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The Foster – Newell department store in Hill Street c.1967.  Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
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The generosity of local people has resulted in Newry and Mourne Museum becoming home to many artefacts from two department stores, R.J Sloan in Kilkeel and Foster – Newell in Newry, which were famous in the area for much of the 20th century.

A fashion show, organised by the Newry Soroptimists, in Foster- Newell’s coffee lounge in the early 1960s. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
A fashion show, organised by the Newry Soroptimists, in Foster- Newell’s coffee lounge in the early 1960s. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

In 1887 Robert James Sloane, who was originally from near Rathfriland, opened a shop on Newry Street in Kilkeel selling fabric and dressmaking and tailoring supplies. In the early years of the 20th century he moved to larger premises on the opposite of Newry Street and began to sell all types of ladies and gentlemen’s clothing. The first shop in Kilkeel to have gas lighting installed, R.J. Sloane’s specialized in high quality goods. 

The shop continued in Kilkeel for almost a century, being run by Jeannie, one of R.J. Sloane’s two daughters, after his death in 1952. Jeannie died in about 1981 and the shop closed.

R.J. Sloane’s first shop on Newry Street in Kilkeel which he opened in 1887.  Courtesy of Rae McGonigle
R.J. Sloane’s first shop on Newry Street in Kilkeel which he opened in 1887. Courtesy of Rae McGonigle

At the time of closure, the shop still contained the original fittings and still had merchandise from the early decades of the 20th century. Much of the surviving merchandise and the fittings were donated to the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum and a replica of the shop was built at the Museum.

Drapery items from R.J. Sloane’s shop which were on display in Newry and Mourne Museum in 2012.  Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
Drapery items from R.J. Sloane’s shop which were on display in Newry and Mourne Museum in 2012. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

Over the past few years, a number of people from Kilkeel have generously donated various items purchased in the shop to Newry and Mourne Museum. These include ladies and gentlemen’s clothing, hats, shoes and accessories, mainly dating from the 1900s up to the 1950s.  Currently on display in the museum are a pair of ladies’ leather lace up boots and a poster advertising Sloane’s, shop, both from the 1900s.

Like Sloan’s, Foster – Newell’s in Newry sold high quality clothing and goods. The company dated back to 1870 when Robert Foster started a draper’s and outfitter’s shop in North Street but soon his expanded his business to Hill Street.  In 1907 the business became a limited company, and Foster, along with his son, John, and Sir William Robinson, became the directors. In December of that year fire gutted two of the three shops, causing £20,000 worth of damage. A new, three-story building opened in Hill Street two years later. Designed by Samuel Wilson Reside, a local architect, two of the plans for the building are part of the Museum Collection.

Robert Foster died in 1919 and the firm merged with Newell and the premises in Hill Street was rebranded as Foster- Newell.  Newell’s was also a long-established business, originally founded by three brothers, with drapery shops in Margaret Street, Newry and The Arcade, Warrenpoint.

By 1967 the Foster-Newell store had been completely modernised over a two-year period, masterminded by the Managing Director, Barry Edwards. The store’s open plan layout held at least ten different departments ranging from cosmetics, lingerie and corsetry, ladies fashion to household goods. Each department had a buyer, and there were also staff who looked after the window displays, for which Foster-Newell was famous.

Foster-Newell continued to be popular shopping destination throughout the 1960s and 1970s, but was destroyed, along with a number of other shops, in an incendiary blitz on Hill Street in April 1976.

Artefacts in the Museum from Foster – Newell’s include a wedding dress, a poster for a charity fashion show in 1966 and a hat brush from the 1900s. 

The Museum is currently offering free tours of the exhibition galleries on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 11.00 am. These must be booked in advance by calling our Education Officer at 0330 137 4422. 

Newry and Mourne Museum is open Tuesday – Saturday 10.00 am – 4.30 pm. Please call 0330 137 4422 or email museum@nmandd.org for further information.

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