The Big British Bang: a history of Selfridges

— 29 May 2012

The Big British Bang: a history of Selfridges

It’s the most important cultural and sporting year in Great Britain’s history. As London hosts the Olympic Games and celebrates the Queen’s sixtieth year on the throne, Selfridges is marking the momentous occasion with our largest-scale creative takeover yet – The Big British Bang.

Here, we root through the archives and take a nostalgic trip down memory lane to look at our own contribution to good old Great British history.

Henry Gordon Selfridge – known as Harry by his family and friends – is born on 11 January 1856 in Ripon, Wisconsin, USA. As a teenager, Henry Gordon becomes a junior partner in American store, Marshall Field & Co, where he plays an integral role in turning the brand into the largest store in the world. After a decade at the company and harbouring the ambition of opening his own store, Henry leaves for London.

1906: work begins building an eight-storey neoclassical building at 400 Oxford Street

In 1906, work begins building an eight-storey neoclassical building at 400 Oxford Street.

1909: Selfridges opens - the crowds are so large that by 6.30pm 150,000 people had visited the store.

Selfridges London opens on 15 March 1909. The crowds are so large that by 6.30pm 150,000 people had visited the store. 

Even in 1909, the windows at Selfridges London were somewhat of an attraction.

Even in 1909, the windows at Selfridges London were somewhat of an attraction.

1920: Selfridges London’s rooftop was the place to be seen

In the late 1920s, Selfridges London’s rooftop was the place to be seen. Crowds would ascend on the top of the building to play games, meet with friends and on some occasions even watch a fashion show. See more photos here.

1969: the store’s 60th Birthday
In 1969, the store’s 60th birthday – its Diamond Jubilee – was celebrated with great grandeur. Exhibitions of jewels drew crowds, while major cosmetics brands like Orlane and Charles of the Ritz created exclusives for the store.

Selfridge Hotel opened in 1972
Selfridge Hotel opened in 1972. However, within two years, London would become the target of intensifying IRA activity. In December 1974, Selfridges was bombed. Luckily there were few injuries among the store’s employees and by the next day it was ‘business as usual’.

1990 - 2002: Selfridges opens in Manchester in Birmingham
Before long, ‘the yellow bag’ was to become the hottest accessory in town – and not just in London. Selfridges opened a store in Trafford Park, Manchester in 1990, followed by the Exchange Square store in Manchester’s city centre in 2002 and Birmingham’s Bull Ring store in 2002. 

2007 - 2012: The Wonder Room, The Shoe Galleries and the Women's Designer Galleries
In 2003, Selfridges is bought by Canadian retail businessman Galen Weston and his family. The next decade sees significant investment in all four stores – including the restoration of the Wonder Room in 2007 and the opening of the Womens Designer Galleries earlier this year. 

The Big British Bang: a history of Selfridges
From tea parties on the roof to the unmissable Britannica Exhibition, Selfridges embarks on the biggest display of retail theatre and in-store excitement in its 103-year history with The Big British Bang.

Find out more about Our Heritage here.

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