Hillards Charitable Trust


  • Gay & Peter Hartley’s Hillards Trust supports local charities that improve social welfare in the 45 towns where Hillards had a supermarket
  • Grants are normally made on a one-off basis up to £1,000

History of Hillards

John Wesley Hillard was born in 1857 into a Methodist family that lived in a small village in Somerset. Having left school at 15, he worked as an apprentice in the tea trade in London for seven years before managing a grocery shop in Paris and then a chain of three shops in Tralee, Ireland.

In 1885, he settled in Cleckheaton, Yorkshire and opened his first grocery shop with a £50 loan. 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 also acquired a corn seed business to supply local farmers and in 1922, joined by his two sons and his son-in-law Percy Neave Hartley, he bought a rival chain of 13 shops trading as ‘Jubbs Grocers.’

Jubbs Grocers cira. 1925/30

Hillards cira 1940

Additional storage space was essential for the enlarged business. He bought the mill across the road from his existing warehouse, roofed over the space between the buildings and the expanded space served as the company's warehouse for the next forty years.

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. By then the company had over 60 shops trading as Lion Stores or Jubbs. Percy Hartley continued to run the business as managing director.

In the years of economic depression leading up to the outbreak of the second world war, a number of smaller shops selling a very limited line of essential and basic goods were opened. These shops traded as ‘Park Stores’ – so called because the first was opposite the public park in Heckmondwike.

In spite of difficulties in the supply chain, reduced demand due to rationing and the shortage of staff during the war, and the continuation of rationing for some time after the war, the business had expanded to 70 stores by 1951.

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. And in the 1950’s mobile shops toured the housing estates around Bradford, only to be phased out as local bus services improved, and as more people gained the use of a car.

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.

Hillards circa 1950

Hillards Supermarket circa 1968

It was during this period that the company developed its reputation for value, using the slogan ‘Lion - King of the Cut Price Jungle.’ An early adopter of advanced point of sale and marketing techniques, the company significantly boosted sales through the use of Green Shield trading stamps.

J.W. Hillard Ltd opened its first large store (supermarket) in 1968 in a converted warehouse in Wakefield. With a sales area of 16,000 square feet – one of the largest in the North of England at the time – it was an immediate success. 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. The company expanded into the Midlands firstly through the acquisition of four large supermarkets and then by opening purpose-built stores.

‘Lion’ had not been registered as a trademark and various manufacturers objected to the company’s use of the word in its expanding range of own-label products. As a result of these objections, the trading name of the supermarkets was changed to "Hillards" in 1970.

By then Hillards operated 19 large supermarkets and 18 smaller self-service stores. In order to finance its ability to build-out the expansion of the new, large format supermarkets, the company was floated on the London Stock Exchange in 1972 as ‘Hillards Ltd.’

The offer for shares was over-subscribed 118.5 times - a record at the time – and shares were allocated by ballot with a maximum lot of 6,000.

In 1983 Peter Hartley became Executive Chairman following his father, mother and eldest brother Gilbert, all of whom served as Chairman. The company celebrated its centenary in 1985. By then, 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.

Hillards Deli Counter

Hillards supermarket - external photo

The company operated both profit-sharing and share buying schemes for its employees. The majority of staff chose to receive shares rather than cash as their share of the profits and out of the 7,500 people that worked in the company, more than 4,000 became shareholders.

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 7 times.

The increased buying power made possible by the enlarged storage facility was expected to add two and half percent to the company’s net margin. As a result, net profit was forecast to more than double to £25m within the space of two years.

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.

On 16th 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.

Hillards Supermarket circa 1986

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