A tradition for many of us ‘baby boomers’ at this time of the year was the annual pilgrimage to one or more of London’s department stores. Curiously many had originated with two owners: Bourne & Hollingsworth; Dickins & Jones; Marshall & Snelgrove; Swan & Edgar; Derry & Toms; Arding & Hobbs; or Swan & Edgar. Many now do not exist as stand alone department stores, just not able to move with post-war shopping trends.
[G]ordon Selfridge London’s greatest department store proprietor saw how trends were changing as early as 1909 when he opened the largest of all stores at that time and allowed customers to see the merchandise on offer, and not as his competitors, offering to show prospective buyers a selection chosen by the shop assistant.
To get some idea of pre-war shopping customs watch any episode of Are You Being Served?
War years had protected most stores from the new style, but by the 1970s most had suffered from the birth of style-shopping and both management and staffs were unable to update fast enough to attract the newly-moneyed.
Politeness, knowledge of stock and free advice gave way to self-service racks stocking the latest fashions which would change by the season.
The specialist stores: Lilywhites for sporting wear; Fenwicks aimed at country ladies of a certain age; and Libertys for fabrics have clung on, but most have succumbed to the supermarkets of TK Maxx, H&M or the nightmarish souk – Primark.
Should you be in any doubt about the changing face of the high streets consider this list of closed department stores compiled by Diamond Geezer:
Central: Army & Navy (Victoria), Bourne & Hollingsworth (Oxford Street), Catesby’s (Tottenham Court Road), Civil Service Supply Association (Strand), Daniel Neal (Portman Square), Debenham & Freebody (Wigmore Street), Dickins & Jones (Regent Street), Gamages (Holborn), Gorringes (Victoria), Jordans (Lisson Grove), Marshall & Snelgrove (Oxford Street), Swan & Edgar (Piccadilly Circus), Thomas Wallis (Holborn), Woolland Brothers (Knightsbridge), Whiteleys (Bayswater)
North: John Barnes (Finchley Road), Bartons (Wood Green), B B Evans (Kilburn), Evans and Davies (Palmers Green), Jones Brothers (Holloway Road), Pearsons (Wood Green), Stephens (Stoke Newington), Wards (Seven Sisters), Wilsons (Crouch End)
West: Barbers (Fulham), Barkers of Kensington, Bentalls (Ealing), Derry & Toms (Kensington), F H Rowse (West Ealing), General Trading Company (Kensington), Goslings (Richmond), John Sanders (Ealing), Pontings (Kensington), Randalls (Uxbridge), Soper’s (Harrow), Wright Brothers (Richmond)
South: Allders (Croydon, Sutton), Arding and Hobbs (Clapham Junction), Bon Marché (Brixton), Grants (Croydon), Kennards (Croydon), Pratts (Streatham), Quin & Axtens (Brixton), Shinners (Sutton)
Southeast: Chiesmans (Lewisham, Bexleyheath), Cuffs (Woolwich), Fantos (Deptford), Garretts (Woolwich), Hides (Bexleyheath), Hinds (Eltham), Jones and Higgins (Peckham), Medhursts (Bromley), Pyne Brothers (Deptford), Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society (Woolwich), Tower House (Lewisham), Walter Cobb (Sydenham)
East: Bearmans (Leytonstone), Boardmans (Stratford), Chiesmans (Ilford, Upton Park), Dawson’s (City Road), Dudley’s (Dalston), Gardiner’s (Whitechapel), Houndsditch Warehouse (Aldgate), Harrison Gibson (Ilford), Keddies (Romford), J R Roberts (Stratford), Wickhams (Stepney)
Various: British Home Stores, Co-Op, Marks & Spencer, Owen Owen (Finchley, Ilford, Richmond, Uxbridge)