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.

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Steven-SpielbergDirector Steven Spielberg, actor and playwright Mark Rylance, physicist Professor Stephen Hawking, TV personality Simon Cowell, and The Duchess of Cornwall are among 50 high profile personalities who have put their childhood dreams and aspirations on show around the country – including in London – to mark not only the release of the film The BFG but also the 100th anniversary of Roald Dahl’s birth. Launched last weekend, the ‘BFG Dream Jar Trail’ features a series of up-to-six-foot-tall ‘Dream Jars’, each of which contains a sculpture representing the childhood dreams of a different personality. The free trail – which takes in London sites such as Trafalgar Square, the Tower of London, Leicester Square, Harrods, Emirates Stadium and The Shard – has been created in support of the work of Save the Children and a specialist nursing programme supported by Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity with the jars to be auctioned in collaboration with Paddle8 later this year to raise money for both causes (the auction will be launched on the film’s premiere on 17th July). At least 34 jars have already gone on display with more to be unveiled in coming days. The joint creation of  Save the Children, the Roald Dahl Literary Estate, Entertainment One and VisitLondon.com with support from Unilever, the trail can be seen until 31st August. To see the art trail map and discover the stories behind each jar and its location, head to www.visitlondon.com/bfg. For more on the 100th anniversary of Roald Dahl’s birth, head to www.roalddahl.com/roalddahl100. PICTURED: Above – director Steven Spielberg’s self-designed jar, on display in Leicester Square, illustrating his childhood fantasy of having all the sweets in the world but none of the ill effects from overindulgence.

The influence of ancient Egypt on English architecture and interiors is under the spotlight in a new English Heritage exhibition inside Wellington Arch’s Quadriga Gallery at Hyde Park Corner. Egypt in England reveals that the Egyptian style, while it has been used in 18th century gardens in England, first rose to popularity after Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798, continued when the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 triggered a new wave of ‘Egyptomania’ and went onto into the later 20th century where its influence can be seen on buildings like cinemas and shops. The exhibition features photographs of Egyptian-style buildings and landmarks from across England – including London sites such as the The Egyptian Avenue and Circle of Lebanon Vaults at Highgate Cemetery and The Egyptian Hall at Harrods – alongside images of the Egyptian sources which inspired them. There are also 19th century travel brochures, a number of shabtis (the small mummy-like figurines placed in tombs which were often taken home by visitors as souvenirs) and Wedgewood ceramics designed in the Egyptian style. The display also tells the story of London landmark Cleopatra’s Needle, a 3,500-year-old obelisk which sits on the north bank of the Thames (see our earlier post on it here). Admission charge applies. Runs until 13 January. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/wellington-arch/.

A new exhibition of photographs taken by celebrated snapper Dorothy Bohm opens at the Museum of London tomorrow. Women in Focus will feature 33 color photographs dating from the 1990s to the present which juxtapose women who work and live in London with the ever-present images of women in advertising, artwork and shop windows. The images show women in their varied roles in society – from parents to professionals – and reflects on how they are seen in London’s public spaces. Runs until 17th February. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

• Now On: Mario Testino: British Royal Portraits. This display at the National Portrait Gallery features eight portraits of Royal Family members taken by Mario Testino between 2003 and 2010. As well an official portrait of Prince Charles taken in 2003, others include a portrait of Prince William taken the same year for his 21st birthday, another of Prince Harry on his 21st birthday, a portrait of Prince Charles and Duchess Camilla commissioned by British Vogue in 2006 and official engagement portraits of Prince William and Duchess Catherine taken in 2010. It is the first time the portraits have all been shown together. The exhibition runs in Room 40 until 3rd February. Admission is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

• Now On: A Bigger Splash: Painting after Performance. This newly opened exhibition at the Tate Modern explores the changing relationship between performance and painting, spanning the period from 1950 to today and featuring works from more than 40 artists including David Hockney, Yves Klein, Jackson Pollock and Cindy Sherman. Themes examined in the exhibition include how the painted canvas has been used as an ‘arena’ in which performance is carried out, the use of the human body as a surface and how contemporary artists are using painting to create social and theatrical spaces. Runs until 1st April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

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

Around London…

October 7, 2010

• A new online portal showing the history of women through their relationship to buildings around the UK – including in London – has been launched. Visible in Stone: A history of women through buildings, 1850-1950 is the work of English Heritage in conjunction with the London Metropolitan University Special Collections, The Women’s Library and TUC Library Collection. Among the collection of historic photographs, posters and advertisements are the stories of many London buildings – everything from the 18th century Unitarian Chapel at Newington Green in the city’s north where women’s rights advocate Mary Wollstonecraft found “support and stimulation” when founding her school, to the Harrod’s Shoe Lounge as it looked in 1919, and the first public conveniences built for women (the Ladies’ Lavatory Company opened its first, near Oxford Circus, in 1884). English Heritage is also asking people to upload images of buildings that played a role in the lives of their grandmothers. To do so, head to www.flickr.com/groups/visibleinstone.

• Milestones passed in the past week include the 15oth celebration of London’s Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. The charity was founded in October 1860 by Mary Tealby after she found an abandoned puppy and commenced caring for it and other lost dogs in a disused stableyard in Holloway. Writer Charles Dickens was among it’s early supporters. The home has cared for more than 3.1 million animals since it was established (it started caring for cats in 1883) and in 2009 took in more than 10,000 dogs and cats. For more information, see www.battersea.org.uk.

• Lastly, London’s free Metro newspaper is holding a ‘Postcards from the Future’ competition showing images of London as it might become should our worst fears about the impact of climate change be realised. View a gallery of stunning images (or find out how to enter) here.