THIS year a family-run firm which has been supplying homes in the Ribble Valley for generations will be celebrating 150 years in business.

H M Sowerbutts on King Street, Clitheroe, is renowned for selling beds and home furniture something the company has been involved in from its earliest days when it was founded by John Sowerbutts.

John, who was a cabinet maker by trade, set up his first shop on Moor Lane in 1870 and would make furniture to order.

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Ian Sowerbutts, the fifth generation of the family involved in the business, said: “He was also one of the town’s undertakers. That was a natural thing for a cabinet maker back then - if you could make a wardrobe, you could certainly make a coffin.”

Indeed, the undertaking side of the business continued until the 1960s.

The business remained on Moor Lane until the late 1920s when the shop moved to King Street.

“Initially we were were just in number 10,” said Ian, “with the workshop at the back.”

The company employed a number of cabinet makers and upholsterers and would make their own three-piece suites and other items of furniture.

By 1951, when Ian’s grandfather Harry was running the business, the shopfront was remodelled to look pretty much as it does today with a central entrance flanked by two display windows.

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“We have a photograph of the last day of the shop before the original window was taken out,” said Ian. “Standing in the window are my dad Allan, who had joined the business by then, and his sister Sheila, my grandmother Elizabeth, one of the cabinet makers and my grandfather plus another chap who no-one to this day knows who it is.

“We think he was one of the furniture reps who had called round that day and just jumped on the picture!”

The remodelled shopfront featured, what was then, the latest in design with a green glass front surround and the shop’s name in large black lettering.

Through the Fifties, Sowerbutts became one of the first companies in the area to stock the latest fitted carpets but demand for hand-built furniture was dwindling.

“It was the same for the re-upholstery side of the business,” said Ian. “It was getting to the point where it was costing as much to have a suite recovered as it was to buy a new one.”

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By 1980 the amount of showroom space was massively increased with Sowerbutts taking over the top three floors of the Victoria buildings above Byrne’s Wine Shop and with the workshops also being devoted to retail.

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“The key to surviving as an independent retailer is to be proactive,” said Ian. “We have moved with the times and we are always looking at trends and the way the market is heading. There have been major changes in the way people look at their homes. People are far more design conscious and want their furniture to ‘fit it’ with a certain look.”

To mark the 150th anniversary, a series of special events and promotions are being planned.