Published: 11:57, 29 March 2019
| Updated: 12:00, 29 March 2019
When fire ravaged Webbs of Tenterden in 2013, it was feared the much-loved ironmongers would never recover.
Yet the company has emerged from the ashes to mark its 100th birthday and is stronger than ever.
The shop has counted the Aga Khan, Sir Paul McCartney, the late Donald Sinden and Princess Ann, among its many distinguished customers.
The family-run business was started by William Webb, who bought the Tenterden High Street hardware shop from a Mr H.E. Kettle after first establishing a Webbs in Sittingbourne.
It mainly sold agricultural equipment but as Tenterden grew in the post-war period, Webbs began to attract builders and plumbers and so expanded it stock.
Interest in home improvement fuelled a new wave of expansion, with DIY-ers beating a path to Webbs’ door for tins of Farrow and Ball paint and power garden equipment as the century drew to a close.
Now run by William Webb's grandsons Graham and Nigel, with mother Carol, who manages the china and household goods departments, the shop remains a flourishing business.
Webbs can count seven employees who each notched up 50 years’ service at the shop. George Chantler, was one of them and manager at number 51 from 1937 until 1988.
Romance has also sprung up in the corners of the winding emporium, with three marriages between members of staff celebrated over the years.
The 16th century building that is home to Webbs once housed a soup kitchen and in 1875, originally in outbuildings in Jackson’s Yard, where families starving in the agricultural depression were fed, while the new mower workshop and showroom, began life as a stables and slaughterhouse.
It was also a working men’s club before Mr Kettle established his hardware shop in 1917.
Webbs has now trebled its original size since opening at 51 High Street and adding the second building, number 45 High Street in 1963, together with a succession of extensions.
But the fire that broke out in November 2013 threatened to erase all that had gone before. Nigel Webb recalls: “I joined the crowd keeping vigil in the alley opposite and then tried to will the flames to stop. Several times it looked as if it was under control but then there would be another burst of the red glow from deep inside the old building.”
The morning following the blaze, a prayer for Webbs had been placed on an A-board outside. Nigel said: “This was my first realisation of how this was touching others as well as ourselves.”
Carol said that the family firm continues to prosper, with Webbs opening a shop in Battle in 2002. She said: “We are extremely busy and I think you get out of something what you put in to it. It’s the personal service we offer that really counts.”