FOR generations of households, the Freemans catalogue was a shopping staple. Delivered to millions of homes, twice a year, it offered pages and pages of items, including clothing, soft furnishings, electrical goods and toys, with payment in affordable instalments.

Now Freemans has announced it is to stop printing its catalogue after 118 years - as customers move to shopping online and the retailer reinvents itself as a ‘digital pureplay’.

Final copies of the print catalogue will be donated to the British Museum, Cambridge University Library and Oxford University’s Bodleian Library, as examples of retail history.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Freemans reached its peak in the 1970s and 80sFreemans reached its peak in the 1970s and 80s (Image: Freemans)

Today Freemans is based in Bradford and owned by the Otto Group. Named after HA Freeman, one of its four founding partners, Freemans & Co was established in 1905, based in a terraced house in Clapham, London, with 12 members of staff. The 200-page catalogue was originally black and white, with colour photographs introduced in the 1920s.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: The catalogue was originally black and white The catalogue was originally black and white (Image: Freemans)

Freemans dominated the mail order landscape in the 1930s, with 30,000 ‘agents’ - back then most were men, as at the time women couldn’t legally negotiate credit agreements. By the 1950s Freemans was despatching more than 7,000 parcels a day.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Freemans swimwear in 1955Freemans swimwear in 1955 (Image: Freemans)

In the 1960s the agent workforce became mostly female. Affectionately known as the ‘catalogue lady’, an agent would go to houses and collect the orders and weekly cash payments.

The Freemans catalogue enabled shoppers to buy a wide range of products, spreading the cost. It made goods such as three-piece suites, made-to-measure suits, televisions, washing machines, fridges, off-the-peg dresses, coats and lingerie affordable and accessible to many people for the first time.

The much-loved catalogue was a snapshot of how we lived, and shopped, over a century. Electric whisks, music centres, word processors, continental quilts...trends of household gadgets and furnishings evolved through the decades on its 1,000 or so pages. The toy pages were particularly well thumbed by children highlighting items they wanted for Christmas.

How I loved to leaf through the catalogue:

In 1969 Freemans opened one of the UK’s first automated distribution centres in Peterborough, which at the time was Europe’s largest. Years later, working at the warehouse became the focus of a musical documentary called Delivered by Freemans.

Ten years on, Freemans became the first home shopping company to introduce a telephone ordering service for its agents. Up to this point everything had been done via post. And in 1997 Freemans was one of the first retailers to launch a shopping website -

Over the years many famous faces have modelled fashions for Freemans, including Lulu, Lorraine Chase, Wendy Craig, Yasmin Le Bon, Kim Wilde, Denise Van Outen and football legend George Best. More recently, several Strictly Come Dancing stars, including Janette Manrara and Aljaz Skorjanec, have appeared on the Freemans website, catalogues and TV adverts.

In the late 1990s Freemans was integrated with Bradford-based Grattan, using its head office at Anchor House on Ingleby Road and warehousing in Bradford and Peterborough.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: The Duke of Edinburgh meeting staff at the Grattan warehouse in Bradford in 1974The Duke of Edinburgh meeting staff at the Grattan warehouse in Bradford in 1974 (Image: Newsquest)

Over the last century the Freemans catalogue, one of the 10 oldest in the world, has been among the UK’s best-read printed material, reaching millions of homes each year. The last print run dropped on eight million doorsteps.

The catalogue, and online site, was widely regarded as one of the sector’s bellwethers, identifying trends far ahead of sources such as the Office for National Statistics ‘Inflation Shopping Basket’ which monitors prices of the most popular items that Brits are buying.

With sales declining, in 2020, a new team overhauled, beginning the digital transformation.

Today, with more than 30 million visitors to annually, bosses have decided to end the print run of the catalogue. offers 55,000 items, including partnerships with designer brands at high street prices.

Says Freemans chief executive Ann Steer: “The Freemans catalogue was a national institution and one of the most successful retails sales tool the UK has ever seen. It was the UK’s biggest and the best store catalogues and has served generations of families.

“However, we need to move with the times, in response to how customers are shopping these days. The transition to digital means we can serve today’s families with even more choice of great value items, all at the swipe of a phone screen.

“It’s a significant step towards Freemans becoming the digital department store of choice for customers both new and old. We have made huge in-roads over the last three years and it’s paying dividends as shoppers with continue to grow.”

Freemans has announced an overall of its website and the way it reaches customers with a new brand initiative, Made You Look; a “punchy, bright, energetic, relatable, down-to-earth and exciting creative that has an inclusive approach to age, shape and size”. The new campaign will be delivered across digital and social channels and TV advertising that premieres on September 25.

Freemans has also launched a new ‘curve curation’ with 12,000 pieces in sizes up to a 32. And a new Freemans collection, of 200 pieces in sizes 10-24, marks the first time the company has put its name to a collection in more than 20 years.