Everyone knows that London is fantastic for shopping. But some of its shops are extra special. I’m talking about those large, famous department stores with long and illustrious histories, awe-inspiring Christmas window displays and in the case of Liberty especially, remarkable historic buildings! Here are some quirky facts about Liberty you might not know... Oscar’s a fan Famous Irish aesthete, writer and dandy Oscar Wilde was a loyal customer of Liberty, and good friends with its founder, Arthur Liberty. He once said: “Liberty is the chosen resort of the artistic shopper.” That’s high praise indeed from a man so renowned as a paragon of taste!
From ship to shop Liberty’s impressive half-timbered building was built at the height of the 1920s fondness for Tudor revival architecture. It was constructed using the timbers of two ships – HMS Hindustan, and HMS Impregnable (an ironic name, considering), and you may notice some distinct nautical features, not least the golden ship weathervane on the roof! This year, the nautical theme has been picked up in the shop’s window displays, and you’ll hear the sound of sea shanties being sung as you walk past. Humble origins Liberty opened in 1875. Back then it operated out of half a premises and employed just three people: a sixteen-year-old called Hannah Browning, a young Japanese boy called Hara Kitsue and William Judd who had earlier worked with Arthur at Farmer & Rogers’ Oriental Warehouse across the road in Regent Street. Glamour for everyone The decorative arts were flourishing at this time, in the late 19th century. Liberty started life importing soft wools from Kashmir, filmy gauzes and fine light cottons from India together with plain woven and damask silks from the Far East. Gradually, Arthur Liberty persuaded English textile makers to weave similar fabrics, so that they could be bought at affordable prices. Liberty today Liberty celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2015, and today it’s branched out from quality fabrics and exotic objet d’art into a broad range of stuff, from luxury handbags, perfumes and clothes to home furnishings, shoes and loads more. It’s a lovely, cosy place to wander around, with tiered galleries rising up around an indoor ‘courtyard’, that’s reminiscent of a Tudor hall. If you’re planning on buying gifts, Liberty’s ‘vouchers’ are sold in the form of bronze, silver and gold coins in a velveteen pouch! Read more about Liberty on the VisitBritain LoveWall