At the tender age of 16, Joseph Ely is said to have walked from his home in Essex to London to seek his fortune. Once in London, he spent some time working for others but wanted to strke out for himself. To work out where to set up his stall, he stood on street corners counting the number of people who passed by each hour. He settled on Alexandra Road, at the bottom of Wimbledon Hill, and soon after, in 1876, “Elys” opened its doors, as a tailor and outfitter, selling drapery as well.
10 years later in 1886, in need of more space to cater better for Wimbledon’s growing suburban population, Joseph moved his shop to its current site on Worple Road. It would then have been a close neighbour to the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club which was a little further down Worple Road until it moved up the hill to Church Road in 1922.
In the late 19th century, Wimbledon Council refused to pay the high prices charged by the local gas company for street lighting, sticking with oil lamps until electricity became an option in 1900 (see the Wimbledon Society’s Newsletter for March 2011). Joseph Ely, however, managed to reduce the lighting bill for his ‘Emporium’, as he called it, from £220 to £70 a year but switching to gas mantles in 1894. With such practices, Elys thrived, especially after 1907 when the tram was extended to Wimbledon, bringing more customers from Raynes Park and New Malden: Joseph induced bus and tram conductors to shout ‘Elys Corner’ as the they went past his store.
Crowds gathered in front of the store on Worple Road, at Elys Corner, to watch Joseph Ely’s funeral procession when he died in 1910.
Joseph’s son, Bernard, led Elys from 1910 until his own death in 1957. Elys became a limited company in 1936, 60 years after its founding. Funds raised from shareholders paid for a new store front.
Elys expanded further into adjacent vacant plots throughout the 1960s and the original store buildings were rebuilt.
This advert for Elys – ‘such a friendly kind of store’ – appeared in a local school’s concert programme in July 1960. I’m guess the following picture of one of Elys’ vans, advertising removals and export services, dates from much the same time.
Elys was purchased by the Morleys Stores Group in 1996, who gave the store a major refurbishment, giving it largely the shape and presence it has today.