This Aldershot Chest has an interesting history, first owned by 'Rev. HM Johnson, S. John's Rectory, Chatham, Kent', whose details are marked to the back.
Born in 1876, Henry Martin Johnson probably bought the chest for his trip to South Africa in 1904, where he was vicar in 4 different locations before returning to England in 1914. Being in Chatham it is logical he sold it to Williamson, a Naval officer of H.M.S. Chester. Williamson lost his life on board H.M.S. Chester on May 31st 1916 during the Battle of Jutland.
The chest is in good condition and the mahogany top section has particularly well chosen timber. The top right drawer is marked with an ivory plaque noting 'Army & Navy C.S.L. Maker'. This drawer also has an unusual lock operating with a V shaped key. For travel, the feet are removed, along with the cupboard shelf and mouldings. The top drawer section then fits into the cupboard and the shelf stands against the drawers for protection.
The Army & Navy Club offered 3 variations of this chest, the other two being in teak or oak. The mahogany chest was the best quality and most expensive. Circa 1900.
The Army & Navy Store Co-Operative Society Limited, to give their full title, was set by in 1871 by a group of army and naval officers who had decided they were paying too much for their wine. If they clubbed together to buy wholesale, they could greatly reduce the price. If this could be done for wine, it could be done for most other things and indeed the A&N CSL went on to sell just about everything imaginable from food and drink to clothing, furniture, sporting goods, luggage and toys.
Membership was restricted to officers, non-commissioned officers and their families. Friends could join by introduction and officials from the civil service and clubs etc. could also join. Premises were opened at 105 Victoria Street and the Society quickly grew to be a very large concern with depots at important army bases and ports. With a large demand from members in India, a store was opened in Bombay in 1891, followed by Karachi in 1892 and Calcutta in 1901.
The Society also manufactured or commissioned a number of the items they sold. This is particularly true of the items we are interested in, travel furniture and luggage etc. We also have a theory that the A&N CSL workshops may have supplied other retailers such as Harrods. Although many of the London campaign furniture makers were producing similar items of furniture, a number of pieces sold by Harrods bear a striking similarity to those marked A&N CSL. However, the Army & Navy Store tended to label their items whereas this was less of a concern for Harrods. Four digit reference numbers are often to be found stamped on pieces sold by both companies.
The A&N CSL used a variety of different labels and stamps throughout their history but more often than not the wording 'Army & Navy C.S.L. Makers' was used. Some labels also show addresses. Brass and ivorine labels are known as well as applied leather labels on luggage and both impressed and ink stamps.
The speed and size of the Society's growth was remarkable but still they managed to keep an eye on quality and customer service. Their name changed in 1934 from the Army & Navy Co-Operative Society Ltd to The Army & Navy Stores Ltd. They were eventually taken over by The House of Frazer in 1981.