An advert for D.H Evans – which disappeared from Oxford Road in 2001
Who doesn’t love a mooch round their favorite division retailer? When the pandemic restrictions lifted final yr, I headed as much as city for successful of much-missed, immersive glamour. Nothing beats a gradual glide up the escalators, sniffing French fragrance in your wrist, previous outrageous mannequins and oligarchs (Selfridges) – particularly once you’ve been caught at residence for six months.
However Twenty first-century Oxford Road is a modified panorama. As soon as, shops marched its complete 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 purchasing provide. Submit-pandemic, simply Selfridges and John Lewis have survived.
We’ve misplaced an astonishing 83% of our shops 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.’ Buying has, as we all know, moved on.
Credit score: Photograph by Glenn Copus/ANL/Shutterstock. The Central Atrium Of London’s Dickins & Jones Division Retailer
I’ve spent the previous two years immersed within the golden age of purchasing, researching my guide on London’s misplaced shops. And, unexpectedly, it’s made me vastly 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 filled 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, a number of the most go-getting companies sprang up within the suburbs. Right here, the large retailer was the neighborhood lynchpin, cossetting clients with items and providers (furnishings restore, wedding ceremony muffins, 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 significantly sensible. There was Allders, with its sweeping, colonnaded entrance; Grants, well-known for bespoke tailoring; and Kennards, ‘The shop that entertained to promote, and offered 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, can be making an attempt 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’.
Allders division retailer – established 1862 and closed 2012
These had been phenomenal, stunning, emancipating locations. Edwardian girls 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’m going? Lunch on the luxurious, Artwork Deco Shinners of Sutton? A style present at Holdrons of Peckham, with its Moderne ‘Lenscrete’ vaulted ceilings (right this moment Khan’s Bargains)? Or a shoplifting spree within the louche gloom of 70s Large Biba, on Kensington Excessive Road, full with Moorish roof backyard and flamingos?
In case you’re fortunate sufficient to nonetheless reside close to a division retailer, go mooch round its classic ecosystem. We are able to take none of those locations with no consideration.
This guide is for London-lovers, structure buffs, historical past flâneurs, fashionistas, former loyal employees, Are You Being Served obsessives, and anybody who has ever cherished driving the escalator up, up, up.