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A brief history of the Liberty store in London

Liberty store in London

The famous London Liberty store department store opened 1875, particularly well know for its floral designs. Liberty in London gave the name in Italian to the Liberty style that  in English has a French name instead and is called Art Nouveau.

The shop was founded by Arthur Lasenby Liberty, the son of a Chesham (in the Chilterns) fabric merchant, who worked for an importer of shawls from India. In 1875 he opened his shop on 218th of Regent Street, calling it East India House and selling silks from India and Asia. He later decided to sell other products from Asia, including many from Japan.

Photo: © Copyright PAUL FARMER and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Within a few years, he was in the position to open two more stores and soon he was able to buy all the buildings from 140 to 150 of Regent Street and create a large store. The shop was then called Chesham House to remember its birthplace. It immediately had a major success among the well-to-do classes in London and beyond.

Arthur Liberty also designed  costumes for the opera and theatre, in fact we remember those made for Gilbert & Sullivan and there were many collaborations between Liberty and artists such as William Morris, Alma-Tadema or Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Mr Liberty died in 1917.

The Tudor styled shop at Great Marlborough Street you see today opened in 1925. It was built using the wood of two ships: HMS Impregnable and HMS Hindustan. The Liberty store in London was decorated by Italian carvers and windows with colored mosaics.

The side of the building facing Regent Street has a series of statues and a 35 meters frieze depicting the wealth of distant countries  and  a statue of Britannia. This was sculpted by Doman and Clapperton but a classical facade next to a Tudor one did not please critics at the time.

Since then the Liberty store in London has increased its product lines which also include furniture and stationery products.

Liberty opened branches in Manchester, Brighton, York and Chester which were then mostly closed in the 90s as the decision was only to open shops in airports. Since 2010 Liberty belongs to a holding company.

Where can you find the Liberty store in London?

It is easy to find in Central London, not far from Oxford Circus underground station. It is open from 10 am to 9 pm every day except Sundays when it is open from 11:30 to 6pm.