Kendal Milne Dept Store, Deansgate, JS & JW Beaumont, 1938, Grade II listed.
‘Manchester has no more perfect example of a modern furnishings and textile emporium than that afforded by the great establishment of Messrs Kendal, Milne & Co,” wrote the Ladies Home Journal some 120 years ago…
Affectionately known as Manchester’s Harrods, Kendals is another Manchester first, trading on Deansgate since 1832. It all started when John Watts from Burnage opened a drapers shop on the parsonage corner of Deansgate, filled with all the surplus of his warehousing empire cannily sold direct to a public just acquiring the concept of shopping. it catered for the elegantly dressed women of the era and proved so successful that by 1830, the shop, now called the Bazaar, had expanded into purpose-built premises across the road – the current Waterstones site. over the following decades under the ownership of kendal, milne and faulkner, watts former employees, the emporium acquired the businesses around the side of police street and hatters lane until in 1876 it rebuilt the island site that is now watersones, inventing the idea of a modern department store years before Selfridges London store opened in 1909, an entirely new mode of shopping, leisure and excursion; the new urban activity.
it also defined the king st district as the most prestigious postcode in town, as banks, jewellers, fine tea rooms and other retailers set up home around it. in the 1840s, they had installed gas lighting and had a fleet of 50 horses drawing delivery vans around the city, and by the close of the century the range had expanded from drapery and fashions to include cabinet-making, funeral undertaking and consumer goods.
more than 900 staff were employed across sites on both sides of Deansgate and extravagant tearooms, featuring oriental rugs, palms and velvet-covered seats were the most fashionable venues in town. then in 1901, Kendals was appointed ‘Upholsterers to the Royal Household’ – the ultimate recognition of its preeminence in the department store wars!
purchased by Harrods in 1919 it was called Harrods for a period in the 1920s, but the name swiftly reverted to Kendals following protests from customers and staff. it was simply too strong a brand to mess with, patronised by influential ladies who preferred to buy their louis cardin, hardy amies and jaegar from the name that conjured up luxury and refinement manchester-, not london-, style
never one to rest on its laurels, its new building was the last world in department store chic when it was unveiled on the eve of the second world war – the ‘original’ Kendal Milne is now Waterstone’s – but the two remained open until the 70’s, linked by a subterranean corridor under the main road, enabling a whopping 2000 staff to continue to lavish their clientele with ever expanding services, including a ground floor restaurant where models would present the latest clothes – remembered by British designer Betty Jackson as one of her earliest fashion memories.
in another twist of fate, the Harrods group together with Kendals was taken over by House of Fraser in 1959 with the store trading as Kendals until 2005. despite the re-brand the ‘Kendal, Milne and Co’ name is still clearly visible on marble fascias above the store’s entrances. the present birthday celebrations seem to reignited kendals awareness and respect for the magnificent heritage.
our image from mikeyashworth’s flickr collection is an advert showing the ‘new’ store extension under construction, that was to open the following year in 1939. in the event much of the store was handed over to the Civil Service but trading continued in the basement, side by side with 16 air raid shelters. it’s thought that by 1944, 450 wounded troops were given meals in the store. what better end than its own J B Priestley quote;
“I believe in Manchester, because what really matters in the end is character, and Manchester has the right sort of character”!