Designed by Witherdon Young, this 24 metre long arcade on the Strand was built in 1830 and was famously topped with glass domes. 

Named after Lord Lowther, Chief Commissioner of the Woods and Forests, when this section of the Strand was improved, the arcade’s 24 small shops initially sold luxury goods and various items but by the mid 19th century they were nearly all toyshops, making this a popular place for children (and particularly so, one might assume, at Christmas time!).

The northern part of the arcade was initially home to the Adelaide Gallery, described as a “National Gallery of Practical Science, Blending Instructions with Amusements” – this part of the building later became an amusement hall and then a puppet theatre.

The arcade was demolished in 1904 to make way for the construction of Coutts Bank.

PICTURE: Lowther Arcade as seen in an engraving published in a periodical in 1832.

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Christmas is looming so we thought we’d take a look at which street in London’s West End has had Christmas lights for the longest. And, no surprises, it’s Regent Street which first lit up in 1954.

Apparently prompted by a newspaper article decrying the drabness of London’s streets at Christmas, local traders got together and, via the Regent Street Association, financed the first display. Oxford Street followed in 1959.

An economic downturn meant Regent Street’s lights (and those of Oxford Street) were turned off for almost a decade but the display was resumed in 1979 and have been a part of London’s Christmases ever since.

These days the Regent Street lights are generally geared around a theme and the ceremony at which they are officially turned on has become quite an affair with celebrities performing the honours. This year singer Paloma Faith was the special guest at the ceremony with the aid of Clean Bandit.

The decorations, switched on in mid-November and featuring 300,000 LED lights, are based around “The Spirit of Christmas” theme for the second year in a row.

PICTURED: Last year’s light display/Ungry Young Man (licensed under CC BY 2.0).

Works including a recently acquired portrait of Prince Edward (later King Edward VIII) which was painted on the Western Front during World War I, a self-portrait in stained glass of artist and actor Pauline Boty (pictured), and three life-sized World War I portraits of military officers which have been reunited for the first time in decades, are among highlights of the National Portrait Gallery’s new early 20th century galleries. Four new rooms – split into the ‘Early 20th Century’, ‘The Great War’, ‘The Interwar Years’, and the ‘Second World War and Post-War Recovery’ – hold 121 portraits which have been hung chronologically and feature everyone from Virginia Woolf to Sir Winston Churchill, Dame Christabel Pankhurst to Sir Ernest Shackleton. Along with Frank O Salisbury’s oil sketch of Prince Edward, Boty’s stained glass portrait (the gallery’s first), and the three group portraits from World War I,  highlights of the gallery include a 1913 portrait of the Royal Family at Buckingham Palace by Sir John Lavery, a 1931 portrait of Aldous Huxley by Vanessa Bell and a portrait of Roald Dahl in RAF uniform by Matthew Smith. Admission to the galleries is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk. PICTURE: Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery.

The “most comprehensive” exhibition of the work of French artist Amedeo Modigliani opens at the Tate Modern today. Modigliani features 100 works including portraits, some of his lesser known sculptures and 10 of his controversial nude paintings, the largest group of such ever shown in the UK. The exhibition re-evaluates Modigliani’s work and experimentation and includes well known and lesser known works with more than 40 of them never seen in the UK before. The works on show include Bust of a Young Woman (1908), Jean Cocteau (1916), and Boy with a Blue Jacket (1919). Runs until 2nd April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

Former iconic Carnaby Street shop Lord John has been honoured with a City of Wesminster Green Plaque. Lord John, which dressed everyone from The Rolling Stones to the Beatles and The Kinks, was opened by brothers Warren, David and Harold Gold in 1964. The plaque can be seen at 43 Carnaby Street.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

The Lord Mayor’s Show takes place this Saturday as the new Lord Mayor of London, Charles Bowman, takes office with the event once again culminating in a spectacular fireworks display over the Thames. The Lord Mayor will arrive in the City at 9am via a flotilla which includes the QRB Gloriana and other traditional Thames barges. Riding in the splendid State Coach, the Lord Mayor then joins in the world famous procession which sets off from Mansion House at 11am, pausing at the Royal Courts where he swears allegiance to the monarch before returning via Victoria Embankment at 1pm. The fireworks display will start at 5.15pm from a barge moored between Blackfriars and Waterloo Bridges. For more details, head to https://lordmayorsshow.london. Meanwhile, on Sunday, annual Remembrance Sunday services will be held around the country centred on the Cenotaph in Whitehall where, in a break with tradition, Prince Charles is expected to lay a wreath on behalf of the Queen who, along with Prince Philip, will be watching from the balcony of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office building.

