Growing up in a family business, as many of you will know, you start working as far back as you remember. I always thought my parents had four children just to enhance the workforce! My brothers, sister and I used to make tomato boxes in the summer, 1p per box and help out in the shop at Christmas for money to buy presents. It was great fun. Here is how it all began...
1904 – 1939
The Company was founded by FTB (Tom) Lawson in 1904. The son of a missionary Tom was born in the Caicos Islands. He returned to England and became an apprentice ironmonger in Preston. From there he moved to Newcastle as a shop manager before coming to Plymouth to settle down to marry Louise Leale from Guernsey.
With the help of his wife he opened his first shop, a tool merchant, in 13 Frankfort Street, Plymouth in November 1904 to supply the dockyard and apprentice craftsmen. By 1907 he was producing a tool catalogue annually for his customers. In 1923 his wife Louise bought the freehold of the shop.
In 1910 he started another business with his in-laws from Guernsey. This time a market garden business growing tomatoes and grapes.
1939 – 1952
During the Second World War the market garden was the larger business, as it was needed to provide food for the country.
On March 21 & 22 1941 the Lawsons shop at 13 Frankfort Street was bombed during the Blitz and completely destroyed. Within two days they had set up shop as Francis Lawson (Tom’s son) said in a letter “We have a quantity of goods on order that can be put at the disposal of the public.”
In May 1941 Lawsons rented 7 Compton Street, the business then expanded into selling cutlery and toys including Hornby & Meccano. The Compton store even had a visit from Mr Hornby himself.
In 1952 when Plymouth was completely rebuilt Lawsons relocated to 71 New George Street, which coincidentally was almost exactly on the same site as their original shop in Frankfort Street. By this time Tom Lawson was retired and Francis Lawson his son oversaw the two businesses.
1953 – 2007
Over the next two decades the business grew its toy department to sell Airfix kits, Aero engines & model steam engines.
In 1968 the New George St store suffered a huge fire causing damage throughout the store. Fortunately nobody was hurt.
In 1971 John Lawson (Francis’s Son) came into the business with his wife Jennifer and their four children! The market garden business went to John’s sister and her husband.
In the late 70’s they noticed the rise in popularity in Kitchenware and started to promote this within the store. Jennifer was also a keen amateur cake decorator and helped to set up the first British Sugar Craft Guild in Plymouth. Lawsons became a specialist in both these areas.
In 1979 Lawsons acquired a shop in Totnes. The staff were dressed in Elizabethan costume on Tuesdays when the town celebrated its Elizabethan architecture.
In 1992 in the midst of recession Lawsons acquired a third shop in Tavistock. The building was originally the town corn mill and has a leat running beneath it. In 1994 Liz Lawson (John’s daughter) joined the business as manager of the Tavistock store.
In 1998 Liz succeeded her father as Managing Director. Later that year Lawsons started to sell linens.
In 2000 Lawsons started trading on the Internet, which was an exciting new venture for the company.
In 2003 Lawsons vacated their New George St property after just over 50 years there to move near a new shopping development in Plymouth. The new site was 13 Cornwall St. at the same time they opened a warehouse for distribution of stock to the stores and Internet customers.
In 2004 Lawsons celebrated 100 years of trading with a number of events including a competition to find Lawsons most loyal customer who had been shopping with Lawsons since his boyhood for nearly 70 years.
In 2006 Lawsons bought an existing hardware business in Ivybridge, which trades from two stores. One specialising in DIY, Gardening, Pets Supplies & Outdoor Clothing and the other in Kitchenware & Linens.