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Joy of Cranleigh – Goodbye to Mann’s, October 2nd 2021 – November 2021

From the days of horse-drawn coaches: Mann’s in the late 19th century

People of Cranleigh faced the unimaginable this autumn when David Mann & Sons department store announced that it was closing, with the retirement of the chairman, Richard Womack. For 134 years it had been at the heart of the village and was almost synonymous with Cranleigh itself.

It was in 1887 that David Mann, aged 32, born at Vine Cottage on the Common and trained as a cabinet-maker at Holden’s timber works (where M&S Simply Food is now), bought up a struggling general stores in Cranleigh’s main street and began selling hardware, ironmongery and agricultural equipment. At first the shop consisted of just one tiny front room: two people at a time could be served with comfort, but having three was awkward, and four were crowded out. The family with five children lived above the shop, until their house ‘Kirtling’ was built next door in Victoria Road. In those days there were ‘no public lamps in the village, no main drainage, no telephone, no cycles, no motor cars, no radios’.

The circular sign proclaims the Enterprise bicycle

Alert to the changing times, and to the needs of local people, David Mann was soon selling furniture and his own brand of bicycle, called the ‘Enterprise’, at first with solid tyres and later with pneumatic ones. Apart from the wheels, it was entirely made on-site, in the forge behind the shop.

David was a remarkable man, who in addition to developing the shop contrived to farm 100 acres, to be a parish councillor and to serve as pastor of the Baptist chapel. He served on the Village Hospital committee, the Parochial Relief Committee and was a manager of the council school. Known for his complete integrity, every morning he stood inside the shop door and greeted each member of staff as they arrived for work.

The new shop front (photo taken about 1910). Notice Mann’s telephone number, No. 7 Cranleigh: most recently it was 273777

A removal service began, at first with a cart that looks as though it came straight off the farm. However, the business was quick to adopt the new motorised technology, and soon led the way in its collection of vehicles.

Sadly, David Mann died suddenly in 1910 of a heart attack, aged 55. Two of his sons, Samuel and Jesse, together succeeded him, the middle brother, Ebenezer, having gone to a remote part of China as a missionary with the China Inland Mission. Sam kept the shop going through the difficulties of the First World War, while Jesse served in the army and was seriously gassed on the Western Front.

A removal van in 1985 at Bridge Cottages

After the war, the business expanded by incorporating Cromwell Cottage into the main shop. It became the carpet department, run by cousin William Brand, who had joined the business in 1905 as a boy. He had become knowledgeable about oriental carpets while serving in the Middle East during the war. Other members of the large extended family also worked in the business, including Joseph Cheesman, son of another sister of David Mann, who managed Mann’s Godalming branch.

Sam Mann wrote a well-regarded history of Cranleigh, and was also conductor of the Choral Society. Like his father, he died prematurely, at the age of 58. Young David Mann, son of Ebenezer the missionary, came back from China and became a junior director in the family business, but his life was cut short when he was serving with the Queen’s regiment at the battle of El Alamein in October 1942. The news took nearly a year to reach his parents. When Sam Mann died in 1951, William Brand succeeded him as managing director, followed by Joe Cheesman, and in 1988 by Robin Brand.

Mann’s first removal van

When the shop celebrated its centenary in 1987, it had about 50 employees. Mann’s was selling clothes, toys, sports goods, gardening tools, china, hardware and kitchen goods, besides carpets, furniture and curtains, gifts and greetings cards. A door-knocker bought at Mann’s is the first thing to greet people who call at my house. A visiting friend declared to me, ‘You can’t call Cranleigh a village, with a shop like that here!’

It will not be easy for Cranleigh people to get used to living without Mann’s at its centre. We shall look back at Mann’s 134 years here with nostalgia and regret.

Mann’s staff in 1985

The Cranleigh History Society meets on the second Thursday of each month at 8.00pm in the Band Room. The next meeting will be on Thursday November 11th, when Geoff Burch will speak on ‘A Romany Lifestyle’ (with David Rose).

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