More than 50 portraits by Paul Cézanne have gone on show in a landmark exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. Cézanne Portraits features works previously unseen in the UK including three self-portraits – one of which is Self Portrait in a Bowler Hat (1885-86) –  and two portraits of his wife –  Madame Cézanne Sewing (1877) and Madame Cézanne (1886–7) – as well as Boy in a Red Waistcoat (1888-90) and Madame Cézanne in a Yellow Chair, both of which haven’t been seen in London since the 1930s. The exhibition, which includes paintings spanning the period from the 1860s until shortly before Cézanne’s death in 1906, explores the special pictorial and thematic characteristics of the artist’s portraiture work such as his use of complementary pairs and his creation of multiple versions of works featuring the same subject. The exhibition, which has already been on show at the Musée d’Orsay and will be at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC from late March next year, runs until 11th February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.npg.org.uk. PICTURE: Self-Portrait with Bowler Hat by Paul Cézanne, 1885-6, © Private Collection 

The use of venom as the ultimate natural weapon is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the Natural History Museum on Friday. Venom: Killer and Cure explores how the use and effects of venom, the different biological roles it plays and how humans have attempted to harness and neutralise its power, with the former including some remarkable medical innovations. Specimens on show include everything from snakes to spiders, wasps, scorpions and the duck-billed platypus as well as live example of a venomous creature. Highlights include a gaboon viper head – a snake species with the largest known venom fangs, an emperor scorpion which engages in unusual mating behaviour known as “sexual stingings”, a flower urchin which can inject venom that causes muscular paralysis in humans for up to six hours, a tarantula hawk wasp which has one of the most painful venomous stings, and a box jellyfish, larger specimens of which can cause death in humans in two to five minutes. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nhm.ac.uk.

Coinciding with the centenary of the Russian Revolution comes a new exhibition at the Tate Modern which offers a visual history of Russia and the Soviet Union. Red Star Over Russia: A Revolution in Visual Culture 1905-55 is based around the collection of late graphic designer David King (1943-2016) and charts how seismic events such as the overthrow of the last Tsar, the revolutionary risings of 1917 and Stalin’s campaign of terror inspired a wave of art and graphic design across the country. The display includes more than 250 posters, paintings, photographs, books and other ephemera by artists such as El Lissitzky, Aleksandr Rodchenko and Nina Vatolina. Runs until 18th February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

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Seventeenth century politician, diplomat and royal courtier, Henry Jermyn’s influence can still be seen in London’s West End today.

Jermyn was born as the fourth, but second surviving, son of courtier Sir Thomas Jermyn, of Rushbrook, Suffolk, and his wife Catherine, in early 1605. He was baptised soon after at St Margaret’s Lothbury in London in late March of that year.

Having already been among several diplomatic missions, he entered the political world at about the age of 20 in 1625, when he was elected member for Bodmin in Cornwall – the first of several seats he (and his brother Thomas) would hold around the country.

He joined the household of Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I, in 1627, becoming her vice-chamberlain in 1628, and Master of the Horse to the Queen in 1639 (although he apparently spent a couple of years in exile in France during this period when he refused to obey the King and marry another courtier).

An ardent royalist, in 1641, he participated in a plot against Parliament and was forced to flee to France. In 1642, he joined the Queen in The Hague and returned to England with her in 1643 as the Civil War raged.

His loyalty was rewarded on 6th September that year when he was raised to the peerage as Baron Jermyn of St Edmundsbury (he was apparently wounded just 10 days later at the Battle of Aldbourne Chase). He was made the Queen’s Lord Chamberlain in early 1644 and in April that year accompanied the Queen to France where he helped her raise money for the Royalist cause.

He was made Governor of Jersey in 1645 (a post in which he succeeded his father), although it was a role he apparently had little interest in, at one point proposing selling the island to France.

