Selfridges

Overview

Heritage Category:
Listed Building
Grade:
II*
List Entry Number:
1357436
Date first listed:
05-Feb-1970
Date of most recent amendment:
13-Mar-2020
Statutory Address:
400 Oxford Street, Marylebone, London, W1A 1AB

Map

© Crown Copyright and database right 2020. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
© British Crown and SeaZone Solutions Limited 2020. All rights reserved. Licence number 102006.006.
Use of this data is subject to Terms and Conditions.

The above map is for quick reference purposes only and may not be to scale. For a copy of the full scale map, please see the attached PDF - 1357436.pdf

The PDF will be generated from our live systems and may take a few minutes to download depending on how busy our servers are. We apologise for this delay.

This copy shows the entry on 25-Oct-2020 at 00:30:54.

Location

Statutory Address:
400 Oxford Street, Marylebone, London, W1A 1AB

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County:
Greater London Authority
District:
City of Westminster (London Borough)
Parish:
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:
TQ2827981111

Summary

Department store. Built in four main phases: the eastern nine bays built in 1906 to 1909 to the design of the architects D H Burnham and Co, Francis Swales, and Frank Atkinson, by the Waring-White Building Company; the north-west section built in 1919 to 1922, the south-west section built in 1923 to 1924, and central entrance section built in 1927 to 1928, to the design of the architects Sir John Burnet and Thomas Tait, and Albert Millar of Graham, Anderson, Probst and White. The main builders for the north-west and south-west sections were F D Huntington Ltd but several contractors were involved for the central section.

Reasons for Designation

Selfridges, a department store built in four main phases from 1906 to 1928 to the design of the architects D H Burnham and Co, Francis Swales, Frank Atkinson, Sir John Burnett, Thomas Tait, and Albert Millar, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest: * one of the most ambitious purpose-built department stores of the early C20, Selfridges has remained an icon of British retailing and one of the greatest and most recognised stores in the world; * for the landmark architectural quality of the store exterior; the first phase heralded as Edwardian London’s ‘most sophisticated exercise in orthodox classicism’ whilst upon completion it became the largest shop façade in Britain; * for the ‘Queen of Time’ sculpture and elaborate decorative scheme of the Beaux-Arts entrance front, a piece of the highest artisanship and sculptural quality, recognised as a ‘masterpiece’ of decorative arts and crafts; * as a design by leading architects, artists and craftsman of the day, including D H Burnham and Co, who were among the world’s pre-eminent retail architects, with contributions by other celebrated architects such as Frank Atkinson, Sir John Burnet and Thomas Tait; * for its construction, along the lines of American high-rise technology, which saw it become the first large building in London to fully exploit steel frame and reinforced concrete construction with possibly the largest plate glass windows yet seen in a British commercial building; * for its influence on the evolution of building regulations and the adaptability of its structural system which was widely replicated in subsequent British store design, ultimately changing the face of the nation’s high streets; * for the surviving internal features such as the original marble staircases, original signage and brass roundels next to the staircases, and the Ionic, Roman Doric and Tuscan columns.

Historic interest:

* for Selfridges transformative influence on Britain’s retail scene, elevating the concept of a department store as a social and cultural institution open to everyone, with innovative window dressing, exceptional customer service and masterly advertising; * as a focal point within society and major venue for public events during the earlier C20, including museum exhibits, fashion shows, and concerts, as well as the first public demonstration of moving images by television by the inventor John Logie Baird during April 1925; * for its role during the Second World War in housing the SIGSALY scrambling apparatus, providing secure communication by which transatlantic conferences were held between Britain and America, including those by (Sir) Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt; * for its historic association with the department store owner Harry Gordon Selfridge (1858-1947) who proved to be a hugely dynamic and visionary force in world retailing.

