Selfridges (Oxford) Ltd – a very brief history
Selfridges (Oxford) Ltd opened its doors in around 1972. Selfridges (Oxford) Ltd was a large and very prestigious department store located at 27 Westgate, Oxford, OX1 1LP. Sears (who by then owned Lewis’s, who were also the owners of the Selfridges London store) re-branded the store as Lewis’s in around 1989 and it traded under the Lewis’s name until around 1996 (from around 1991 Lewis’s had come under the ownership of Owen Owen). It then traded as Allders until around 2005 (Allders having purchased a number of the Owen Owen stores in 1996), when the store closed. This photograph circa 1988.
Selfridges (Oxford) Ltd from inside the Westgate Christmas time 1988.
Selfridges from inside the Westgate 1987.
Selfridges from inside the Westgate Shopping Centre in 1986 (the Westage had just had a £3m re-vamp at that time).
A pre-1986 photograph of the inside of the Westgate Centre. Note that great menswear shop, now long gone, Dunn and Co. and C&A at the bottom (C&A closed all its UK stores in 2001 but remains in Europe. C&A sold a good range of ski jackets amongst other things). Selfridges is to the left, out of shot.
The Westgate Centre takes shape in 1972, Selfridges (as will be) is on the left hand side. The construction of the new Westgate Centre cost £1.8m at the time of building.
Selfridges under construction, c. 1974. Note the Selfridges and Lewis’s signage on the left.
The staff entrance to Selfridges / Lewis’s was in Pennyfarthing Place (on the left, out of shot). This photograph was taken on 17th April 2008. St Ebbe’s Church is on the right and the brick building on the left used to be a small Fenwick’s Department Store. The Westgate Centre is behind (out of shot). The Pennyfarthing pub was behind to the left. The Blenheim pub is straight on between the Church and what was Fenwick.
Selfridges Oxford had a warehouse on Brewer Street, the building with the white garage type doors in this (undated) photograph. The site has since been demolished and re-developed by Pembroke College. The slightly taller building to the right, number 7, is still there. The Brewer Street building was used by Selfridges to store stock items of furniture and furniture awaiting delivery to customers. The upstairs was used to store shop fittings. It was a long building and led right through to a parking garage on the other side where the store managers used to park their cars. The entrance to the parking garage must have been on the corner of Littlegate Street and Albion Place I think. The site was re-developed in 2010/2011, so that above photograph must pre-date that, perhaps taken around 2010.
Another view of what was the Brewer Street Selfridges Warehouse and also Hall the Printer, circa 2010. Both now demolished and replaced with new buildings by Pembroke College. The address of Hall the Printer was 6 Brewer Street, leading me to think that the Selfridges warehouse was at 6a Brewer Street.
Part of the back of the Westgate Shopping Centre. The entrance to Selfridges loading bay is under the overhanging part of the building. June 2009.
The Westgate multi-storey car park. July 2009. The Westgate multi-storey car park is being demolished in 2015, but it is not clear yet what will go in its place. Since the mid-1990s there has been talk of re-developing the Westgate Centre. The latest plan (as of 2016) to re-develop the Westgate Centre, like some previous plans, includes a John Lewis department store. A re-developed Westagte Centre , including a John Lewis, did open in 2017, retaining the fabric of the old Selfridges building.
Footbridge connecting muti-storey car park to Westgate Centre, March 2008.
Sefridges 1973. The Westgate Centre under construction. Selfridges had earlier taken over Coppers Department Store in around 1972.
Selfridges c. 1973
Selfridges being built 1973.
Selfridges under construction 1974.
A double decker bus advertising Selfridges in 1975 – “City of Oxford AEC Renown 343 (343 TJO) in Luton on August 18th 1975 having worked in from Aylesbury on the 61 while on hire to United Counties.”
Allders Oxford, March 2001. The Selfridges (Oxford) store was re-branded as Lewis’s. The site was then used for Allders Department Store and later a Primark clothes shop.
Selfridges (Oxford) as was and the newly referbished Westgate Centre, 18 November 2017. Photograph by author. The newly re-furbished Westgate Centre opened in 2017. Pleasingly they retained the fabric of the old Selfridges building.
At some point during the Lewis’s branding era a premises “sell and lease-back” scheme led to the front entrance and front part of the store (including the main window displays) being given over to independent shops. The main Westgate entrance, the back entrance (near Sainsbury’s) and the other display windows remained. This must have reduced footfall considerably, as it was no longer possible to cut through the store from the Westgate Centre multi-storey car park and go straight out onto Queen Street. At this time the basement was slightly expanded from a customer point of view by re-modelliing the pre-retail and staff toilets area into selling space.