In 1649, it was apparently Jermyn who had to give the Queen the news of King Charles I’s execution. Her closest advisor, it was subsequently falsely rumoured that he had secretly married the Queen – some even went so far to suggest he had fathered her children.

Jermyn became a member of King Charles II’s Privy Council in 1652 and, in 1659, just before the Restoration, he was created the Earl of St Albans. Created ambassador to France in 1661, he would go on to play a key role in helping King Charles II negotiate the secret 1670 Treaty of Dover with the French King Louis XIV.

In the early 1660s he was rewarded with land grants including land located to the north of St James’s Palace in London. He encouraged the development of the area, centred on St James’s Square and surrounding streets including Jermyn Street – such was his impact on the area that he became known as the “Father of the West End”.

He returned to France with Queen Henrietta Maria in 1665 and was present when the Queen died on 31st August, 1669, at Colombe in France. He subsequently returned to England and served as Lord Chamberlain to King Charles II between 1672-74 as well as, in 1672, being invested as a Knight of the Garter.

Jermyn, who never married, was generally said to have been a prolific gambler (and, some said, a glutton) and while he attempted to retire more than once to Rushbrook, the lure of London’s gaming tables proved too strong.

He died in his house in St James’s Square on 2nd January, 1684, and was buried at Rushbrook. While his earldom became extinct, his barony passed to his nephew Thomas Jermyn.

PICTURE: A City of Westminster Green Plaque located at the site of Henry Jermyn’s former home in St James’s Square.  (Simon Harriyott/licenced under CC BY 2.0

Jane Austen featured numerous London locations in her novels. Here’s five…

Brunswick Square, Bloomsbury. In Emma, the main protagonist’s married sister, Isabella, lives here with her lawyer husband John Knightley and children. Isabella is well pleased with her home, noting “We are so very airy”.

Hill Street, Mayfair. Admiral Crawford, uncle of Henry and Mary Crawford, lives in this street in Mansfield Park.

Harley Street, Marylebone (pictured). John and Fanny Dashwood took a house in this street for the “season” in Sense and Sensibility.

Bond Street. Well known to Austen, she has Marianne, then upset over Willoughby (who has lodgings here), visit here on a shopping trip in Sense and Sensibility.

Grosvenor Street, Mayfair. The Hursts have a house in this fashionable West End street in Pride and Prejudice and here Jane Bennet visits Caroline Bingley hoping to see her brother Charles. Read the rest of this entry »

This Grade II*-listed pub originally dates from the early 18th century but the current building was constructed in the 1860s and still retains many features dating from that period.

The name for this pub, located at 18 Argyll Street just south-west of Oxford Circus, comes from John Campbell, 2nd Duke of Argyll, one of the Duke of Marlborough’s leading generals and the owner of the land on which the street (and pub) now stands.

The London mansion of the dukes was located where the London Palladium now stands and there is a legend that there was a tunnel between the house, which was eventually demolished in 1864, and the pub.

While the pub has undergone some alterations since it was built, mid-19th century features inside include etched glass separating the booths and an ornate plaster ceiling.

The pub is now part of the Nicholson chain. For more, head here.

PICTURES: Top – Russell Davies/Flickr/; Right – Michael Flynn/Flickr/(CC BY-NC 2.0)

It’s said to be the “only reasonably certain portrait from life” – a sketch by Jane’s older sister Cassandra which purportedly depicts the artist.

Found on display in Room 18 of the National Portrait Gallery, the pencil and watercolour sketch dates from about 1810 and was purchased by the gallery in 1948 for £135.

The image was the basis for a late 19th century water-colour image of Jane which was created by Maidenhead artist James Andrews who traced Cassandra’s sketch.

Andrew’s image had been commissioned by Jane’s nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh, and he used an engraving of it – made by William Home Lizars – as a frontispiece to his biography, A Memoir of Jane Austen.

It is an image of that engraving which features on the new £10 polymer banknote going into circulation tomorrow.

The decision to use the later image rather than the original has attracted some criticism – not for the subject but for the fact that, as historian Lucy Worsley told The Sunday Times, it represents “an author publicity portrait after she died in which she’s been given the Georgian equivalent of an airbrushing”.