History

The following outline is largely based on the detailed account provided in the Survey of London (volume 53, 2020). Oxford Street became established as a commercial centre from about the beginning of the C19 although the retail boom of the early C20 greatly altered its appearance. Harry Gordon Selfridge (1858-1947) arrived in London from Chicago in 1906 with the intention of founding a major department store. He had risen through the ranks of the Marshall Field Store in Chicago, becoming a junior partner before deciding to break with the firm after 24 years in 1904. The founder, Marshall Field, had refused to take him into equal partnership and expand it internationally. Thus Selfridge set up a store in London, initially with Samuel Waring, the owner of the site and proprietor of another store on Oxford Street. Waring soon found he had financially overstretched himself and the project essentially became Selfridge’s alone. At first the store occupied the eastern nine bays of the current plot. Initial designs, produced by the Chicago architects Daniel Burnham and Company, greatly exceeded the cubic capacity for ‘warehouse class’ buildings allowed under the 1894 London Building Act. A slightly revised scheme was therefore drawn up by the architect Frank Atkinson (1869-1923), which divided the interior into four sections by partition walls. The Beaux-Arts street elevations represent an original design probably by Ernest Graham of D H Burnham and Co, greatly enriched and detailed by Francis Swales (a freelance Canadian architect then working in London) and finally altered by Atkinson. The final design was inspired by Léon Ginain’s extensions to the Ecole de Médecine at the Sorbonne in Paris, and possibly also by the Temple of Hadrian in the Campo Marzio, Rome. The detailing of the Ionic order on the street front is thought to have been taken from Henri Deglane’s monumental front to the Grand Palais, Paris.

Initial groundwork began in 1906 by the Waring-White Building Company. However, it soon stalled after Waring withdrew financial support. The tea-broker John Musker became part-guarantor and construction restarted from March 1908 at an exceptional pace under the engineer Sven Bylander. The structure comprised a steel frame formed of a 24ft by 22ft structural grid, which was unprecedented in England, interrupted only by non-loadbearing block-concrete internal walls erected simply to conform to regulations (later largely removed). The internal walls were pierced by large openings with iron doors. Rolled steel joists supported reinforced concrete floors pierced by voids for light wells. The external Portland stone walls were self-supporting structures that were locked into the floors for stiffening with tiers of cast-iron windows set back to provide depth and allow the columns to appear at three-quarters profile. Internally, the plasterwork included a heavily fluted Ionic order to the ground floor and Roman Doric and Tuscan columns elsewhere. Furnishings included low mahogany counters, which contrasted with the unprecedentedly high storeys. Ample fenestration, light wells and electric lighting ensured the store was bright and well lit. Altogether, Selfridges represented an important moment in London’s construction history; speeding up the evolution of building regulations and having a significant impact on subsequent British store design (Saint 2020). Its construction, along the lines of American high-rise technology, saw it become the first large building in London to fully exploit steel frame and reinforced concrete construction so that both the interior and exterior revealed these modern methods of structural engineering (Lawrence 2000, 25). The store was London’s first fully framed building to benefit from a relaxation of the key clauses in the 1894 Act and upon completion one of the first, if not the first to take advantage of new cubical extent limits in the 1908 LCC (General Powers) Act (Clarke 2014, 248). The main elevations possessed possibly the largest plate glass windows yet seen in a British commercial building (Ibid). All this was integrated with the carefully-detailed Beaux-Arts stone façade, making it a model synthesis of pioneering technology with appropriate history. Both architecturally and constructionally it was profoundly influential, particularly for the adaptability of its structural system, and became widely replicated, ultimately changing the face of the British high street (Clarke 2014, 249).

