Thursday, March 29, 2012

Morse's Store

The Victorians knew a thing or two about retail therapy and might well have coined the phrase 'shop till you drop.'  The advent of mass production saw an explosion of 'must have' commodities for those fortunate enough to have a disposable income.

By the 1860s Swindon's Regent Street, named after the famous London shopping precinct, was moving with the times as former worker's cottages were converted into shops.

Swindon's first department store was opened in 1875 by Reading retailer William McIlroy, but the town would soon boast it's own home grown enterprise.

Levi Lapper Morse was the eldest son of Stratton shopkeeper Charles Morse and his second wife, Rebecca Lapper.  The Morse family were prominent members of the Primitive Methodist movement in Swindon and financed the building of the Regent Street Church in 1849.

Born over the shop at Stratton Green, Levi had retail in his blood.  In 1878 he acquired premises at 10-12 Regent Street and announced the opening of his store with an advertisement in the Swindon Advertiser.

Having recently purchased the stock of Mr J. Warton, Levi offered 'Parlour, Bed-Room & General Household Furniture, Hardware, Kitchen Utensils And small articles which add so much to the comfort of a home, at prices which must speedily effect a Clearance.'  By the 1880s Levi had a business interest in several other shops, including the Regent Street Arcade.

Morse served as a Justice of the Peace, an Alderman, and Swindon's second mayor following the incorporation of the Borough in 1900.  He was also MP for South Wiltshire for six years.

Levi Lapper Morse died in 1913 and is buried in Radnor Street Cemetery.  The inscription on the impressive monument reads:

'His many acts of beneficence were quietly performed, and because he did good by stealth he helped those who needed help most.'

Morse left an estate worth more than £124,000, the equivalent of about £40 million today.  Morse Street off Commercial Road is named after him and Winifred Street, built at the turn of the 20th century on land adjoining his old home at The Croft, was named after his wife.


  1. The site of the store is now W H Smith's & his ghost is said to still haunt the storeroom & the shop next door in the seventies was Baxter's the butchers & his ghost was said to haunt their storeroom as well & the butchers were said to have seen him walking around & frightening all the staff , so much they were afraid to go upstairs alone .

  2. Don't you just love a good ghost story?