UK Family Business British Family Business
Established 1868

Catering Equipment Supplier Showroom Over £2million of Stock
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Henry George Stephenson

The company’s founder, Henry George Stephenson was born in 1847. Quite fittingly, his place of birth was Hanley, a small market town in the very heart of the Staffordshire potteries.

There were two major influences on Henry’s early life. Firstly was his place of birth, where the young Henry would have seen the prosperity of the pottery industry first-hand.

The second was his mother, Naomi Bull — a financially independent entrepreneur in a time of patriarchy.

Seemingly, the will to succeed was sewn from the start.


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The Early Years

In 1860 Henry moved from the North East of England to Manchester, the powerhouse of the Industrial Revolution.

Here, he rented a stall on Salford’s Flat Iron Market and began to sell china and pottery.

Once a week he would make the pilgrimage to Stoke-on-Trent by horse to collect his wares from Wood & Sons.


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The Birth of the Business 1868 - 1900

By 1868 Henry George Stephenson had built up enough capital to become the first tenant in Manchester’s newly built Barton Arcade.

To begin with, the business was very much focused on the retail market and sold many names that would later become famous in the industry. These included Doulton, Wedgwood, Royal Crown Derby, Maddocks and Thomas Webb. Alongside these brands were Stephenson’s own pottery ranges, sourced from Limoges, France.

Henry stocked all manner of wares, knowing that catering to every strata of the late 19th century was the best way to build his business.


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A Golden Era: 1900 – 1914

When the business first started, it had been named ‘Barton Arcade Glass and China Shops’. On 23rd April 1900, Henry took the steps of officially registering his business as a limited company — it became known from this point as ‘H.G. Stephenson Limited’.

This period saw the business thrive as it began to supply new sectors such as hospitals, hotels, breweries and the railways.

Before the arrival of the Great War, two of Henry’s sons —Harry and John — had entered the scene to make H.G. Stephenson Limited a family business. During this successful time, expansion allowed Stephensons to open additional stores in St. Ann’s Square and Piccadilly.

The Stephenson Family

Here is the Stephenson family pictured in 1897 at their home in Broughton, Salford. Back left row left to right: Daisy Louise Aged 11, John Vincent George aged 18, Harry Malpas Aged 20, Robert Edgar Aged 15, Agnes Gladys Aged 13.

Middle row left to right: Reginald Johnstone Aged 17, Mary Agnes Aged 46, Edward Lionel Aged 20 months, Henry George Aged 50, Ernest Adrian Aged 12. Bottom row left to right: Violet Naomi Blanche Aged 8, Madeleine Mary Aged 4, Charles Geoffrey Aged 6.

In The Wars: 1914 - 1945

The outbreak of the First World War heralded a spell of difficulty for most industries, Stephensons included.

With the war effort came a great recession that only added to the woes caused by stock shortages and a lack of labour. To make matters even worse, the company’s founder, Henry George Stephenson, passed away in 1918.

Supplies remained scarce after the war and embezzlement by a family member put the company into further troubles during a time of economic uncertainty.

In The Wars: 1914 - 1945

The subsequent recession of the 1930s forced the closure of all but the Barton Arcade shops. It was the steadying hand of Ernest Stephenson (the 6th son of Henry George Stephenson) that kept the company afloat through these difficult times and, by the start of the Second World War, he was managing the business alone.

After sustaining significant bombing damage on the first night of the Manchester Blitz, the decision was made to close the retail section of the business at Barton Arcade.

Stephenson’s continued to trade wholesale from the basement though, with Ernest insistent that his nephew Harold, who was away fighting, had something to return home to.

In 1946, Harold returned safely from Burma. He would later become the company’s Managing Director from 1966-1970.

Post War Progress: 1945-1966

Through considered procurement and their support of the post-war rebirth of the British brewery trade, Stephenson’s were able to quickly recover from the aftermath of the war effort.

The decades following the war signaled a time of growth for the company with a commission from the City of Manchester for souvenir coronation mugs; additional store space being opened on 59 Deansgate and a move to develop a more comprehensive wholesale product offering to suit the catering and licensed trades.

Despite the period of stability, by the mid 1960’s it was evident that the business was becoming too large for central Manchester. More space was needed.

The Move to Kennerley Works: 1967 – 1998

After 99 years at Barton Arcade, the need for a more efficient and larger warehousing operation prompted a move to Stephenson’s current home — The Kennerley Works site in Stockport.

By 1970, fourth generation Michael Stephenson (who’d joined the company in 1963) took over the Managing Director role from his father Harold. Michael quickly set about transforming Stephenson’s into the ‘one-stop-shop’ it is known as today.