Gordon Selfridge believed that a department store should be ‘a social centre, not merely a place for shopping’ but a meeting place for friends, especially women, to ‘show themselves and entertain’ (Honeycombe 1984, 26). He ensured Selfridges opening day on 15 March 1909 was a success. Britain’s top artists were hired to produce a huge number of illustrations and newspaper advertisements, declaring that there would be ‘comforts, luxuries and conveniences on every side’ and promoting Selfridge’s concept of the store as a social and cultural institution. Window dressing in Britain reached a new benchmark; the external display windows were treated as works of art following best American practice and the displays were theatrically unveiled from behind silk curtains. Internally, floral displays offered colour and perfume, and music added to the atmosphere. A huge range of wares were on offer and customers were treated like guests; free to look about and handle goods with no compulsion to buy. The 1200 employees were offered improved working conditions and new methods of training to eventually run some 130 different retail departments. The store layout included retail space to the front half of the basement, ground, first and second floors and part of the third floor; a library, ladies ‘silence or rest room’, men’s smoke room, reading, writing and ‘rendezvous’ rooms, a picture gallery, ‘national rooms’ (French, German, American and Colonial), rail and steamship ticket offices and an information bureau on the third floor; management offices and a luncheon room (later known as the Palm Court Restaurant) on the fourth floor, as well as an outside pergola and roof garden. In 1911 Selfridge introduced an American style bargain basement to broaden the store’s appeal. He had the aeroplane from Louis Blériot’s cross-Channel flight (25 July 1909) displayed on the lower ground floor and a shooting range installed on the rooftop, along with putting space for golfers. Selfridge carried out daily tours of inspection, formally dressed in his top hat with a critical eye for detail. Overall, his methods are considered to have had a transformative influence on Britain’s retail scene (Shaw 2004).

In 1915 the architect Sir John Burnet (1857-1938) was hired (later in partnership with Thomas Tait) to draw up plans to ‘complete the store’ (i.e. to extend it to cover the whole street front from Duke Street to Orchard Street and form the largest shop façade in Britain (Honeycombe 1984, 143)). Selfridge had visions of a great dome or tower and draft proposals by several architects, most notably Tait, included a monumental classical clocktower, a tower based upon the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, and a wedding-cake dome with a vast projecting portico. In the event Selfridge’s financial fortunes declined and the tower or dome never materialised. He employed the Chicago architectural firm Graham, Anderson, Probst and White (the successor firm to Burnham and Co), led by their ‘London manager’ Albert Millar, to also work on the extension, which fell into two parts; the north-west section built in 1919 to 1922, followed by the south-west section in 1923 to 1924. The interiors continued earlier arrangements, although it was now built without internal walls as one large open space.

The crowning glory to Selfridges was the central entrance section built in 1927 to 1928; a noble portico comprising an entrance canopy beneath a loggia with a statue of the Queen of Time (installed in 1931) set between two free-standing columns in front of a great window with elaborate bronzework. It is described by Saint (2020) as a ‘masterpiece of decorative arts and crafts’, blending older Beaux-Arts traditions of architectural sculpture and metalwork with the vigor of the Paris Arts Décoratifs Exhibition of 1925, and involved many artists and craftsmen (see Details). The interior consisted of a square entrance hall with the centre opened up as a light well, ranks of escalators and banks of lifts enriched with elaborate bronzework. The roof garden, which had BBC radio masts installed in 1923 and an ice rink in 1924, was redesigned and enlarged by the landscape architects Marjory Allen and Richard Sudell in 1929 to 1930. Claimed to be the largest project of its kind, it gained the nickname ‘the hanging gardens of London’. The design included a pair of formal gardens, a ‘vine’ walk, a rose and bulb garden, a rock garden and an old English garden. It served as a venue for costume balls, fashion shows and concerts. The inventor John Logie Baird (1888-1946) also made the first public demonstration of moving images by television from the first floor of Selfridges during April 1925.

There were still further plans to enlarge Selfridges to occupy the entire block bounded by Somerset, Wigmore, Orchard and Duke Streets. Drawings by Thomas Tait and assistants show the envisaged scheme with internal avenues dividing the store into four and meeting in the centre. It was never realised. Nonetheless, Albert Millar designed an extension on Duke Street in 1931 to 1933, which became known as the SWOD block (taking its name from the initials of the four nearby streets). The most notable features were a menagerie and an aquarium, and the display of the biplane in which Lord Clydesdale had flown over Mount Everest (3 April 1933). Two bridges provided a link to the main store but the SWOD block otherwise stood alone for the next two decades. In the intervening period Gordon Selfridge was encouraged to leave the company due to financial mismanagement (he died propertyless in 1947). During the Second World War, the basements housed the SIGSALY scrambling apparatus by which transatlantic conferences were held between Britain and America, including those by (Sir) Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. Bomb damage led to the closure of the roof garden in 1940.