There has, we should also note, been some criticism of the choice of quote on the note – “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading” comes from Pride and Prejudice and was uttered by the deceitful Caroline Bingley who really has no interest in reading at all!

WHERE: Room 18, National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place (nearest Tube station is Charing Cross or Leicester Square); WHEN: 10am to 6pm daily; COST: Free (donations welcome); WEBSITE: www.npg.org.uk

PICTURE: Jane Austen by Cassandra Austen (pencil and watercolour, circa 1810 – NPG 3630) © National Portrait Gallery, London

Jane Austen was known as a patron of London’s theatre – in some cases attending shows several times a week while in the city (despite the fact that many, based on her writings – in particular Mansfield Park, believe she wasn’t really a fan).

She is known to have visited a number of West End establishments to see performances. They included:

The Lyceum Theatre: Jane visited this Wellington Street theatre more than once and expressed her frustration on one occasion of her failure to see the incomparable Sarah Siddons perform there.

The Covent Garden Theatre: The theatre Jane attended was a second iteration, opening in 1809 on the site of what is now the Royal Opera House adjacent to the market as a replacement for the previous theatre which, dating back to 1732, had burned down.

The Theatre Royal Drury Lane: The oldest of London’s theatres still in use, Jane saw the great actor Edmund Kean famously perform here as Shylock in the Shakespearian play, The Merchant of Venice, in 1814.

 

Jane Austen is known to have patronised many shops while in London (mainly concerned with fabrics) – here’s just a few…

Twinings – The Austen family is known to have bought their tea from the famous merchant’s 300-year-old premises which still stands in the Strand near Temple Bar; a letter survives which Jane wrote to her sister Cassandra in reference to an order.

Newton’s – A linen drapers formerly located at 14 Coventry Street just off Leicester Square. Jane is known to have visited here with her sister Fanny.

Wilding & Kent – Upmarket drapers, located in Grafton House on the corner of New Bond and Grafton Streets. Jane, who is known to have visited frequently, complained of the queues there.

Layton & Shear’s – A fashionable mercer’s shop located at 9 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, conveniently located next door to where Jane lived for a time with her brother Henry.

There are others – this is just a sample!

 

As you may have realised (the new £10 banknote anyone?), this month marks 200 years since the death of Jane Austen in Winchester on 18th July, 1817, so to mark the occasion, we’re looking at 10 sites of interest from Jane Austen’s London. To kick off our new Wednesday series, we’re looking at one of the locations where she is known to have resided while in London – number 10 Henrietta Street.

Number 10 in those days was the location of a bank – Austen, Maunde and Tilson – in which Jane’s older (and favourite) brother Henry was a partner. Above the bank’s offices was a flat Henry moved into after the death of his wife Eliza in 1813. It was also where Jane stayed when visiting publishers in the summer of 1813 and again in March, 1814, the latter when she was working on the proofs of Mansfield Park.

As well as a dining room at the front on the first floor, it had a sitting parlour, small drawing room and bedchambers (Jane is known to have stayed in one on the second floor). She described the property as “all dirt & confusion, but in a very promising way”.

Austen is known to have visited nearby theatres including the Lyceum and the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane while staying in London and during 1813 also visited the “blockbuster” exhibition of Sir Joshua Reynold’s paintings at the British Institute in Pall Mall ( a fascinating reconstruction of which can be found here).

A City of Westminster Green Plaque (erected in partnership with the Jane Austen Society) commemorates Jane’s stay here.

PICTURE: Diane Griffiths/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

The Ship & Shovell just off the western end of the Strand takes its name from Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell who lived nearby in May Street.

Shovell (1650-1707), like the more famous seaman Horatio Nelson, was a rare achiever – he joined the navy at the age of 13 as a cabin boy and rose to earn a commission, an unusual accomplishment at a time when most were purchased.

Described as the “best officer of his age”, he was eventually made Commander in Chief of the English Fleet having taken part in the capture of Gibraltar as well as Barcelona, but was killed after a disastrous shipwreck off the Isles of Scilly in 1707.

The story goes that when his flagship, the Association, foundered, he had washed up on St Mary’s Island and was killed by a woman for the emerald ring he was wearing – she apparently later confessed (we’ll take a longer look at Sir Cloudesley’s fascinating life in an upcoming Famous Londoners).

