John Lewis opened his first store at 132 Oxford Street, London on 2nd May 1864. In celebration of the store’s 150th anniversary the roof garden and a special exhibition are open to the public from Saturday 3rd May 2014.
John Lewis, Oxford Street with Barbara Hepworth's "Winged Figure"
John Lewis’ flagship store is located on Oxford Street but the company have in total 41 shops across the country, making them the largest department store business in the UK. As a child I have many happy memories of visiting George Henry Lee in Liverpool, which was my nearest shop and from the time of getting my first flat in London it is still my favourite place to go to buy household goods.
I should warn you this blog is longer than my usual post as there are rather a lot of photos. Click the links if you just want to read about the roof garden or to get the practical information to plan your visit.
"Stories of a Shopkeeper" exhibition
“Stories of a shopkeeper” is a special free exhibition which tell the 150 years of John Lewis’ history. It’s located on the 3rd floor, towards the rear of the store. The exhibition is beautifully displayed and tells the fascinating story of its founder John Lewis and his son Spedan Lewis as well as the history of the business. It starts with an atmospheric and dimly lit re-creation of the original Victorian drapery store which opened in 1864.
The beautiful costumes have been kindly donated from the National Theatre Costume Hire Department.
On display is the original book which records the first day’s taking of sixteen shillings and four pence
Speden's insect collection
Speden was a keen naturalist and Vice President of the London Zoological Society. In 1909 he had a serious horse riding accident and while convalescing he thought about the family business, he was going to inherit, and his wish to find a way to share its profits with its employees. He went on to create an employee owned company with the workers being known as Partners. He also pioneered the recruitment of women into senior roles at a time when women still did not have the vote in the UK.
Blue toque hat favoured by Queen Mary
Caleys of Windsor, as the royal milliners, created many hats for members of the royal family and a couple of them are featured in the exhibition.
Barabra Hepworth with her "Winged Figure"
The photograph depicts the six metre high aluminum figure and with Hepworth standing next to it one gets a true sense of its actual scale. It represents Capital and Labour, two of the Partnership's ideals.
Pioneering post war textile designs
Tools for Living by Jasleen Kaur
The final section of the exhibition is a collaboration with the Royal College of Art looking at how we will live, shop and look at the future.
On exiting the exhibition I was delighted to be offered some birthday cake
The Roof Garden certainly has that wow factor and is accessible via the 5th floor by The Place to Eat, towards the front of the store. On arriving I was surprised to see how large it was and the staff limit the numbers at any one time ensuring that it's never too crowded. It's a little green, tranquil oasis above Oxford Street. The garden designed by Tony Woods has a lot of great features.
The Longstock Greenhouse
The Greenhouse is inspired by the Longstock Park Nursery in Hampshire which is fully owned and managed by the John Lewis Partnership. It was created in the 1940s by Speden Lewis, who was a keen botanist and gardener, and was voted one of the finest water gardens in the world. It is open throughout the year to the public, check dates on their website for details.
Inside the Longstock Greenhouse - love the attention to detail
Looking down onto Oxford Street
The Roof Garden also provides great views of London.
Enjoying the view - in the distance, St George Wharf Tower (between the cranes) and Battersea Power Station (right)
There are spectacular views over London and its fun to see how many buildings you can identify. St George Wharf Tower, which my friend says resembles a Duracell battery, is the tallest residential building in the UK and also you can recognise Battersea Power Station's chimneys.
There's also great views looking over towards the London Eye (left) and the Houses of Parliament (right)
Towards the City of London (left) and the Shard (right)
Refreshments available from Joe and the Juice
On the roof garden is the popular Joe and the Juice stall which serves fresh juices and sandwiches, which you can watch being prepared. I tried their deliciously refreshing Stress Down made with strawberry, apple and ginger.
I totally adored the Roof Garden but most of all I loved the very cute grass armchairs although I have a feeling I might have to arrive early, when the store first opens, to have any chance at all of securing one. This is going to be one of my favourite places to hang out in London this year and I can't wait to return.
Happy 150th Birthday John Lewis
Address: John Lewis, 300 Oxford Street London W1A 1EX
Nearest Tube Station: Oxford Circus in Travelcard zone 1 and the store is only a couple of minutes walk.
Opening Times: Please check website for details.
“Stories of a shopkeeper” is a free exhibition runs until Monday 23 June 2014. It’s located on the 3rd floor, towards the rear of the store. For more information see John Lewis' website
The Roof Garden is free and is open from Saturday 3rd May 2014. It is open Monday to Saturday from 10am to 4pm and on Sundays from 11.30am to 4pm. It is accessible via the 5th floor by The Place to Eat, towards the front of the store. When I arrived I could go straight up but when I was leaving I noticed there was a short queue. Once word gets around on nice days it's going to be extremely popular so please be prepared to wait if necessary. For more information see John Lewis' website - incidently I haven't seen a date when the roof garden will close, so I am hoping that it will be open on a regular basis.
If you enjoyed reading this you might also like reading our blog about Twinings Tea Shop and Museum.
The author of this blog is a qualified City of London and City of Westminster Tour Guide who leads guided walks combining world famous landmarks with hidden treasures often missed by the crowds