On Saturday 21st October, as part of our 2017 Tours and Excursion programme, Reg’s and a couple dozen eager passengers set off on a trip that would see our feet walk Europe’s largest department store (it has more than a million square feet (90,000 sq m) of space!) and one of London’s most iconic buildings; Harrods.
In light of this fantastic trip a few weeks ago, we thought we would take a look at the history, and fun facts, of a building that invoked so much awe in our passengers.
Recognised for its celebrity-endorsed sales, food hall and signature green bags, Harrods is one of the world’s most famous department stores, selling luxury and everyday items across seven floors and 330 departments. (Believe us, with all the walking we did, there wasn’t an open eye on the coach on the way back!). Its motto is Omnia Omnibus Ubique – All Things for All People, Everywhere – and the store attracts 15 million customers each year.
Quick fun facts
- On Wednesday, 16 November 1898, Harrods debuted England’s first “moving staircase” in their Brompton Road stores; the device was actually a woven leather conveyor belt-like unit with a mahogany and “silver plate-glass” balustrade. Nervous customers were offered brandy at the top to revive them after their ‘ordeal’.
- A silver replica of Harrods is on display on the store’s lower ground floor. This was a gift from Gordon Selfridge when he lost a bet with the Harrods managing director, of which store, Harrods or Selfridge’s, would make more profit in 1927.
- A number of animals are associated with Harrods. A cobra was used to guard a pair of sandals with a price at £62,000 due to their diamonds and sapphires. A baby elephant was also sold by Harrods as a present to Ronald Reagan.
- At night, Harrods is lit up by 12,000 light bulbs on the store’s façade and 300 bulbs have to be changed every day.
- The three-mile square area of Kensington and Knightsbridge which surrounds the store is known as the Tiara Triangle. It’s rumoured that 60% of Harrods customers live within this well-to-do Tiara Triangle.
- A.A. Milne’s fictional bear Winnie the Pooh was a London invention. And although Winnie was named after a bear at London Zoo, Milne’s inspiration for the stories came from seeing his son Christopher Robin playing with a teddy bear bought in Harrods in 1921.
In 1824, at the tender age of 25, Charles Henry Harrod established a business at 228 Borough High Street in Southwark. Here, he provided a variety of services which were listed as ‘draper, mercer and haberdasher’.
During 1825, the business was listed as ‘Harrod and Wicking, Linen Drapers, Retail’ but this partnership was dissolved at the end of that year. His first grocery business appears to be as ‘Harrod & Co.Grocers’ at 163 Upper Whitecross Street, Clerkenwell, E.C.1., in 1832.
In 1849, to escape the vice of the inner city and to capitalise on trade to the Great Exhibition of 1851 in nearby Hyde Park, Harrod took over a small shop on the site of the current store. Beginning in a single room employing two assistants and a messenger boy, Harrod’s son Charles Digby Harrod built the business into a thriving retail operation selling medicines, perfumes, stationery, fruits and vegetables. Harrods rapidly expanded, acquired the adjoining buildings, and employed one hundred people by 1880.
Its expansion suffered a knock, in 1883 when a fire destroyed the store. Remarkably, in view of this calamity, Charles Harrod fulfilled all of his commitments to his customers to make Christmas deliveries that year—and made a record profit in the process.
The fire did not halt the owners, however, who duly rebuilt the store, with the help of architect Charles William Stephens, into what it is today!