Another Knightsbridge institution, the origins of luxury fashion department store Harvey Nichols (known to many as ‘Harvey Nicks’) go back to the founding, by Benjamin Harvey, in 1831 of a small  linen shop in a terraced house on the corner of Knightsbridge and Sloane Street.

Such was his initial success that the shop expanded quickly, just four years later taking over the neighbouring property (it was to expand further in following years).

harvey-nicholsIn 1841, James Nichols from Oxfordshire joined the company; he was promoted to management just four years later and three years after that, in 1848, he married Harvey’s niece, Anne Beale.

When Harvey died in 1850, he left the business to his wife, also Anne, and she subsequently went into partnership with Nichols to form Harvey Nichols & Co.

Anne died in 1872 and Nichols in 1873 leaving Harvey’s son, Benjamin Charles Harvey, as sole remaining partner.

By 1874, Harvey Nichols occupied the entire block between Seville and Sloane Streets and, in 1889, the existing properties were all demolished to make way for a new purpose-built department store. Designed by architect CW Stephens (designer of Claridges), it was built between 1889 and 1894. In 1904, the address of the store was changed (while the location remained the same) to 109-125 Knightsbridge.

The store opened a range of new departments in 1919 – including haberdashery and hosiery, and was acquired by Debenhams in 1920.

The first restaurant – Harvey’s – opened on the fifth floor in 1975. It was famously a favourite of Princess Diana’s.

Harvey Nichols has since gone through several ownership changes – and following the latest when it was bought by Dickson Poon, of Dickson Concepts (International) Ltd, in 1991, the store was refurbished and a new restaurant, cafe, bar and food market opened on the fifth floor, complete with an express lift allowing it to stay open after the rest of the store had closed (the restaurant was refurbished in 2002).

Harvey Nichols now also has stores in Leeds, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol and Liverpool as well as Ireland, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong.

For more, see www.harveynichols.com.

harrods

Famed as a luxury shopping destination for the rich and famous, Harrods on Brompton Road in Knightsbridge takes its name from founder Charles Henry Harrod.

Harrod first established a drapery business in Southwark in 1824 and in 1832, founded Harrods & Co Grocers in Clerkenwell. Two years later he established another grocery, this time in Stepney, with a particular interest in tea.

harrods2In 1849, to capitalise on trade to the upcoming Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851, he took over a small shop on the site of the current store – initially with just two assistants and a messenger boy. In 1861 his son, the similarly-named Charles Digby Harrods, took over the business and by 1880, the store was employing more than 100 people offering customers everything from medicines and perfumes to clothing and food and already attracting the wealthy customers it would become known for.

Even the burning down of the store in late 1883, failed to dint its long-term success, and Harrod took the opportunity to build a capacious new building on the site. Designed by Charles Williams Stephens, the building, which wasn’t finished until 1905, featured Art Nouveau windows and was topped with a dome. One of its attractions opened on 16th November, 1898, when it became home to England’s first “moving staircase” (escalator). Nervous customers were apparently offered a brandy once they’d made the journey.

Harrods’ fame continued to grow and over the years a who’s who of London society has been associated with the store – everyone from writers like Oscar Wilde, and AA Milne, actors Ellen Terry, Charlie Chaplin and Laurence Olivier and luminaries such as the “father of psychoanalysis” Sigmund Freud and many members of the Royal family.

Under the motto of Omnia Omnibus Ubique (All Things for All People, Everywhere), the store became famous for selling whatever the customer wanted including, thanks to an exotic pets department which lasted up until the 1970s, a lemur called Mah-Jongg which was sold to Stephen and Virginia Courtauld in 1923 and lived with them at Eltham Palace and a lion called Christian to Australian expats John Rendall and Anthony “Ace” Bourke in 1969 (it was later set free in Kenya).

The ownership meanwhile has long since left the Harrods family – Charles Digby had sold his shares as far back as 1889 when the company was floated on the London Stock Exchange and renamed Harrods Stores Limited with Sir Alfred James Newton as chairman and Richard Burbridge as managing director. Burbridge was succeeded by his son in 1917 and he by his son in 1935.

In 1959, the company was bought by House of Fraser and in 1985, the store was sold to the Al-Fayed brothers (Mohamed Al-Fayed famously had two memorials created inside dedicated to Diana, Princess of Wales, and his son Dodi Fayed, both of whom died in a car crash in Paris in 1997. He also decided not to renew the company’s Royal warrants – it has had up to four). Current owners Qatar Holding, the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar, bought the company in 2010.

The company has opened a number of other Harrods stores over the years – including its only ever foreign branch (long since independent) in Argentina in 1914 and, in 2000, a shop aboard the ship RMS Queen Elizabeth 2.

