The Survey of London
  • Survey of London
  • A A A

    Shopping in style – D. H. Evans in 1937

    By the Survey of London, on 26 March 2016

    The name of D. H. Evans disappeared from Oxford Street in 2001, though it lingers in the memory of many. Since then it has been a branch of the House of Fraser, the company which has owned the store since 1954. Just over eighty years ago the present store was completed, officially opened in February 1937. It was designed by Louis Blanc in 1934 and constructed in two phases so that trading could carry on with as little interruption as possible. When it was completed, it made a dramatic impact, occupying an entire block, and rising higher than any of the other shops then standing on Oxford Street.

    D-H-Evans-aerial-copy

    Cover of the Coronation Brochure produced by D. H. Evans in 1937, with their new store circled, and showing how much higher it was than its neighbours along Oxford Street.

    With the coronation of George VI and Queen Elizabeth taking place on 12 May that year, the management of D. H. Evans produced a commemorative brochure for the occasion, which principally served as a promotion for their new store. Traditionally Oxford Street was included in royal processions, and the coronation that year was no exception. The street was part of a six-mile route taken by the new king and queen after their coronation from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace. Some press reports estimated that six million people descended on London for the occasion. All the shops were decorated with special window displays, and the street enlivened with flags and flowers. Royal monograms and coloured streamers abounded.

    Side elevation of D. H. Evans

    Perspective view of D. H. Evans from the Coronation Brochure. 

    Recent relaxation of the height restrictions imposed on trade buildings by the London Building Acts enabled the new store to rise to 100 feet, twenty foot more than the old limit and productive of an additional two storeys. The building was steel-framed, with solid concrete floors and faced in Portland stone above the pale-grey granite facing of the ground storey. The great height of the building gave it presence on the street and produced one of its most exciting spaces inside in the form of the escalator hall. This contained not just the sequence of escalators but also staircases and ‘high-speed’ lifts (the upper trading floor could be reached in one and a half minutes).

    Escalator Hall, D. H. Evans, from the 1937 Coronation Brochure

    Escalator Hall, D. H. Evans, from the 1937 Coronation Brochure

    In its finish and colour the escalator hall was also intended to be a glamorous focal point, a place to be seen, as well as from which to view all the store had to offer. The walls and pillars were of delicate beige-pink Travertine marble, the floors of polished cork, producing a ‘soft, brown glow’, the fibrous plaster ceiling was in a ‘modernistic design’, the sheen of metalwork on stairs, escalators and lifts was achieved in ‘silver and copper bronze surfaces, satin finished’.

    Ground Floor

    Ground Floor, D. H. Evans, with the impossibly angular largely female shoppers parading along the wide aisles between display stands.

    There were six trading floors. On the ground floor were fashion accessories and fabrics arranged either side of a sweeping central aisle. Branching from each side ‘miniature, self-contained shops’ sold specific accessories or goods: stockings, gloves, handbags, lace, jewellery, perfume, fur trimmings, scarves, haberdashery, needlework, flowers, wools, or household stationery, each defined beneath its own canopy, with diffused light illuminating the merchandise displayed beneath. Fabrics had a larger area, occupying the rear half of the floor with separate sections for different types of material: plain silks, printed silks, tweeds, woollens, cottons, and lingerie fabric (staffed entirely by women). Here were also dress-making patterns, staffed by ‘expert saleswomen’ capable of giving sound and practical advice.

    One of the 'display corridors', bringing window shopping indoors.

    One of the ‘display corridors’, bringing window shopping indoors.

    The first floor was divided into three sections devoted to the principal items of women’s clothing: the hat, the coat and the frock. Display corridors ran around the floor designed to look like shop windows. Thought was given to the way in which people shopped in the arrangement of goods, so they were divided into price groups and size, but also for quick or slow shoppers.

    Millinnary department,

    Millinery department, where different areas were adapted to differing habits of the shoppers, whether they were fast or slow. 

