Photo-a-Day (Sunday, 17th November, 2019)
End of an Era
Marks & Spencer.
Goodbye to St. Michael and all that !
As we approach the end of trading at M&S in Wigan town centre it is timely to look at the company's long connection with our town . I am aware of the sadness felt by everyone about the closure and it's possible consequences . I hope this potted history will be of interest to readers.
Wigan played no little part in the expansion of the company .The story however begins in Slonim in the Russian partition of Poland . Michael Marks left his home age 19 and came to London to start a new life. He soon left the capital and headed for Leeds, there he met Isaac Dewhirst, the owner of a Leeds warehouse, in 1884. A deal was arranged whereby Marks agreed to buy goods from Dewhirst and sell them in nearby villages. The venture was a success and enabled Marks to raise enough capital to establish a stall in Leeds' open market. He also sold goods at Castleford and Wakefield markets. In 1891 he opened a stall in Wigan Market Hall . The family also moved to live in Wigan about that time. They made their home at 152 Great George Street where his daughter Miriam was born on 1st February 1892 ( Died 14th February 1972) . An interesting fact on her Birth Certificate Michael's signature is marked with an ' X '. They also resided at 57 Darlington Street before leaving Wigan for Manchester in 1896.
On 27th March 1897 the Mayor of Wigan Councillor Robert Richards and the Chief of Police , Captain A Bell confirmed to the Home Office a period of residence of Michael Marks and gave a character reference in connection with his application for naturalisation. On 5 May 1897, Michael Marks was naturalised as a British subject.
Why Wigan from Leeds ? I think it's fair to assume two factors would have influenced his decision, the opening of The Wigan Market Hall in 1877. Covered markets were a fairly new phenomenon allowing trade to be conducted six days a week, instead of just on market days . The second I feel sure was that there was vibrant Jewish community in Wigan at that time with its own Synagogue situated in Great George Street, probably in a converted house and the street where he made his home ,it is surely too much to be just a coincidence !
To digress briefly ; it was reported in The Wigan Observer on 28th. of October 1888 the Rabbi of the Wigan Synagogue ,Rev Bercovitz a Russian -born pastor to Jewish community was killed in Wallgate when a horse escaped from its cart . The cart veered off the road and hit the reverend gentleman killing him instantly . He left a wife and five children , the newspaper went on to describe him as being held in great respect not only by his all his flock but by all who knew him. I include this to illustrate how assimilated the Jewish community had become in Wigan at the later part of the nineteenth century .
The business was expanding at such a rate that Michael Marks required a partner and capital - enter Tom Spencer , a bookkeeper at Isaac Dewhirst who paid £300 for a half share of the business consisting of 8 Bazaars and a a warehouse in Wigan on the 28th of September 1894 , Marks and Spencer was born in Wigan .There is some dispute as to where the (new)company was founded ; it is claimed the first Bazaar to bear the joint name was on the Cheetham Hill Road shop, Manchester and is reputedly the site of the foundation of the (new) company .
I contend that notwithstanding that claim , the fact that Michael Marks lived in Wigan and the warehouse was in the town when the partnership was established ,Wigan's claim to be the birthplace of the (new) company is in my opinion indisputable. In M&S own archive it reports that the first shop was opened in a Leeds Arcade in 1904 that is clearly inaccurate. The Manchester shop opened 1896 and by 1900 the company had 36 outlets including 12 shops the others being market stalls. That year saw the opening a Bazaar at 29 Makinsons Arcade . 1918 saw a shop opened in Standishgate . On the 2nd of October 1931 the business was transferred a much larger store at 11 Standishgate (sight of the present store ) at the same time the Makinsons Arcade Bazaar closed
In Israel Sieff memoirs , he recalls that his friend and later brother- in-law Simon Marks son of Michael related that during his time in Wigan , Simon then aged four after hearing the patter of clogs on the cobbled streets begged his Father for a pair, many years later he wrote, ' At night I would wrap them up in brown paper and put them under my pillow, I wanted be like the other children ' Both the men mentioned in this paragraph went on to be chairmen of M&S and both were given life peerages . Simon during his tenure adopted the brand name ' St Michael ' in honour of his Father.
In 1903 Marks and Spencer become a limited company. So successful had the company become that the Thomas Spencer's £300 ( today's equivalent £33554 ) investment grew to £ 15,000 ( £ 1,58214 2019 ) , not a bad return in 7 years ! He retired from the company later that year, he died in 1905 aged 51 . Michael Marks died in 1907 aged 48. It's fair to say that both men died before their time , at that time an adult male could reasonably expect to live to 60 .
The profits generated in Wigan and the other early outlets sowed the seeds for the company as it is today . You cannot but wonder what Michael Marks and Thomas Spencer would think of the decision to abandon Wigan centre after 125 years . Abandon is an emotive word I know but that is exactly how it feels to the people of Wigan . The company had an enviable reputation for caring for staff and customers alike, that accolade is beginning to look a little thin .
