William Whiteley came to London from the West Riding of Yorkshire in the mid-1850s and by 1863 had saved enough money to establish his own business in Westbourne Grove, selling ribbons, laces, trimmings and fancy goods.
Whiteley proved to be a very astute merchant and by 1876 he had acquired 15 adjacent properties, creating London’s first ‘great emporium’. To provide fresh produce for his shops, he established an extensive agricultural estate beside the River Crane in Hanworth, and spent much of his time living in a small bungalow there, despite his enormous wealth.
Whiteley called himself ‘the Universal Provider’ and boasted that he could supply ‘anything from a pin to an elephant at short notice’. He is said to have proved his credentials by delivering a large specimen of the latter to a previously sceptical Church of England clergyman at 4pm on the day the order was placed.
On 24 January 1907 William Whiteley was shot dead in his own office by a young man who claimed to be his illegitimate son.
His legitimate sons relocated the business to an imposing new building on Queen’s Road (now Queensway) in 1911. Later owners, the United Drapery Stores Group, closed the store in 1981 and the building was subsequently converted to a shopping and leisure centre.