Back to the future with London’s Lost Department Stores

Our high streets are still littered with the remains of former department stores including the shells of once dazzling outlets of Debenhams, House of Fraser and BHS that have been recently joined by various John Lewis & Partners properties.

Amid the carnage today it is incredible to believe that London (and its suburbs) alone supported over 100 department stores in the 1900s. But it’s true and proof of this amazing period is chronicled in the recently published book ‘London’s Lost Department Stores’ from Safe Haven Books.

It gives an easy-reading snapshot of an array of these now sadly departed grand stores including many familiar names to me: Dickens & Jones, Waring & Gillow, Barkers, Big Biba, Whiteleys and Allders. There’s also many that had long ceased trading before I moved down to the capital including Stagg & Mantle, Pratts, Gorringes and the terrifically named Bodgers.

The anecdote-driven accounts of these various stores very much gives a social history of shopping from the Victorian period onwards. It is enhanced by chapters on related themes such as pioneering women in the sector and department stores during war.

As well as being written in an accessible style by author Tessa Boase the book is further brought to life by the terrific selection of photos that add greatly to the publication. The picture-rich format with individual department store profiles ensures this is a book that can be easily dipped into whenever the reader fancies a bit of nostalgia and wants to be be transported to a period when retail really was delivering an incredible amount of theatre to shoppers.

We now live in a period when retailers are focusing ever more on injecting greater experiences into their physical stores and this book will not only take them back in time but it might also point them in the direction in which they need to go with their businesses in the future.

London’s Lost Department Stores is available from Safe Haven Books priced £16.99.

Glynn Davis, editor, Retail Insider