The pub itself, located at 1-3 Craven Passage close to Charing Cross and Embankment, originally dates from around 1740 but has been updated several times since, most latterly after, having been left derelict for more than 15 years, it was restored and reopened in 1996.

Another part of the pub was opened across the street a couple of years later, making this a rather unique set-up in that it’s apparently the only London pub with two sections facing each other from either sides of the laneway.

Part of the Hall & Woodhouse group. For more on the pub, see http://shipandshovell.co.uk.

PICTURE: Andrew Bowden/CC BY-SA 2.0

London was agog. Gathering at what is now the Theatre Royal in Haymarket on the evening of 16th January, 1749, the city’s inhabitants were ready to experience a most amazing spectacle as a man would not only play a “common walking cane” as if it were any instrument but, apparently shrinking himself, step inside a common, ordinary sized wine bottle placed upon a table.

Spurred on by newspaper advertisements promising a night of “surprising things” (which also included the promise of the performer taking on the likeness of any person, living or dead), it was with great expectation that the crowd, which included the Duke of Cumberland, settled into their seats in the theatre, having willingly paid at least two shillings (and some substantially more) for the privilege of being present.

When the time came for the curtain to rise and nothing happened, there were no doubt some who thought it merely a tactic of the performer to build suspense. But the crowd was getting restless and soon after began booing and stamping their feet in their annoyance.

One of the theatre’s staff then appeared on stage to inform them the performer had not arrived and that all entrance fees would repaid  – his comments were apparently answered by a wit who claimed they would pay double if the magician could enter a pint bottle instead of a quart bottle. Further catcalls followed and before long someone apparently threw a candle, setting the stage curtains on fire. Panic broke out among those in the theatre as people sought to escape but for some rage took over as they realised that they had been the victims of a hoax.

The theatre was destroyed as people tore up the seats and smashed the scenery, carting what they could out into Haymarket where it was burnt in a bonfire. The theatre manager called out the guards but the rioting was largely over by the time they arrived. There were apparently no casualties, apart from the theatre itself, although the Duke of Cumberland did, it was said, lose a jewelled sword.

Apparently a bizarre hoax, attention quickly turned to who was behind it. It was commonly believed that it had been the 2nd Duke of Montagu, a notorious practical joker, who had placed the advertisement in order to win a bet that he could fill a theatre by promising something impossible such as a man being able to step inside a bottle. Yet to this day, the identity of the hoaxer remains something of a mystery and the case went on to be cited in reference to the gullibility of the London populace.

PICTURE: Kbthompson at English Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 3.0

In Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous 1886 story, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde,the address of the home of Dr Henry Jekyll (and his alter-ego Mr Edward Hyde) is simply given as a square in Soho – then a rather seedy district.

Dr Jekyll is said to have bought the property from the heirs of a “celebrated surgeon”. Like the man himself, the house has two characters and features a “blistered and distained” rear entrance used by the dastardly Mr Hyde.

In a BBC Scotland documentary broadcast several years ago, author Ian Rankin identified the house in which Jekyll and Hyde lived as being based on that which pioneering Scottish surgeon and anatomist John Hunter (1728-1793) lived in on the east side of Leicester Square.

Hunter leased both the property at 28 Leicester Square (the present number 28 – the ground floor of which is a pub – is pictured) and another behind it (it fronted onto what was then Castle Street) in the 1780s. He then spent a good deal of money joining the two properties together, creating a complex of rooms which included space for his thousands of specimens (now in the Hunterian Museum) as well as an anatomy theatre. It was at the rear Castle Street entrance that he apparently received human cadavers, brought by so-called “resurrection men” for dissection.

The dualistic nature of the property fits with that of Jekyll and Hyde and while Leicester Square isn’t usually considered part of Soho, it’s at the least very close by.

“In the book, Stevenson gives a detailed description of the layout of Dr Jekyll’s home,” Rankin said in the documentary. “It is identical to John Hunter’s.”

He added that, despite Hunter’s “fame and respectability” – he was appointed Surgeon Extraordinary to King George III and was one of London’s most sought-after doctors, “Hunter still demanded a constant supply of cadavers for his growing anatomy collection and teaching”.

