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.
The shopping centre closed in December 2018 in preparation for the radical refurbishment of the building and the construction of an accompanying pair of 10-storey blocks with more than 100 new homes, plus townhouses to the rear on Redan Place. There will be a hotel and cinema, in addition to the shops and eateries of the revamped mall. The project architect is Foster + Partners.
In a separate but related project, the dowdy shopping parade (plus 27 existing homes) across Queensway from Whiteleys will be replaced by a long, low-rise block with retailers at street level and 94 apartments in the four storeys above them – and behind, on Inverness Terrace. The Queensway Parade scheme – also designed by Foster + Partners, is shown on the right in the developer’s CGI below (with Whiteleys on the left).