John Lewis in London
Somerset-born John Lewis opened his first shop in 1864, on Oxford Street. Lewis began by selling ribbons and haberdashery and progressively branched out into new lines. His son John Spedan Lewis took an active part in the business from an early age but his radical ideas on staff remuneration, welfare and participation brought the two into conflict.
Spedan withdrew from any involvement in the Oxford Street business in return for total control at Peter Jones, Sloane Square, which his father had acquired in 1905. He successfully introduced a consultative system of management while transforming the fortunes of what had been a failing enterprise.
Father and son were eventually reconciled and, on the former’s death in 1928, John Spedan Lewis gained sole ownership of the business. Within a year he had established the John Lewis Partnership, the profits of which were distributed among the staff, thenceforth known as ‘partners’. Soon afterwards the partnership adopted the pricing policy and slogan it still proclaims today: “Never knowingly undersold.”
Meanwhile, over in Acton, Wallace Waite and Arthur Rose had built a flourishing grocery store business they called Waitrose Ltd. The John Lewis Partnership acquired the company’s ten stores in 1937, the same year in which the present Peter Jones department store opened – to widespread architectural acclaim for its pioneering use of curtain-walling. Three years later the partnership bought Jones Brothers, Holloway Road, from Selfridge Provincial Stores.
By the outbreak of the Second World War the Oxford Street business had grown to fill a pair of department stores, but these were destroyed by fire after being hit by an oil bomb in 1940 and rebuilt in the present form in the late 1950s.
In 1955 the first Waitrose supermarket opened in Streatham, where the partnership had earlier acquired Pratt’s department store.
John Lewis became an anchor store of the Brent Cross shopping centre when it opened in 1976 and subsequently challenged the dominance of Bentalls in Kingston upon Thames. In 1990 the partnership closed its Streatham (Pratt’s) and Holloway Road (Jones Brothers) branches – despite the pleas and protests of dismayed local residents.
The group has since opened additional London branches at Westfield Stratford City and on the Purley Way, west of Croydon (a one-floor ‘at home’ store).