I'm aware that the company is to open a food only outlet at Robin Park and whilst this is welcomed by many it will surly lead to a further exodus of footfall from the town centre threatening other businesses . This move to out of town shopping is by no means confined to Wigan it is a country wide trend . However much we lament the degrading of town centres and think it should be reversed , it's rather like King Canute trying to stop the tide; or the more modern version of that maxim ' trying to put toothpaste back in the tube ' - sad but undeniably true .
When a store like M & S, (a store that has been there as long as I can remember) closes. I don't have much hope for the rest of Wigan...
OMG I am currently wearing a shirt that came from M & S. Most of the big department stores in Canada are disappearing also. The World is changing faster than we old folks can cope with.
Always been a part of my life, so sad.
So sad the Romanian women who sells the big issue will have to relocate as well
Yes that is truly the end of an era, I don't live in Wigan anymore but the memories of shopping in marks with my mum are as clear as ever, I wonder what she would have thought if she was around to see it , although to be honest she preferred Gemini m+s .
Will now have to go to Warrington if you want clothes from M&S.
Sad to see this. I remember going in as a small child... not often, as Marks', Pendlebury's and Lowe's were expensive shops to people like my Mam, but we went in occasionally. I remember the men's clothing had the St. Michael label on in those days but the Ladies' clothes had the St. Margaret label on, its logo being a lady's head that looked like a nun to my young eyes. Does anyone else remember that? So many shops and stores are going the same way these days, but it's a case of use it or lose it. Goodbye, M & S. We'll miss you.
The only thing I will miss about M&S is being able to use it as a cut through to grand arcade when its raining.
Karl Marx is buried opposite the liberal Herbert Spencer in Highgate cemetery. One of life's ironies.
Yes indeed so sad especially given the historical link with Wigan and the length of time the store has been there.
I mentioned in a recent posting that the Marks and Spencers in Westone super mare near where I live in Somerset closed earlier this year and the High Street is now just charity shops , vape sores and phone companies. Indeed the old marks and Spencers store is going to reopen as a "Charity superstore" - all we need !!
Like Wigan however Marks is still in the area having opened a large food only store out of town next to an Aldis. Given that the food hall in the town centre site was always packed and doing good business, it makes you wonder why they just don't take out all the clothes sections of the High Street stores and convert them into food only. It's the clothing element which is at the heart of mark's problems. Even when I go into the big M&S in Bristol (over 3 floors) hardly anyone is buying clothing anymore but the food hall is packed.
Interestingly when we visit Newcastle upon Tyne ( we used to live there and still visit about 3 times a year) and go the the main Northumberland St store all the sections are very busy but my wife always says they have ranges of clothes that she just doesn't see even in Bristol.
Thank you Mr Walsh for that brilliant history..I'd often wondered what the number of their house was in Great George St..having read only a small amount of the location of Mr Marks house,I was brought up at No.23 of said St..and am very grateful for any information surrounding my beloved Street..again thank you.
I expect in time town centres will die as we know them, after all they did replace farmers and other traders coming into town. Even in my lifetime I remember how the old market square brought in traders. Now much shopping is done in out of town (with free parking for the moment) parks and on line. Such is the circle of change.
wigan coucil lower your rates not free parking could be debs next
no adverts tommy
Can't help but feel betrayed by M&S, it was always busy in the store. I can't see it surviving very long on Robin Park - I believe parking is dreadful. It was always handy to pick up a few things every time I went to Wigan a couple of times a week. A lot of people went on the bus, they certainly won't go on another bus to the new store, then lug foodstuff to an out of way bus stop..not even a supermarket now in the town centre.. In other words no point coming!
No Veronica they wont be going on the bus, they will be going in there posh cars and just buying something nice for that days tea, maybe they will have a crappielattie at the Next store while they are there.
Tom that is an excellent and informative narrative to a sad story. Thank you.
I went to Middlebrook in the week time - M&S was chocoblock. I think Wiganers must be going there instead as the parking is better! Mick I like Debenham's skinny latte....that will be the end for me altogether if Debenham's closes.
Carolaen - I live 8 miles from Newcastle. The M&S in Northumberland Street is second only to London Marble Arch for trying new lines in the store.
Meadowhall in Sheffield did, at one time come in third.
My mother always shopped in the Wigan store and, in her day, maintained it couldn't be beaten for quality.
Tom - a top quality post from you.
No M&S no town. Just like down south. I am sure lots of people will miss it and not want to travel to Robin Park or do online shopping,
Another iconic shop bites the dust!
Following Woolworths, BHS, C&A (Coats and 'ats) that dominated the retail sector in Wigan at one time.
I remember one winter buying a Navy woollen coat from C&A. Had it years !
To take issue, M&S do some delicious scoff! Well worth the expense.
I still have a navy, pure wool, classic blazer in my wardrobe from Sixth Sense C&A. It must be 28 years old and is still smart. I believe Princess Anne hangs on to her good clothes, we must have 'something' in common!