Sydney had Anthony Horderns and Maitland had Edward Capper – and just as Anthony Horderns became a household name in the capital, so did Edward Capper in the capital of the Hunter.
Trained in the family business in Birmingham as a hardware merchant, Capper gained experience in Germany and in South America before migrating with his wife and their son to NSW in 1832.
He had some difficulty in establishing a business in Sydney and as early as 1834 Capper contemplated a move to Maitland.
Another eight years were to pass before this eventuated and Capper had to endure the worst depression the colony had seen before emerging as one of Maitland’s best known businesses.
As the late Athel D’Ombrain pointed out in the Mercury in 1972, at Cappers you could buy every kind of farm equipment such as wagons, drays, sulkies, axles, axle boxes, iron tyres, and all other items that went with them. Mowing machines, seed sowers, hay presses, butter churns, separators or scoops, as well as a wide range of tools.
People came from all over the Northern districts to buy rocking chairs from the United States, four poster iron beds from Italy, marbletop wash stands, umbrella stands and hall stands, kitchen utensils such as Mrs. Potts Irons, coke irons, English locks made of wood, hand-made nails and bolts, door furniture made of porcelain, Royal Doulton tableware, Dresden china, coffins, muzzle-loading guns and gunpowder.
Situated in a fertile farming district and having access to the northern railway network, the Cappers prospered mightily, branching out into property and financing but the large store in High Street was the foundation of their empire.
Built in 1888, it consisted of four storeys in the front and three at the rear and to the wonder of the customers, it was provided with a lift!
With several buildings spaced over a large site, Cappers were calculated to have several acres of shopping floors, enough to daunt the most ardent consumer.
Unfortunately, this impressive building was destroyed by a fire in 1971, an event that filled Athel with nostalgia at the passing of a trading centre which had been a by-word for generations.
Source: “The Rise of High Street, Maitland – a Pictorial History” by John Turner
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