Voisin and Company was founded by Francis Voisin on 5 April 1837 as a haberdashery shop at 26 King Street. The company expanded throughout the 19th century, opening a men’s outfitters in 1838 and a furniture department in New Street in 1868.
Francis Voisin’s success stemmed largely from his determination to source the right goods for his store, and he went on many buying trips around the world. With his belongings tied up in a red handkerchief, he travelled to the Continent, Asia and America in pursuit of the perfect products for his customers. With his buying trips taking him to England and France for ribbons, to Belgium, Yorkshire and Northern Ireland for linen, to the Orient for silks and to Russia for furs, Francis Voisin was the most travelled Jerseyman of his time.
Because of his travels, Francis Voisin needed somebody in Jersey to supervise the shop’s day-to-day running. In 1858 he went into partnership with Charles Bisson, and from then until Mr Bisson’s retirement in 1876, the store was called Voisin, Bisson and Co. Showing his entrepreneurial skills, Francis Voisin formed a bank to facilitate his trading in different currencies and to offer credit facilities to his customers. He ran his bank so successfully that it was one of very few that survived the crash of many Jersey banks in the mid 1880s. It remained open until the end of the 19th century, when English clearing banks arrived in the Island.
In the early years the demand for jobs at Voisin and Co was so great that there was a waiting list. Successful candidates underwent a three-year apprenticeship, learning first how to wrap a parcel and then studying the stock of each department, before being allowed to serve any customers.
In 1915, the store’s ownership passed to the third generation of the Voisin family with Colonel Francis Hazzard taking charge. Under his ownership, Voisin and Co bought Gaudin’s – a neighbouring restaurant and bakery. During the 1930s he modernised the store’s King Street properties, designing the façade which has remained largely unchanged since then.
When Colonel Voisin died in 1933, his son Gerald Hazzard took over. His time at the helm was tragically short as he and his wife were killed in a plane crash as they travelled from Jersey to Southampton to attend their niece’s Christening.
From 1938 until 1962 the business was run by Gerald Hazzard’s brother – Colonel Francis Ogier Voisin – whose military background ensured that the business was run with a rod of iron. During the Second World War he was engaged in military duties, so the store’s running was entrusted to Mr C Mauger. During the Occupation the occupying forces stored their uniforms in a warehouse in New Street which now houses Voisins’ car park. On 1 April 1941, Voisins sent a letter of complaint to the Bailiff, Alexander Coutanche, regarding the responsibility for baking the Island’s bread ration being transferred from Gaudin’s to A de Gruchy. Towards the end of the Occupation, Voisins only opened on Saturdays selling secondhand goods.
In 1962 Gerald Francis Voisin became the fifth generation of the Voisin family to run the store. He inherited a store with 30 departments and nearly 200 staff. By 1972 this has increased to 36 departments and 270 staff, which led to further extensions and modernisation throughout the store. In the same year Voisins opened a branch in St Malo, selling products ranging from cashmere to carpets. During this time, Voisins regularly exhibited at the trade fair in Rennes.
In 1992 current owner Francis Gerald Voisin purchased the business from his father. He continued taking the business forward, modernising the shop front in 1996. In the same year, the St Malo branch closed. Four years later, the name of the business changed from Voisin and Co to Voisins Department Store.
In 2011 Café 1837 opened on the first floor – the name commemorating the date that Voisins was founded.
- 1837 - Francis Voisin founded Voisin & Company as a haberdashery shop on 26 King Street, 15 April 1837
- 1838 - Men's outfitters department opens
- 1840 - 28 King Street purchased
- 1857 - 24 King Street purchased
- 1860 - 30 King Street purchased
- 1868 - Furniture department opened at 11,13,15,17,19 and 21 New Street. Francis Voisin travelled extensively to buy goods for the shop and was the most travelled Jerseyman of his time (He died in 1894).
- 1878 Voisin & Co converted into a partnership with Francis Bishop Voisin and Emile Auguste Voisin
- 1888 Francis Bishop Voisin bought his brother's share of the business when he retired through ill health. This was an important event, because significant capital was taken out of the business and some properties were released from the company. No new properties were purchased during this period (Francis Bishop Voisin died in 1915)
- 1915 Francis Hazzard Voisin (ADC to King George V) took over. He introduced motorised delivery vehicles, as everything was delivered in those days
- 1918 Gaudins Bakery (32 King Street) purchased
- 1933 King Street frontage rebuilt.
- 1933 Francis Hazzard Voisin died and Gerald Hazzard Voisin took over. At around this time buyers were introduced because the proprietor was too busy managing the business to travel to buy goods
- 1938 Gerald Hazzard Voisin died in a plane crash. His brother, Francis Ogier Voisin, left the army to run the business. Gerald Francis Voisin, who was below the age of majority, inherited Voisin and Company. This was an important event for two reasons. First, because Gerald Hazzard Voisin appeared to have a natural flair for the business, whilst Francis Ogier Voisin did not and would have preferred to stay in the army. Second, war broke out less than a year later; the Occupation was a very turbulent time for Voisin & Co, causing considerable concern for future
- 1940 While Jersey was occupied, Voisin & Co only traded on Saturdays, selling second-hand goods
- 1946 Gerald Francis Voisin returned to run the business. After eight years of turmoil, there was much to do. Trade picked up reasonably quickly, but the fabric of the store was in a state of disrepair. The sales area was completely refurbished in stages (when it was affordable)
- 1959 Premises at the back of 24 King Street acquired
- 1966 Warehouse built at Rue des Pres trading estate
- 1971 Second store was opened in St Malo, France
- 1972 Buildings at the back of King Street rebuilt to provide more space for the China and Glass department, and to improve staff facilities and office space
- 1992 Francis Gerald Voisin purchased the business of Voisin & Company from Gerald Francis Voisin.
- 1996 The shopfront modernised. St Malo branch closed
- 1998 Gaudins Bakery sold
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Pages from a catalogue produced in 1987 to celebrate the store's 150th anniversary - adverts from the past