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British Industrial History

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Rose, Morris and Co

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of 74-6 Ironmonger Row, London, EC1. Telephone: Clerkenwell 6761-2. Cables: "Orgamonica, Barb, London". (1947)

1919 In March, when it seemed likely that their brother Leslie would soon be discharged from military service, Stanley Rose and Charles Rose formed a partnership which they called Rose Brothers. Later that year, Leslie Rose joined them, and a small establishment was set up in tiny premises at 16 Rosoman Street, in London's Clerkenwell district. The brothers began to trade as merchants, mainly dealing in toys and similar merchandise. Their sister, Clara, opened the partnership's first set of books, though at that time she was employed elsewhere. She then became the first office staff of Rose Brothers. Progress was slow - too slow for Charles, who left the partnership and went abroad.

Prior to the war, the mouth-organ had been popular, particularly with London's Cockneys: being made exclusively in Germany, mouth-organs had all but disappeared. Their reappearance after the war was an opportunity for the Rose Brothers. Severely hampered by lack of funds, the company nevertheless went on to become one of the largest stockists of mouth-organs by the 1930s.

1920 Progress was slow as it was hard to obtain supplies of merchandise and there was strong opposition from many established manufacturers and suppliers. Years before, Stanley Rose had worked for a wholesaler of musical small-goods, where he met Alfred Victor Morris. Both had acquired an excellent knowledge of the small goods trade, and had remained in touch. In October, A. V. Morris joined the Rose brothers and the name of the company was changed to Rose, Morris and Co. Adjoining premises at were taken and a travelling representative was employed. Leslie Rose and Victor Morris also travelled while Stanley Rose organised the operation of the warehouse.

There was at that time an active importer specialising in toys called Adolf A. Juviler. With him, the directors of Rose, Morris and Co formed a separate company nearby, calling it Sellinghouse Ltd.

1922 Sellinghouse was absorbed by Rose Morris and Co (RM).

By 1923, better premises were needed. The range of merchandise continued to expand and embraced the whole scope of the 'small goods' field together with some smaller instruments.

1926 There was a small producer of drums who manufactured for the Trade on a small scale. Known as Furzer and Cutts, it was absorbed by RM and set up in Torrens Street, Islington, under the name of British Music Smiths to manufacture solely for the company.

1928 A disastrous fire gutted the premises: Cutts went his separate way, and William Henry Furzer came to join the RM staff.

By 1929, larger premises were needed, and they were found at 58 City Road, EC1, where the company obtained the lease of a good warehouse with an imposing shopfront, a huge basement for storage, ample space for offices and showroom and a hydraulic lift serving a loading bank capable of accepting a (horse-drawn) railway van.

There was an enormous demand for portable gramophones: the Decca portable had been used widely by the troops during the war. Rose, Morris set up a gramophone factory at the City Road premises. 'Portables' were produced in their thousands, under the company's trade marks Savana, Diana and Broadway.

1930s During the early '30s, mouth-organs sold by hundreds of dozens and the ukulele and the ukulele-banjo enjoyed huge sales. There also came the newly-invented chromatic mouth-organ, and the piano-accordion. With the success of the gramophone industry, the company directed its gaze towards gramophone records. Home entertainment was mostly home-made. A flourishing trade counter was set up, for the supply not only of records but also of their musical instrument range. The 'counter' soon became a focal point for dealers in London and the Home Counties.

The company's ventures were not always successful: there was an abortive attempt to embark on the manufacture of portable radios under the name 'Langham', and to market a revolutionary, but unreliable, electric turntable for gramophones. However, there were steady sales of dry batteries for radios and bulbs for electric torches.

1932 Rose, Morris acquired the stock and business of John Grey and Sons, established in Westminster in 1832, renowned for its fine banjos and an offshoot of Barnett Samuel and Sons. As a direct result, came the wholesale agency for Decca records which raised the status of the record department considerably. With John Grey came its factory.

