Howells (department store)

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Coordinates: 51°28′48″N 3°10′41″W / 51.480°N 3.178°W / 51.480; -3.178


Howells was a large department store located on St Mary Street in Cardiff, Wales. The store was established by James Howell in 1856. It was acquired by the House of Fraser group in 1972 and re-branded as House of Fraser in 2010.


James Howell's first step towards the present Howells department store began with the establishment of a shop under the Stuart Hall in The Hayes, a street near St Mary Street. From there the first part of the current store was built in the late-19th century, this part of the building includes an ornate facade that is visible on St Mary Street. In the 1920s a large and well-proportioned neoclassical extension was built up to the corner of St Mary Street and Heol-y-Cawl. A unique result of this extension was that Bethany Chapel, built on the site of an earlier chapel in 1865, was absorbed into the fabric of the building and its frontage was incorporated into the interior and is still visible in the store today, fronting onto the men's Aquascutum department.

The James Howell empire extended across Wharton Street, connected by a bridge, where a car showroom was built (now Cotswold Outdoor Ltd), and a funeral home was also established by the family on the St Mary Street side of the store. Both these businesses were short lived, and the car showroom was bought by rival David Morgan, who extended his store, and the premises of the funeral home became part of the store.

Further extensions were added throughout the 1930s, 1950s and 1960s, causing the building to show the architectural trends of the Late Victorian era to the Modernism of the 1960s.

Howells Department Store was originally a family-run business, owned and managed by the family of James Howell. In the 1950s, the store was sold to Welsh banker Sir Julian Hodge, who subsequently sold the store to Mohammed Al-Fayed, owner of the House of Fraser chain, meaning the store ceased to be an independent department store. The store is still owned by House of Fraser, although the chain was bought by Icelandic investment company, Baugur Group, in late 2006.

While under the ownership of Al-Fayed, the House of Fraser chain prompted controversy with its sale of animal fur. In the late 1980s activists petrol bombed the Howells store, along with the flagship Harrods store and the store's Plymouth branch. The ethical sourcing policy has now sought to resolve this issue, with the company not using any fur products in its clothing.

In the 1990s the Victorian frontage on St Marys Street, neglected for the best part of 50 years, was cleaned and restored, greatly enhancing the building's appearance.

The building is Grade II* listed.[1]

Present day[edit]

Today, the store continues to be a major destination for shoppers, being the second largest department store in Wales[citation needed] and even more so after the demise of its long-term rival David Morgan in January 2005.

The store boasts around 150,000-square-foot (14,000 m2) of selling space, making it one of the largest stores in the House of Fraser chain.


The store has recently undergone a multi-million pound refurbishment, which brings in new fashion labels and modernises the store to bring it in line with the new John Lewis store which opened nearby in late 2009. The department store itself has also be rebranded from 'Howells' to the core marque 'House of Fraser', however due to the store's status as a listed building, the 'James Howell & Co' signs remain. In August 2010 banners referring to the store as 'Howells' appeared above the main entrances and the House of Fraser signage.

In the media[edit]

The store is used as a set both inside and outside in the BBC series Doctor Who. In the first episode, the store was blown up, and it has subsequently been used as the set for Rose Tyler's workplace, "Henrik's". [1]


  1. ^ "Howells Department Store". British Listed Buildings. Retrieved 19 March 2013. 
  • Various Contributors, Edited by Stewart Williams. The Cardiff Book No.1. Stewart Williams Publishers 1973 ISBN No. 0-900807-05-9
  • Various Contributors, Edited by Stewart Williams. The Cardiff Book, Volume 2. Stewart Williams Publishers 1974 ISBN No. 0-900807-09-1
  • Peter Finch. Real Cardiff, Volume Two, The Greater City. Seren 2004 ISBN No. 1-85411-384-4 pp. 50. 83.

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