No other European city can match London’s department stores for their surprising diversity of goods . The greatest concentration of stores is on Oxford Street, the capital’s main shopping street. Oxford street had been just a highway to the West, linking the City with Oxford from Roman days until the late 17th century. At this time there were a few shops at the Tottenham Court Road end, there was no sign of the development that was to follow, turning the “West End“ into the axis of commerce and the Oxford Street into the main avenue of a new Central London.
In the 18th century the grows of estates to the west of the City allowed Oxford Street traders to take advantage of an influx of well-to-do inhabitants. In 1790 a small shop called Dickens and Smiths, later called Dickins & Jones, opened at 54 Oxford Street, then in 1833 Peter Robinson began a drapery business at number 103. Thirty years later his silk buyer John Lewis set up on his own close by at 132. At the turn of the 20th century, the increasing spending power of the middle class pushed retail on to a grander scale. The Gillows had been furniture makers on Oxford Street since 1765. In 1906 they opened a huge department store , Waring & Gillow. This was eclipsed three years later by the opening of Selfridges. This store attracts 17 million shoppers a year, including around 3 million tourists.
It was a big success of Oxford Street and stores spread south along the Regent Street , designed by John Nash in the early 19th century. These included Messrs Farmer and Rogers, where Arthur Lasenby Liberty became manager of the store ‘s Original warehouse at the age of 20. Impatient at not being made a partner, he set up on his own, convinced that he could change the look of fashion. In 1874 he took a lease on a small store opposite his old employer, selling fabrics, carpets, art objects from the Far East. Within 18 months Liberty had expanded the store into neighbouring properties. The store became London’s most fashionable place to shop. Today Liberty at 210-220 Regent Street is a magical grotto filled with exotic goods, rich textures and fabulous printed fabrics.
In 1813 Benjamin Harvey opened a small linen shop in a terraced house on the corner of Knightsbridge. After 7 years his business passed to his daughter and her partner Colonel Nichols. The present premises were acquired in 1880 and later on Harvey Nichols had become a byword for sophistication famous for bold windows displays and chic fifth floor food market and restaurant and wide range of designer clothing.
The most famous is Harrods, which opened in 1849 close to Harvey Nichols. Now Harrods sells more than a million of the different goods. The Egyptian Hall was designed with the help of experts from the British Museum. The famous department is the Food Hall, where you can buy anything from cabbage to £5000 bottle of Chateau Cheval Blanc’47. At night Harrods illuminated with more than 11 000 bulbs which turns it to impressive light-shows.