Selfridges was bought by Lewis’s Investment Trust in 1951. Land to the rear was sold and a parking garage built midway along Somerset Street in 1957 to 1959. Between 1955 and 1976 upper floors were added to the SWOD block. During the 1960s and 1970s the Somerset Hotel was also rebuilt to provide a new food hall with the Selfridge Hotel on top (the hotel closed in 2008 and the interior was stripped out). Selfridges was taken over by the Sears Group in 1965. An addition across the Duke Street end of Somerset Street provided a new link between the main block and SWOD extension in 1968. Later alterations to the original store included replacement of lifts, new escalator wells inserted in the 1990s and changes to the ground floor display windows. Following an initial project by Foster Associates in the 1990s, the architect Renzo Piano was also appointed to draw up a feasibility plan for the northern properties. David Chipperfield Architects rebuilt the link between the main block and the SWOD extensions in 2016 to 2018. Selfridges is now (2020) owned by Galen Weston who purchased the company for £598 million in 2003.

Details

Department store. Built in four main phases: the eastern nine bays built in 1906 to 1909 to the design of the architects D H Burnham and Co, Francis Swales, and Frank Atkinson, by the Waring-White Building Company; the north-west section built in 1919 to 1922, the south-west section built in 1923 to 1924, and central entrance section built in 1927 to 1928, to the design of the architects Sir John Burnet and Thomas Tait, and Albert Millar of Graham, Anderson, Probst and White. The main builders for the north-west and south-west sections were F D Huntington Ltd but several contractors were involved for the central section.

MATERIALS: Portland stone ashlar on a steel frame and cast-iron framed windows and panels with bronze finishes. Queen of Time sculpture in gilt bronze with faience, stoneware and mosaic accoutrements.

PLAN: a square entrance hall leads into expansive open retail spaces occupying six floors. There are original marble staircases arranged around the building’s periphery and three main banks of escalators* running along the central axis of the store. The sub-basements contain stores and the original vaults, whilst 1950s and later additions on the roof (forming the fifth floor) provide offices*, meeting rooms*, a staff café*, photographic studios*, as well as a bar* and restaurant* which are not of special interest.

EXTERIOR: an American commercial Beaux-Arts design on the theme of a giant colonnade. The main façade faces Oxford Street and is 21 bays wide, forming the largest shop front in Britain when originally completed. It is constructed of Portland stone ashlar supplied by F J Barnes and Bath Stone Ltd with cast-iron window frames by Walter Macfarlane and Company of the Saracen Foundry, Glasgow, with a bronze finish. The columns and panels conceal the steel structural frame which lies beneath. The ground floor forms the podium to the colonnade. It has huge plate glass display windows separated by pilasters supporting a plain freeze and projecting stone course (the display windows have seen some later alteration and replacement). Above this is a giant order of engaged Ionic columns rising three storeys and flanking each bay where there are three tiers of tripartite windows. These windows are set back to provide depth and allow the columns to appear at three-quarters profile. The columns have moulded bases, cabled fluting enriched with bundles of fasces breaking into leaf, and festoons dropping from the volutes of the Ionic capitals. The carving was carried out by the sculptors William B Fagan and J Arrowsmith from models supplied by Joseph Else. Decorative enrichment to the window frames includes garlands, festoons, linenfold and geometric motifs. The third floor windows to the end bays also have solomonic columns with Ionic capitals supported on elaborate corbels decorated with lions heads. At the angles of the building are square Ionic columns; on the pilasters beneath them are bronze plaques cast with the letters SELFRIDGE & CO LIMITED, cartouches surrounded by garlands and linenfold decoration, and corbels carved with masks supporting the street names. Running above the colonnade is an architrave and then an attic storey containing tripartite windows flanked by cartouche panels enriched with wreaths, ribbons, and masks, and then a bracketed and dentilled crowning cornice and a balustraded parapet.

