thomas Armstrong & Brother Ltd opticians lens case and lenses. The date is not known.

Thomas Armstrong & Brother Ltd was a well known and important producer  of scientific instruments, in particular optical equipment.

The company was originally founded in 1825 then known locally as the old Deanery by Joseph Armstrong and was based at 261 Deansgate, specializing in jewellery and silversmithery.

Joseph Armstrong was married to Sarah Booth in 1828 and had three sons Thomas, George and Alfred.

By the time Joseph Armstrong died in 1851, Thomas Armstrong with the help of his brother George Booth, took over the management of the company having already ran it in for some years prior to his fathers death. It was at this time the company was renamed Thomas Armstrong and Brother Ltd and subsequent expansion into the manufacture of spectacles and optical equipment was started.

The expansion was to bare fruit for the brothers and in 1877 the company was officially appointed as the opticians to the Manchester Royal Eye Hospital based on Oxford Road. Thomas Armstrong had already formed links with the eye hospital after becoming a life trustee after a donation of 10 guineas in 1848.

In 1877, the scientific and optical side of the the business had grown to such an extent that the premises were extended to meet the demand for the brothers products.

In the years between 1877 – 1891 the company grew considerably in size and reputation, employing 15 people including George’s younger brother Alfred. By the time the company exhibited at the Industrial Exhibition of 1887, the company had become known for its innovation. It was also at this time that the company acquired additional premises on St Mary Street.

Thomas Armstrong had now finely tuned his eye for opportunity and publicity, notably holding the first exhibition of ‘animated pictures’ and also introducing the now burgeoning city of Manchester to compressed oxygen and hydrogen gases for scientific and demonstrative purposes.

During this period the companies reputation was such that in 1891 the company won the contract to supply the War Office, the Admiralty, the Board of Trade, the India Office and the General Post Office (G.P.O) with scientific instruments.

Towards the end of 1890s and with the possibility of the death of Thomas Armstrong, his son, Frank Armstrong came into the business and the company spread its wings further, expanding into Liverpool in 1904 with the opening of a branch at 112 Bold Street, whilst back in Manchester moving its headquarters to larger premises at 78 Deansgate. It was also at this time that George died, after which Frank Armstrong made his home above the shop.

At the advent of the First World War in 1914, Thomas Armstrong and Brother Limited had diversified further and was now supplying the War Department with gun sights, elevation equipment and surveying equipment. The company also supplied clocks, watches and submarine detectors to the naval services.

In 1920, Thomas Armstrong and Brother Limited which by this time also had branches in London on New Cavendish Street and premises and land at the Manchester docks, was sold to the Charted  Accountant, Mr Leonard Douglas Kidson, of 1, Booth Street, Manchester  for £56,000. In todays money £1,187,760.00. Frank Armstrong however stayed with the company for a further 10 years.

By the time of the companies centenary in 1925, the company was employing 125 people and had further expanded its services and range of optical and scientific equipment such as microscopes, telescopes, laboratory, nautical and meteorological equipment and now included jewellery and timepieces for which it offered a winding service, whilst also specializing in horn and tortoiseshell spectacle frames.

The contract with the Eye Hospital at both the Oxford Road and St John’s Street locations had changed considerably during its long association and in 1937 it ended due to the British Medical Association now deeming that opticians did not possess the adequate knowledge and understanding of diseases and disabilities of the eye to safely provide glasses.

By 1965, the company was once again purchased by Harrisons Opticians. The company at this time still had its roots on Deansgate (number 80), whilst it let out number 76/78. There were also branches on Manchester’s Oxford Street and next to the Eye Hospital on Nelson Street. It also still held the branch on Bold Street in Liverpool and a branch at the Downs in Altrincham.

In 1968 the Harrison group was finally purchased by the London Company Dolland and Aitchison in 1968, which itself was absorbed into Boots Opticians in 2009.



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