Gamages began life in 1878 in a rented watch repair shop and, after quickly becoming a success amongst its customers, was established as a London institution. It was founded by Arthur Walter Gamage, who soon bought out his partner, Frank Spain. In time it was to grow large enough to take up most of the block in which it was situated, it was unusual in that its premises were away from the main Oxford Street shopping area, being on the edge of the City of London at Holborn Circus. Gamages also ran a successful mail-order business.
Many of those who were children at the time remember Gamages because of its unparallelled stock of toys of the day, and the Gamages catalogue, which was a well-loved gift during the autumn, in time for Christmas present requests to be made. One of the store's main attractions was a large model railway which alternated between a day and night scene by the use of lighting. The railway was provided by a man called Bertram Otto who was German by birth. It received many thousands of visitors every Christmas.
Gamages had many departments - a much larger number than modern department stores. There was a substantial hardware department on the ground floor which included specialist motor parts and car seat cover sections. There was a photographic department, and camping, pets, toys and sporting departments, the latter selling shotguns. The toy department was extensive and there were substantial fashion, furniture and carpeting departments and in latter years a small food supermarket.
In 1928 Gamages signed a lease for 489-497 Oxford Street from the Duke of Westminster , and set about building a new store with residential accommodation under architects C. S. and E. M. Joseph, with input from the Duke's chosen architect for his estate, Sir Edwin Lutyens. A new company was set up, Gamages (West End) Limited,for the expansion with 500,000 £1 shares to the public. The store opened in 1930, and the architectural correspondent of The Times said the building had "skilful manner of his 'stone binding of the brick mass' is very apparent". The store failed as a business and was closed just eight months later, with the building being auctioned off.
A report of the auction of Gamages Department Store (including its 41 flats) appeared in The Times on 15 July 1931. Mr W. S. Edgson of Hillier Parker May & Rowden conducted the auction, who said it was "regrettable the property had to be put onto the market after only a few months of trading." The report said the premises "had a working area, excluding staircases, of 210,000 square feet. The site was practically self-contained with a frontage of 318 feet to Oxford Street, long frontages to Park Street and North Row, and a ground area of 56,800 square feet... The agreement for the lease was for £30,000 a year from 1932. It might (said Mr Edgson) seem a high ground rent, but, being only 11s. a foot, it was extremely low for Oxford-street." There was no response to an opening offer of £600,000, or of £500,000, "half of what the building cost". The premises was withdrawn from sale at £330,000. The building was eventually bought by C & A.
Gamages was an extremely successful and profitable store. In 1968 a second store was opened in the Liberty Shopping Centre in Romford, Essex. This had a relatively short life as the whole company was taken over by Jeffrey Sterling's Sterling Guarantee Trust in 1970 and the Romford site was sold off to British Home Stores in 1971. The Holborn site closed in March 1972 and there is now no trace of the store to be seen. Gamages reopened in the old Waring & Gillows store in Oxford Street but this venture was short-lived and closed in 1972.
In popular culture
In London Belongs to Me by Norman Collins, Connie visits Gamages to buy a new cage for her beloved canary, Duke.
In an episode of the BBC sitcom Porridge titled 'Heartbreak Hotel', Fletcher tells his daughter how, at the time of her conception, her mother had 'a nice steady job in the hardware department at Gamages'.
In an episode of the LWT TV drama Poirot titled Yellow Iris, Arthur Hastings reads to Poirot from the Daily Express newspaper. A prominent advertisement for Gamages department store promoting a 'great sale of furniture at lowest cash prices' can be seen.
In an episode of the Granada TV crime drama The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes titled "The Cardboard Box", Mrs Hudson advises Sherlock Holmes to buy Dr Watson's Christmas present at Gamages. Later, we see Holmes arrive with a parcel with the Gamages label. Finally, the gift is revealed to be a poncho.
- "In Pictures: London's Lost Department Stores". londonist.com. Retrieved 9 March 2016.
- Elizabeth Lomas; Archive of Art and Design (Great Britain) (2001). Guide to the Archive of Art and Design, Victoria & Albert Museum. Taylor & Francis. p. 102. ISBN 978-1-57958-315-6.
- Rudyard Kipling, The Letters of Rudyard Kipling: 1920-30
- "Oxford Street: The Rebuilding of Oxford Street". British History Online. Retrieved 6 May 2021.
- "Auction Of Gamages (West End), Ltd." Times [London, England] 15 July 1931
- Gary Sheffield (2007). War on the Western Front: In the Trenches of World War I. Osprey Publishing. p. 201. ISBN 1846032105.
- "YOUR MONEY by Robert Head Small shops gang up on the giants". Daily Mirror pg.19. 16 September 1970.
- "Shares jump". Birmingham Daily Post pg.4. 16 September 1970.
- "British Home Stores Part 3: 1960 to 2016". Building Our Pasts. Retrieved 6 May 2021.
- "Survey of Lindon". Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London, Chapter 4 164–212 Oxford Street, Winsley Street to Great Portland Street, pg. 13.
- Collins, Norman (2009). London belongs to me. Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14-144233-4. OCLC 271771660.
- Gamages 1913 catalogue at the British Library
- Freedland, Jonathan (2008). "Retail Difficulties: Gamages in 1930 ... what shops today can learn from the bleak festive season of 1930". BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 9 March 2016.
- Gamages Lathes