About Us

Fairway Furniture is the leading independent home furnishing retailer in the south west of England, with branches located in Plymouth, Tavistock, Newton Abbot and St Austell.

Over 160 years after it was founded in 1856 in Plymouth, the company's mission remains to offer an exceptional choice of great quality products at unbeatable prices – backed by a reliable, friendly, trusted and informed customer service.

Below is a short history of the company, with some archive images showing how the business has evolved over its 160 years.


The Early Days

The original John Harding (seen in the centre of the photo on the right – circa 1880) first entered business in 1856 when he and his son John Harding Junior started ‘J Harding & Sons’. They traded out of premises at 14 Devonshire Terrace, which was just off Union Street, at the Western end of Plymouth city centre.

At that time they not only sold furniture which they themselves had produced but were also undertakers, general brokers and timber dealers. The original blue receipt below was issued on the 29th December 1870 and shows that the company even undertook work such as fixing sash fasteners to windows in peoples homes.

Fairway Furniture started trading in 1856 in Plymouth

Fairway furniture was called Harding & Sons in 1800
Harding & Sons split in 1900

The inclusion of undertaking in the scope of the business was not unusual in the furniture industry, as many of the skills needed were common to those required to make furniture, in particular cabinets.  Many well established furniture retailers and manufacturers have at some time in their history had at least some involvement in undertaking.

The business thrived through the late 1800s, changing its name to 'Harding & Sons', and continuing to expand.  In to the early 1900s and, following a split in the Harding family which resulted in another business trading under a similar name in Plymouth, the business sought to ensure its identity was clear, illustrated by this 1908 invoice, which states 'no connection with any other firm trading under the name of Harding'.

The War Years

The outbreak of the First World War served had little impact on the company, as it continued to grow and become ever more a furniture specialist.  In 1929, the company was incorporated, becoming Harding & Sons Ltd.

Through the 1930s, the business expanded its Union Street premises, developing an arcade shopping experience which was something of a revelation for the shoppers of Plymouth.  By the time World War 2 started, the business was under the stewardship of William Harding, the fourth generation of the family to take the reins.  However, he was called to take part in the war effort and spent it mainly abroad with the RAF.

The war took a heavy toll on Plymouth due to its naval significance, and the company lost its Union Street premises during one of the many German raids on the city.  Trading continued and the business moved from one premises to another throughout the 6 years, with William returning only twice - once to help relocate the business after the initial loss of the Union Street premises and again in 1945 to marry his fiancee, Joan.

Post-War Re-Establishment

As peace eventually descended on Europe in 1946, William Harding, assisted by his wife Joan, set about re-establishing the business.  Their biggest challenge was stock, as both furniture and carpets were rationed, such was the devastation caused by the war.

Their efforts were rewarded when it was made an award by the War Damages programme - compensation to businesses that had suffered as a result of the war.  The company received a £40,000 award, to put towards new premises.  William and Joan travelled to London to seek funding for the remainder of the cost of rebuilding the business and in 1953, the reward for their efforts was the opening of a spectacular new store at the very heart of the newly redeigned Plymouth city centre.

Fairway Furniture opened its first store post world war in 1953 in Plymouth City Centre

The 'Big Break' - a move out of town

The company grew steadily through the 1950s and 1960s, becoming the premier furniture store for Plymouth and the surrounding area.  Featuring a wide range of furniture, beds and flooring, there was everything that anyone could want to furnish their home.

Into the early 1970s and William and Joan's son John, having been away at university and then working in London, returned to work in the business. He soon identified that furniture retailing in city and town centres was going to be increasingly difficult and began to formulate a plan to move the business out of town.

In 1976, the company opened its first out of town store, under a new name - Fairway Furniture. Offering a wide range of products at low prices, the business was very different from the Harding & Sons Ltd store in Plymouth.  The decision to move in to a new area - and also move out of town - was a success and it was clear that there was little reason to remain in Plymouth city centre.

In 1981, Mothercare agreed to purchase the Harding & Sons store in Plymouth city centre and the business used the proceeds to build a new Fairway Furniture store in Newton Abbot, followed by a new store in Plymstock in 1984.  There followed a further store in St Austell - to serve Cornwall - in 1986, making Fairway Furniture the largest independent furniture retail group in the South West.

Fairway furniture opened its first out of town store in 1976
Fairway furniture opened St. Austell store in 1986

The Next Generation

In 1995, Peter Harding became the sixth generation of the Harding family to join the business.  Having studied at university and then qualified as an accountant, he brought new impetus to the business, introducing new communications and computer systems. He also devloped and oversaw the company's first website in 1996, a long time before many people even considered the internet to be a major marketing and shopping channel.

As the company continued to grow, it also sought to centralise key areas, including opening a central distribution hub at Lee Mill near Plymouth in 2001.  This enabled the company to hold more stock and service deliveries to customers more efficiently.

In 2006, the company celebrated 150 years in business - no mean feat given that only a fraction of one percent of all companies formed survive that long in the UK. 

Peter Harding took over as Managing Director in 2007 and despite the 'Credit Crunch' that saw the UK economy contract considerably, he has maintained the company as the leading furniture retailer in the South West and, as the Feefo feedback indicates, with product and service ratings among the highest in the UK.