    Hats were arranged on tall counters for quick shoppers, and mirrored alcoves for those wishing to make a leisured choice. A separate room was set aside for three-piece suits, and private fitting rooms, luxuriously appointed, were provided ‘in plenty’.

    The corset department.

    The corset department.

    Underwear, including night-clothes, was on the second floor. More display corridors lead to blouses and knitted jumpers, placed ‘for matching purposes, next to skirts. Knitted suits were in a separate room, and ‘tailormades’ supervised by a specialist tailor. Here too were shoes, furs, and bathing and beach wear. Furs were displayed against a background of Indian white mahogany, and there was a fur storage section resembling a small bank, with a vault of its own, while the cold storage in the sub-basement could store ‘many thousands of pounds worth’.

    the children's department

    The children’s department, which featured Peter Pan’s Playground. ‘The houses of Peter Pan and Wendy take the form of two huge trees which spread their branches over an enchanting ornamental pond and fountain.’

    The third floor contained three quite separate sections: the children’s department, household and travel. The children’s department was the largest, taking up about two thirds of the floor and not only selling outfits but also providing two playrooms for the under-sixes – Peter Pan’s Playground (see above).

    D-H-Evans-baby-shop

    The Baby Shop

    The travel section sold school trunks, suit cases, rugs, foot muffs and ladies’ weather-coats and mackintoshes, while the household section included overalls, utility frocks, maids’ and nannies’ outfitting as well as bed- and table-linen etc.

    The beauty salon

    The beauty salon, offering sound-proof beauty rooms. 

    Half of the fourth floor was devoted to hairdressing and beauty salons, boasting ‘an all British staff’. All cubicles had padded comfort chairs, spring rests for the feet, a telephone, and sterilising cabinets – for disinfecting the instruments of beauty treatments. For beauty culture there were nine sound-proof beauty rooms with day or night lighting. Materials used were prepared in the company’s own laboratories, adjoining which were workrooms for the production of postiche. The rest of the floor was given over to the gifts department.

    The restaurant

    The restaurant on the fifth floor.

    The fifth floor was the highest one devoted to the public and contained the restaurant. Furnished in brown, beige and rose, down both sides were plush-seated alcoves while the rest of the floor had circular tables arranged in a grid of squares around the supporting columns, around the base of which were waitressing stations. The restaurant offered table d’hôte and à la carte meals, while a salad and sandwich room catered for customers with less time to linger. Two kitchens, one at either end, were fitted out with all the latest appliances.

    Ladies who lunch

    Ladies who lunch – enjoying a lettuce leaf or two, and a cigarette, in the fifth-floor restaurant at D. H. Evans in 1937

    Sources

    The Builder, 8 Jan 1937, p.122; Coronation brochure, 1937

    Christmas shopping on Oxford Street

    By the Survey of London, on 18 December 2015

    The Survey of London not only records the architectural history and development of each area that we work on, but draws out the character of that area both in the past and as it has become today. In Oxford Street that character is defined above all by its shops, and Christmas is its busiest time of the year. A couple of weeks ago we asked Lucy Millson-Watkins to photograph the lights, sights and decorations of Christmas on Oxford Street in 2015. Here follows a selection of the photographs that she took, with a few views from the 1950s on the same theme, showing how much – or how little – things have changed.

    20151209-_33B2983

    Oxford Street at dusk, looking east. Photographed in December 2015 (© Survey of London, Lucy Millson-Watkins). If you are having trouble viewing images, please click here.

    The throngs of traffic and shoppers at this time of the year have been newsworthy for well over a century. In December 1882 The New York Times commented on the streets in the West End being more than usually crowded, the shops and stores full of ‘wonders of nature and art, sweetmeats and fruits from every clime, toys and magic surprises of all imaginable shapes and inventions, Christmas cards designed by famous pencils, books for children that are art treasures’. [1]

    Gather round to get your hands on Cliff Richard. Customers searching through racks of LPs in Selfridges, Christmas 1959. A ‘Cliff Sings’ (Cliff Richard) record can be seen advertised above one of the boxes. (© Henry Grant Collection/Museum of London)

