The Davies-Bryan Building

165 Mohamed Farid/Emal El-Din Street, Downtown, Cairo, Egypt: Designed by the Welsh-Architect Robert Williams in 1911, currently owned by Al Ismaelia Real Estate Trading Group awaiting restoration

"Another block away is the St. David's building. It began with a small shop--a haberdashery, fixed-price--in the Continental-Savoy.The owner was a Welshman, John Davies Bryan. After succeeding in his hotel shop, Bryan imported two of his brothers and opened a new shop in Alexandria. He then hired Robert Williams to design a grand store in Cairo, the St. David, which was completed in 1910. Deaths brought the business into a long slow decline, and by the 1920s space was rented to the Eastern Telegraph Company and the YMCA. A smaller store survived on the premises under the name Davies Bryan until 1961, when a state-owned insurance company moved in."

"John Davies Bryan, a Welshman, had run a small shop at No. 12 Bridge Street, Caernarfon, Wales. Shortly after he disembarked in Egypt, Bryan opened a shop in Cairo’s Continental Hotel under the trademark name of Davies Bryan which sold an array of imported goods including men’s and ladies’ hats, travel gear, draperies, hosiery and shoes. His fixed price policy eventually earned him his sterling reputation. As business expanded, Bryan sent for two of his brothers, Edward and Joseph. In Alexandria they opened a large store on Cherif Pasha Street. In Cairo, the Bryans commissioned Williams to design the building, which was completed in 1910.

Soon enough, Davies Bryan of Cairo was the pride of Emad El Din Street where most elegant shops were situated. The largest of its kind, the store occupied 1,900 square meters fronting three streets, Magrabi (now Adly), Emad Al Din (now Mohammed Farid) and Al Manakh (now Abdel Khalek Tharwat). Just above eye level, the building’s facades were decorated with ornate stucco motifs. One can still make out shields with roses, thistles, shamrocks and leeks. While most shields are engraved with the initials “D”, “B”, “MGA”, “EJ”, and “AB”, two of them have “Davies Bryan 1910” written on them in Arabic and in English. A larger shield overlooking Mohammed Farid Streets sports the following inscriptions: “YGRWIRYN”, “ERBYN”, “YBYD”. These are Welsh words for “truth against the world”. Another shield has three lines drawn on it, one vertical and two diagonal. This is the logo of the Welsh National Gorsedd of Bards (or Eisteddof), an important annual Welsh cultural festival.

After the death of the three brothers, Davies Bryan and Co. gradually wound up its activities in Egypt. Fred Purslow had been chief accountant for the Bryan brothers before buying a share in the business in 1929. It was mostly thanks to him and his associate that the trade name of Davies Bryan & Co. lived on until the 1950’s. In 1957 or thereabouts, two prosperous Syrian brothers, the Chourbaguis, purchased the building. In 1961, the building was taken over by a state-owned insurance company and was returned in the past decade to the Chourbaguis who then sold it to the Company in 2008. Several of the shields above the building’s main entrance were painted over with the inscriptions “Chourbagi”."

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