The Knightsbridge store, meanwhile, has been twice bombed by the IRA – in 1983 when six were killed and scores more injured after a car bomb exploded in an adjoining street and in 1993 when a bomb was placed in a litter bin, injuring four. In 1989, it controversially introduced a dress code, banning casual wear like flip-flops and Bermuda shorts.

Now the largest department store in Europe, the Brompton Road store has more than million square feet of selling floor over seven stories. It attracts some 15 million customers a year to its more than 300 different departments and other facilities including more than 25 restaurants and cafes, a concierge, bank, spa and personal shopping service.

harrods3

With Remembrance Sunday having been observed earlier this month, we thought it was an appropriate time to take a quick look at the Peace Day Parade of 19th July, 1919, at which the Cenotaph – the National War Memorial – was first unveiled.

London-Victory-ParadeThe parade, organised by a Peace Celebrations Committee appointed by the War Cabinet, was seen as the high point of a series of celebrations to mark the end of the war which had only officially ended on 28th June with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.

Prime Minister David Lloyd George, on hearing French troops were to salute a ‘great catafalque’ (a raised structure upon which sits a coffin) built beside the Arc de Triomphe in honour of their war dead as part of their victory march, commissioned architect Edwin Lutyens to create a similar monument for the occasion.

Lutyens had apparently already started sketching, having been sounded out earlier about the possibility of such a structure, and eventually opted for a cenotaph, an empty tomb erected in honour of people buried elsewhere, in place of the catafalque.

The Cenotaph, one of a number of temporary structures built for the day, was unveiled in Whitehall early on the morning of Saturday, 19th July. Made of plaster and wood, it had been constructed in just two weeks (and, of course, it was replaced the following year with the stone Cenotaph which now stands there). Wreaths were soon piled high around its base.

As many as five million people reportedly turned out for the parade along a seven mile route from Knightsbridge (depicted above) through to Westminster and onto Buckingham Palace on Saturday – many of them had arrived from other parts of the country the previous night – and, eager not to miss out, had secured their space by sleeping in parks or streets overnight.

Also known as the London Victory Parade, the procession included some 15,000 Allied forces representing 12 victorious nations including, of course, Britain as well as France, the US, various European and Asian nations and small contingents from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Also marching were military commanders such as Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig – the British Commander-in-Chief, French Marshal Ferdinand Foch – Supreme Allied Commander during the last year of the war, and General John J Pershing, head of the American Expeditionary Force.

Some veterans apparently refused to take part, seeing the parade as “militaristic celebrations”.

After splitting into two columns and filing past the Cenotaph – inscribed with the words ‘The Glorious Dead”, those in the parade then marched down the Mall, which was lined with stands set aside for widows and orphans before King George V took their salute standing beneath a golden cupola erected at the base of the Victoria Memorial outside Buckingham Palace.

There’s still a weekend to go before Christmas and if, having finished all Christmas shopping, you’re still in the mood for seeing some light displays, here’s some more places to look for some amazing (and in some cases historic), Christmas decorations (for the first part of this overview, head here)…

Carnaby-StreetLast week we mentioned some of the key sites to look for light displays in the West End this Christmas. Some of the other places to look include: the iconic shopping strip of Carnaby Street (decorations there this year are inspired by the 50th anniversary of the Rolling Stones – pictured) as well as South Molton Street, off Oxford Street (which again features some beautiful illuminated archways), and streets throughout St James (the St James Christmas lights were this year switched on by opera star Katherine Jenkins who earlier led a carol service at St James’s Church) and Mayfair.

Around Bow Lane and Watling Street in the City of London. Daubed with more than 10,000 lights, these narrow streets provide a wonderful sense of London past.

Marylebone. The lights here are well worth venturing out for. Turned on this year by Strictly Come Dancing‘s Claudia Winkleman.

Historic West End arcades. Still a place for fashionable shopping and tasteful Christmas decor, these include the Burlington Arcade, Royal Arcade, Princes Arcade and the Piccadilly Arcade.

And, of course, throughout London many shops have Christmas window displays. They include that of Fortnum & Mason in Piccadilly which this year have a Dick Whittington theme (see our earlier post here); Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge which have gone with an oriental theme; Harrods in Brompton Road which have a Disney Princess theme; and Liberty in Great Marlborough Street which have gone with a theme inspired by the age of steam trains.

Of course, our list is by no means been comprehensive and is only confined to London’s heart – please share any other sensational Christmas decorations you’ve come across elsewhere in the city…

The London Olympics are almost upon us and having completed our series on the Queen to mark her Diamond Jubilee, we’re launching a new special looking at historic sporting events which took place in London and where they were carried out.

