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A tale of two shops


Still known to many of its customers as George Henry Lee, even to this day  this much-loved Liverpool store has a proud heritage, with its genesis in two quite different department stores, George Henry Lee and Bon Marché.





George Henry Lee


George Henry Lee from Basnett Street
Founded in 1853 by Henry Boswell Lee, George Henry Lee started life as a bonnet warehouse at 12 Basnett Street on the corner of Leigh Street. The shop prospered and grew, gradually developing into a department store. In 1874, the last of the Lee sons retired and control passed to Thomas Oakshott, who, in 1887, became the first tradesman to become Lord Mayor of Liverpool, an appointment which added to the prestige of the enterprise. In 1910, the year Thomas Oakshott died, the company had over 1,200 employees and the Basnett Street frontage was rebuilt with elegant Edwardian marble pillars. Shortly after the First World War, the Oakshott family sold the shop to an American, H. Gordon Selfridge, who in turn sold the business, together with the other 14 stores in his Provincial Stores Group, to the John Lewis Partnership in 1940.

Bon Marché

Bon Marché on Church Street

Meanwhile across the road, a very different department store had developed. Founded in 1878, Bon Marché was modeled on its famous namesake in Paris and featured French fashions, perfumes and accessories. It became renowned for its sense of style and its encouragement of the arts, and in 1927 a gallery was built in which a series of exhibitions, lectures and concerts were staged. During the 1930s promotional events were a regular feature and citizens flocked to see Gracie Fields selling stockings for fifteen minutes. In 1937 it introduced Younger Liverpool Ltd., an early example of a boutique style department.Even the war could not inhibit Bon Marché - a special air raid safety zone was designed in a futuristic manner and it was the first shop in Liverpool to stage a fashion show featuring the new Utility styles.

Bon Marché Interior

During the 1950s its fortunes declined and, having been briefly owned by the Liverpool Co-operative Society, it was acquired in 1961 by the John Lewis Partnership, who decided to merge it with George Henry Lee. The store continued to operate under the original G.H Lee name for a good many years afterwards, becoming a household name and gaining a reputation for high quality merchandise.

Much Later, in 2002 Partners voted to join most of the other department stores in the John Lewis group and take the name of the Founder - and open seven days a week.


George Henry Lee store on the site of the former Bon Marché


In October 2003 it was announced that John Lewis would relocate to a new, multi-million pound shop, as part of the Liverpool ONE project. Work began on the new shop in late 2005. Finally, on Thursday 29 May 2008, the new shop opened. 

As of 2012 the John Lewis division operates 30 full-line department stores, nine John Lewis at Home Stores and a webstore. The stores are in a mixture of city centre and regional shopping centre locations. They are generally the largest or second largest department store in their local market. The flagship Oxford Street store in London remains the largest John Lewis outlet in the UK.

The new John Lewis Store in Liverpool One



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Sources

Liverpool Central Library
Liverpool Records Office
John Lewis

Robert F Edwards

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