diamond geezer

 Thursday, May 29, 2014

150 years ago, a small drapery shop opened near Cavendish Square on Oxford Street. It's still there, only rather larger, now the flagship store of the John Lewis Partnership. Various anniversary-related events are taking place this year, a couple of which are taking place in the original location. One is a recreation of the first store, complete with haberdashery and accounts, and is to be found at the top of the escalators on the third floor. And this turns out to be the portal to an exhibition, a wiggle through the history of the company from 1864 to the present day. The founder, whose name you can probably guess, first expanded his empire by popping down to Sloane Square to buy up Peter Jones for a few thousand quid. But it was his son, John Spedan Lewis, who in 1920 took the boldest step of selling his shares to the employees to create the partnership that makes this the most equitable of department stores. That's all explained, and illustrated... there's even an old photo of Trewins in Watford which made me smile. Further spaces illustrate the JLP's creative touch, including the best-selling Daisychain teatowel design and of course that TV ad with the hare. The whole thing's a giant advert, obviously, but it is very well done, and an informative insight into a retail brand that respects its 76000 workers rather than exploiting them. [open until June 23]

And there's more. John Lewis have opened up the roof, for the spring and summer only, and plonked a sort-of garden up there for the public to enjoy. Access is via the restaurant on the fifth floor, more specifically past the queue for the toilets and the lifts, and then a rear staircase that's clearly usually staff only. One of the Partners will smile as they usher you out into the Roof Garden, which is some upmarket astroturf and a collection of wooden structures and decking. There's a tented area in case it rains, and also occasional use for "events" (at which times you won't be allowed in). There are some very nice flowerboxes and well-established trellises, for that proper middle class touch. There are some deckchairs and grassy armchairs to sit in, so long as it's not been too wet, and a couple of very bored-looking baristas hoping to sell coffee or juice to an audience generally too old to be excited by either.

And yay, there's also a six-floors-up view across the rooftops of London. The good news is that most of the West End is no more than six or seven storeys tall, so you can see a long way. The bad news is that West End rooftops are generally without architectural merit, so it's an unexpectedly dull view that meets the eye. If nothing else, a couple of raised platforms allow the rare opportunity to look down onto Oxford Street below, where a logjam of red buses shuttle slowly back and forth, and the general public mill around accumulating a variety of carrier bags. Pick your moment. The Roof Garden probably fills up quickly on a sunny weekend, but wasn't especially busy during a midweek rain shower, and I suspect the experience was much the same. And if you don't get up there before the summer season ends, you may have to wait until 2064 for another opportunity.

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