In 1864 a young Welshman, Peter Jones (1843-1905), arrived in London and began working at Tarn’s, a draper’s in Newington. He soon opened his first shop in Hackney, and by 1877 moved to the Sloane Square end of the King’s Road. The business flourished and in 1900 was floated as a public company.
A man of modern outlook, Peter Jones was one of the first to install electric lighting in a large store and he provided well for his staff. Most of them lived above the shop in residential quarters, which were ’replete with every appointment that is conducive to social enjoyment’.
A Change of Ownership
Peter Jones died in 1905 and the shop began to falter. John Lewis, proprietor of the John Lewis department store in Oxford Street, bought his share of the business for just £22,500. But where John Lewis had succeeded so brilliantly with the Oxford Street shop, he failed with Peter Jones. In 1914, at the age of 78, he handed the enterprise to his son, Spedan. Spedan Lewis (1885-1963) was a revolutionary thinker. He believed that the rewards from a business should be shared with those who created them and that workers were entitled to have a say in, and be kept informed about the business in which they worked.
The Birth of the Partnership
At this point the experiment, which became the John Lewis Partnership, began. Spedan told his staff they would all share in the profits. He instructed management to share information with the workforce, using a staff council, a house journal, and a ’Committee for Communication’ through which he could hear their views directly. Five years later, when Peter Jones moved into profit, promissory notes worth seven weeks’ additional pay were issued to staff.
A New Shop for a New Age
The economic depression dealt a blow to Spedan’s plans and it was not until 1930 that he began to rebuild the shop. Two thirds of the new shop was wrapped in a smooth curve of glass and steel, and it became the first example of a ’curtain wall’ building in London. The shop survived the war and, as the economy recovered, business once again flourished. The year 2000 saw the beginning of a new programme of major changes when the Partnership set aside over £100 million for a complete renovation. The work was finally completed in June 2004.
Peter Jones today
To the residents of Chelsea, Peter Jones is still their local corner shop. ’It’s a family shop’ said one Partner. ’We cater for generations of customers. The tradition is built through school, 21st birthday celebrations, weddings, and handed from mother to daughter, father to son’. Peter Jones customers are unique and have special tastes and requirements; although many of the products are available at other John Lewis department stores it is also able to offer many exclusive lines.
For more information on the history of the John Lewis Partnership visit The Memory Store.