Remembering Graham Wakefield
Graham Wakefield sadly passed away on April 18, 2015. He was the third generation of Wakefields to run our family business, which was established in 1911. He worked in the business for 50 years and was an active member of the Rotary Club and the Horsham community.
Much loved by his wife, children and grand children, the network of people who remember Graham fondly extends far and wide. It includes staff and loyal customers throughout the decades, so many of whom became friends and remember him as a ‘true gentleman’ and a ‘lovely man’.
His generosity and kindness touched lots of people – perhaps this is why 350 people attended his funeral and there was an enormous outpouring of affection on our Facebook page. Something his family were truly touched to see!
Graham is deeply missed, but also remembered with a smile… So we thought it an opportune time to share an insight into Graham Wakefield’s time at Wakefields Jewellers. The following is based on an interview that Melanie did with her dad for the first issue of our Renowned Magazine in 2013.
Graham Wakefield’s earliest memory of Wakefields Jewellers was coming to work there with his dad, Jim, when he was seven. It was his job to put coke on the fire in the boiler house to heat the big standing radiators in the shop.
He started to work in the shop full time in 1964 at the age of 17. Despite the business having been in his family for two generations before him, he remembered being quite wet behind the ears in the early days. He said, “I didn’t even know how to spell necklace or brooch.”
He might have been the son of the boss, but he did not command the same level of respect as some of Wakefields’ veteran staff. Mr Picknell, the manager, had been presiding over the shop floor since before the war and there were quite a few established staff members, including three watch and clock repairers. While everyone else was called by his or her surnames, Graham was “Mr Graham”.
Remembering how different the shop was back in the sixties, he said, “Wakefields was a typical market town jewellery shop. We sold engagement rings, jewellery and did repairs. Behind the scenes, these repairs were moved about the shop in buckets on a pulley system. We closed the shop for half a day on Thursday and for an hour every day when the staff went home for lunch.”
Graham and the rest of the staff soon built up an excellent rapport. He recalled, “There was a good camaraderie between us. My father was a stickler for standards. There was always cleaning, polishing and filing to be done. And the clocks all had to be telling the right time. We weren’t allowed to laugh or chat in the shop. We did, of course, but just quietly out of earshot.”
Customers also enjoyed Graham’s lighter touch. Many of the people he served became very good friends over the years; others became the subjects of colourful anecdotes (always told with respect for their anonymity!).
One example is the story of a customer who asked Graham to meet him at his gentleman’s club in London. Graham said, “When I got there, he sketched out a brooch, pendant and ring, all set with aquamarine.
“Three weeks later, I met him again at the club and he was over the moon with the jewellery. He paid in cash, then asked me to make it all again. One set was for his wife, the other for his mistress.”
Pleasure & pride in business
Graham loved his work at Wakefields Jewellers and his passion for the business was clear. An accredited I.R.V (Registered Jewellery Valuer), he remained on the staff right until his death, carrying out valuations in house. That’s an incredible service that very few jewellers are qualified to offer.
Having handed over the reigns of the business to his daughter Melanie and son Dominic in 1999, he was immensely proud of their achievements in taking Wakefields Jewellers into a new era. He said, “Finding out we had Rolex on our 100th birthday, almost to the day, was very significant.”
Graham always remained confident of the business surviving long into the future. He said, “I have seen a few recessions and downturns, but all the time there is emotion, there is jewellery. I have six grandchildren, so we have future jewellers in the making. I am not worried, as I know Wakefields Jewellers will be in good hands for generations to come.”