Hillards Stores were well known, particularly in the north of England, for giving value for money.
In 1885, a twenty six year old Somerset man, John Wesley Hillard, who had served a seven year apprenticeship in the tea trade in London and who had then managed grocery shops for others in Paris and Tralee, settled in Cleckheaton, Yorkshire. He opened his first grocery shop in the town in Lion Chambers and within a few years he opened four more shops in the surrounding Spen Valley area and a few years later had expanded his chain as far afield as Morecambe.
By early in the nineteen hundredshe had over twenty shops all trading under the name "Lion Stores". He had also acquired a corn business to supply local farmers with seed as well as their groceries. In 1922, now joined by his two sons and a son in law, P.N.Hartley, he bought a rival chain of some thirteen shops trading as "Jubbs Grocers".
Additional warehouse space was essential so he bought the mill across the road from his existing warehouse, roofed over between the buildings and the resultant warehouse served the company for the next forty years.
In the years of depression, before the second world war, a number of small shops selling only a very limited range of essential and basic goods were opened. These shops traded as "Park Stores" so called because the first was opposite to the public park in Heckmondwike.
A private limited company was formed in 1929 registered as J.W.Hillard Ltd. The five directors were John Wesley Hillard, his two sons and two sons in law. John Wesley remained active in the business until his death in 1935. By then there were over 60 shops trading as "Lion Stores", "Jubbs" or "Park Stores".
Percy Hartley continued to run the business as managing director and in spite of the difficulties of supply, rationing and staff during the second world war and rationing for some time afterwards, the business had expanded to around 70 stores by 1951.
From the beginining, innovative ideas had been exploited; John Wesley had provided tea and biscuits and the return tram fare home to his early customers, in later years free bus services were available to pick up customers to take them on shopping trips to many of the supermarkets. Mobile shops were operated in the 1950's around housing estates in the Bradford area but were phased out when local bus services became more reliable and more people had the use of a car.
1952 saw the first self-service store opened in Brighouse, only the second of its kind in Yorkshire. Despite the initial reservations of customers, within 10 years all the shops had been converted to self service stores. It was then that the company underlined its reputation for value by using the slogan "Lion - King of the Cut Price Jungle". During the early part of this transitional period the company gave Green Shield trading stamps which considerably boosted the sales figures.
It was in 1968 that the first large supermarket was opened in a converted warehouse in Wakefield. With a sales area of 16,000 square feet, it then ranked as one of the largest in the North of England. It was an immediate success, followed shortly afterwards by supermarkets in York and Lincoln.
Because the word "Lion" had never been registered, the company found that various manufacturers objected to the use of the word in the expanding range of own label goods. As a result the trading name of the supermarkets was changed to "Hillards" in 1970.
In 1972 the company was floated on the London Stock Exchange as "Hillards Ltd." The object was to raise funds in order to expand the number of supermarkets. The share offer was over-subscribed a staggering 118.5 times - a record at that time; shares were allocated by ballot with the maximum allocation being 6000 shares. Hillards then operated 19 large supermarkets and 18 smaller self service stores. David and Peter Hartley, grandsons of the founder, had become joint managing directors in 1970. The company began to expand into the Midlands buying four large supermarkets and opening new purpose built ones. Peter Hartley became Executive Chairman in 1983, following his father, mother and eldest brother Gilbert, all of whom had served as Chairman.
The annual sales were in excess of £300 million and Hillards then operated some of the largest and most modern supermarkets in the country; many had in-store bakeries and petrol stations. Some had cafes. Over 7,500 people worked in the company, of whom more than 4,000 were shareholders. Hillards had operated a profit sharing scheme for some years and the majority of staff had chosen the option of receiving shares rather than cash.
Valued at £1.8 million in 1972, the value had increased to £228 million by 1987. In May 1987, after an unwelcome and fiercely contested bid by Tesco, Hillards plc was taken over and thus ended over 100 years of family service to the people of the region.
The following year Peter Hartley and his wife Gay, set up the Gay & Peter Hartley's Hillards Charitable Trust specifically to benefit local charities. The Trust gives help to the poor, needy, and sick, the education of the young and for the advancement of religion especially in the areas that had been served by Hillards stores. Other menbers of the Hartley family also set up Charitable Trusts.