“Naturally Hunter’s new home, in Leicester Square, was purpose-built for a surgeon’s double life.” Or for the respectable Dr Jekyll and brutish Mr Hyde.

Interestingly, the previous owner of Dr Jekyll’s home us said to have been a Dr Denman – there was a Dr Thomas Denman who was a contemporary of John Hunter who was a pioneering obstetrician.

The Leicester Square property later became the site of the Royal Panopticon of Science and Art (more of that in an upcoming Lost London post).

PICTURE: Top – Number 28 Leicester Square as it is today/Google Maps; Below – A ground floor plan of John Hunter’s residence made in 1792 (drawn in 1832) © Wellcome Images/CC BY 4.0

 

This Fitzrovia pub, famous for its literary connections (more about those in a moment), takes its name from a popular 18th century military hero.

marquis-of-granbyJohn Manners, the Marquis of Granby, played a key role for Britain during the Seven Years War – between Britain and her allies and France and hers – and, thanks to his popularity among the soldiers who served under his command, had numerous pubs named for him (he apparently also had a hand in setting up many old soldiers as publicans).

In his most famous battlefield exploit, while leading a series of cavalry charges at the Battle of Warburg in 1760 (in actions which saved the day), he apparently lost his hat and wig and was forced to salute his commander, Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick, without them.

All of which explains why the pub sign doesn’t show him wearing a hat and why soldiers from his former regiment, the Blues and Royals, have the unique privilege in being able to salute while not wearing headwear. The fact Manners was bald also apparently led to the coining of the phrase, “going at it bald-headed” – a reference to his fearlessness.

The pub, located at 2 Rathbone Street (on the corner with Percy Street – the address was formerly known as 38 Percy Street), is famous for its literary clientele during the years between the two World Wars – among those who drank here were writers Dylan Thomas and TS Eliot. They apparently shared the space with some low-level gangland figures.

For more, see www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/restaurants/london/themarquisofgranbyrathbonestreetlondon.

PICTURE: Ewan Munro/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0/

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A scene from Chinese New Year celebrations heralding the Year of the Rooster held in central London last weekend. PICTURE: Garry Knight/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

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The upmarket department store chain John Lewis traces its origins back to 1864 when the man himself opened a drapers at 132 Oxford Street (later renumbered, it’s the site of the current store).

Originally from Somerset and brought up by an aunt after he was orphaned at a young age, Lewis served as an apprentice to a linen draper in Wells as a teenager before he moved to London to work as salesman for an Oxford Street draper, eventually becoming a silk buyer. He apparently turned down offer of partnership in that business, deciding instead to put out his own shingle.

Lewis slowly expanded his business into neighbouring properties and diversified into a growing range of goods – everything from clothing to furniture to kitchen china. By 1895 he had rebuilt his original shop, which now had fronts on Oxford and Holles Streets, into a multi storey department store with retail showrooms as well as a warehouse and a restaurant for customers.

More than 40 years after he opened his first shop in London, in 1905 Lewis acquired Peter Jones in Sloane Square. His sons, John Spedan Lewis and Oswald, became partners in the business in 1907. Oswald was later bought out but John, particularly while convalescing following a riding accident, began to think about how he could improve staff wages and working conditions.

However, his new ideas led to conflict with his father (known to be a tough employer) and so, in 1914, Spedan Lewis took over total control of the Peter Jones business in exchange for no longer taking any part in the Oxford Street store. Instead, turning his attention to the Sloane Square business, he introduced a profit-sharing scheme for employees as well as a representative staff council and other initiatives including the introduction of the weekly in-house magazine, The Gazette.

In 1924, Spedan Lewis was reconciled with his father and so it was that following his father’s death in 1928, he became sole owner of both businesses, bringing them together into a single entity. The famous motto – “Never Knowingly Undersold” – has apparently been in use in the Peter Jones store since it was introduced by Spedan Lewis in 1925.

In 1929, he created the John Lewis Partnership Ltd and while he continued to have practical control of the business, his reforms meant profits were distributed among employees. Twenty-one years later, in 1950, he signed settlement which saw the partnership become the property of the employees.

In 1933, the partnership purchased its first store outside London in Nottingham and it is now regarded as the largest department store retailer in the UK with 46 John Lewis shops including 32 department stores. It also owns the Waitrose supermarket chain.