    20151209-_33B2701

    The Toy Store, a Dubai-based chain which opened its first UK flagship store in 2014 close to Bond Street Station. Photographed in December 2015 (© Survey of London, Lucy Millson-Watkins)

    20151209-_33B2929

    West end of Oxford Street looking towards Marble Arch, with Marks & Spencers flagship store. Photographed in December 2015 (© Survey of London, Lucy Millson-Watkins)

    ‘Christmas shops’ within the larger department stores are also nothing new. In 1909 Warings on Oxford Street created a display which aimed to make the task of choosing a Christmas gift comparatively easy by arranging ‘practically on one floor, suitable articles from their various departments … Silver, lace, bronze, clocks, glass and china, pictures, musical instruments, furniture and fancy articles of every description.’ [2]  Not to be outdone, the following year Peter Robinsons was advertising ‘Arcadia’ its ‘grand xmas bazaar’: ‘don’t let the children miss it’. [3]

    20151209-_33B2681

    Boots, with understated decoration. Photographed in December 2015 (© Survey of London, Lucy Millson-Watkins)

    Selfridges in December 1953 also making use of the first-floor space above the entrance. Extravagant and elaborate window and exterior displays at Christmas time and during Royal celebrations have been a tradition at Selfridges since the founder Henry Selfridge first lit the shop windows at night for passers by to see goods on sale in 1890. Here statues of Father Christmas and Disney characters stand above the entrance to the store to entice customers inside to look at the Toy displays. (© Henry Grant Collection/Museum of London)

    There are grumbles about how early in the year decorations and displays of Christmas gifts appear in the shops, but it seems even that is not new. According to The New York Times, in the mid 1920s Christmas shopping was unthinkable in the United States before Thanksgiving, and it was not really until mid-December that ‘the Christmas fever germ begins to “take” in America’. By contrast, in London  ‘everything from orchids and knitting needles to vintage wines and bath salts may be purchased on the afternoon of Armistice Day’ and packages for India and the Far East were posted out soon afterwards. [4] Perhaps therein lies a part of the explanation for our unseasonably early habits.

    20151207-_33B2357

    South side of Oxford Street, looking East. Photographed in December 2015 (© Survey of London, Lucy Millson-Watkins)

    During the Second World War the blackout, and later rationing, had obvious effects, as also did bomb-damage – notably on John Lewis’s. On the run up to the first Christmas of the war there was a proposal to erect a light-proof arcade along Oxford Street for night-time window shopping. It was to have comprised a thick solid roof, stretching out over the curb, and heavy canvas screens which could be drawn aside during the day. As yet, we have not discovered if the arcade was built. [5]

    20151209-_33B2662

    Selfridges window display. Photographed in December 2015 (© Survey of London, Lucy Millson-Watkins). Selfridges’ displays this year are themed on the signs of the zodiac, promoting high fashion and accessories much in the same way as Bourne & Hollingsworth were doing in the 1950s.

    Window shopping at Bourne and Hollingsworth department store, Christmas 1953. The store opened in 1902 at 116-118 Oxford Street. It became known for the high quality of the goods sold there. The department store closed in the 1980s and the building now houses the Plaza Shopping Centre. (© Henry Grant Collection/Museum of London)

    After the war things slowly returned to normal. In 1949 although turkeys were scarce, coconuts made their appearance in the shops for the first time since the war. There were dense crowds of shoppers in Bond Street and Oxford Street, restaurants and hotels reported record bookings at gala dinners, but the main attraction was the giant Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square, the gift of Norway: ‘its coloured lights, surrounded by floodlit fountains, make a picturesque spectacle’. [6]

    20151207-_33B2031

    Selfridges window display. Photographed in December 2015 (© Survey of London, Lucy Millson-Watkins). The windows this year are aimed firmly at adults, though in the past they were more likely to be designed to appeal to families and young children.

