7 Secrets Of Heal's Furniture Store

Laura Reynolds
By Laura Reynolds Last edited 30 months ago
7 Secrets Of Heal's Furniture Store
This famous staircase at the back of the store was designed by Ambrose Heal’s cousin Cecil Brewer.

1. What's in a name?

Heal's is named after John Harris Heal, who established the business with his son in 1810. It began as a business making feather-filled mattresses, expanding later to deal in a wider range of furniture. The first store was on Rathbone Place, but it had moved to Tottenham Court Road by 1818. Unlike many other London stores, it has retained the possessive apostrophe in its name, and for that, we salute it.

2. It had its own stamp

In 1910, to mark the centenary of Heal's, commemorative stamps were produced, bearing the 'sign of the four poster bed'. The store's sign on Tottenham Court Road had become such a popular meeting place for Londoners — akin to the Waterloo station clock — that it was deemed iconic enough to be slapped on envelopes and posted all over the country.

3. What the Dickens?

Heal's was one of the first companies to use 'modern' advertising methods. Adverts were placed on the cover of Charles Dickens' Bleak House, which was first published serially in 1852. The idea was that if someone had a 'bleak house', they could go to Heal's to sort it out.

4. 101 Dalmatians

Dodie Smith, author of The Hundred and One Dalmatians, began working at Heal's as a toy buyer in 1923. She also became the mistress of the shop's (married) chairman, Ambrose Heal.

5. Heal's mascot

From the last titbit, you might think the Heal's animal mascot would be a spotted dog. Not so. On a ledge halfway up the famous Heal's staircase perches The Heal's Cat. Not dissimilar to The Savoy's feline mascot, it became a favourite of shop staff until it was sold in the 1920s by a certain Dodie Smith (as mentioned above) who had previously described it as the shop's "presiding deity".

However, on learning of the sale, Ambrose Heal himself wrote to the customer, cancelling the order. He also had a sign made saying "Heal's Mascot: Not for sale".

6. Royal service

A photo posted by Heal's (@heals_furniture) on

In 1977, Buckingham Palace decided that the place needed a bit of a tidy up in time for Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee. Heal's cabinet-makers and polishers were called in to restore the Palace's 60ft banqueting table in time for the celebrations.

7. War effort

Machinists making parachutes on the top floor of the Tottenham Court Road in the summer of 1940. Photo: Heal's

During the second world war, Heal's factory workers turned their attentions away from mattresses and the like, and manufactured parachutes instead. Special recruitment posters were put up to find sewing machinists, and the existing workforce at Heal's learned new textile skills which worked out well in the end: after the war, the new Heal's Fabric arm of the business was introduced.

Prior to this, in the 1850s, Heal's supplied campaign beds to officers going off to fight in the Crimean war.

See also:

Note: If you're particularly interested in the history of Heal's, we recommend a trip to the store's second floor, where you'll find a timeline on the wall.

Last Updated 22 November 2016