F Lassetter and Co

by Michael Lech, 2011 Cite this

F Lassetter & Co

Michael Lech

At the beginning of the twentieth century, F Lassetter & Co, known as Lassetter's, was one of the largest and oldest retailers in Sydney. The firm's origins can be found in Lancelot Iredale's blacksmith and ironmongery business established in 1820. By 1850, the business had three partners, including Frederic Lassetter, and was trading under the name Iredale & Co on the eastern side of George Street. Two years later Lassetter married Iredale's daughter Charlotte, and by 1860 all partnerships were dissolved, with Lassetter trading as sole owner of Iredale & Co. Finally, having established new larger premises in 1863 at a new site on the western side of George Street three doors from Market Street, the company's name was changed to F Lassetter & Co. [1]

F Lassetter & Co's new building, described in contemporary reports as being in the 'Italian style', was designed by Crouch & Wilson of Melbourne. As an ironmonger, it stocked all types of products made of metal, selling everything from steam engines, agricultural machinery and tools, to builders' hardware, light fittings, kitchen ranges, fireplace grates and cutlery. [2]

The last quarter of the nineteenth century saw continual expansion and building. A new store on the western side of York Street, later known as the wholesale store, was opened in 1875 and there were extensions in 1885, 1896 and 1898. These last substantial additions created a total of nine acres (3.6 hectares) of floor space, by doubling the George Street frontage to 120 feet (36.5 metres), adding two new storeys to make five in total and erecting a third building, primarily used as a factory but also housing the company's own electric power station, with a frontage on Clarence Street. By 1900, the Lassetter portfolio of buildings extended westward from George through to York, then Clarence and Kent streets, across three complete city blocks. [3]

The Universal Provider

As the store expanded, so did the range of stock. By the 1880s, in addition to ironmongery, Lassetter's was selling glassware, dinnerware and other ceramics. This was followed by a furniture department, and after 1894, drapery, millinery, tailoring and grocery departments. Lassetter's adopted the term 'universal provider' around 1900 to describe its newly expanded operations but also to challenge the only other Sydney merchant to use that moniker, Anthony Hordern & Sons. Lassetter's staff numbers also grew from around 300 in 1885 to 600 in 1898 and then nearly 1000 in 1910, though the number dropped back to 750 after World War I. [4]

From the early days, Lassetter's employed blacksmiths for custom jobs and repairs. However, by the end of the nineteenth century the company had tinsmiths and ironworkers on the payroll, and they manufactured furniture, bedsteads and wire mattresses. A factory on the corner of Riley and Albion streets in Surry Hills was established in the early 1880s to complement the city workshops. [5]

The dynamism of the company was also reflected in its commercial arrangements and relationships with employees. As an industry pacesetter, Lassetter's was formed into a limited liability company in 1878, one of the first in Australia. The company also maintained good relations with staff, instituting both a staff profit-sharing scheme and a company-sponsored staff health benefit scheme, and attempted in 1904, with the help of the Shop Assistants' Union, to set standard pay rates for different grades of employees. The latter effort was opposed by other large retailers and various retailer associations. [6]

Cheapside

Lassetter's expansion put it in more direct competition with some of Sydney's other large retailers, many of whom, like Anthony Hordern & Sons, Farmer & Co and David Jones, had started life as drapers. It is no surprise then that in an attempt to differentiate itself from competition, Lassetter's adopted the nickname 'Cheapside' in advertisements and catalogues. 'Cheapside' was a medieval term meaning 'market place' but from about the eighteenth century it took on the modern connotation of inexpensive goods for sale. A 1904 advertisement stated that

LASSETTER'S ENORMOUS PREMISES are now spoken of as CHEAPSIDE in contradistinction to the OTHER SIDE of George-street.

LASSETTER'S GUARANTEE TO SELL AT

CHEAPSIDE

AT LEAST 2½ PER CENT BELOW ANY UNIVERSAL PROVIDER ON DEAR-SIDE.

NO BOGUS SAUCE AT CHEAPSIDE [7]

F Lassetter & Co's expansive nature was matched by its enormous publishing activities. For about a decade to 1914, almost every month, Lassetter's produced a massive catalogue of current stock that was usually over 1200 pages in length. From about 1909, this was called Lassetter's Monthly Commercial Review and was sequentially numbered.

The huge mail order department greatly assisted profitability – initially the company supplied a vast range of farm equipment to country dwellers, but this was soon followed by furnishings for the home and then clothing and accessories. The company boasted in the 1880s that goods were sent not only to most Australian colonies but also to New Zealand and New Guinea. In the 1890s, Lassetter's were operating train services to deliver their goods to country customers – an August 1899 advertising card stated that a

special train for all stations from Junee Junction to Jerilderie and Hay will leave in about a fortnight. If you wish to take advantage of the cheap freights and low prices we would be glad if you would send us your orders at once, as this opportunity will not occur again this year. [8]

The next generation

Frederic Lassetter remained active in the business for over 60 years until his death in 1911. He was largely responsible for the initial dynamism of the company, though from the 1890s, he was ably assisted at board level by his sons Arthur and Henry Beauchamp (Harry) Lassetter. Harry had trained for a military career in England as a young man. In around 1891, he became Chairman of Directors and thereafter interspersed company duties with stints in the military, including in the Boer War and World War I. He eventually rose to the rank of Brigadier General in the British army. [9]

Less than three months after General Harry Lassetter's death in 1926, Lassetter family members decided that the company should cease trading. The entire stock of Lassetters was purchased and sold by rival universal provider, Anthony Hordern & Sons. At the time, it was claimed to be the largest liquidation sale ever to have taken place in Australia. Other assets and buildings were eventually disposed of, the prized George Street showrooms having a number of tenants before finding a long-term occupant in hardware retailer, Nock & Kirby, in 1933. [10]

Notes

[1] Bede Nairn, 'Lassetter, Frederic (1828–1911)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol 5, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1974, pp 67–68, available at http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/lassetter-frederic-fred-3996/text6323, viewed 18 July 2011; 'Business Histories: F Lassetter & Co Limited', Journal of the Retail Traders' Association of NSW, July 1923, pp 4–8; Sydney Morning Herald, 12 June 1860, p 1; 17 November 1863, p 6
[2] Sydney Morning Herald, 7 December 1863, p 5
[3] Illustrated Sydney News, 29 August 1885, pp 11, 20; Sydney Morning Herald, 1 July 1896, p 8; 24 September 1898; also see back cover of F Lassetter & Co, Furniture catalogue [trade catalogue], Sydney, c1900
[4] F Lassetter & Co Ltd, Sixty years an employer 1850–1910, Sydney, 1910
[5] City & Suburban Plan Publishing Co, [Suburban plans], Sydney, August 1888, sheet 29
[6] Bede Nairn, 'Lassetter, Frederic (1828–1911)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol 5, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1974, pp 67–68, available at http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/lassetter-frederic-fred-3996/text6323, viewed 18 July 2011; Australasian Ironmonger, November 1894, p 337; Sydney Morning Herald, 15 February 1904, p 3; 26 March 1904, p 9
[7] Sydney Morning Herald, 14 September 1904, p 1
[8] Richard C Peck, Shopping and the mail: from the collection of Richard C Peck, Volume 1, R C Peck, Drummoyne NSW, 2002, p 81
[9] Sydney Morning Herald, 29 January 1915, p 10; 1 March 1919, p 12
[10] Sydney Morning Herald, 18 February 1926, p 12; 5 May 1926, p 15; 27 May 1926, p 10; Hardware & Machinery, 7 June 1926, p 216
.

Chapters

Connections