Chronicles: A Tale of Two Shops 2 – Fitze Modes

In the late nineteenth century, clothing which could be bought ‘off the peg’ rather than being tailor-made was increasingly popular and fashionable, particularly for women.  In the early 1900s a new shop named Trueman & Fitze appeared at 4 Church Street, on the right in the picture below, and across the road from Frank Trueman’s Outfitters.  (The ‘x’ marked in the picture below is on the building next door – it must have been made by the person sending the postcard to show, in traditional fashion, the window of their lodgings.)

Behind the counter at the new shop was Mabel Edith Fitze.  Her father had worked for the Admiralty in the Naval Dockyards, and the family was living in Portsmouth when he died in 1889.  The older children in the family left home when their mother died three years later, but the youngest three, Percy (13), Mabel (10) and Norman (6) were brought up by their mother’s unmarried sister, Mary Westlake.  In 1901 the three young Fitzes were all working in a draper’s shop in Portsmouth, and living with their aunt, but in about 1904 Percy Fitze went into partnership with Frank Trueman in Ventnor, establishing Messrs Trueman & Fitze selling ready to wear clothing and fancy drapery.

Percy Fitze died in 1907, but Mabel and her aunt made their home in Ventnor, living in the High Street (next to Courboulds wine shop, now the Blenheim) while Mabel ran the shop in Church Street.  In 1909 the Mercury reported that Miss Fitze, a Milliner, from Southsea has become a Congregational Church Member.” Frank Trueman retired in about 1920, and his outfitters shop may have closed then – it seems to have been a family business, and he had no sons to take over from him. However,  Mabel Fitze continued in business as M.E. Fitze (Late Trueman & Fitze), moving her shop across the road to 9 Church Street.  She ran the shop there until September 1937, when she retired and sold her business to Mr N Whiteside and Mrs Daniel, who were to manage it.  Clesrly she was a successful business woman; she was living in Sandown when she died on Boxing Day, 1957, leaving nearly £4000 to her eldest sister, Ida.

Advertisements for the shop give a delightful picture of fifty years of fashions and social change. In 1907 Messrs. Trueman & Fitze was still an Edwardian shop,  stocking Blouses, Umbrellas, Furs, Fancy Muslin and Cambric Aprons, Lace Goods, Gloves. By 1924, after the First World War, the shop was more simply a Fancy Drapers, Milliners and Blouse Specialists and had become the Agent for AERTEX Cellular Clothing  (I cannot be the only person to remember a 1950s childhood spent in Aertex vests!). Later it became known as  Fitze Modes.  I am not sure when the shop closed, but some people in Ventnor still remember buying clothes from ‘Fitzes’ in Church Street in the 1950s, and in the summer of 1959, as the swinging 60s approached, the shop was advertising Teenagers’ dresses a Speciality and proudly boasting that it was Now on the Telephone!

Lesley Telford, Ventnor & District Local History Society.  Sources: Society Collection including Fay Brown’s local history indexes; additional material from Census, registration and probate records.