A history of: Harrods

We wrote up about the history of The Ivy a while back, so we thought we’d continue our coverage with another staple of the British high street – Harrods. 

Our story begins with Charles Henry Harrod in 1849 who had humble beginnings as an East End grocer and tea merchant. Originally set up in East London, Harrod decided to move his business closer to Hyde Park so it could be closer to The Great Exhibition.

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.

However, the store’s booming fortunes were brought to an abrupt halt December 1883, when it burnt to the ground. However, despite this calamity, Charles Harrod was still able to follow through with all his Christmas deliveries and as a result made record profits. A new store was erected on the same foundation designed by architect Charles William Stephens into what we see it as now. Known for its grandeur, when the store reopened it had a palatial style, featuring a frontage clad in terracotta tiles adorned with cherubs, swirling Art Nouveau windows and was topped with a baroque-style dome. For the first time, the new store began offering credit to some of its best customers such as Oscar Wilde, Sigmund Freud, and Charlie Chaplin to name a few. Towards the end of the 19th century, Harrods became a public company and introduced the worlds first escalator, where nervous customers were offered brandy to help calm their nerves!

Between 11,000-12,000 light bulbs are used to create this effect with a rumored 300 needing to be replaced every day.  ©dpoletan.files.wordpress.com


In 1985, the store was brought out by House of Fraser, which was subsequently brought out by the Fayed Brothers Al, and Ali in 1985. Under their ownership, several implications were made, specifically, a dress code that forbids ‘high-cut, Bermuda or beach shorts; swimwear; athletic singlets; cycling shorts; flip flops or thong sandals; with a bare midriff or bare feet; or wearing dirty or unkempt clothing’. Also, rucksacks should be carried in hand or on your front rather than on back or shoulder. Fayed also commissioned two memorials in honour of Princess Diana and his son Dodi Fayed following their deaths in a car crash in 1997. He also expanded the empire by taking outlets at airports and on the QE2 cruise ship.

Al Fayed eventually sold the store to Qatar Holdings in 2010 and since then, the store has gone from strength to strength with its expansion, opening a branch in New York City as well as creating deeper ties in China, specifically Shanghai and Beijing as it creates more of a global presence.

Featured image credit: drapersonline.com




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