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Coordinates: 51°30′52.6″N 0°11′18.4″W / 51.514611°N 0.188444°W / 51.514611; -0.188444 Whiteleys is a shopping centre in London, England. It was London's first department store, located in the Bayswater area. The store's main entrance was located on Queensway.



The original Whiteleys department store was created by William Whiteley, who started a drapery shop at 31 Westbourne Grove in 1863. By 1867 it had expanded to a row of shops containing 17 separate departments. By 1890 over 6,000 staff were employed in the business, most of them living in company-owned male and female dormitories, having to obey 176 rules and working 7am to 11pm, six days a week. Whiteley also bought massive farmlands and erected food-processing factories to provide produce for the store and for staff catering.

The first store – described as "an immense symposium of the arts and industries of the nation and of the world" – was devastated in an enormous fire in 1887,[1] one of the largest fires in London's history.[2] This was the last of four fires that had devastated the business from 1882.[3]

In 1907, William Whiteley was murdered by Horace George Rayner, who claimed to be his illegitimate son, "Cecil Whiteley". After his death, the board including two of Whiteley's sons allowed the leases on the various Westbourne Grove properties to lapse and moved into a new purpose built store on Queens Road (now called Queensway).[3]

The building was designed by John Belcher and John James Joass, and was opened by the Lord Mayor of London in 1911.[3] It was the height of luxury at the time, including both a theatre and a golf-course on the roof. It appears in a number of early 20th-century novels, and in Shaw's 1913 play Pygmalion, where Eliza Doolittle is sent "to Whiteleys to be attired." In the late 1920s, Dr. A. J. Cronin, the novelist, was appointed the medical officer of Whiteleys, and in 1927 rival store Selfridges purchased the business.

In the 1950s the chairman Sir Sydney Harold Gillet announced that the store was too big for its turnover and converted the upper floors of the store into office space. These were used by LEO Computers Ltd. in the 1950s and later by International Computers Limited (ICL) for offices and training facilities in the 1970s. The offices were named "Hartree House" after Douglas Rayner Hartree in recognition of his part in the LEO Computers story. Esso Petroleum also rented some of the office space.[4]

In 1961 United Drapery Stores purchased Whiteleys for a fee of £1,750,000.[5] In the late 1970s UDS held a market survey to find out if the losses of the business were down to customer satisfaction. The survey came back positive: it proved that Whiteleys did not have enough customers.[5]

The department store closed down in 1981 remaining empty until the building was purchased by a firm called the Whiteleys Partnership in 1986, later acquired by the Standard Life Assurance Company. Extensive reconstruction followed; the façade and some interior features such as stairs and railings remain, but essentially the building was demolished and rebuilt. During this reconstruction a tower crane collapsed, killing workmen and the driver of a car. It reopened in 1989.

In September 2013 the centre was bought by a Brunei family trust for £100 million, in an off market deal.[6]

The building was designated a Grade II Listed Building in 1970.[7]

Whiteley's Group[edit]

Whiteleys owned three other stores, other than their main store in Westbourne Grove.[8] They were:

  • Frederick Gorringe of Buckingham Palace Road, London
  • West & Moulton of Ilford
  • R H O Hills of Blackpool

Shopping centre[edit]

In 1989 Whiteleys was re-opened as a shopping centre. The current Whiteleys contains a large number of shops and places to eat including Marks & Spencer, HMV, Starbucks and a sushi bar. Leisure facilities include an Odeon cinema and bowling alley. The shopping centre never worked as a retail destination and became much maligned by the wealthy and sophisticated residents of nearby Notting Hill. Since 2005 a slow change of direction began under a new management regime which incorporated substantial physical improvements to the interior, the replacement of McDonalds with Rowley Leigh's new restaurant Le Café Anglais and a new food hall in the central mall area. On site management have claimed in the press that this is the start of a transformation of the building and its shops.[citation needed] The ground-floor fountain, with its inspiring sculpture, certainly disappeared unannounced around that time. In June 2008 the ground floor was transformed into what the management have called a 'foodstore', essentially a larger, more glamorous version of a department store foodhall, designed by Lifeschutz Davidson Sandilands and operated by renowned restaurateur Dominic Ford it is called 'Food Inc' and sells fresh fish, meat, dry goods, wine and meat from the shopping centre's own farm. This year a new vintage store, Victory Vintage, opened on the first floor opposite GAP. One of the largest retail spaces on the first floor was formerly operated by Borders, but is now part of the Toys-R-Us chain. Other stores include branches of clothing stores Zara and French Connection and 'The Real China.'

Other occupants[edit]

Within the current Whiteleys building there is a TV production company called Princess Productions who own office space and a TV studio, which has been used for British breakfast TV show RI:SE, The Wright Stuff, Sunday Brunch, T4 and Too Much TV.

Former occupants[edit]

Until April 2010 Whiteleys also housed the online retailer Net-a-Porter. The company's main offices are now situated in Westfield London.

In popular culture[edit]

Whiteleys is mentioned in several books and has appeared in numerous films, TV shows; most notably:

In War of the Wenuses, an 1898 parody of The War of the Worlds, one of the main battles between Earth women and Venusian women takes place outside the original store in Westbourne Grove.

In the cinematic version of Billion Dollar Brain the hero uses an X-Ray machine in Whiteleys' shoe department to examine the contents of a sealed package.

In the TV series adaption of The Tripods, filmed in 1983, the run-down Whiteleys building is used to portray an abandoned department store in 21st century Paris.

In the film Closer, starring Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman and Clive Owen, the upper floor of Whiteleys hosts an art gallery exhibition, and is the only scene where all four actors appear together at the same time.

The 2013 BBC1 thriller series The Escape Artist filmed scenes there.

In 2016 the store was featured extensively in the storyline of the popular ITV drama Mr Selfridge with the take-over by Selfridges.

Whiteley’s Folly by Linda Stratmann (2004, Sutton Publishing) is a biography of William Whiteley, and a history of the store.

Whiteleys is mentioned the book The Diary of a Nobody written by the brothers George and Weedon Grossmith published in June 1892.

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Affairs in Foreign Lands; the burning of Whiteley's great establishment. The loss estimated at $2,500,00 - incendiarism suspected. New York Times, 8 August 1887
  2. ^ Shepard, Ernest H (1957) Drawn from Memory, Penguin Books, London, ISBN 0-14-003905-8
  3. ^ a b c "William Whiteley, Department Store, Queensway - nationalarchive.gov.uk". Retrieved 13 April 2015. 
  4. ^ Whitleys Folly: The Lif and Death of a Salesman by Linda Stratmann
  5. ^ a b Whiteleys Folly: The Life and Death of a Salesman by Linda Stratmann
  6. ^ "BCSC 2013: Whiteley Queensway sold for £100m". Property Week. Retrieved 21 February 2016. 
  7. ^ Historic England. "Details from listed building database (1227450)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 1 October 2015. 
  8. ^ "William Whitely, Department Store, Queensway - nationalarchive.gov.uk". Retrieved 13 April 2015. 

External links[edit]