RM commenced a small scale manufacture of uke-banjos and banjos and the factory was kept hard at work. A small quantity of guitars was produced later - large bodied acoustic models with the name 'Kruna'. These were sprayed in the Gramophone shop downstairs, using, a motor car tyre pump to produce the necessary air pressure. Soon, more space was needed for the activities of the warehouse, and it was decided to establish a factory outside the existing premises.

A small building, at 14 Sun Street, Finsbury Square, was thought suitable. Here, on five small floors, with a twisted wooden staircase and a microscopic hand-operated lift, the Rose, Morris factory was born. Absorbed into it were the Cowlins, father and son, who had been making drums for RM. There then came several years of steady growth, both in the warehouse and in the factory. The factory produced a growing range of merchandise, now including ukuleles, drums of many kinds and numerous accessories. Enormous business continued to be done in the gramophone record department, and mouth-organs and accordions remained best sellers.

In 1937, the company was joined by Roy B. Morris, elder son of Victor Morris.

1939 The outbreak of war saw the gradual whittling away of staff as they took their posts in the services. Even so, the volume of trade was insufficient to enable those left to be retained by the company and it was necessary to dispense with the services of some. The Sun Street factory was an early casualty, the top floor falling victim to an incendiary bomb.

1940 The great fire raid on the City of London in December was the finish of the City Road building, which was destroyed completely. Premises were then found at Ironmonger Row. In association with Boosey and Hawkes, the company engaged in war work and produced pull switches for explosive devices and limpet mines.

1945 The company had two factories - the original, at Sun Street and the top two floors at Ironmonger Row, now freed from wartime manufacture. Sun Street resumed manufacture of most of its pre-war products.

1947 British Industries Fair Advert for Musical Merchandise. Manufacturers and Exporters of: Musical Instruments, Parts and Accessories; Flutinas, Recorders, Ocarinas, Flageolets and other Musical Novelties; Drums, Parts and Accessories; Banjos, Mandoline-Banjos and Ukuleles. (Music and Radio Section - Olympia, Ground Floor, Stand No. C.1552) [1]

In 1947, Victor Morris' younger son, Derek joined Rose, Morris as a member of the sales staff. Meantime, the potential growth of the Australian market became interesting to the directors.

1948 Leslie Rose travelled to Australia in February, to set up a new company - Rose, Morris and Co. (Australia) Pty. Ltd, afterwards returning to London. The Australian company, now under the title of Rose Music Ltd, eventually went its separate way, and is now an independent establishment, though retaining close ties with the London company.

1953 Larger premises were needed where all departments might be together under one roof. Eventually a building of some 11,000 square feet was found at 83-85 Paul Street, EC2, and for the first time in nearly twenty years, Rose, Morris and Co operated from a single address. Soon, the building next door became available and, as a twin of the existing building, 79-81 added a further 11,000 square feet. The two buildings were connected at every level so as to operate as one unit.

1956 Victor Morris died.

1957 The year saw the escalation of demand for guitars and drums. Rock and-Roll, Skiffle and associated new musical trends were performed by small groups of players, combining drums with guitars - new groups mushroomed overnight. Drums and guitars, choked the enlarged warehouse and the factory worked all hours to keep production in step with demand.

1960 In August, the shares of Rose, Morris and Co were acquired by Grampian Holdings Limited, a Scottish based holding company with interests in a wide range of commercial and industrial activities.

1964 New premises were acquired in July, and 32-34 Gordon House Road, London, NW5, became the new home of Rose, Morris and Co., Ltd. It was decided that the full title of the company would be abbreviated for other than formal purposes to the more simple form of Rose-Morris.

The end of 1967 brought the decision to cater for the specialised needs of military and similar bands. From early days the company had made and supplied Military drums and other instruments for service and pre-service organisations. Now it was intended to enter the field in strength including a heraldic studio, with resident artists to produce the decorative emblazonment - a feature of so much pageantry.

(1920-1970) Commemorative Book

Rose, Morris and Co: 1920 - 1970 Book

Rose, Morris and Co Ltd – Memoirs by Jim Wilmer[2]

1973 Jim Wilmer is employed by Tony Morris, son of Roy B Morris as a sales clerk. The company was very old fashioned. He was to spend the next 12 years at Rose Morris.