The flagship Oxford Street store was almost completely destroyed during World War II. The present premises, which features a roof garden, opened in 1961. It features a famous (now Grade II*-listed) artwork – Barbara Hepworth’s Winged Figure – on the Holles Street facade near the corner with Oxford Street.

In 2008 this store was awarded a Royal Warrant from Queen Elizabeth II as “suppliers of haberdashery and household goods”.

This is the final in our current Wednesday series. We’ll be starting a new series shortly.

PICTURE: James Petts/Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 2.0

hamleysThis Regent Street establishment – the oldest and largest toy store in the world – dates back to 1760 when Cornishman William Hamley came to London and founded his toy store – then called ‘Noah’s Ark’ – on High Holborn.

Selling everything from wooden hoops to tin soldiers and rag dolls, the business aimed to capture the trade of affluent Bloomsbury families and proved rather successful, attracting a clientele in the early 19th century which included not only wealthy families but royalty.

Such was its success that in 1881, Hamley’s descendants opened a new branch of the shop at 200 Regent Street. The Holborn store, meanwhile, burned down in 1901 and was subsequently relocated to a larger premises at numbers 86-87 in the same street.

Faced with the Depression in the 1920s, the shop closed briefly in 1931 but was soon reopened by Walter Lines, chairman of Tri-ang Toys, and in 1938 was given a Royal Warrant by Queen Mary, consort of King George V.

The premises at 188-196 Regent Street was bombed five times during the Blitz but the shop (and its tin hat-wearing staff survived). In 1955, having presented a Grand Doll’s Salon and sizeable model railway at the 1951 Festival of Britain, the shop was given a second Royal Warrant – this time by Queen Elizabeth II, who has been given Hamleys toys as a child – as a ‘toys and sports merchant’.

The business, which has passed through several owners since the early 2000s, is now owned by Chinese-based footwear retailer C.banner.  The flagship store is spread over seven floors and tens of thousands of toys on sale, located in various departments.

As well as the Regent Street premises (it moved into the current premises at number 188-196 Regent Street in 1981), Hamlets has some 89 branches located in 23 countries, from India to South Africa. A City of Westminster Green Plaque was placed on the store in February 2010, in honour of the business’s 250th anniversary.

The toy store holds an annual Christmas parade in Regent Street which this year featured a cast of 400 and attracted an estimated 750,000 spectators.

www.hamleys.com

PICTURED: Hamleys during its 250th birthday celebrations.

London is illuminated for Christmas. Here’s some of what photographers on Flickr have captured this year…
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Christmas in Regent Street. PICTURE: Michael Reilly/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

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Christmas tree in Waterloo Place. PICTURE: William Warby/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

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Carnaby Street. decorations PICTURE: Roger/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

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Oxford Street under lights. PICTURE: Paolo Braiuca/Flickr/CC BY 2.0  (image cropped).

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A floating Christmas tree at St Katharine Docks. PICTURE: Matt Brown/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

The practice of sending Christmas cards really began in the Victoria era and it was in London, in 1843, that the first commercial Christmas cards are widely said to have been designed and printed.

first-christmas-cardThe idea had come from Sir Henry Cole, the first director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, who, overwhelmed with the volume of correspondence he was receiving, conceived it as answer to his problem, allowing him to send Christmas greetings to a wide group of people – all at once.

He asked his friend, artist John Callcott Horsley, to design the card and an edition of 1,000 were printed by Jobbins of Warwick Court in Holborn.

The hand-coloured card, published by Summerley’s Home Treasury Office in Old Bond Street, showed a family gathered for a Christmas celebration with two side images showing people engaged in charitable acts and a message, ‘A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You’. Designed as a single flat card (not foldable like they are today), it came complete with ‘To’ and ‘From’ spaces for the sender to fill in.

The cards which Sir Henry didn’t need for his personal use were placed on sale for a shilling each but it was a fairly steep price and that – and the fact that the image of people drinking at the festive season apparently roused the ire of temperance campaigners, helped to ensure the cards weren’t an immediate success.

Nonetheless, further cards were produced in the following years and within a couple of decades, they were being mass produced.

One of Sir Henry’s original cards was reportedly sold at an auction in 2013 for £22,000.