Today, many will pass the Sir James Matthews building of Solent University, by Guildhall Square, unaware of its former life as a major department store. Once Tyrrell and Green and C&A would also have been nearby.

Older Sotonians will still fondly remember Plummer Roddis, which closed in 1993.

The large Spitfire 360-degree roll artwork on the whole side of the building facing Watts Park is a poignant reminder of the Second World War blitz which destroyed the original store.

Plummer Roddis started out as two separate 19th Century companies. William Plummer was a draper in Hastings before opening a store in Southampton in Above Bar Street. George Roddis was a partner in a drapery in Hastings. William Plummer, George Roddis and Reginald Tyrrell, another draper, joined forces to create Plummer, Roddis and Tyrrell but in 1898 Reginald Tyrrell left to concentrate on his other business Tyrrell & Green.


Plummer Roddis

Plummer Roddis


The business continued to grow and was even mentioned in a 1905 novel Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul by H G Wells. It later became the stage play and film Half a Sixpence starring Tommy Steele.

The original building was at the area known as the Junction as tramway routes from Above Bar Street, Commercial Road and London Road met there.

At the height of its commercial activity in the late 1930s Plummer Roddis had 15 stores all along the south coast from Folkestone to Weymouth. In 1932, the Southampton store had a prestigious Blenheim Restaurant with an orchestra playing and a Two Shilling Lunch.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, this chain of shops found themselves on the frontline during enemy bombing raids along the south coast and most were damaged.

Plummer’s Southampton was totally destroyed by a Luftwaffe raid on 30th November 1940. It then operated out of different locations across the city.

In February 1947, it opened a new restaurant, while a few months later many women attended the official opening of a new ladies fashion department.





Alderman Frederick Smith, the Mayor of Southampton, said at the time: “Looking back to the days of the Blitz in 1940 the town’s main shopping centre was reduced to ruins, a picture which will never be erased from my mind. Now we must have another picture, this time of a fine shopping centre, better in every respect than the old one, with wider streets and facilities for enterprising firms.’’ In 1962 work began on a new store. The Echo reported that, “By early 1965 Southampton will have its most modern store, a worthy addition to those which have risen Phoenix-like from the ashes of wartime devastation.’’ The new Plummers was opened with moving escalators, four sales floors and a gardening department. By this time Plummer Roddis had been bought by Debenhams.

In the early 1970s all these stores were rebranded as Debenhams, except for the Southampton store. It continued to operate under the Plummer Roddis name after a management buyout.

However, by 1990 the rise of out-of-town shopping centres and talk of a brand new retail complex, which would become Westquay were all blamed for falling sales at Plummer’s. On Saturday, 14th August 1993, Plummers shop doors were locked for the last time.

In July 1992, a scheme had emerged to turn Plummers into a site for the former Southampton Institute of Higher Education, as part of its aim to upgrade to university status. This was achieved in 2005 with the foundation of Solent University.


Old bus advertising Plummer Roddis sale - December 1959..

Old bus advertising Plummer Roddis sale - December 1959..


It was renamed the James Matthews Building. In 1921, James Matthews (1887-1981) was the first secretary of the Southern District Workers' Educational Association (WEA). Standing as a Labour candidate he was elected a councillor in 1934. Active in Town Planning from 1945 to 1967 he was influential in the post-war rebuilding of Southampton. James helped to get the city permission to build the Itchen Bridge and was knighted in 1966

Martin Brisland is a tour guide with .