It goes without saying that the build up to Christmas is a magical time for both adults and children alike. If you are a kid at heart like me, then there is nothing better than scouring the shops for that perfect gift for your loved ones. With this in mind, our great capital city has some of the most well renowned stores in the world for first class retail therapy. There is something for everyone, from the spectacular array of toys available in Hamleys toy store, to that extra special something from the exquisite, jewel in the crown of London’s stores, Harrods.
This month we’ll take a look at these, and several more stores which are well worth a visit, giving you a potted history of how they were first conceived, through to why they have become so famous today. Together they all contribute to make London one of the finest shopping venues in the world.
Harrods - Knightsbridge
Perhaps London’s most famous store, attracting millions of customers annually, is Harrods. Opened in 1834 by a 25 year old grocer and tea merchant, Charles Henry Harrod, this world renowned shopping empire is steeped in history. From its humble beginnings in a small room in Stepney, East London, with just two assistants and a messenger boy to help him, Mr Harrod initially only sold tea and groceries. Yet this canny grocer expanded his enterprise by taking over a shop on the site of the current Harrods in Knightsbridge in 1849 and the present legend of Harrods was born. Charles capitalised after the 1851 Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, which increased trade within the area and so the store became a very successful asset. Since then it has expanded to more than 1,000,000 sq ft of floor space, whilst employing over 4,000 staff. It is as much a major London landmark as it is a store and has developed into one of the most distinguished names for luxury goods.
Did You Know?
- England’s first ever escalator
In 1898 the first moving staircase was installed into Harrods. Customers were overawed by this new piece of technology. So much so that Harrods staff were on hand at the top to provide brandy and smelling salts for those who found the ordeal too traumatising!
- Tiara Triangle
The immediate 3 mile square area surrounding Harrods has become known as ‘The Tiara Triangle’, as it’s believed that over 60% of its custom comes from those who live in this very affluent area.
- Silver replica
Looking closely on the lower ground floor of today’s Harrods, you’ll see a silver replica of Harrods on display. This was presented by Harry Selfridge whose store was a major rival to Harrods at the time. He set a wager with the managing director of Harrods, as to who’d make the most profit in 1927. Ever the gentleman, on losing his bet, Mr Selfridge commissioned a silver replica which he awarded to the store.
- Pet Shop
The store boasts a pet shop that houses numerous animals. Once a large cobra’s main purpose was to protect a £62,000 pair of sandals because of the diamonds and other gems which were encased in them. Also, a regular customer to the Harrods pet shop, the famous actor Noel Coward, once bought an alligator for Christmas!
- Customers Galore!
Around 100,000 shoppers descend on Harrods each day, rising to over 300,000 during the Christmas season.
- “Omnia Omnibus Ubique”
With 330 departments over 7 floors, Harrods Latin motto meaning, “All things for all people, everywhere,” can certainly deliver, as it provides every possible thing that the discerning shopper could ever want!
- World at War
During this period of its history in WW II, the store transformed itself from selling luxury goods to making uniforms, parachutes and even parts for Lancaster bombers.
Hamleys - Regent Street
Another iconic shop, Hamleys, is a must visit destination at this time of year. The oldest toy shop in the world, (it’s over 255 years old) the store was originally named Noah’s Ark, and was conceived by the Cornishman William Hamley. First opened in Holborn, it later moved to its present site in Regent Street, eventually being renamed ‘Hamleys’, after its founder. William Hamley’s dream of opening the best toy shop in the world certainly came to fruition, as the shop was crammed with every toy imaginable, delighting young and old alike. By Queen Victoria’s reign it had already become a London landmark. The 'Joy Emporium', as it was once nicknamed has had its fair share of hardship, however. The picture looked bleak during the 1930s, as due to the Great Depression toy sales fell dramatically and the shop was forced to close. However, after the store was later taken over, it was given a new lease of life and customers eventually returned, resulting in the toy shop being awarded a Royal Warrant by Queen Mary and then a second by our present Queen Elizabeth.
Did You Know?
- Bear Mascots
The two Hamleys mascot bears are called 'Hamley' and 'Hattie'.
- Bus Stop
In 2014, Hamleys created a bus stop made from Lego bricks in front of their Regent Street store to commemorate Transport for London’s (TfL) Year of the Bus.
