Wardens was established in 1877 by James Warden who came from a local farming family in North Down. The store originally traded in ironmongery and hardware goods. Although the site of the store has remained the same, the original shop was a single room at the front of the building.
Local farmers would come to Newtownards once a week for the market and to purchase their hardware goods from Wardens. They often brought their wives to the town and so Wardens began keeping a furniture catalogue for the ladies to browse. The original James Warden died only four years after the store was founded and was maintained by his brothers, Robert and George.
Around 1910, Robert’s son, also called James, joined the firm and was left in charge when his uncle died and his father returned to farming. He was 15 years old at the time and ‘James Warden - Home Furnishing, Ironmonger & Hardware Merchant’ became known as ‘The Wee Boy’s Shop’ among locals. Through James’ hard work and vision, he expanded and transformed Wardens to include other departments selling furniture, carpets, fabrics, fireplaces, china, glass and household goods.
James later married and had three daughters. James’ younger brother Frank later joined the company in 1952, James in charge of the Furniture Department and Frank running the China Department. James died in 1975, leaving his daughter Helen to take charge of the business.
In 2002, Wardens celebrated its 125th Anniversary and as part of the celebrations, the store ran a competition to find the oldest receipt from the shop. A local farmer came forward with a receipt dating back to the 1890’s, listing 200 weight of iron at 15 shillings, 12lb of chain at 3 shillings and a yard of jack chains at 3 shillings - possibly to repair a farm cart. Another receipt dated 13th August 1898 was discovered and caused much interest. It was addressed to Thomas Andrew Esquire from Comber and was for two pairs of head shears at 6&6 pence. This could have been the same Thomas Andrews who was involved in the design of the Titanic.
Wardens is known not only for customer loyalty but also for the loyalty of the staff. Many of the employees have been with the company from leaving school and remain for the duration of their working lives. Currently the longest serving member in the company has been with Wardens for over 60 years. Recently retired are the company’s two directors; William Warnock and Roy Brown. William joined the company in 1957, later becoming Hardware Manager then Director, retiring in February 2006. Roy joined in 1967 and later became Furniture Manager, retiring in July 2010.
Wardens has become a landmark store in Newtownards due to how it excels in three main areas; personal customer service, the extensive range of high quality products on offer and its ability to change with the times. Chairwoman and owner, Helen Campbell has said: “Customer service is what brings people here and what keeps them coming back. Not only have successive generations of Wardens run the business, but successive generations of customers have shopped here. What sets us apart is that we try to give extra special personal customer service.”
Since establishing itself as an independent business in 1877, Wardens has always strived towards its mission statement:,
‘To be Northern Ireland’s best independent retailer, by offering a unique range of quality products and services, all under one roof.’
Through striving towards this mission, the business has developed its three core values:
- Striving for excellence
- Service to our customer
- Respect for the individual
It is through reaching towards these goals that the company is constantly endeavouring to make improvements in the business.