The huge central entrance bay is given still grander treatment then the rest of the façade, incorporating sculptural design by (Sir) William Reid Dick. Here the elevation is recessed further back and has an elaborate cast bronze ground floor entrance beneath a projecting canopy, two freestanding columns flanking a central sculpture in front of a great window, and then a bell by Gillet and Johnston set in the attic storey. In front of the entrance is a marble floor in which is set a bronze plaque by Gilbert Bayes dedicated to Gordon Selfridge. It has a depiction of Pegasus and the words: ‘LAID BY MEMBERS OF THIS HOUSE IN ADMIRATION OF HIM WHO CONCEIVED & GAVE IT BEING. 1909-1930’. The entrance contains five bronze-framed fully-glazed entrance doors; two double doors and three central revolving doors. These are enriched with egg and dart, linenfold, and geometric motifs, garlands, paterae, and scallops by George Alexander. Flanking the revolving doors are ornate bronze lamps with foliage and palm leaf decoration supplied by Walter Gilbert. Set to either side of the entrance are bronze figures of Art and Science standing beneath reliefs of putti, all to the design of Reid Dick and cast by the A B Burton foundry at Thames Ditton, Surrey. Above the entrance the elaborative decorative treatment continues to the great window, which has a cartouche at the centre and putti to each side, as well as fasces, garlands, palm leaves and other enrichment. In front of the window is the Queen of Time sculpture, in gilt bronze with faience, stoneware and mosaic accoutrements, designed by Gilbert Bayes and installed in October 1931. Standing upon a ship’s prow and attended by nereids representing the tides and winged figures representing the hours, the golden queen holds an orb with a figure symbolizing Progress in her right hand while raising an olive branch in her left. Behind her rises a clock with two faces upon which is a merchant ship.

The side elevations, the east of seven bays and the west of eight bays, receive the same architectural treatment as the main façade. Entrances have been inserted in one of the ground floor bays of each elevation. Additional office space* and plant rooms* were added to the roof of Selfridges from the 1950s onwards: these additions are not of special interest.

Several later additions were built to the rear of the original store, including: the SWOD block* constructed in 1931 to 1933 with upper floors added between 1955 and 1976, a multi-storey parking garage* built in 1957 to 1959, Selfridges Food Hall* built in about 1965 to 1966, Selfridge Hotel* built in 1971 to 1973, and a link block* rebuilt in 2016 to 2018; none of these buildings are included in the listing. However, any works to these structures which have the potential to affect the character of the listed building as a building of special architectural or historic interest may still require Listed Building Consent (LBC) and this is a matter for the Local Planning Authority (LPA) to determine.

INTERIOR: the main entrance leads into a square hall with marble floors, square marble piers and plaster panelled ceilings decorated with ceiling roses, cable, egg and dart, and bead and reel ornament (originally a double-height hall). The inside of the bronze entrance doorway is cast with similar decoration to the exterior but has a clock crowning it at the centre. The doorway was originally steam-heated. On the opposite side of the hall are three doorways leading into the store with elaborate cartouches set into a freeze above them, whilst to the sides are further doorways and two banks of lifts. One pair of original lift shafts remains but the lifts have been replaced together with their gilded panel facing, now in the Museum of London. The new lifts* were installed in 1978 but feature etchings loosely based on decoration given to the much finer originals; these later lifts are not of special interest. The retail space throughout the store, including the lower ground, ground, first, second, third and fourth floors, contain modern counters*, display cases*, shelving*, clothes stands*, units*, and seating*, which is not of special interest. There are also some modern false ceilings* concealing the mechanical ductwork* system with speakers*, lights* and cameras* attached, all of which is not of special interest. The fourth floor eateries are fitted out with modern kitchens*, serveries* and other fittings, which are also not of special interest. Across the retail spaces the internal structural elements such as dropped beams and steel uprights are encased in plasterwork with the highest decorative treatment generally reserved for the principal spaces. On the ground floor are fluted Ionic columns enriched with foliage, and plaster panelled ceilings decorated with egg and dart, cable, and bead and reel ornament. The first floor has fluted Ionic columns with festoons dropping from the volutes of the capitals to the central and west sections of the store but Roman Doric columns to the earlier east section. The plaster panelled ceilings to the first floor are enriched with bundles of fasces. Above the entrance at the front of the store are square marble piers and decorative plasterwork in common with the scheme below. The second and third floors have Roman Doric columns and decorative plasterwork whilst the fourth floor and lower ground floor have plainer Tuscan columns.

