International Tea Co. Stores

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International Tea Co. Stores
Industry Retail
Fate Acquired
Successor Somerfield
Founded 1878
Defunct 1994
Headquarters London, England
Products Groceries

International Tea Co. Stores was a leading chain of grocers based in London. It was an original constituent of the FT 30 index of leading companies listed on the London Stock Exchange.


The business was founded in 1878 by Hudson Kearly (later Viscount Devonport) and Gilbert Augustus Tonge as the International Tea Co., with the objective of selling tea direct to consumers rather than through wholesalers.[1]

Their main blenders were Ridgways.[2]

Soon, most towns in Southern England had their own International Tea Co. store,[1] as immortalised in a verse from John Betjeman's poem Myfanwy:

Smooth down the Avenue glitters the bicycle,
Black-stockinged legs under navy blue serge,
Home and Colonial, Star, International,
Balancing bicycle leant on the verge.

International Tea Co. Stores fell out of the FT 30 index in 1947 to reflect market developments since the index was originally compiled in 1935.[3]

Demise of the business[edit]

The company was subsequently re-branded International Stores and was acquired by BAT Industries in 1972.[4] In 1973, the Price Rite chain was purchased, adding stores to the International brand. This was further increased by the purchase of Wallis Supermarkets in 1977, which added a further 100 stores.[5] After acquiring the large footprint Mac Food Centres from Unilever's closure of Mac Fisheries,[6] in 1979, the chain created a new brand, Mainstop, to develop the new superstore division in 1980. However, BAT decided to sell any business that failed to progress and so the company was sold off in chunks. Former Price Rite stores in the south of England were sold off in 1980 to Fine Fare, with the remaining 67 branches sold to Argyll Foods in 1982.[5] 15 of the Mainstop stores were sold to various chains, with the remaining eight being integrated into International Stores.

In 1984, International Stores was sold to the Dee Corporation.[7] This became Gateway Corporation in 1988, and then Somerfield plc in 1994.[8]


  1. ^ a b "Unofficial history of International Tea Co. Stores". Ray King. 
  2. ^ "Competition Commission report (1950s)" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 June 2007. 
  3. ^ "FT 30 - the UK's oldest surviving stock market index". Archived from the original on 1 March 2007. 
  4. ^ "Competition Commission report (1985)" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 May 2011. 
  5. ^ a b "BAT Industries - useful dates" (PDF). Industry Documents Library, University of California. Retrieved 23 April 2015. 
  6. ^ "History of Mac Fisheries". Mac Fisheries. 
  7. ^ Geoffrey Owen (2003). "Corporate Strategy in UK Food Retailing, 1980–2002" (PDF). London School of Economics. Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 February 2008. 
  8. ^ "History of Somerfield" (PDF). Somerfield plc. Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 September 2008.