The Full Story
The independent family-run food store was founded in 1972 in Sloane Square and in 1994 was granted a Royal Warrant as Grocers to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.
1970s The Beginnings
Partridges was the vision of Sir Richard Shepherd, who studied at the LSE with Mick Jagger and opened the independent, traditional food shop with the slogan “Good things for the larder”. As a delicatessen Partridges was going against food retailing trends of the time where counters were being phased out, floor staff reduced, and product ranges modernised. But Partridges was a convenient place to shop as it opened until 9pm and on Sundays, which meant it traded later and longer than local competitors and boasted a free bicycle delivery service. Products sold from day one included Bird’s Nest Soup, Gulls Eggs and Frozen Jugged Hare. Game Pie and Taramasalata were popular, and the cake counter sold Black Forest Gateau. A bottle of Vin Ordinaire sold for 60p, Chablis for 77p, Valpolicella for 90p and Moët et Chandon champagne for £2.20. 1972 was just a year after decimalization and prices were applied with a pricing gun as there were no bar codes. Few products had sell-by dates and Sunday trading laws restricted the hours when alcohol could be sold and ensured that household products and bibles could not be sold. Two years after opening Partridges also had to contend with the 1974 recession, the oil crisis, the three-day week and electrical blackouts.
In 1981 Sir Richard’s younger brother John Shepherd, who had joined the business as a student in 1973, took over the reins and has just celebrated 40 years as Partridges’ Managing Director. In 1984 Partridges bought the double unit carpet shop next door and tripled in size. There was a larger deli counter, wine section, fruit and veg department and patisserie counter plus a rotisserie to cook chickens. In the first year in the larger premises sales doubled and by the end of the second year had nearly trebled. There were very large windows for product displays and the delivery bike was replaced by a van. By the end of the decade sales had risen by over 600 per cent. Partridges also started a small export business and became Founder Members of the Guild of Fine Food Retailers who later become the champions and saviours of artisan food in the UK. The Guild’s creation of the Great Taste Awards - often referred to as the Oscars of Speciality Foods - played a key part in the Artisan Food Revolution of the early 2000s. In the 1980s Christmas sales were important to Partridges, as unlike department stores who closed their order books at the beginning of December, Partridges kept taking orders until the last possible moment. This meant its Christmas hampers and food items were very popular. By the end of the 1980s Partridges stocked over 100 own label lines.
1990s Royal Warrant Holders
By the beginning of the 1990s the more commercial Europa Foods became Partridges’ nearest competitor, the Sunday Trading Act of 1994 allowed supermarkets to trade at night and for some hours on Sundays and there was a recession that did not end until 1993. Sales at Partridges fell by 16% but then increased again and by the end of the decade an increase of 187% over the ten years was recorded.
In 1991 Partridges received a phone call from the Palace asking to order some products. At first no one was sure which Palace but fortunately it turned out to be THE Palace. Partridges leapt at the opportunity and in 1994 was granted the Royal Warrant as Grocers to Her Majesty the Queen. In 1998 Partridges opened its second shop on Gloucester Road, Kensington.
2000s Duke of York Square
As with the beginning of the 1980s and 1990s the millennium did not get off to a very good start with sales declining by 17% from the end of 2000 until 2004. This was in part due to the opening of Waitrose Belgravia. Waitrose was regarded as champions of gentrification but was dreaded for its speciality foods by many delicatessen owners. However fortuitously the Cadogan Estate invited Partridges to move to the newly converted Barracks on the Kings Road. The 500 yard move to Duke of York Square was not easy but Partridges managed to close down one shop and reopen the other in the space of about 4 days. No money was expended on advertising though with just a sign popped on the old front door informing customers Partridges had relocated. In 2004 The Duke of York square wasn’t well known and many of Partridges’ customers thought it had closed down!
Partridges now occupy the ground floor of historic Queripel House, which has had many uses including as an indoor marching hall.
The Saturday Fine Food Market, Duke of York Square
In 2005 to encourage more footfall Partridges launched the Saturday Duke of York Square Fine Food Market, with the support of Cadogan. It started with about 20 traders and took a while to establish itself with shoppers slowly increasing as the number of traders grew to about 70. It was a business risk bringing 70 competitors to trade just outside Partridges’ front door but the market made Partridges more accessible to younger customers. Stalls are offered to smaller businesses first and the word ‘Startisan’ was coined to describe the ‘Startup Artisans’ who form the main body of the market. In 2021 Partridges celebrated its 750th Fine Food Market.
2010s Awards & Gin
In 2012 Partridges joined the large party on the Square to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
In 2016 the market won a national award as Best Market Attraction and Partridges also won an award for Best Family Business in Retailing from Family Business United.
In 2017 Partridges joined the trend and created its own Chelsea Flower Gin. The Original was launched to celebrate its 45th Anniversary and the following May the No.2 Chelsea Flower Gin was launched with both becoming best sellers.
In 2019 John Shepherd became ‘Icon of the Speciality Fine Food & Drink Industry’ and that autumn Partridges won the 'In Good Taste’ award at the inaugural Chelsea Awards evening held at Saatchi Gallery.
The beginning of the 2020s has been marred by the Covid pandemic which Partridges had never experienced anything like before. Fortunately, the shops have been able to remain open throughout and a new normal is being established.
In 2022 Partridges is looking forward to celebrating its own Golden Anniversary and the Queen’s Platinum Anniversary.
Sir Richard Charles Scrimgeour Shepherd
1942 – 2022
Sir Richard Shepherd, the founder of Partridges, sadly passed away in London on Saturday 19th February 2022, aged 79.
Sir Richard was a British Conservative politician and Member of Parliament for Aldridge-Brownhills from 1979 to 2015. He was knighted in the 2013 New Year Honours for public service.
Sir Richard's brother, John Shepherd said... “Richard was a much loved brother, uncle and great uncle and through his work as a Member of Parliament for 36 years and an entrepreneur for even longer he helped a lot of people with his kindness and generosity and made many friends from different walks of life.
As a family our hearts are broken today but we take great reassurance from the fact that his was a life well lived and that he was a real gold medal winner in so many ways.”
Sir Richard's memorial service will be held in Chelsea on Partridges' 50th Anniversary, Wednesday 25th May 2022.