New ranges such as bar sundries, cleaning chemicals and other ancillary items became a staple part of the Stephensons repertoire. The Cash & Carry was opened in 1982, with the Showroom following it in 1998.

This era saw the company develop strong ties with regional breweries including J.W. Lees, Frederic Robinsons and Daniel Thwaites; as well as initiating a presence in sectors such as education and care homes.

The Fifth Generation Enters: 1998 – 2017

As the new millennium approached, it brought with it the fifth generation of the family.

Firstly, Julian Lewis-Booth joined in 1998. Armed with an experience of IT, sales and administration from his time working in London, he set about streamlining the company’s internal operations.

In 2005, Julian’s brother Henry (who’d worked with William Grant and Sainsbury’s) joined the business. By 2009, Henry had taken on the role of Managing Director, a position he still holds today.

Henry’s tenure has overseen staff numbers increase from 35 to over 100; the 2006 launch of the now industry-leading catalogue, a warehouse expansion to 13,500sq foot and a fourfold growth in turnover.

The Sesquicentennial Anniversary and Beyond: 2018 – Present

2018 marked 150 years in business for Stephenson’s. Rather than taking a step back to reflect upon the past though, the company instead embarked upon a full-steam-ahead year of progress and praise.

The start of the celebratory year saw Stephenson’s named as ‘Regional Distributor of the Year’ at the annual Food Service Packaging Association Awards.

A successful catalogue launch at NRB 2018 was then followed by a return to the original Barton Arcade store location to host a party for the company’s valued customers, suppliers and staff.

Rounding off an eventful year was the launch of the Manchester Bee Paper Straw and in a crowing achievement, Stephenson’s picked up a prestigious Manchester Evening News Business of the Year Award.

“Our history is fabulous, but we cannot rest on our laurels. If we’re not competitive or we miss a delivery, it counts for very little” – Henry Stephenson

  1. 1860

    1860 - Stephensons Stall at Salford Flat Iron Markets

    The company's founder Henry George Stephenson moves to Manchester, where he begins selling pottery on the Salford Flat Iron Market.

  2. 1868

    1868 - Stephensons moved into Barton Arcade

    Henry moves into Manchester's newly built Barton Arcade, opening the first Stephensons store.

  3. 1900

    1900 - Stephensons Company Seal from Companies House

    The business is officially registered with Companies House as 'H.G. Stephenson Limited'.

  4. 1914

    1914 - Stephensons continue to work during the Great War

    Business continues to thrive until the advent of the Great War which brought major recession and limited supplies.

  5. 1918

    1918 - Ernest Stephenson Passes Away

    Henry dies leaving his sixth son, Ernest, to guide the business through the Great War.

  6. 1919

    1919 - Stephensons Longest serving employee

    Miss Anne Smith joins Stephensons aged 19. Anne goes on to work for the company for 70 years, becoming the longest serving employee.

  7. 1939

    1939 - Harold Stephenson joins the Board

    Harold Stephenson, son of Ernest, is elected to the board.

  8. 1940

    1940 - Barton Arcade damaged during the war

    Stephensons halt retail operations after Barton Arcade suffers extensive damage during the first night of the 'Manchester Blitz'.

  9. 1945

    1945 - Barton Arcade reopens after the war

    Barton Arcade reopens fully after the war, although supplies of anything more than plain white earthenware and basic glass remained virtually impossible to find until the 1970's.

  10. 1966

    1966 - Harold Stephenson takes over the Stephensons Business

    Ernest retires at the age of 79, with his nephew Harold taking full control of the company.

  11. 1967

    1967 - Stephensons move to Stockport

    After 99 years at Barton Arcade, Stephensons moves to the Kennerley Works site in Stockport.

  12. 1970

    1970 - Michael Stephenson, 4th Generation Family member

    Michael Stephenson, a fourth genration family member, becomes Managing Director.

  13. 1998

    1998 - Julian Lewis-Booth - 5th Family Generation Stockport

    Julian Lewis-Booth, Michael's eldest son, joins Stephensons as Sales Director.

  14. 2005

    2005 - 5th Generation Family Member - Stockport

    Julian's brother, Henry, joins the business as Marketing Director, later becoming Managing Director.

  15. 2006

    2006 - Stephensons new website launched

    The Stephensons website is launched to propel the company into the 21st century.

  16. 2013

    2013 - Stephensons expand in Stockport

    The Kennerley Works site is expanded to over 30,000 square feet.

  17. 2015

    2015 - Stephensons expand in Cheadle with warehouse

    Stephensons acquire a 13,000 foot warehouse in Cheadle.

  18. Today

    2023 - Stephensons Catering Equipment

    Today, with over 150 years of proud history, the Stephenson’s story is still being written…