In the 20th century it became common during December in large shops or department stores to have a "cavern" in which an actor dressed up as Santa Claus would give gifts to children. Grottos can be large-walk through fantasy cavern-like areas incorporating animatronic characters such as elfs and pantomime characters. This tradition started in Britain in 1879 and then extended in the 1890s to Australian and American department stores seeking to attract customers.
In 1877, David Lewis owner of Liverpool 'Lewis's' Department Store, visted Paris to see the Bon Marche (the worlds first department store) and so set about opening a similar store in Liverpool's Church Street. Lewis's Bon Marche was not just a store, but acted as an exhibition space and being next to George Henry Lee's, was targeted at a different market than that of Lewis's.
David Lewis opened the world's first Christmas grotto in Lewis's Bon Marche Department Store . The grotto was opened in 1879, entitled "Christmas Fairyland".Many generations of people across Britain first visited Father Christmas here and it is a tradition which was carried on by Lewis's. The grotto at Lewis’s covered over 10,000 square feet (930 m2) and was a staple of Liverpool's festive season. The grotto became 130 years old in 2009. The Grotto has now moved to Rapid Hardware’s store in the former George Henry Lee (John Lewis) building.
Nowadays department stores and shopping centres in the UK still host Santa's Grottos.
It is traditional that the children receive a toy from Father Christmas upon visiting his Grotto be it in a shopping mall or a little garden centre. Grottos are sometimes free and sometimes they charge parents to let their kids see Santa and receive a surprise gift.
When the Lewis’s store closed, the former grotto manager (Mike Done) of 27 years bought the famous Christmas Grotto off the Administrators. In an effort to find the grotto a new home, he moved it to the 4th Floor of Rapid Hardware (former George Henry Lee's). He has said he wishes to recreate the traditional department store grotto in Liverpool and in the process reunited the Lewis's Marketing and Display teams. The Lewis's grotto was opened in 1879 and is one of the oldest in the world as it is now called "Liverpool's Famous Magical Grotto at Rapid".
The first grotto in Rapid was themed around how Santa lost his home in Lewis's and how he would then find a new home at Rapid. The next one (in 2011) was the story of Alice in Wonderland set in Liverpool. The grotto never stays with a static theme and a grotto from the 1960's had Father Christmas "on the moon".
The grotto is still a part of Christmas in the new Rapid Discount Outlet store.
Robert F Edwards Pin It