May 18, 2024


Built General Tough

Lamenting the loss of London’s Department Stores — That’s Not My Age

Lamenting the loss of London's Department Stores — That’s Not My Age

An advert for D.H Evans – which disappeared from Oxford Avenue in 2001

Who does not like a mooch all over their favourite office retail store? When the pandemic limits lifted final yr, I headed up to city for a strike of a lot-missed, immersive glamour. Almost nothing beats a sluggish glide up the escalators, sniffing French perfume on your wrist, past outrageous mannequins and oligarchs (Selfridges) – specifically when you’ve been caught at home for six months.

But 21st-century Oxford Street is a improved landscape. The moment, department stores marched its overall length, and their names applied to roll off the tongue: Marshall & Snelgrove, Bourne & Hollingsworth, Peter Robinson, Waring & Gillow, D. H. Evans (latterly Household of Fraser). The ‘Golden Mile’ was famed for its stunning shopping provide. Submit-pandemic, just Selfridges and John Lewis have survived.

We’ve shed an astonishing 83% of our department retailers in excess of the previous six many years, from the significant chains (Debenhams, Military & Navy, Beales) to cherished independents like Jenners of Edinburgh and Boswells of Oxford. ‘But Mum,’ claims my 13-year-previous daughter, rolling her eyes. ‘Department outlets are so last century.’ Browsing has, as we know, moved on.

And yet…


Credit history: Image by Glenn Copus/ANL/Shutterstock. The Central Atrium Of London’s Dickins & Jones Section Store

I’ve put in the past two years immersed in the golden age of shopping, studying my e-book on London’s misplaced department merchants. And, unexpectedly, it’s manufactured me vastly nostalgic for this decorous retail design on the cusp of extinction. Suitable from the commence, these ‘Halls of Temptation’ were created to seduce. Stuffed complete of remarkable improvements – from the 1st children’s bicycle (Gamages, 1898), to the initial vacuum cleaner (Gorringes, 1903) to the initial Y-fronts (Simpsons, 1937). Santa’s Grotto was invented by the division retail outlet: J.R. Roberts of Stratford place Father Xmas in a darkened cavern lit by lanterns in 1888. Some 17,000 small children visited.

While the West End’s emporia dazzled, some of the most go-receiving organizations sprang up in the suburbs. Right here, the big shop was the local community lynchpin, cossetting clients with merchandise and products and services (home furnishings mend, marriage cakes, coal delivery, clock winding), additionally, the opportunity of a work for lifestyle. Most of us know somebody who worked, however briefly, in a office store, and all of us have our have childhood memories of these kinds of areas.

Croydon’s massive ‘houses’ were being significantly outstanding. There was Allders, with its sweeping, colonnaded entrance Grants, popular for bespoke tailoring and Kennards, ‘The store that entertained to sell, and offered to entertain’. Up on the roof or ‘Playground in the Sky’, you’d locate Wild West shows, a zoo and Punch & Judy. Downstairs, Mademoiselle Veronica of the Folies Bergère, the World’s Greatest Kicker, would be hoping out the hosiery department’s array of silk stockings at 100 kicks a moment. Exterior, two circus elephants could be blocking the street, publicising a ‘Jumbo Sale’.


Allders division retail outlet – proven 1862 and shut 2012


These were being phenomenal, stunning, emancipating areas. Edwardian females could linger, un-chaperoned, all day (thank you Mr Selfridge for the initially ladies’ lav, 1909). But if I could teleport back again in time, exactly where would I go? Lunch at the luxurious, Artwork Deco Shinners of Sutton? A style clearly show at Holdrons of Peckham, with its Moderne ‘Lenscrete’ vaulted ceilings (currently Khan’s Bargains)? Or a shoplifting spree in the louche gloom of 70s Big Biba, on Kensington Large Street, finish with Moorish roof back garden and flamingos?

If you are blessed adequate to nevertheless live in the vicinity of a section keep, go mooch around its vintage ecosystem. We can get none of these areas for granted.



This reserve is for London-fans, architecture buffs, record flâneurs, fashionistas, former faithful personnel, Are You Getting Served obsessives, and anybody who has at any time liked riding the escalator up, up, up.

London’s Misplaced Division Stores: A Vanished World of Dazzle and Goals (Safe and sound Haven Press, £16.99)  The publisher has kindly available 3 publications to give away to TNMA audience. If you’d like to acquire 1, remember to remark down below prior to 10 December 2022.



Tessa Boase carrying a gilet from Maku


Journalist and social historian Tessa Boase lives in Hastings with her loved ones.