9 Secrets Of Hamleys

Laura Reynolds
By Laura Reynolds Last edited 13 months ago
9 Secrets Of Hamleys

William Hamley, a Cornishman who had always wanted to own a toy store, opened his first shop in Holborn in 1760. The location was chosen to attract the well-heeled Bloomsbury crowds. The location and the brand changed, eventually becoming London's  — and one of the world's  — most famous emporiums for kids.

Photo: eGuide Travel under a Creative Commons license

1. Early beginnings and the loss of an apostrophe

Hamleys moved to its current premises on 188-196 Regent's Street in 1981.

Its original Holborn store was called Noah's Ark. Once it moved to 200 Regent Street in 1881, it was known as the Joy Emporium, before finally becoming Hamleys, long after the original Mr Hamley had died. Well, almost.

A Hamleys advert from 1967. © British Library Board.

The firm actually traded as Hamley's (with an apostrophe) until about 1911, when they started to be referred to as Messers Hamley Bros. That lasted until about 1920, when the branding became Messrs Hamleys (without the apostrophe). Soon after, it became just Hamleys.

We doubt the reason behind this apostrophe drop is as unhappy as the reason Selfridges no longer has one.

Hamleys on Regent Street in 1978, before it moved to its current location in 1981, and the ex-Hamleys store in 2016. Photo: roll the dice

2. The oldest toy store in the world...

...is what the store claims, and we have no reason to dispute it. It predates Harrods (which has long peddled toys) by nearly 90 years. There are further claims that is the largest toy store in the world. Anyone who's visited all seven floors, with a child, close to Christmas, won't dispute that either.

3. Nearly gone for good

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Hamleys wasn't faring so well, and was forced to close. It was saved, however, when Walter Lines — who remembered riding on one of the delivery trucks as a child — bought it. Lines, along with his two brothers, owned a toy company. He restored the shop to its former glory and ushered customers back through the doors.

He's forever blowing bubbles. Photo: V X.

4. It's got a Royal Warrant... and a green plaque

Actually, it's got two Royal Warrants. Queen Mary (wife of King George V) awarded Hamleys one in 1938, just seven years after Walter Lines bought and rejuvenated it. A Royal Warrant indicates that the shop supplies the Royal family. Indeed, Queen Mary's own granddaughters had toys from Hamleys in their nursery.

In 1955, Queen Elizabeth II gave it a second Royal Warrant, identifying it as a "toys and sports merchants".

Westminster Council awards green plaques to buildings which have a rich heritage, or where famous people have worked or lived. In 2010, marking 250 years of the business, Hamleys was awarded got its own.

Maybe the Queen is a fan of these bug-eyed creatures? Photo: Ivana D'Accico

5. The disappearing magic warehouse

The firm once had a warehouse for conjuring tricks on New Oxford Street which, in 1916, burnt down. In other words, it disappeared in a puff of smoke.

© British Library Board.

6. More destruction

Hamleys staff serving during the war. Photo: Paul Townsend under a Creative Commons license

The Regent Street store was bombed five times during the war, yet it remained open for business. Staff served at the front of the store, wearing tin hats and running inside to collect toys before completing the transaction at the front.

7. You can sleep there...

...or your kids can, anyway (shh, don't tell them, or you'll never hear the end of it). Among the many birthday party options that Hamleys offers are Hamleys Dream Sleepovers, aimed at kids age 5-11.

8. Penguin problems

The 2014 Christmas celebrations were better received. Photo: Ivana D'Accico

In Christmas 2010, Hamleys briefly advertised an in-store Christmas event that would involve real-life penguins. Predictably, this drew complaints from people concerned about the birds' welfare and the event was shelved.

9. A rude ending

The final scene of Stanley Kubrick's erotic Eyes Wide Shut is set in Hamleys. The very last word of the film, uttered by Nicole Kidman, is an expletive. How very un-family-friendly.

In early 2016, we asked Londonist readers for their earliest memories of London. Loads of you mentioned trips to Hamleys, and two of our favourite stories made it into this article.

Last Updated 14 October 2016