|Founded||26 July 1889|
|Headquarters||Bayswater, London, W2|
|Products||Quality and luxury goods|
Whiteleys is a department store located in Bayswater, London, which opened in 1889. It is owned by the Brunei family through their sovereign wealth fund. It was built in the retail space of the former William Whiteley Limited department store, which opened in 1911 as London's first department store, and was one of the main three department stores, alongside Liberty's and Harrods. The store's main entrance is located on Queensway. In December 2018, Whiteleys was closed for complete redevelopment, which was widely reported to cost over £1 Billion, and completing in 2022.
The original Whiteleys department store was created by William Whiteley, who started a drapery shop at 31 Westbourne Grove in 1863. By 1867 it had expanded to a row of shops containing 17 separate departments.
Dressmaking was started in 1868, and a house agency and refreshment room, the first ventures outside drapery, opened in 1872. By then 622 people were employed on the premises and a further 1,000 outside. Whiteleys started selling food in 1875, and a building and decorating department was added in 1876. This proved to be particularly profitable, as the large stuccoed houses in the area needed regular repainting.
Whiteleys met strong opposition from smaller tradesmen, and also from the local authorities over its grand building plans, and several bad fires in the 1880s may have been caused by opponents. Business nonetheless prospered, aided by a delivery service extending up to 25 miles (40 km), and in 1887 the store was described as 'an immense symposium of the arts and industries of the nation and of the world'.
By 1890 over 6,000 staff were employed in the business, most of them living in company-owned male and female dormitories, having to obey 176 rules and working 7 am to 11 pm, six days a week. Whiteleys also bought massive farmlands and erected food-processing factories to provide produce for the store and for staff catering. In 1896 it earned an unsolicited Royal Warrant from Queen Victoria - an unprecedented achievement.
Westbourne Grove Fire and reopening
The first store – described as "an immense symposium of the arts and industries of the nation and of the world" – was devastated in an enormous fire in 1887, one of the largest fires in London's history. This was the last of four fires that had devastated the business from 1882. In 1887 disaster struck and the store in Westbourne Grove burnt down. In his autobiography, Drawn From Memory, E. H. Shepard said the fire could be seen from Highgate Hill, and some days later when he and his brother Cyril were allowed to visit Westbourne Grove, that, "The long front of the shop was a sorry sight with part of the wall fallen and the rest blackened."
Whiteleys was to rise again like the Phoenix from the fire and was soon rebuilt, but later moved from Westbourne Grove to Queensway. When the Lord Mayor of London in the presence of thousands opened the new store in Queensway on 21 November 1911, it was claimed to be the largest shop in the world.
In 1907, William Whiteley was murdered by Horace George Rayner, who claimed to be his illegitimate son, "Cecil Whiteley". After his death, the board including two of Whiteley's sons allowed the leases on the various Westbourne Grove properties to lapse and moved into a new purpose built store on Queens Road (now called Queensway).
As many of the leases in Westbourne Grove were due for renewal, the board of directors, including two of Whiteley's sons decided to move the business into Queen's Road (later renamed Queensway). A new store designed by J J Joass was opened in 1911 and was further extended between 1925 and 1927 to incorporate the present frontage. In 1927 the store was bought by Harry Gordon Selfridge. He was an American from Ripon, Wisconsin who had experience with department stores in Chicago and had come to England to seek new business opportunities. He had built Selfridge's at 400 Oxford Street, opening to the public on 15 March 1909.
Whiteley's received bomb damage from an air raid on 19 October 1940. In 1981 United Drapery Stores Group which had gained control of William Whiteley's closed the store. They were taken over by the Hanson Trust, who in 1986 sold it to a new consortium called Whiteley's Partnership, consisting of Arlington Securities, London and Metropolitan Estates, Wilverley & Hampshire Estates and Dartnorth. The Second World War air raid damage along with the earlier fires and subsequent changes in ownership led to the loss of many of the archives associated with the store.
In the 1950s the chairman Sir Sydney Harold Gillet announced that the store was too big for its turnover and converted the upper floors of the store into office space. These were used by LEO Computers Ltd. in the 1950s and later by International Computers Limited (ICL) for offices and training facilities in the 1970s. The offices were named "Hartree House" after Douglas Rayner Hartree in recognition of his part in the LEO Computers story. Esso Petroleum also rented some of the office space.
Purchase by United Drapery Stores
In 1961 United Drapery Stores purchased Whiteleys for a fee of £1,750,000. In the late 1970s UDS held a market survey to find out if the losses of the business were down to customer satisfaction. The survey came back positive: it proved that Whiteleys did not have enough customers.
