Who doesn’t love a mooch round their favorite division retailer? When the pandemic restrictions lifted final 12 months, I headed as much as city for a success of much-missed, immersive glamour. Nothing beats a sluggish glide up the escalators, sniffing French fragrance in your wrist, previous outrageous mannequins and oligarchs (Selfridges) – particularly while you’ve been caught at residence for six months.
However Twenty first-century Oxford Avenue is a modified panorama. As soon as, malls marched its total size, and their names used to roll off the tongue: Marshall & Snelgrove, Bourne & Hollingsworth, Peter Robinson, Waring & Gillow, D. H. Evans (latterly Home of Fraser). The ‘Golden Mile’ was famed for its dazzling buying supply. Put up-pandemic, simply Selfridges and John Lewis have survived.
We’ve misplaced an astonishing 83% of our malls over the previous six years, from the large chains (Debenhams, Military & Navy, Beales) to cherished independents like Jenners of Edinburgh and Boswells of Oxford. ‘However Mum,’ says my 13-year-old daughter, rolling her eyes. ‘Department shops are so final century.’ Procuring has, as we all know, moved on.
I’ve spent the previous two years immersed within the golden age of buying, researching my e-book on London’s misplaced malls. And, unexpectedly, it’s made me massively nostalgic for this decorous retail mannequin on the cusp of extinction. Proper from the beginning, these ‘Halls of Temptation’ had been designed to seduce. Stuffed stuffed with extraordinary improvements – from the primary kids’s bicycle (Gamages, 1898), to the primary vacuum cleaner (Gorringes, 1903) to the primary Y-fronts (Simpsons, 1937). Santa’s Grotto was invented by the division retailer: J.R. Roberts of Stratford put Father Christmas in a darkened cavern lit by lanterns in 1888. Some 17,000 kids visited.
Whereas the West Finish’s emporia dazzled, among the most go-getting companies sprang up within the suburbs. Right here, the large retailer was the group lynchpin, cossetting clients with items and providers (furnishings restore, marriage ceremony truffles, coal supply, clock winding), plus, the possibility of a job for all times. Most of us know somebody who labored, nonetheless briefly, in a division retailer, and all of us have our personal childhood reminiscences of such locations.
Croydon’s massive ‘homes’ had been notably good. There was Allders, with its sweeping, colonnaded entrance; Grants, well-known for bespoke tailoring; and Kennards, ‘The shop that entertained to promote, and bought to entertain’. Up on the roof or ‘Playground within the Sky’, you’d discover Wild West exhibits, a zoo and Punch & Judy. Downstairs, Mademoiselle Veronica of the Folies Bergère, the World’s Highest Kicker, could be attempting out the hosiery division’s vary of silk stockings at 100 kicks a minute. Outdoors, two circus elephants could possibly be blocking the road, publicising a ‘Jumbo Sale’.
These had been phenomenal, shocking, emancipating locations. Edwardian ladies might linger, un-chaperoned, all day (thanks Mr Selfridge for the primary girls’ lav, 1909). But when I might teleport again in time, the place would I am going? Lunch on the luxurious, Artwork Deco Shinners of Sutton? A vogue present at Holdrons of Peckham, with its Moderne ‘Lenscrete’ vaulted ceilings (right now Khan’s Bargains)? Or a shoplifting spree within the louche gloom of 70s Large Biba, on Kensington Excessive Avenue, full with Moorish roof backyard and flamingos?
In the event you’re fortunate sufficient to nonetheless dwell close to a division retailer, go mooch round its classic ecosystem. We are able to take none of those locations as a right.
This e-book is for London-lovers, structure buffs, historical past flâneurs, fashionistas, former loyal staff, Are You Being Served obsessives, and anybody who has ever cherished driving the escalator up, up, up.
London’s Lost Department Stores: A Vanished World of Dazzle and Dreams (Safe Haven Press, £16.99) The writer has kindly supplied three books to divulge to TNMA readers. In the event you’d prefer to win one, please remark under earlier than 10 December 2022.
Journalist and social historian Tessa Boase lives in Hastings along with her household.