Michael Marks

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Michael Marks
Marks Michael Slonim.jpg
Bornc. 1859–1864
Died31 December 1907
Manchester, England
OccupationRetail Businessman and company co-founder
Years active1882–
Known forCo-founder of retailer Marks & Spencer
Hannah Cohen
(m. 1886; his death 1907)

Michael Marks (Polish: Michał Marks; c. 1859–1864 – 31 December 1907), was a Polish-British businessman, and entrepreneur who with Thomas Spencer co-founded the British retail chain Marks & Spencer.


Marks was born into a Polish-Jewish family in Słonim, then in the Russian Partition of Poland, which after 1945 became part of Belarus.[1][2][3] He emigrated to England around 1882 and moved to Leeds, where a company called Barran was known to employ Jewish immigrants. He married Hannah Cohen at the Great Synagogue on Belgrave Street, Leeds, in 1886.[1] His date of birth is unknown; his naturalisation papers say 1859, but his age on his marriage certificate suggests 1863 or 1864.[4]

Marks met Isaac Dewhirst, the owner of a Leeds warehouse, in 1884. A deal was arranged, whereby Marks agreed to buy goods from Dewhirst and sell them in nearby villages. The venture was a success and enabled Marks to raise enough capital to establish a stall in Leeds' open market. At his stall, he used the slogan "Don't Ask the Price – it's a Penny".[5] He also sold goods at Castleford and Wakefield markets.

Marks also made the decision to rent an area at the new covered market in Leeds, which traded six days of the week. Over the next few years, Marks expanded his business and opened similar stalls in covered market halls all over Yorkshire and Lancashire.

Marks & Spencer[edit]

In 1894, Marks decided that if he was to expand the business further, he would need a business partner. He initially approached Bernard Sloman, the famous retired "whistler", who operated a stall in Leeds market selling soap, then Isaac Dewhirst, who also decided against the offer but suggested that his cashier Thomas Spencer might be interested. Spencer decided that the £300 (equivalent to £34,412 in 2019[6]) required for a half-share in the business would be a good investment.

The running of the business was split between Spencer, who managed the office and warehouse, and Marks, who continued to run the market stalls. Spencer had developed some important contacts while working for Isaac Dewhirst, and these allowed him to get the best prices for goods by dealing directly with the manufacturers. Together, Spencer and Marks were able to open stores in Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Middlesbrough, Sheffield, Bristol, Hull, Sunderland and Cardiff.

A new warehouse in Manchester was built in 1897. This store became the centre of a business empire that, by then, included thirty-six branches. New stores had been built in Bradford, Leicester, Northampton, Preston, and Swansea. London had a total of seven branches.

On 5 May 1897, Marks was naturalised as a British subject.

In 1903, Marks & Spencer became a limited company. Spencer's original £300 investment had grown to a value of £15,000 (equivalent to £1,622,601 in 2019) and he retired later that year. Michael Marks continued to develop the business until his death at the age of 48, at Knoll House, 396 Bury New Road, Salford, on 31 December 1907. He was buried in the Old Jewish cemetery (Hebrew Congregation), Crumpsall, in plot number 1917, on 2 January 1908.[7]

In the 1930s, long after the death of Marks, his son Simon Marks, later the first Baron Marks of Broughton, laid the foundations for a long tradition. He introduced the "St Michael" brand name in honour of his father, which was in use until 2000.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Michael Marks". Marks & Spencer people. Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  2. ^ "Marks and Spencer – a Great British institution" (PDF). Bournemouth University. Archived from the original (PDF) on 9 May 2013. Retrieved 4 December 2012.
  3. ^ Paul Burns (2008)
  4. ^ Chislett p. 8.
  5. ^ "Michael Marks". geni_family_tree. Retrieved 15 August 2019.
  6. ^ United Kingdom Gross Domestic Product deflator figures follow the Measuring Worth "consistent series" supplied in Thomas, Ryland; Williamson, Samuel H. (2018). "What Was the U.K. GDP Then?". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved 2 February 2020.
  7. ^ "Michael Marks - Find A Grave Memorial". Find A Grave. Retrieved 19 September 2013.


  • Burns, Paul (2008). Corporate Entrepreneurship: Building an Entrepreneurial Organization. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-230-54263-1.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Chislett, Helen (2009). Marks in time : 125 years of Marks & Spencer. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 978-0-297-85873-7.

External links[edit]