Remembering St Albans retailer’s 46 years at the heart of community
PUBLISHED: 20:00 23 October 2017
A successful businesswoman and well-known figure in the St Albans retail landscape across five decades has passed away.
Christine Campbell, known as Chris, died following a heart attack, aged 85. She opened Fashion ‘n’ Fabrics haberdashery and ready-made dress shop in Beech Road in 1971 - and would end up running the business for the next 46 years.
Born in 1932 near Daventry to a farming family, Chris spent her early years living and working on various farms around the south east of England. A talented horsewoman herself, Chris’s father and her three uncles had been in the cavalry during the First World War serving in the trenches around Arras.
During WWII Chris’s family managed various farms in Kent, Surrey and Sussex where Chris and her sister Sue would watch the dogfights overhead. During the summer months the farms would host families from London who would come to work through their holiday harvesting the hops, which gave Chris and Sue an opportunity to play with other youngsters. Life was demanding, luxuries were non-existent and self-sufficiency was part of everyday life.
When she was 18 Chris’s family moved to manage a farm in Dagnall Buckinghamshire but Chris left farming and took a job at a hat factory in Luton. Still under rationing, she supplemented her income by selling rabbits she’d trapped herself to her colleagues at the factory. By 1952 Chris was working at the Ballito hosiery factory in St Albans where she met Bill, an Irishman who also came from a farming background. On April 4 1953 she married Bill and four children followed over the next 10 years.
Bill took a job at Switchboards Ltd in St Albans city centre and the family lived in a cottage on Chequer Street, roughly where The Maltings is now situated, until 1967 when they moved to Beech Road with their growing family. Chris and Bill continued to maintain a thrifty life growing fruit and veg, keeping a few chickens and with Chris making many of her own and the children’s clothes, including her first daughter-in-law’s wedding dress.
In 1971 Chris opened Fashion ‘n’ Fabrics haberdashery shop. With limited funds available she made the shop look as stocked as possible by hanging one item on every peg, a contrast to the jam-packed shop most people know today.
Determined to make a success of her enterprise Chris took a business management course in Watford, she gave talks at the Spencer Women’s Club and hosted fashion shows at the Herts County Show. As the shop grew Chris added ready-made garments to her range and expanded into the neighbouring property, doubling the size of the shop.
Over the following decades Chris grew a loyal following and Fashion ‘n’ Fabrics continued to grow. When most people are retiring at 65, in 1997 Chris added a workshop so she could offer sewing classes.
In 2010 the BBC One Show ran a national competition to give a small independent shop a Selfridges-style Christmas window make-over.
Her daughter-in-law applied and, unknown to Chris, Fashion ‘n’ Fabrics was chosen. The presenter Carrie Grant, her camera crew and the Selfridges team surprised Chris one cold morning in November, took over the shop and created a spectacular display. The big reveal took place that evening with a choir, snow machines, mulled wine and a buzzing crowd. The feature aired on The One Show in December and proved the perfect way to mark the shop’s 40th anniversary.
Chris lost her husband Bill in 2009 and the shop became even more important to her as a way of keeping busy and maintaining a social life.
Today the shop continues to be managed by a team of ladies, some who have been there for over 20 years.
Chris leaves four children, six grand-children and one great-grandchild.
The funeral service will be held at St Saviour’s Church at 12 noon on Friday October 27, all are welcome. Family flowers only, donations if desired to Diabetes UK.