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Baldocks in West Malling High Street to close after 140 years

By Luke May

A family company which has served West Malling for 140 years is to shut down this month.

Baldock E and Sons, better known as Baldocks, once supplied outdoor clothing to hundreds of small, independent shops around the south east.

During its history the firm became a regular stop for hop pickers visiting the county.

The original shop, on the corner of Swan Street, which was established in 1878
The original shop, on the corner of Swan Street, which was established in 1878

It has even counted Ringo Starr among its clientèle after the Beatle popped in for some jeans and a shirt in 1967, during the band’s visit to the town, where they filmed scenes for their Magical Mystery Tour.

Announcing the closure, owner Ann Baldock said: “This has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

“Having to make the staff redundant was awful, they couldn’t have worked any harder.”

Baldocks was opened on the corner of Swan Street, West Malling on June 8, 1878 by Edward Baldock before moving to the High Street.

At its height, the ski and workwear retailer had 10 shops and a wholesale arm which supplied clothing to between 300 and 400 small independent shops in other parts of the country.

In 2004 Mrs Baldock’s late husband, Tim Baldock, who was Edward’s great-grandson, decided to downsize, converting the old wholesale warehouse into West Malling’s Abbey Arcade.

The original shop, on the corner of Swan Street, which was established in 1878
The original shop, on the corner of Swan Street, which was established in 1878

It kept its High Street shop open, continuing to sell clothing and ski masks.

Mr Baldock died in July, a month after the company celebrated turning 140 years old.

Ann Baldock, 71, said: “We’ve been trying to keep it going for years, it had become more of a hobby for Tim.

"You can go in to these shopping centres and park for free and do a bit less walking.

“When places like Tesco started selling clothes, we couldn’t buy jeans for the prices they were selling them for.

“Then the internet came and that was the final nail in the coffin. It’s the end of an era really, there are a lot of stories here.

“The hop pickers used to come at the end of their summer and buy whole new boots, the shop workers would leave their coins in water to clean off the hops.

“We were one of the first to sell Levi jeans too, they started off as workman’s clothes, then they became fashionable.”

Mrs Baldock thanked locals for their custom over the years and invited them to come in to bid a final farewell before the last day of trading, on January 30.

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