- World War II
Even after being bombed significantly (5 times during the Blitz), this didn’t stop service. Donning their tin helmets, Hamleys staff managed to serve at the entrance to the store, rushing in to collect orders and then handing them over at the door.
- Something for Everyone
The store has seven floors covering 54,000 sq ft of space. There are over 50,000 lines of toys on sale, ranging from life sized stuffed giraffes to squeaking, bleeping, whizzing and chiming toys. No wonder it has more than 5 million visitors each year.
Selfridges - Oxford Street
Second only to Harrods in terms of largest retail space in the UK, this great example of one of London’s finest shopping scenes opened its doors in 1909. Originally situated at what was deemed to be the ‘unfashionable end of Oxford Street’, it was the last of London’s best known department stores to be built. The founder, Harry Gordon Selfridge, knew exactly what he wanted… a purpose built extravaganza, rather than a building which needed adaptation and extending from a previously existing structure.
Ever the business entrepreneur, Mr Selfridge took shopping to a whole new audience. He enticed customers by being one of the first in Britain to introduce ‘window dressing’. This change of approach, (previously, shopkeepers would stand in the shop’s doorway trying to lure customers into the store), not only attracted new customers, but also served an educative purpose too. Displays often portrayed the latest ideas and inventions, which huge crowds would stop to inspect. Take for example, French aviator Louis Blériot’s intrepid flight over the English Channel. Selfridge cannily displayed Blériot’s plane in his store window which attracted over 150,000 people to the shop.
Today, Selfridges boasts one of the largest shoe departments in the world and has also revolutionised the sale of make-up, perfume and beauty products, due to the way it was marketed, at the front of the store, rather than pushed unnoticed, to the back! Its success is due to the willingness to keep up with changing trends and fashions. Miss Selfridge, for example, was opened within the main store in the 1960s when the store recognised it needed to attract a younger, more fashion-led customer base.
Did You Know?
- Air Raid Shelter
During WW2, the basement of Selfridges was used as an impromptu air-raid shelter. During raids, employees took turns to fire watch and be on the lookout for incendiary bombs. The US Army also took up residence here, as it gave safety from bombing, was near to their embassy and easily accessible for VIPs like Churchill and Eisenhower.
- The rooftop
Although now part of annual tradition, Selfridges summer rooftop had been closed for 70 years, due to damage during WW2. However in 2009 a ‘pop up’ restaurant run by famous Michelin-starred chef Pierre Koffmann restored it to its former glory. In its heyday, the roof hosted many forms of entertainment such as in 1913, when dancers Florence Walton and Maurice Mouvet entertained the high and mighty.
- Queen of Time Clock
This may go unnoticed as you enter the store entrance, yet is well worth a look. To commemorate the store's 21st birthday, this 3.3m tall, exquisite bronze sculpture was designed by Gilbert Bayes.
Fortnum and Mason - Piccadilly
Another enterprising businessman is responsible for the success of this famous Piccadilly store.
William Fortnum, the store’s joint founder, was once a footman in Queen Anne’s royal household. This family’s demand for fresh candles each night was to the benefit of said Mr Mason, as due to their wastefulness there was a lot of surplus half-used wax. Fortnum managed to develop his business knowledge by selling this wax on, thus making a sizable profit into the margin. Not content with this, he also had a side line business as a grocer. On persuading his landlord, Hugh Mason, to be his associate, they founded the first Fortnum & Mason store in Mason's small shop in St James's Market in 1707.
Although Fortnum and Mason’s main focus now is selling high end, luxury, exotic speciality food and drink, back in the late 19th C it was credited as being the first UK store to sell baked beans. Legend has it that the store purchased the entire stock of the newly produced, Heinz Baked Beans, from a US sales rep, and managed to sell them all. Entrepreneurism at its best! Further to this, they also claim the very dubious award of being the inventors of the Scotch egg, marketing it as ‘the travellers' snack’, in 1738. Staff apparently created this travel friendly food using hard boiled eggs wrapped in a parcel of sausage meat. The Piccadilly site was well situated as it was en-route for westward heading travellers, making it the ideal location to sell this new delicacy! In recent year’s homeware, beauty and fashion have been successfully added to the Fortnum and Mason brand. It is also the location of a fabulous tea shop and several restaurants.
Did You Know?
- The clock
This said masterpiece sits at the front of the building and weighs in excess of 4 tonnes. At the top of each hour, it quaintly comes to life to enable you to see the co-founders Fortnum and Mason religiously bowing to each other.
