A department store that was an institution of Hitchin life for a century and a half has closed its doors for the last time.

Town crier Alan Myatt was out with his bell and horn on Saturday, exhorting shoppers to make one last visit to Hawkins of Hitchin on the store’s last day after 155 years.

Surrounded by his staff in the Bucklersbury premises, an emotional Peter Hawkins thanked the people of Hitchin for their invaluable support over the years.

“It has meant a lot – not just to me, but to the family,” he said.

“As we all know, as one door closes, many more open. I know everybody around, particularly all my wonderful staff – all of you – have their own individual futures to look forward to.

“I would like to say I wish them very, very good luck and a huge amount of success in what they do in the future – and I’d like to wish that to everybody here as well. Thank you for your support today.”

During the final hour before closing time at 3pm, the Stevenage Male Voice Choir serenaded Hawkins out of the high street and into history.

Peter, 61, represented the fifth generation of the Hawkins family to run the department store in Bucklersbury, which clothed many a Hitchin schoolchild.

His great-great-grandfather George started out as a pawnbroker at 8 Bucklersbury in 1863, and over several expansions it grew to 8,000 sq ft by 1990 – stretching up to 2 Bucklersbury.

Hawkins’ closure came about as Peter, who had been involved for 27 years, decided to retire.

Speaking to the Comet when he decision to close was announced late last year, he said: “Hitchin’s a wonderful town to be part of, and it’s been an incredibly difficult decision to take.

“The community has been so strong. We were one of the first towns to have something like the Hitchin Initiative, a partnership between council and community. That was groundbreaking at the time and it’s been wonderful to be a part of it.

“The highlight for me is the way the business has grown and prospered, but it’s important how the town has moved and prospered too.

“It’s a tough day, but it’s time to move on.”

Town centre manager Keith Hoskins said: “Peter has been an outstanding champion for Hitchin – a guaranteed supporter of so many Hitchin causes and organisations. He has earned his retirement.”

Hitchin’s new school uniform supplier is Beat School Uniforms, in Hermitage Road.

It is not yet clear what will happen to the Hawkins buildings.