    Crowds outside Selfridges’ window based on Gulliver’s Travels. Christmas windows were often designed to appeal to children, with ingenious automata. Christmas window display at Selfridges in December 1953. A mannequin cast as Gulliver is used to advertise the third floor toy department and entice customers into the store. The mannequin was automated and his hand and head moved. (© Henry Grant Collection/Museum of London)

    ‘All gay for the Christmas season’ announced the South China Sunday Post Herald in December 1959. This was the first year that Oxford Street was adorned with decorations running from one end to the other: ‘symbolic Christmas trees, hung with tinsel and lit with coloured bulbs’ ornamented the lamp standards down the centre of the street. [7]

    20151207-_33B2404

    London buses and Selfridges. Photographed in December 2015 (© Survey of London, Lucy Millson-Watkins)

    Lights had been put up in Regent Street in 1954, and in the following year some of the Oxford Street stores applied to extend the decorations to include Oxford Circus but Marylebone Council would not allow it because of the possibility, however slight, of an accident. The Council also banned decorations suspended between buildings.

    20151207-_33B2064

    Lights strung across streets have been a feature on Oxford Street since at least 1962, though resisted at first by the local council. Photographed in December 2015 (© Survey of London, Lucy Millson-Watkins)

    The stores kept applying, with a more ambitious scheme in 1958 for an ‘Archway of Light’ all along Oxford Street from St Giles’ Circus to Marble Arch (excluding Oxford Circus), but this too was turned down. One of the problems was the traffic chaos, but the Council’s fears of a decoration-related accident proved sadly well founded when early on New Year’s Day a man walking past the Cumberland Hotel in Oxford Street had an unfortunate encounter with a falling 20ft-high revolving Christmas decoration. [8]

    20151207-_33B2432

    Shimmering light, Oxford Street impressions. Photographed in December 2015 (© Survey of London, Lucy Millson-Watkins)

    Sources

    1. New York Times, 4 Jan 1882, p.2
    2. The Observer, 5 Dec 1909, p.17
    3. The Observer, 20 Nov 1910, p.18
    4. New York Times, 13 Dec 1925, p.24
    5. The Sun, Baltimore, 7 Dec 1939, p.14
    6. South China Sunday Post, 25 Dec 1949, p.7
    7. South China Sunday Post Herald, 20 Dec 1959, p.22
    8. The Times, 27 May 1957, p.6; 20 Dec 1958, p.6; 7 Jan 1959, p.4

    Oslers shop, Oxford Street

    By the Survey of London, on 11 December 2015

    Following on from the Survey’s two-volume project on South-East Marylebone, we are embarking on a linear volume on Oxford Street, London’s premier shopping street ever since the eighteenth century. Besides the present department stores and modern shops there were once many glamorous shops along the street, now lost and long forgotten, which the Oxford Street volume will bring back to life. One such was Oslers, retailers of glassware, formerly on the north side of Oxford Street near Newman Street.

    A colourful watercolour now in the Victoria and Albert Museum offers precious evidence for perhaps the most scintillating of Oxford Street’s Victorian shop interiors, the London showroom of F. & C. Osler, manufacturers and retailers of ornamental glass. It was designed by Owen Jones in 1859 and survived until 1928.

    Interior perspective of Oslers, Oxford Street, from a drawing by Owen Jones, 1859 (© Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

    Interior perspective of Oslers, Oxford Street, from a drawing by Owen Jones, 1859 (© Victoria and Albert Museum, London). If you are having difficulty viewing images, please click here.

    Oslers’ London shop was an outlet for the inventive products of a Birmingham firm started in 1807 by Thomas Osler and partners as Shakespear & Osler. Outstanding in craft among Midlands glass-makers of the Industrial Revolution, the company owed its early success to an improved method for making glass drops for chandeliers and other ornaments. In 1831 Osler handed over the business to his sons Follett and Clarkson Osler, who introduced new machinery for precision cutting of flint glass and diversified into vases, decanters and fancy articles of many kinds. By the early 1840s the brothers had developed an international market, notably in India, where they had a showroom in Calcutta. In 1845 they took a shop at 44 Oxford Street just west of Newman Street, advertising ‘glass chandeliers, table glass, etc. … made from rich and exclusive designs, a great variety of which are constantly on view’. [1] Next year a grand chandelier made by the Oslers for a mosque at Alexandria elicited a visit to their Birmingham works from Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt, who ordered another, over 17 feet high. This was shown at Oxford Street and led to Prince Albert ordering a pair of candelabra for Osborne House as a birthday present for Queen Victoria.

