john-lewis-oxford-street

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

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Sloane-SquareThis upmarket square in west London is named in honor of Sir Hans Sloane, the physician come botanist who bought the manor of Chelsea in 1712 and, in doing so, provided grounds for the Chelsea Physic Garden.

Sloane Square was developed by architect Henry Holland Sr and his son Henry Holland Jr in 1771 as part of a residential development they called Hans Town (also named after Sir Hans, it’s still a ward in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea). For more on Sir Hans Sloane, see our earlier post here.

The square, pictured above as it looks decorated for Christmas, initially consisted of a village green bordered with posts and chains and the surrounding buildings were all residential. Apparently the square initially failed to attract the right sort of residents (it was a little too far from Mayfair) but despite this initial setback, it gradually became the centre of a desirable residential precinct.

Private houses began making way for other buildings in the square in the nineteenth century – in 1810, the New Chelsea Theatre opened, subsequently renamed the Royal Court Theatre (this was later moved to another site still on the square and remains there today), and in 1812, the Chelsea, Brompton and Belgrave Dispensary was established for the relief of the sick and the poor.

The Sloane Square Underground station opened in 1868 and rebuilt after it was damaged by bombs in World War II (it’s interesting to note that the River Westbourne actually runs through some iron conduit over the top of the platforms on its way to the River Thames).

Other notable buildings in the square today include the Peter Jones department store which first arrived in the square in the late nineteenth century.

The square itself was redesigned in the 1930s when the war memorial was put in its current position. The Venus Fountain (pictured above) which now stands there – the work of Gilbert Ledward – was erected in 1953.

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!

An Ulster-Scots born physician, scientist and avid collector, Sir Hans Sloane served as doctor to no less than three British monarchs during the 17th and 18th centuries and during his life amassed a vast collection of natural specimens and curiosities which after his death were used to form the core of the British Museum’s collection.

Born on 16th April, 1660, at Killyleagh in County Down, Ireland, Sir Hans was the son of Alexander Sloane, a “receiver-general of taxes” who originally hailed from Scotland.

Even as a young man, he developed a keen interest in the natural sciences. Having suffered from some ill-health which, at the age of 16 is said to have kept him confined to a room for a year, in 1679, at the age of 19, he moved to London where he studied chemistry at the Apothecaries Hall and botany at the Chelsea Physic Garden – a period during which he befriended the botanist John Ray and chemist Robert Boyle.

Four years later, he travelled through France where he received his Doctorate of Physics. On his subsequent return to London in 1685, he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society and in 1687 a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians.

Given the chance to travel to Jamaica as physician to the new Governor, Christopher, the 2nd Duke of Albemarle, he only spent 15 months there (the Governor died soon after arrival). But it was an important period during which not only did he document and collect a vast amount of flora and fauna (bringing some 800 specimens back to London), he also came up with the idea of drinking chocolate with milk after witnessing locals drinking the dark chocolate with water but finding the mix made him “nauseous” (back in England, his concoction was first sold as a medicine and was later manufactured as a drink by Cadburys).

Having returned to London in 1689, he published the information he had gathered in Jamaica, and in 1693 he become secretary to the Royal Society.

In 1695 he married a Jamaican sugar planter’s widow, Elizabeth Langley Rose (with whom he had several children but of whom only two daughters, Sarah and Elizabeth, survived) and, thanks in part to an ongoing association with the duke’s widow, was able to set up a fashionable medical practice at 3 Bloomsbury Place on the northern end of Bloomsbury Square.

The house, not far from where the British Museum now stands, become something of an attraction in its own right, filled with objects and specimens he had collected on his travels as well as those – in some cases complete collections – given to him by others including friends and patients (in fact, he had to purchase the property next door, number four, to find room for them all – this property is now marked with a Blue Plaque).

The composer Handel is said to have been among those who visited the property and there is a delightful tale that says Sir Hans was outraged when Handel placed a buttered scone on one of his rare books.

With his services as a physician highly prized, in 1696, he was appointed physician to Queen Anne, the first of the three monarchs he would serve. In 1712-13, with his collection still growing, he purchased the Manor of Chelsea to help house it (four acres of which were leased to the Chelsea Physic Garden, which had been founded in 1673 with the idea of providing a training ground for apprentice apothecaries, in perpetuity).

He subsequently moved his collection out to this property and his connection with Chelsea is still celebrated in place names such as name Sloane Square (not to mention Sloane Street, Sloane Gardens, Hans Street, Hans Crescent, Hans Road and Hans Place). There is also a statue of the bewigged man in Duke of York Square (pictured), not far from Sloane Square – this is a 2007 copy of 1737 original by John Rysbrack, another (older) copy of which can be found in the Chelsea Physic Garden.

Following Queen Anne’s death in 1714, in 1716 Sir Hans was appointed physician to her successor, King George I (he was also created a baronet the same year, becoming the first medical practitioner to receive a hereditary title).

Three years later, in 1719, he become president of the Royal College of Physicians, an office he held for 16 years, and in 1727, he was appointed physician to King George II. The same year he succeeded Isaac Newton as president of the Royal Society, an office which he held until 1741.

In 1742, Sir Hans retired to his property in Chelsea.

By the time of his death on 11th January, 1753 at the ripe old age of 93, Sir Hans had collected more than 71,000 objects including books, manuscripts, drawings, coins and medals and plant specimens which he bequeathed to King George II in exchange for a payment of £20,000 to his executors.

Parliament agreed, following a lottery to raise the money, his collection went on to form the basis of the British Museum, first opened to the public in 1759 in Bloomsbury. It was also to form the basis of the museum’s later offshoot, the Natural History Museum at South Kensington.

Sir Hans was buried at Chelsea Old Church with his wife Elizabeth who died in 1724.

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