T Edmondson and Co was one of Wagga Wagga’s earliest and largest department stores, serving the town and surrounding district for over a century.
The founder of T Edmondson and Co, Mr Townley Edmondson, arrived from England in 1862. He began working as a commission agent for Mr George Forsyth, then for TH Mate and Co of Albury.
A little later, he purchased a site in Gurwood Street on 9 April 1868 to open his brand new wholesale store. The land had been originally owned by George Forsyth, who sold it to James Simpson in 1858. Simpson built a two-storey brick building on the site, which, combined with the prime location, must have added to the appeal of the site for Edmondson.
T Edmondson and Co., initially trading as a wholesaler to graziers on large stations, was open for business by the end of 1868. The store was situated exactly where Woolworths is now located in Gurwood Street.
During this time of unmade roads, paddle steamers and before the railway, the business dealt mainly as a wholesale nature distributing to the farmers and graziers. The open area between Gurwood and Johnston Streets was once full of waggons and bullock teams. Everything was supplied in bulk and if a “customer ordered whisky, he meant a cask, not a bottle.”
Little is known of the personal life of Townley Edmondson but he certainly had the confidence and enthusiasm to build a business which became known throughout the Riverina. He returned to England permanently in the late 1880’s and passed away at Trefriw, North Wales, at the age of 85 in March 1925.
The store continued to carry the name of T Edmondson long after Townley had relinquished his part in it. James Edmondson, Robert Burrows Wrathall and Edward Edmondson were early members of the company.
A little later, James Skirrow Lupton arrived from England with his wife and entered into partnership with Edmondson’s in 1870. James Lupton headed the firm for 40 years until his retirement.
In 1881, James Edmondson and Robert Wrathall left the partnership and bought Mittagong Station near Yerong Creek. It is not known when James Edmondson returned to England but he died in North Wales on 27 December 1894. Robert Wrathall died on 14 February 1901 at the home of James Lupton in Wagga Wagga.
Charles Hawthorn Croaker resigned from the Bank of New South Wales in Tumut on 4 May 1882 and for about twelve months he managed his own business as a Stock, Station and Commission Agent. He joined T Edmondson and Co. just a year later as a partner and continued to conduct the business in conjunction with James Lupton until his death in June 1898.
Lupton continued in his role as head of the firm until 1901 when Edward Kerfoot was appointed Manager. Mr Kerfoot took over the business until his retirement in June 1945.
During Kerfoot’s time, there was a number of changes to the store, possibly the most dramatic being the amalgamation of T Edmondson and Co with WG Huthwaite and Co, followed by the company becoming limited and selling 150,000 shares at £1 each.
With the large stations disappearing, retail became the focus of the store and a new era began with extra departments added. At Edmondson’s, you could buy nearly everything: from fine china to sheep licks, groceries to farm ploughs, beds to door handles – “anything from a tack to an aeroplane.”
Jump over to Trove and take a look at some photographs of the interior of the store in 1910: Enterprise in Riverina: T. Edmondson and Co, Wagga Wagga. There are views of the ironmongery department, the grocery department, the bulk stores and produce stores sections, the wine and spirit cellars, the accountants’ room with their very uncomfortable chairs, and the muddy yard, with its jumble of farmers’ sulkies.
The historic name of T Edmondson and Co Ltd ended in 1973 when the store changed its trading name to Mates in July of that year.
Not many years later, Mates became John Meagher and Co, then JB Young Stores with their main office in Baylis Street.
On 2 August 1982 the Gurwood Street closed its doors. JB Young continued to trade in Baylis Street until 5 March 1986 when the store opened as Grace Bros.
The growth and development of Edmondson and Co closely follows the fortunes of Wagga Wagga itself. The town grew exponentially from the 1860s onwards and the Gurwood-Fitzmaurice street area was for so long the “centre” of the town. The changes in the store’s clientele, from wholesale for graziers to retail for town-dwellers and smaller landholders also perfectly reflects the changes in the district.
There was the changeover to shareholders in the 1920s; the acquisition by chain stores in the 1970s and 1980s, the closure of the store in Gurwood Street in the 1980s and the move to Baylis Street. These milestones in the store’s history are milestones in many Wagga businesses during the previous century. But only a very few stores can claim to have seen them all.
By June Dietrich
References: The Argus, Melbourne: 5 April 1956; The Daily Advertiser: 14 February 1901, 30 November 1921, 27-28 August 1923, 25 March 1925, 2 June 1945, 13 October 1969, 25 July 1973, 2 August 1982, 1 April 1986; The Hobart Mercury: 27 July 1874; The Sydney Mail and NSW Advertiser: 10 August 1910; Wagga Wagga Advertiser: 1 January 1895, 18 June 1898, 10 August 1910.