EDINBURGH Woollen Mill Group’s takeover of the former Rackhams House of Fraser building, in Skipton, has, as expected, been received as ‘positive news’ by both the district council and the town council.

Little had been heard about the future use of the site when the doors were closed in December and a number of staff made redundant.

While rumours circulated it was going to remain in retail, there had been nothing concrete forthcoming.

Councillor Simon Myers, Craven District Council’s lead member for Enterprising Craven, said the confirmation by the company was a great boost to the town and the plans afoot for its future as a Heritage Action Zone.

He said: “This is very positive news for Skipton High Street and we’re pleased that such a quality retailer will be coming to the town.

“We have really exciting plans for the high street over the next few years, with the refurbished town hall due to open later this year, creating a cultural hub for the district, and the Heritage Action Zone project, which will help attract younger people to the town centre with a new housing and workspace for young people, youth market and improved public spaces.”

The news was equally embraced by Councillor Robert Heseltine, leader of Skipton Town Council, who added: “This building is a major landmark in our town and has a long and proud history.

“That a major national retailer appears to have the confidence to so strongly invest in Skipton High Street is a boost, not only for our market town, but also for other retailers in the town centre.”

He added: “This does further highlight the profile and importance of our high street, its Market and the surrounding streets - and the Town Council looks forward to working with all partners to ensure our town centre continues to thrive.”

Felicity Green, practice manager and direcor of AWB Charlesworth Solicitors, speaking on behalf of Skipton Chamber of Trade added: “The Skipton Chamber of Trade and Commerce is pleased to hear that the House of Fraser building has been bought by Edinburgh Woollen Mill Group with the purpose of reopening as a retail store.

“Skipton’s retailers work tirelessly all year round to create our thriving high street so we welcome the good news that this significant building will be in use once again, creating jobs and contributing to the fantastic range of shops Skipton offers to local residents and tourists.”

A department store on the site of House of Fraser, fondly known as Rackhams, which was a division of the company, goes back for a number of generations with many Skiptonians being able to remember it as Amblers, and later the Bradford -based department store, Brown, Muff and Co.

Back in 1961 the Herald reported that Brown, Muffs had bought the former Amblers and had reopened with a few minor adjustments and ‘full of vigour’.

Director, Oliver Marriott, commenting a the time, told the Herald: “We have been more than pleased to have had the opportunity of talking to people and of finding out what they want. As newcomers, we are willing to learn and are anxious to have our customers’ guidance. “

The Herald also warmly welcomed the store, and wrote: “If their early days in Skipton are anything to go by, this is a shop worth watching. For many years, their main store in Bradford has set a standard which is highly regarded throughout the country; their coming to Skipton will certainly add to the attraction of the High Street and the town as a shopping centre for the Dales.”

Sadly, Brown, Muff’s suffered financially in the 1970s and the share holders were advised to sell to the House of Fraser.

In 1977, the business of Brown, Muff and Co was transferred to the Rackhams division of House of Fraser with all stores being re-branded Rackhams in 1978.

Poignantly, the last store in the Brown, Muff empire to still be open as a House of Fraser store was in Skipton.

Fast forward to 2018 and the ailing House of Fraser announces it is closing dozens of stores around the country.

The closures affecting 31 of the company’s 59 stores were part of a proposed Company Voluntary Arrangement. On June 22, Creditors gave the go ahead to axe more than half its store estate, which included Skipton.

Staff were informed about the impact of jobs by the plans which were part of a rescue plan for the embattled store chain which was said ‘needed to adapt to this fast-changing landscape in order to give it a future and allow it to thrive.’ according to chairman Frank Slevin.

But that wasn’t to be the end of the saga.

In August it was announced an 11th hour deal had been struck and billionaire businessman Mike Ashley, owner of Sports Direct and Newcastle United Football Club, had rescued the company out of administration and incorporated all the UK stores, including Skipton.

The Skipton branch was reprieved.

Skipton Business Improvement District manager and director Geraldine Thompson said: “This is fantastic news for the High Street, for Skipton as a whole, and of course for Rackhams staff.”

But the euphoria was short-lived and last September the closing down signs appeared, sounding the death knell.

The count-down had started and the store would finally close its doors three months later on December 6.

EWM Group has not given a time-line for reopening, but the hope is that it will be some time this year, spelling the start of a whole new era.