To kick it off, however, we thought we’d take a look at Olympics past. London has previously hosted the Games twice – 1908 and 1948. So this week we’re taking a look at the 1908 Games.

The 1908 Summer Olympics – officially recognised as the fourth “modern” Games – were initially to be held in Rome. But the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 1906 devastated the city of Naples and so the funds which were to be used for the Games had to be diverted to help the stricken community.

A number of candidates, including Milan and Berlin, were apparently considered before it was decided to hold the Games in White City in London’s west alongside the Franco-British Exhibition already being held in the area (the white marble clad buildings constructed for the exhibition buildings are what gave the area its name).

A new stadium – the White City Stadium – was constructed in just 10 months for the Games and was designed to accommodate 66,000 people. As well as the running track around the perimeter with which we are familiar today, there was also a cycle track located outside the running track while the infield hosted swimming and diving pools and a pitch where football, hockey, rugby and lacrosse could be played. Wrestling and gymnastics was also conducted in the middle of the stadium.

While many of the 110 events in 22 different sports – including athletics, archery, lacrosse, rugby union, swimming, water polo and  tug of war (the only time run at an Olympics, it was won by a City of London police team) – and were held at the stadium, a number were held elsewhere.

These included tennis (at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in Wimbledon – see yesterday’s post), rowing (at Henley), fencing (at the neighbouring British-Franco Exhibition) and jeu de paume or ‘real tennis’ (at the Queen’s Club in West Kensington).

The Games, which ran for six months from April to October, were noted for being the first in which Winter events were included (four figure skating events were held at the Prince’s Skating Club in Knightsbridge), for being the first at which the Olympic creed – “The important thing in life is not the triumph, but the fight; the essential thing is not to have won, but to have fought well” – was publicly proclaimed.

They were also the Olympics at which length of the marathon was set at 26 miles, 385 yards (the distance from a window outside the nursery at Windsor Castle, where the event was started to give the Royal Family a good view, to the stadium) and were the first Games in which spectators marching into the arena behind their country’s flag during the opening ceremony.

The marathon, incidentally, was particularly controversial with Italian Dorando Pietri finishing first after being assisted across the finish line by officials when he collapsed (he was disqualified but awarded a special cup for his efforts by Queen Alexandra). There was also controversy when the US team refused to dip their flag before King Edward VII in the opening ceremony. Judging disputes also led to the creation of standard rules and the introduction of neutral judges in subsequent Games.

White City Stadium initially fell into disuse but was subsequently used for greyhound racing and athletics. The site is now occupied by the BBC. There is a ‘Roll of Honour’, unveiled on the site in 2005, which commemorates the 1908 Games.

Oh, and the most medals were won by Great Britain who won 56 gold, 51 silver and 38 bronze while the US came next with 23 gold, 12 silver and 12 bronze.

You can check out the Olympic website for more including images – www.olympic.org/london-1908-summer-olympics.

And so Christmas is on our doorstep. The Christmas lights in the West End were officially turned on last week and lights have started appearing all over the city, including in Sloane Square (pictured) in the city’s west, where the treetops are all a glitter. The square was named for Sir Hans Sloane (see our earlier post on him here). We’re looking for your pictures of London’s Christmas lights to post here over the coming weeks. Simply send in pictures to exploringlondon@virginmedia.com and we’ll post the best of them!

This year marks the 160th anniversary of the transfer of the care of the Royal Parks to the government (meaning the public was freely able to enjoy access for the first time). To celebrate, over the next weeks we’ll be taking a look at the history of each of them. First up is the 142 hectare Hyde Park, perhaps the most famous of all eight Royal Parks.

Formerly owned by Westminster Abbey, King Henry VIII seized the land in 1536 for use as a private hunting ground. He had it enclosed with fences and the Westbourne Stream, which ran through the park – it now runs underground – dammed.

It remained the king and queen’s private domain (Queen Elizabeth I is known to have reviewed troops there) until King James I appointed a ranger to look after the park and permitted limited access to certain members of the nobility in the early 17th century.

The park’s landscaping remained largely unaltered until the accession of King Charles I – he created what is known as the ‘ring’ – a circular track where members of the royal court could drive their carriages. In 1637, he also opened the park to the public (less than 30 years later, in 1665, it proved a popular place for campers fleeing the Great Plague in London).

During the ensuring Civil War, the Parliamentarians created forts in the park to help defend the city against the Royalists – some evidence of their work still remains in the raised bank next to Park Lane.

After King William III and Queen Mary II moved their court to Kensington Palace (formerly Nottingham House) in the late 1600s, they had 300 oil lamps installed along what we know as “Rotten Row’ – the first artificially lit road in the country – to enable them and their court to travel safely between the palace and Westminster.