The department store closed down in 1981, remaining empty until the building was purchased by a firm called the Whiteleys Partnership in 1986, which was later acquired by the Standard Life Assurance Company. Extensive reconstruction followed; the façade and some interior features such as stairs and railings remained, but essentially the building was demolished and rebuilt. During this reconstruction a tower crane collapsed, killing workmen and the driver of a car. Whiteleys reopened on 26 July 1989 as a shopping centre.
Brunei family ownership
In 2016, a £1bn redevelopment plan for the Whiteleys shopping centre was approved. It would include two new ten storey blocks with 100 new homes and a hotel.
In more recent years, as units began to empty, and customer footfall reduced, the interiors began to resemble a ghost mall. In summer 2018, Marks and Spencer's closed its Whiteleys branch, and in the last few weeks before the centre closed for redevelopment, just a handful of units remained occupied and active. Whiteleys closed on 1 December 2018, with the last trading day being on 30 November.
Products and services
Design and layout
The building was designed by John Belcher and John James Joass, and was opened by the Lord Mayor of London in 1911. It was the height of luxury at the time, including both a theatre and a golf-course on the roof. It appears in a number of early 20th-century novels, and in Shaw's 1913 play Pygmalion, where Eliza Doolittle is sent "to Whiteleys to be attired." In the late 1920s, Dr. A. J. Cronin, the novelist, was appointed the medical officer of Whiteleys, and in 1927 rival store Selfridges purchased the business. The building was designated a Grade II listed building in 1970.
On 26 July 1989 Whiteleys was re-opened as a shopping centre. The shopping centre never worked as a retail destination and became much maligned by the wealthy and sophisticated residents of nearby Notting Hill.
Since 2005, a slow change of direction began under a new management regime which incorporated substantial physical improvements to the interior, the replacement of McDonald's with Rowley Leigh's new restaurant Le Café Anglais and a new food hall in the central mall area. Onsite management claimed in the press that this was the start of a transformation of the building and its shops.
The ground-floor fountain, with its inspiring sculpture, certainly disappeared unannounced around that time. In June 2008, the ground floor was transformed into what the management called a 'foodstore'; essentially a larger, more glamorous version of a department store foodhall, designed by Lifeschutz Davidson Sandilands and operated by renowned restaurateur Dominic Ford. Called 'Food Inc', it sold fresh fish, meat, dry goods, wine and meat from the shopping centre's own farm.
In popular culture
Whiteleys is mentioned in several books and has appeared in numerous films, TV shows; most notably:
- In War of the Wenuses, an 1898 parody of The War of the Worlds, one of the main battles between Earth women and Venusian women takes place outside the original store in Westbourne Grove.
- In the cinematic version of Billion Dollar Brain the hero uses an X-Ray machine in Whiteleys' shoe department to examine the contents of a sealed package.
- In the TV series adaption of The Tripods, filmed in 1983, the run-down Whiteleys building is used to portray an abandoned department store in 21st century Paris.
- In the film Closer, starring Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman and Clive Owen, the upper floor of Whiteleys hosts an art gallery exhibition, and is the only scene where all four actors appear together at the same time.
- The 2013 BBC1 thriller series The Escape Artist filmed scenes there.
- In 2016 the store was featured extensively in the storyline of the popular ITV drama Mr Selfridge with the take-over by Selfridges.
- Whiteley’s Folly by Linda Stratmann (2004, Sutton Publishing) is a biography of William Whiteley, and a history of the store.
- Whiteleys is mentioned in the book The Diary of a Nobody written by the brothers George and Weedon Grossmith published in June 1892.
Notes and references
- Affairs in Foreign Lands; the burning of Whiteley's great establishment. The loss estimated at $2,500,00 - incendiarism suspected. New York Times, 8 August 1887
- Shepard, Ernest H (1957) Drawn from Memory, Penguin Books, London, ISBN 0-14-003905-8
- "William Whiteley, Department Store, Queensway - nationalarchive.gov.uk". Retrieved 13 April 2015.
- "William Whiteley, Department Store, Queensway - nationalarchive.gov.uk". Retrieved 8 April 2019.
- Whitleys Folly: The Lif and Death of a Salesman by Linda Stratmann
- Whiteleys Folly: The Life and Death of a Salesman by Linda Stratmann
- "BCSC 2013: Whiteley Queensway sold for £100m". Property Week. Retrieved 21 February 2016.
- "Green light for £1bn Whiteleys shopping centre revamp". BBC. Retrieved 22 April 2017.
- Historic England. "Details from listed building database (1227450)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 1 October 2015.
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