Around the periphery of the ground floor are original marble staircases that led down to the lower ground floor (the ‘bargain basement’ until 1946) and up through the storeys. These have marble and terrazzo floors, marble walls, brass balustrades decorated with medallions and topped by wooden handrails, and several original brass light fittings. The north-west staircase has an original hand-painted sign: ‘ONE TELLS ANOTHER of the marvellous offerings in our GREAT BARGAIN BASEMENTS – this is one reason why these great salesrooms are always thronged’. The south-west staircase leads down to the original vaults at sub-basement level which retain a range of original fittings such as the original vault door and enamelled safety deposit boxes. Fixed to the wall next to the staircase are two huge inscribed brass roundels enriched with mosaic depictions of sailing ships (probably moved from their original location). Running along the central axis of the store are three banks of modern escalators*, which are not of special interest. Adjacent to the central escalators are two tall Ionic plaster columns with similar detailing to those forming the entrance portico. There is also a bronze sculpture of the French entertainer and activist Josephine Baker by the sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi installed in 1999.

The roof top buildings forming the fifth floor were added from the 1950s onwards. These include staff offices*, meeting spaces*, a staff café*, photographic studios*, a rooftop bar* and restaurant*, and plant rooms*. They are fitted out with modern interiors, which are not of special interest. The sub-basement houses stores, contractor’s cages* and IT server rooms*, largely with modern fixtures and fittings, which are not of special interest.

EXCLUSIONS * Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that these aforementioned structures and/or features are not of special architectural or historic interest. However, any works to these structures and/or features which have the potential to affect the character of the listed building as a building of special architectural or historic interest may still require Listed Building Consent (LBC) and this is a matter for the Local Planning Authority (LPA) to determine.

Legacy

The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
422564
Legacy System:
LBS

Sources

Books and journals
Honeycombe, G, Selfridges: Seventy-Five Years: The Story of the Store 1909-1984, (1984)
Atkinson, F R, 'The Selfridges store, London' in Architectural Review, , Vol. 25, (1909), 292-301
Other
Clarke, J, Early Structural Steel in London Buildings: A Discreet Revolution (2014)
Jones Lang LaSalle, Baseline Heritage Assessment: Selfridges (November 2019)
Lawrence, J C, ‘Steel frame architecture versus the London Building Regulations: Selfridges, the Ritz, and American technology’, in Thorne, R (ed), Studies in the History of Civil Engineering, Volume 10: Structural Iron and Steel, 1850-1900 (2000), 338-362
Pevsner, N, and Bradley, S, Buildings of England: London 6 Westminster (2003), 465-467
Saint, A (ed), Survey of London Volume 53: Chapter 10 (2020). Available online at: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/bartlett/architecture/research/survey-london/current-area-study-oxford-street

Legal

This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

Images of England

Images of England was a photographic record of every listed building in England, created as a snap shot of listed buildings at the turn of the millennium. These photographs of the exterior of listed buildings were taken by volunteers between 1999 and 2008. The project was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Date: 28 Sep 2001
Reference: IOE01/03539/18
Rights: Copyright IoE Mr Kieran Morris. Source Historic England Archive
Archive image, may not represent current condition of site.
To view this image please use Firefox, Chrome, Safari, or Edge.

Your Contributions

Do you know more about this entry?

The following information has been contributed by users volunteering for our Enriching The List project. For small corrections to the List Entry please see our Minor Amendments procedure.

The information and images below are the opinion of the contributor, are not part of the official entry and do not represent the official position of Historic England. We have not checked that the contributions below are factually accurate. Please see our terms and conditions. If you wish to report an issue with a contribution or have a question please email [email protected].