The natural looking Serpentine – the great, 11.34 hectare, lake in the middle of Hyde Park (pictured) – was created in the 1730s on the orders of Queen Caroline, wife of King George II, as part of extensive work she had carried out there. It was Queen Caroline who also divided off what we now know as Kensington Gardens from Hyde Park, separating the two with a ha-ha (a ditch).

The next major changes occurred in the 1820s when King George IV employed architect and garden designer Decimus Burton to create the monumental park entrance at Hyde Park Corner – the screen still remains in its original position while Wellington Arch was moved from a parallel position to where it now stands (see our previous posts for more on that). Burton also designed a new railing fence and several lodges and gates for the park. A bridge across the Serpentine, meanwhile, was built at about the same time along with a new road, West Carriage Drive, formally separating Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.

While the basic layout of the park has been largely unchanged since, there have been some additions – among them, the establishment in 1872 of Speaker’s Corner as a place to speak your mind in the north-east corner of the park (near Marble Arch), the creation in 1930 of the Lido for bathing in warm weather, and, more recently, the building of the Diana, Princess of Wales’ Memorial Fountain (unveiled in 2004), and the 7 July Memorial (unveiled in July 2009).

Other sculptures in the park include Isis (designed by Simon Gudgeon, located on the south side of the Serpentine), the Boy and Dolphin Fountain (designed by Alexander Munro, it stands in the Rose Garden), and a monumental statue of Achilles, a memorial to the Duke of Wellington designed by Richard Westmacott, near Park Lane. There are also memorials to the Holocaust, Queen Caroline, and the Cavalry as well as a Norwegian War Memorial and a mosaic marking the site of the Reformer’s Tree (the tree was burnt down during the Reform League Riots of 1866).

The park has been integral part of any national celebrations for centuries – in 1814 a fireworks display there marked the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the Great Exhibition – with the vast Crystal Palace – was held there in 1851 and in 1977 a Silver Jubilee Exhibition was held marking Queen Elizabeth II’s 25 year reign. Cannons are fire there on June 2nd to mark the Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation and on 10th June for the Duke of Edinburgh’s birthday.

Facilities these days include rowing and pedal boats, tennis courts, deck chairs, a restaurant and cafe (the latter based in the Lido) and, of course, some Boris bikes. There is a heritage walk through the park which can be downloaded from the Royal Parks website.

WHERE: Hyde Park (nearest tube stations are that of Marble Arch, Hyde Park Corner, Lancaster Gate, Knightsbridge and South Kensington); WHEN: 5am to midnight; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.gov.uk/Hyde-Park.aspx?page=main

PICTURE: Courtesy of Royal Parks. © Indusfoto Ltd 

Now famed for its shopping and proximity to museums, the former village of Knightsbridge takes its name from a bridge which once spanned the Westbourne River (a river now located underground which flows from Hampstead down through Sloane Square to enter the Thames at Chelsea) and linked the village of Kensington with London.

While the origins of the bridge’s name remain shrouded in mystery (the bridge itself reportedly stood at what is today Albert Gate), the anecdotal stories which might explain it include a tale that two knights once fought here and another which attributes the name to the fact that the area was thought so unsafe that to come without a knight was considered foolhardy. Indeed the name Knightsbridge was once synonymous with highwayman and robbers waiting to plunder passersby.

While the name is apparently not mentioned in the Doomsday Book, by the 13th century it is listed as a manor belonging to the monks at Westminster Abbey (this was apparently a gift from King Edward I – in fact some accounts have the area also recorded as King’s Bridge, Kyngesbrigg). One of the key events which the area apparently hosted was the meeting of Empress Matilda with representatives of London’s citizens in 1141 during her ongoing fight for supremacy with King Stephen.

The area remained relatively rural – and as a village in its own right – until the late 18th century when the area finally became joined to the ever-expanding metropolis.

These days Knightsbridge is little more than a road and a strip of highly developed land to the south (Westminster City Council’s Knightsbridge conservation area, which contains more than 275 listed buildings, runs as far east as Queen’s Gate) but it does boast some very high end shopping – think Harrods (pictured), founded in 1824 and opened on the current site almost 30 years later, and Harvey Nichols, founded in 1813.

There’s also some very grand late Victorian residential real estate (much of which is owned by the the Duke of Westminster and Earl Cadogan), which, along with new developments, have made Knightsbridge one of the highest price property markets in London (and indeed, the world).

The eastern end of Knightsbridge – Westminster Council include Royal Albert Hall in its Knightsbridge Conservation Zone – runs into the museum district of South Kensington, home to some of London’s best museums, including the Victoria & Albert Museum and the National History Museum.

PICTURE: Wikipedia