A newly re-furbished Westgate Centre opened in 2017.
Sources – Personal knowledge +
http://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/archive/2014/03/11/11066308.Is_long_wait_for_a_new_Westgate_nearly_over_/ – photograph from the Oxford Mail.
Lewis’s Liverpool (in 2009) – From 1856 to 2010 it was the flagship store of the Lewis’s empire. There’s a brilliant pictorial history of the Liverpool store in the Liverpool Echo with some fantastic images of their iconic Liverpool building. Until closure, the building retained its original lifts which had no controls for shoppers, being controlled by a lift operator who worked from a fold-down seating platform next to a lever. The Liverpool store was badly damaged by bombs during World War 2 and re-built after the war. Over the years Lewis’s had department stores in Oxford (Selfridges Oxford), Liverpool, Manchester, Blackpool, Birmingham, Glasgow, Leeds, Hanley in Stoke-on-Trent, Leicester, and Bristol, as well as short lived stores in Sheffield, and Newcastle + Selfridges London. Lewis’s also had their own bank. From 1928, Lewis’s included a banking department in each store. It was incorporated as a subsidiary limited company in 1934, and was owned by Martins Bank from 1958 to 1967 when it was bought by Lloyds Bank. It continued to operate into the 1980s. More information on Lewis’s Bank can be found in the Martins Bank achives. Martins Bank itself was eventually subsumed into Barclays Bank. The sort code for the Selfridges Oxford branch of Lewis’s Bank/Lloyds Bank was 30-19-83. Lewis’s branches also had their own Travel Bureau (Travel Agents), cigarette kiosks, hairdressers, and restaurants. For example Selfridges Oxford had 3 public restaurants – The Grosvenor Rooms on the 2nd floor (the staff restaurant was on the 2nd floor too, adjoining the Grosvenor Rooms), a coffee shop on the 1st floor and another in the basement – the 1st floor coffee shop became non-smoking in the late 1980s. Stores had all the other departments you would expect – haberdashery, furniture, beds, lighting, mirrors and pictures, furnishing fabrics, bedding, curtains, carpets, ladieswear, menswear, childrenswear, stationery, perfumery, cosmetics, toiletries, gifts, small electrical, large electrical, white goods, china and glass, etc. Some Lewis’s stores had food halls. Lewis’s toy departments and Santa’s grottos were famous. At one point in the 1960s Lewis’s Liverpool had their own zoo. The Manchester store had a full scale ballroom on the fifth floor, which was also used for exhibitions. At some point, the Manchester store adopted a Venice theme, complete with flooding the basement and gondolas on which the public could ride. The Manchester branch was the first store outside of London to be fitted with escalators. The Manchester store was bombed by the IRA in 1975, as was the Selfridges London store. Lewis’s was one of the first stores to use plastic mannequins, giving rise to the well known phrase “standing there like one of Lewis’s” – said about someone being lazy. Wikipedia has a fairly comprehensive history of Lewis’s. This blog also has some good photographs of Lewis’s in Liverpool and this blog has a good article on the Manchester store. In the 1989 episode of Red Dwarf “Marooned”, Craig Charles’ character Lister said that the girl he lost his virginity to (at Bootle Municipal Golf Course) was so good looking “If she wanted, then she could’ve got a job working behind the perfume counter at Lewis’. That’s how gorgeous she was.”
A Lewis’s staff badge, as used by a staff member in Lewis’s Glasgow.
A Selfridges (Oxford) Ltd staff badge.
In 1967, Lewis’s Bank is sold to Lloyds Bank after only nine years as a subsidiary of Martins. The Black Horse device soon becomes part of the redesigned Lewis’s Cheques, as with this cheque from the Manchester branch circa 1967.
Lewis’s Blackpool. Photograpgh taken in Spring 1966. This landmark department store was next to Blackpool tower. The Blackpool branch was built in 1964 and closed 1993. After closure, the frontage was removed, and most of the upper floors were demolished.
An old advert for Lewis’s department store – Blackpool. Enjoy all your holiday shopping at Lewis’s – next door to the Tower. Undated from an old theatre programme.
Lewis’s at Blackpool. The Blackpool branch of the Liverpool-based department store Lewis’s, opened in 1964, closing in 1993. This is the view of the roof from the tower on 4 June 1970.