    A glass bust of Queen Victoria shown by F. & C. Osler at the Great Exhibition of 1851 (© Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

    A glass bust of Queen Victoria shown by F. & C. Osler at the Great Exhibition of 1851 (© Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

    The high point came when Oslers were commissioned to create the monumental ‘crystal fountain’ at the centre of the Great Exhibition in 1851. This drew the firm into the circle of Owen Jones. When the Crystal Palace was subsequently reconstructed at Sydenham, Jones carried out striking experiments with glass and colour in the Alhambra Court there which earned him a run of glamorous commercial interiors in the West End. First came his Crystal Palace Bazaar further west on Oxford Street. It was followed by the rebuilding of Oslers, after the firm bought the neighbouring No. 45 and took a new lease of both properties in 1858. The new front was chaste, the Building News reported: ‘the moulded jambs and soffits of the windows are worked within the thickness of the walls, and the principal cornice of the elevation has a very simple projection compared with those of the Palladian type’. [2] Within the new shop, opened in July 1859, splendour prevailed. A three-arched vestibule paved with Minton tiles led to a showroom 106ft long and 24ft wide. Its walls were lined with 14 mirrors on each side and a crimson paper, and the whole was top-lit by a glass roof divided into three sections, a high semi-circle in the centre raised over lower quadrants. Heftily ornamented ribs divided this roof into 1,456 star-shaped panels of blue, amber, white and ruby glass, much like those in the roof of the Crystal Palace Bazaar. The room terminated in a ‘monster looking-glass’, 24ft 9in by 12ft. The goods were ranged on mahogany counters along the sides, and on central tables. The contractor for these works was John Willson, while for the decoration Jones employed his regular collaborators: Jackson & Graham for the fittings, Desachy for the mouldings and enrichments of the ribs (in his patent ‘staff’), and James Sheate for colouring and gilding.

    Oslers' crystal fountain at the Great Exhibition of 1851, from a print by John Absolon (© Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

    Oslers’ crystal fountain at the Great Exhibition of 1851, from a print by John Absolon (© Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

    In 1862 Jones added an extension at the back, probably towards Newman Street, which the Art Journal claimed surpassed the original gallery. Here perhaps were shown the glass ‘temples’ made to his design and shown in Oxford Street that year in conjunction with the International Exhibition, prompting the Illustrated London News to class Oslers among ‘the great sights of London’. [3] In its later years the firm failed to keep pace with changing taste and lost its avant garde status. The coloured glass was removed from the roof and plain tints substituted around 1900, on the grounds that the latter were more suitable for the metal and glass electric light fittings which by then were Oslers’ main product. In 1908–9 the architect George Hornblower made further extensions, inserting a sweeping double staircase at the back of the long room, leading to upstairs china showrooms, all in a staid Arts and Crafts style.

    In 1925 the firm amalgamated with Faraday & Son Ltd. to become Osler & Faraday Ltd, who rebuilt the premises to designs by Constantine & Vernon (builders, Bovis Ltd). The main frontage of the new building, Lanthorne House at 89–91 Newman Street, adopted a conventional neo-Georgian mode, while 100 Oxford Street (as the address of the firm had become after 1880) was in a more commercial style. Osler & Faraday ceased trading in 1965 and went into liquidation in 1976. The Newman Street frontage has been again rebuilt, but the Oxford Street front survives. The basement has long been home to the 100 Club.