- Napoleonic Wars
During this era, the store supplied a range of dried fruit, spices and other preserves to British officers on the front line. It also provided food for many of Queen Victoria’s court functions, along with, at her own expense, shipments of Fortnum and Mason’s own branded, concentrated beef tea to hospitals during the Crimean War.
- A post office before it was invented!
Before the foundation of the GPO (General Post Office) in 1839, sending letters was, to say the least, a nightmare. Seeing an opportunity, Fortnum and Mason provided letterboxes which were emptied six times a day- long before our current postal service began.
- A connection to Primark?
What, I hear you ask has this to do with the world renowned Fortnum & Mason who deal in some of the most luxurious goods in the land? Yes, they do seem worlds apart, however, I’ll let you into a little secret…they are both owned by the same parent company! So why not also head off to Primark for a bargain?
If you intend to make a weekend, or longer out of your shopping experience in London, then look no further!
Euracom can find the accommodation that is just right for you. We have a range of affordable, luxury, serviced apartments available, to make your stay in London unforgettable.
Take for example… Bayswater Studios, London W2
For a modest fee from £97pn, these serviced apartments are perfect if you’re visiting London for a short stay. They provide a welcoming personal, professional service and boast a private garden for residents. These newly refurbished apartments range from 1 bed studio simplicity to a 3 bed, luxury space. Each features a lounge area with TV/ DVD, and a fully fitted kitchen. With close proximity to the amazing Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park and the Oxford Street and Knightsbridge stores, staying here will certainly make your access to all of London’s attractions easy and pleasurable.
Other features include:
- Concierge / Security / Reception / Door entry phone
- Daily cleaning service / Laundry / Dry cleaning facilities available
- DVD player / Telephone / TV / Freeview / Wifi
- Kitchen / Kitchenette / Dishwasher in some apartments
Alternatively, if you are looking for a more luxurious option you could try…..our Serviced apartment rentals in South Kensington, Gloucester Road SW7
These holiday apartments are situated within South Kensington and are well situated within the capital. They provide the perfect, central venue to stay, whether your intention is to shop ‘til you drop or relax in luxury. From £125p/n, these self-catering, serviced apartments are comfortably furnished with a small, well-equipped kitchen and bathroom with separate shower. Close to Hamleys and Selfridges, along with a host of other central London attractions, they allow easy access to Europe’s largest shopping district, so if you love shopping & luxurious living, these apartments are for you!
Other features include:
- Concierge / Security / Reception / Door entry phone / Lifts
- Daily cleaning service / Laundry / dry cleaning facilities available / Dishwasher in some apartments
- Duplex-style apartment
- Telephone / TV / Freeview / Wifi
Our final featured apartments for this month are our Luxury serviced apartments London Bond Street, W1, offering luxury in the heart of London's West End. If you’re looking for a luxury serviced apartment at a great price, then this luxury serviced London apartment is perfect for you. From £208p/n, these serviced apartments vary in size from a 1 bed to a larger 2 bed apartment. They are tastefully furnished in a contemporary style, giving them a ‘home from home’ feeling. Each apartment has a comfortable lounge, fully equipped kitchen and bathroom. They allow easy access to Europe’s largest shopping district, the perfect way to combine your love of shopping with luxurious living.
Other features include:
- Air conditioning/ Central heating/ Door entry phone / Lifts/ Safe
- Bathroom- (some en-suite)
- Complimentary grocery shopping service
- Daily or weekly linen change / Daily cleaning service / Laundry / dry cleaning facilities available
- DVD player / Radio / Alarm clock/Satellite TV / Tea / coffee making facilities / Telephone / Wifi / TV / Freeview
- Fully equipped kitchen/Washing machine
- Spa / health club in building or nearby
So there you have it…a range of the most splendid stores in the world for Christmas shopping. Miss them, especially at this time of year, at your peril, although don’t leave London without exploring a few of the other thousand retail outlets, boutiques and often quirky corner shops which often go unnoticed! Whatever you do – have a great shopping experience and don't forget, the best way to make the most of any visit to London is to extend your stay by renting one of our fabulous London serviced apartments. Happy shopping!
By Michael Caven from Stockholm, Sweden - Glowing Harrods, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24318570
By DAVID HOLT from London, England [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
R Sones [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Andrew Meredith (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia CommonsBy Rob at 6 Nov 2017