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Liverpool Buildings: Lewis’s Department Store

David Lewis opened his first small store on Ranelagh Street, Liverpool in 1856. It was a small, glass-fronted shop . It expanded piece by piece between 1910-12 into much larger premises. In 1864 Lewis's branched out into women's clothing. In the 1870s the store expanded and added departments, including shoes in 1874 and tobacco in 1879. Also in 1879, Lewis's opened one of the world's first "Christmas grottoes" in Lewis's Bon Marché, Church Street, Liverpool. It was named "Christmas Fairyland".

The Original Department Store Building

LEWIS’S, Liverpool’s landmark department store, fell victim to the Luftwaffe during the May Blitz of 1941  when  Merseyside endured a relentless week of bombing. Saturday, May 3,  will probably live on as the most fearsome and destructive of all the raids. Between sundown  and dawn, wave after wave of bombers throbbed overhead,  pouring thousands of tons of high explosives and incendiaries on to the city. Lewis’s great store with its roof menagerie was destroyed after taking a direct hit. One of the victims that night was Andrew Lund, then 46,  from Cromarty Road, Old Swan, who was on duty firewatching at Lewis’s. His daughter, Lilian Langford, has previously told how  his body was never found. She recalled: “The most sad thing about it is that he had  changed his fire-watching shift as a favour, with a young  man, from the Friday night to the fateful Saturday night. “This changeover was arranged between themselves, so  therefore it was really unofficial. This made the situation  extremely difficult regarding obtaining a death certificate. “As my mother was unfit to do anything, I had the very  unpleasant task of having to visit temporary mortuaries to  try to identify bodies, articles, clothing, etc, that might have  been related to my father. “Then I had to go to court, to explain the situation, so  that my mother could obtain a death certificate. This was  so she could get 10 shillings a week widow’s pension. “My father served in the First World War and came  home disabled. Then he was killed in the Blitz, by a stroke  of fate because he shouldn’t really have been at Lewis’s that  night. It’s just so terrible.”

What remaims of Lewis's Store after receiving a direct hit during the Blitz 
The Rebuilt Lewis's Department store prior to the addition of it's statue

Epstein's Statue 

Jacob Epstein's bronze figure on the prow of a ship above the main entrance to the Lewis's department store building dates from 1954-6 and stands for the resurgence of Liverpool after the war. The panels beneath, also by Epstein (1955), show scenes from childhood 

Above the main entrance to the Liverpool flagship store is a statue of a nude man by Sir Jacob Epstein. Its official title is Liverpool Resurgent but is nicknamed locally "Dickie Lewis". It is a well-known local meeting place and was immortalised in the 1962 anthemic song "In My Liverpool Home" by Peter McGovern:

"We speak with an accent exceedingly rare,
Meet under a statue exceedingly bare" 

The  fifth floor had wood panelling, panelled doors and a tiled floor corridor. A ten foot high Festival of Britain mural on the eastern wall is made of hand painted and hand printed tiles. Another mural on the south wall shows geometric patterns and cutlery. The musral was saved during recent redevelopment to be incorporated into the new hotel that now occupies the building.

One of the other interesting features of the building were the lifts, they were operated by a member of staff and there were no controls for the customers! Both the fold-down seats and the lever mechanism are mentioned in the listing description. The passenger lifts at the south east of the building had ‘clocks’ with coloured lights to indicate which member of staff was required on the shop floor.

The clock and lights above the lift
Lewis’s went into administration in 1991, and all but the Liverpool store were sold off, the majority to competitor Owen Owen. The Liverpool store continued to trade though, until it went into liquidation in 2007. Having been bought by Vergo Retail Ltd in the same year it managed to soldier on until the lease on the iconic building came up for renewal. Due to development of the area, the company was no longer allowed to stay. Despite efforts at negotiation. The Lewis’s building façade however,has been renovated and restored to its former glory. Work had begun to build a new 'Central Village' by developer Meerpark, however, following the collapse of Meerpark Construction in June 2013 work stopped when almost 85% complete. Part of the former store has now been converted into the UK’s first Adagio "apart-hotel", including the famous fifth-floor cafeteria, which was closed to the public in the early 1980s and has retained its original hand- painted ceramic tiles.

Robert F Edwards

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