Mapped: The First Major Shops In London

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 81 months ago

Last Updated 04 October 2017

Mapped: The First Major Shops In London

Many of the biggest shopping brands in the UK started out in London. Even if they didn't, London often ended up with the biggest and grandest stores. That said, one of two big names began in some surprising places. Check out the map above to see where.

WHSmith goes back further than you might think: it began life as a small news vendor on Little Grosvenor Street in 1792, run by Henry Walton Smith and his wife Anna. In 1848, it set up as a bookstall in Euston station, flogging tomes to people on their way to Birmingham.

Debenhams went through many names while it was growing into the brand it is now. But the seed that would become Debenhams was planted on 44 Wigmore Street in 1778 by draper William Clark. In 1919 Debenhams took over Marshall & Snelgrove on Oxford Street, which was demolished and rebuilt between 1973-79 as the flagship store it continues to be today.

John Lewis hit the ground running, opening on 132 Oxford Street in 1864.

Not long after, Sainsbury's was on the scene: its first store opened on 173 Drury Lane in 1869 by John James Sainsbury, selling mainly dairy products. The second store came to Queen’s Crescent, Kentish Town in 1873, with two more opening on the same street in 1875 and 1881. There's just one Sainsbury's Local in Kentish Town now.

As for Sainsbury's's rival Tesco, that came 60 years later: having grown from market stalls, the first store opened on 9 Watling Avenue in Burnt Oak in 1929. It's now a Superdrug.

Superdrug itself didn't come along until 1966 — the first shop opening on 64 Putney High Street. It's still there, catering to all your lipstick and impulse chocolate needs.

Though the long-lost Woolworth's felt quintessentially British, the business actually started out in Pennsylvania in the USA by Frank Woolworth, before landing in Liverpool in November 1909. By the next year, Woolworth's was ready to take on London. Though the founder wanted to ape Gordon Selfridge by opening a store on Oxford Circus, he played it safe; the first Woolworth's in London opened 10 December 1910 on Brixton Road.

Carphone Warehouse on Marylebone Road, September 2015. Image: Google

This next one's easy: it's well documented that the first HMV store was opened on 363 Oxford Street on 20 July 1921 by composer Edward Elgar. The building was destroyed on Boxing Day 1937 and reopened in 1939. HMV's flagship store moved (slightly) to 150 Oxford Street, but the old address was reacquired in 2013, and remains there now.

Now for the relative newcomers: the first Homebase opened on Purley Way in Croydon on 3 April 1981.

Another DIY giant, Ikea, landed in Brent Park in 1988. This wasn't the first store in the UK though; that opened the previous year in Warrington.

And to get properly modern: the first Carphone Warehouse arrived on 146 Marylebone Road in 1990, selling the bulky Nokia 101 complete with retractable aerial — a snip at £250. The store is still there now.

As with our previous article on the first shops of London's food chains, it hasn't proved easy to find the original locations of all the major players. For example, Boots told us that its stores were in London from 1901 but as there were a number of them from the start, they're not sure which was the first. The flagship store on Piccadilly didn't open till 1925. Got a first London shop to add to our map? Tell us in the comments.

Featured image by Andrew Smith in the Londonist Flickr pool.