11th July 1947. View of South-East corner of Lewis’s Department store on the corner of the Headrow and New Briggate, Leeds. The Lewis’s / Owen Owen / Allders in Leeds closed in 2005.
Lewis’s should not be confused with John Lewis – they were completely separate companies. Out of interest, in the 1940s, the 16 remaining smaller provincial Selfridge stores were sold to the John Lewis Partnership (including A H Bull in Reading which was later merged with Heelas and now trades as John Lewis; Caleys in Windsor, which was closed in 2006; and Robert Sayle in Cambridge, which now trades as John Lewis), and in 1951 the original Oxford Street store was acquired by the Liverpool-based Lewis’s chain of department stores. Lewis’s and Selfridges were then taken over in 1965 by the Sears Group. In 1966 the group launched Miss Selfridge fashions, which would later become a store chain in its own right. Most Lewis’s stores had a Miss Selfridge concession.
According to Wikipedia “After Vergo Retail went into administration, the rights to the Lewis’s name were bought by Lewis’s Home Retail Ltd. They intended to open a home store in Bury later that year,[when?] and have since bought out six branches of TJ Hughes. Including the Liverpool branch, which was also the first branch of Owen Owen. They have also set up a website. However a planning application has been submitted to Bury Council confirming that the company do not wish to relaunch this classic brand and have decided to make this store a TJ Hughes instead.
Lewis’s Home Retail purchased seven Paul Simon Homeware stores in 2014. They have chosen to relaunch these stores under the Lewis’s brand. This coincides with the launch of TJ Hughes ‘Lewis’s’ branded homeware goods. The items are tagged ‘Established 1856’ referencing the historic store. Lewis’s Home Retail Limited also owns Lewis’s related brand names including ‘Kids HQ’ and ‘Owen Owen’.”
TJ Hughes now have “28 stores in the UK” having expanded again since they went into administration in 2011. On their website it says “TJ Hughes Registered office Lewis’s Home Retail Limited, 1 Pighue Lane, Liverpool, L7 9QA, United Kingdom Company Registration Number 6865192 VAT no. 971786961”, indicating they are part of Lewis’s Home Retail Limited. TJ Hughes describe themselves as “the discount department store”. There are currently 2 stores trading under the Lewis’s Home Retail brand in Colindale, London and Harlow, Essex.
It’s good to see the possibility of a phoenix rising from the ashes of the once great Lewis’s empire.
“This is it. This is the new Lewis’s”
The sign outside Selfridges, London, 14.9.11. Photograph by author.
London Oxford Street in 1987, with Selfridges on the right. Note C&A to the right too (C&A closed all its UK stores in 2001 but remains in Europe). Selfridges London was acquired in 2003 by Canada’s Galen Weston, presumably from Sears, who had sold the rest of Lewis’s, excluding Selfridges London, at some point to Owen Owen. Later there was a management buyout. Vergo Retailing, a 20-store department and jewellery store chain, closed many of its operations in 2010 after going into administration. The chain was originally set up in 2007 to run the Lewis’s, Robbs of Hexham and Joplings of Sunderland department stores (sold by Owen Owen). In 2009 it bought Co-op department stores in Devon and Cornwall (eg Derry’s in Plymouth), East of England Coop Homemaker stores in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex (e.g. the Co-op Homemaker store in Dovercourt, Harwich) and a jewellery store in Colchester. Most, if not all, of these stores have been closed. Vergo Retailing was finally was dissolved in August 2014. Robbs of Hexham was sold to Beales and has since been re-branded as Beales. Parts of the Vergo Retailing Lewis’s of Liverpool website were still visible in April 2019, including mention of ‘Lewis’s Beautiful Tea’ which sold at just 2s in 1865. By the early 1900’s tea had become “England’s National Drink”, the duty on tea having been reduced in 1865. The site also mentions David Lewis who set up the Ranelagh Street store in Liverpool.
The original cast of Are You Being Served. Captain Peacock, Mr. Lucas, Mr. Harmon, Mr. Rumbold, Miss Brahms, Mrs. Slocombe, Mr. Granger, Young Mr. Grace, and Mr. Humphries. c. 1972. The fictional department store in this BBC comedy, Grace Bros, was loosely based on Simpson of Piccadilly – the London store where comedy writer Jeremy Lloyd once worked and which closed in 1999. It was not set in Selfridges but I am reminded of Selfridges when I watch this brilliant comedy.