A Merry Busby Christmas

Postcard of Busbys, Manningham Lane (Image no: 1798)
Postcard of Busbys, Manningham Lane c.1930s (Image no: 1798)

Many people in Bradford have fond memories of Busby’s Department store, especially the Christmas grotto.  As we’re heading into the festive season it seemed fitting to look at some of the photographs held in Bradford’s photographic collection that record these wonderful Christmas memories.

Busby’s first opened on Kirkgate in 1908. The store quickly developed a reputation for excellent service, prioritising the customers’ needs. The company rapidly expanded its stock, to meet customer requirements, and as a result the store needed to move into a larger building. In 1930 the brand new department store opened on Manningham Lane and included a cafe, launderette, beautician and hairdressers as well as a variety of home ware and clothing departments, including a fur department.

Santa Busby Clause shopping in Busbys, photograph by C. H. Wood (image no: Q2062)
Santa Busby Clause shopping in Busbys, photograph by C. H. Wood (image no: Q2062)

Busbys’ became known as a place to socialise as well as shop. It was a family store where parents could take their children to shop in a relaxed environment. It was a place to meet friends, visit the library, hairdressers, the beauty salon and stop in the café for a bite to eat.

Letter from Santa Clause 1930s
Letter from Santa Clause c. 1930s

Planning for Christmas began in June each year. Students from Leeds College of Art helped the Busby design team create the grotto decorations during the summer holidays. During the festive season the entire store would work together to create a wonderland to entertain it’s shoppers. The store would be decorated, the cafe would serve Christmas menus and the grotto would welcome hundreds of visitors every day. They even employed a letter writer to respond to all the letters Santa Busby Clause received each year.

Busby Christmas postcard 1938 showing Father Christmas, Mother Christmas, Snow White and Tommy Busby
Busby Christmas postcard 1938

The first Busby Grotto was located in the basement of the Kirkgate store (1908 – 1930), where Little Red Riding Hoods cottage was built. Santa did not make an appearance that year, but families were entertained with fairy tale characters who gave out gifts to the children. A mobile cottage was also built on the back of a car, which visited areas all over the city.

Busby’s Christmas Procession, 1930s
Busby’s Christmas Procession, 1930s

By the 1930’s Santa Busby Clause had become firmly established as part of the festive activities in the new Manningham Lane store. To announce Santa Busby Clause’s arrival into Bradford a huge procession was held. Mrs Claus, Christmas fairies, reindeer and a brass band accompanied Santa in a parade through the city each year.

Busby’s Christmas Grotto, 1958. Photograph by C. H. Wood. (Image no: 84121)
Busby’s Christmas Grotto, 1958. Photograph by C. H. Wood. (Image no: 84121)

A trip to Busby’s Santa Grotto was made into an experience. The grotto was designed to entertain and delight the families who visited. The queue was lined with waterfalls, animated models, falling snowflakes, fairies and a sweet shop. Snow White, Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood would also come along to entertain the families. Once you finally reached Santa, instructions from Santa’s fairy would be sent to the gift room and a suitable present would be sent down Santa’s chimney, magically appearing in the grotto below.

Ernest Busby was a tough-minded businessman, but he was also driven by strong Christian values. The Busby store tried to embody the meaning of Christmas.  Putting the interest of the customer first and doing the fair and honest thing, was the force that drove the company. Believing that giving back to Bradford and it’s community, particularly at this festive, joyful time of year, was integral to the success of the City and themselves.

“Money is not wealth; wealth lies in giving opportunities to worthy people to make their lives worth living, opportunities of service and of doing something worthwhile. Busbys’ is a prosperous firm because there is in it a spirit of progress and a constant desire to do one’s best. There is reason to believe that Bradford is coming back into its own, and there are big things in store for Bradford…”   Busbys’ House Magazine, May 1932.

Busby’s became part of the Debenhams brand in 1961, but retained the Busby’s branding in its stores. In 1973 Debenhams re-branded Busby’s as Debenhams and in 1978 the Manningham Lane store was closed.

picture of the Busby Soldier logo. The Busby’s Soldier Logo represents Ernest Busby, founder of the store, and his three sons Arthur, Gerald and Eric.
The Busby’s Soldier Logo which represents Ernest Busby, founder of the store, and his three sons Arthur, Gerald and Eric.

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