    Sources

    1. Morning Chronicle, 28 June 1845
    2. Building News, 3 June 1859, p.510
    3. Illustrated London News, 12 July 1862, p.56

    Welcome to our blog

    By the Survey of London, on 25 November 2015

    The Survey of London provides essential reading for anyone wishing to find out about the capital’s built environment. In its 120-year history the Survey has explored a wide variety of London districts, from Soho, Mayfair and Covent Garden in the West End to Woolwich, Highgate and Norwood in the inner suburbs. In 2013, the Survey of London joined the Bartlett School of Architecture at UCL.

    Our detailed architectural and topographical studies are published in volumes, each of which generally covers one parish. Each book describes the evolution of an area, giving a description of its buildings, explaining how they came into being and outlining their significance and historical associations. The text, which is based on original documentary and field research, is profusely illustrated with a mixture of archive images, architectural illustrations, photographs and maps.

    Areas covered by the Survey of London

    Areas covered by the Survey of London. If you are having difficulty viewing images, please click here.

    The volumes are listed on the Survey of London map and access to the online versions of all but the most recent volumes on Woolwich and Battersea is available at British History Online. You can also follow our updates on Twitter and Facebook.

    Now we are launching the Survey of London blog. This will provide a pre-publication outlet for stories that come to light during our research and will include our architectural illustrations and photographs.

    Elevation drawing and phase plan of Gilmore House, Battersea

    Elevation drawing and phase plan of Gilmore House, Battersea (© Survey of London, Helen Jones)

    Marylebone

    Our most advanced current area of study is a large swathe of the parish of St Marylebone, bounded to the south by Oxford Street and to the north by the Marylebone Road, and stretching from just west of Marylebone High Street to the parish boundary along Cleveland Street to the east. The area is rich in historic buildings and includes some of London’s most celebrated addresses, such as Portland Place, Cavendish Square and Harley Street. As the study has progressed, we have gained fresh insights into the history and significance of many aspects of this built environment. We hope that you will enjoy peeking into the buildings and places that we have explored (sometimes quite literally, with an upcoming fly-through of St Peter’s Church on Vere Street).

    Queen Anne Street (Chris Redgrave)

    Queen Anne Street in 2015 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    Oxford Street

    Only the north side of Oxford Street falls within Marylebone and although we often just cover one side of the street when it is at the edge of a parish, this seemed particularly unsatisfactory in the case of Oxford Street. Here was an opportunity to produce a separate volume on the entire street, recognizing its historical integrity and its importance as Europe’s premier shopping street, a status which it has enjoyed for a remarkable 200 years. The south side has been touched upon in earlier Survey volumes, though not the section in the parish of St George, Hanover Square. But only a selection of buildings were included, and a few of those have since been demolished. With Crossrail and the rebuilding of Tottenham Court Road station, the entire eastern end of Oxford Street is undergoing rapid change. This volume, with, we hope, a companion photographic panorama, will provide a snapshot of the street as it is today and explore its architectural and sociological development.

    oxford-street-panorama

    Panorama of Oxford Street in 2015, north side from Hanway Street to Tottenham Court Road (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave, Lucy Millson-Watkins and James O. Davies)

    Whitechapel

    While work is continuing on the editing and production stage of the south-eastern Marylebone volumes, ahead of publication scheduled for November 2016, we are launching a study of Whitechapel. Whitechapel is at the heart of London’s East End and has a multifaceted history that is reflected in its diverse built environment, which includes the Royal London Hospital, the East London Mosque, Toynbee Hall, Wellclose Square and the Whitechapel Art Gallery. Whitechapel is currently in the throes of intense and rapid change due to its proximity to the City; speculative developments are now giving parts of the area a new, glassy and much taller character.

    A major grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council will permit us to break new methodological ground in collaboration with the Bartlett’s Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis. We will create an interactive website for public co-production of research, tapping into the insights of local communities and others to document experiences and understandings of all manner of places.

    As these projects develop, we look forward to sharing stories from our explorations into the history and architecture of Whitechapel and Oxford Street.

    Alie Street in c.1999 (Chris Redgrave)

    Alie Street in c.1999 (Chris Redgrave)