1973 Grampian Holdings employed Metra Consultants to recommend long overdue changes. Peter Clarke was the lead consultant, and was later to assume the role of Managing Director after most of the existing management retired.

1973 Roy Morris had been MD, and reportedly had a bad heart, perhaps explaining his need to sleep after the daily directors lunches at the Flask in Highgate. No-one made noise near his office then! His brother Derek was Export Director, and he used to travel with his wife as his secretary. Roy’s son Tony held the title Associate Director, as did Roger Linford who looked after the Military Division. Mick Berman looked after sales in the West End of London, then Shaftesbury Avenue and not Denmark street. Rose Morris had a large retail store on Shaftesbury Avenue. Derek Baxter was Purchasing Director.

1973 Chairman of the company was Willy Woolf, and his twin brother Maurice was another director. Maurice in particular was a hugely respected industry statesman.

1973 Nat Nathan was the Company Secretary and his affable knowledge held everything together. He explained to Jim Wilmer when he joined that they didn’t think it fair for employees to work a month before being paid, nor be paid before they had worked, so “we pay in the middle of the month”.

1973 One of the principal products in the RM portfolio was Marshall Amplification, who had signed a worldwide deal with RM whereby they were paid weekly for their whole factory output, which unfortunately was not always what had been sold!

1974 Peter Clarke took control and gradually swept away the old fashioned side of RM. It was no easy task. Peter was a highly talented man, but very narcissistic, and easily provoked into fits of absolute rage. Chris Jones became Finance Director and was Peter’s right hand man. Jim Wilmer became Sales Office Manager.

1974 They did introduce more modern management however, and employed Marketing Director Keith Drewett from Austin Morris Cars who developed a marketing department including Product Managers. Jim Wilmer became Product Manager for most of the modern instruments including Marshall, Ovation and MXR. Vince Hill (not the singer) was Product Manager for the growing Korg brand.

1975 Robert Wilson was Advertising Manager. One of the most extrovert people at RM, he helped grow the company, which by now was a much more successful wholesaler. He helped get Marshall to change appearance, and reposition itself by use of artist endorsement, which was a quite new technique back then.

1976 RM recruited sales people by advertising in The Grocer. This found good sales people, but not always any musical knowledge, which was rather helpful in selling the instruments. Roy Forder was Sales Manager. He was rather pushy, and was actually thrown out of a shop!

1978 Keith Drewett was offered a job by Ovation in the USA and he emigrated with his family. Jim Wilmer was made Marketing Manager. Rob Castle had taken over as Product Manager for Korg, and remains the MD of Korg UK to this day. It is fascinating to note that Korg eventually bought RM.

1979 Relations were strained between Peter Clarke and Jim Marshall. Jim drove a big Mercedes (which he called a Merkedeez), and Peter Clarke was not entitled to an equivalent Mercedes from Grampian Holdings. He ended up buying a Jaguar just to save face.

1980 Jim Marshall gave notice that he wasn’t going to renew the contract with RM. This was a crucial period for RM as Marshall gave RM international visibility. It was decided that RM would buy Vox from Dallas Arbiter. Initially Vox was sold separately from RM with Gerry Lewis as Sales Manager. Roy Forder, the overall sales manager, died, tragically, playing squash after injuring his back and trying to get back to his former standard.

1981 Peter Clarke hatched a plan to buy RM from Grampian Holdings. Gerry Lewis and Jim Wilmer were offered directorships in return for cash injections.

1982 The sale meant that Peter could at last treat the company as his own. There was no question that he was a very bright chap, but his temperament began to be unacceptably bombastic. He wanted the company to diversify into brass and woodwind and anything other than rock music, which had been a runaway success for RM since 1974.

1984 Peter Clarke tried to break into the world of Karaoke by creating the Singing Machine Co. He had been wined and dined in LA and sold machines based on 8 track cartridges! This was when CD technology was emerging!

1985 Jim Wilmer left, frustrated by the increasingly impossible Peter Clarke.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. 1947 British Industries Fair Advert 381; and p236
  2. Personal account by ex-employee Jim Wilmer
  • [1] Rose Morris website