In 1882 an ambitious young shop assistant, John James Fenwick, began a retail empire when he took over a doctor’s house in a residential area of Newcastle upon Tyne. It cost him £181 and 4 shillings to convert 5 Northumberland Street house into a shop – a tidy sum in those days.
JJ, as he was known, described himself as a Mantle Maker and Furrier. Together with two assistants he sold mantles, silk goods, dresses, fabrics and trimmings. Sales were healthy. The business grew. Within three years he had purchased 37/38 Northumberland Street and when Fred Fenwick, his eldest son, joined the business in 1890, number 40 was acquired. Today the flagship Fenwick store remains on this exact same site.
Determined to expand, the Fenwick family looked beyond the north east. In 1891 J.J Fenwick bought 63 New Bond Street, which is still part of the London site. Like the Newcastle store it specialised in exclusive tailoring for ladies, and over the next decade the two shops gained a reputation as exciting places to visit, full of the newest ideas and styles.
Fenwick’s masterstroke, however, was to embrace a new retailing concept emerging in Paris – the department store. Fred Fenwick went to Paris to train in the art of retail and was particularly inspired by what he saw at Le Bon Marché, generally regarded as the first ever department store.
Until this point all retail was based on the concept of specialist merchants – drapers, ironmongers, butchers and bakers – so the idea of combining different kinds of goods in clearly defined departments, all under the same roof, was groundbreaking. The business never looked back.
THE FENWICK TIMELINE
JJ Fenwick is born in Richmond, North Yorkshire.
JJ Fenwick, Mantle Maker and Furrier, opens at 5 Northumberland Street, Newcastle
37/38 Northumberland Street is purchased.
40 Northumberland Street is acquired.
Fenwick opens a second store at 63 New Bond Street in London.
The Leicester family business of Joseph Johnson is acquired.
Brent Cross Shopping Centre opens, the first of its kind, with Fenwick as the flagship department store.
Fenwick Windsor opens. The Bond Street store doubles in size.
Fenwick York opens.
Ricemans, a Canterbury department store, is acquired.
Fenwick Tunbridge Wells opens.
Ricemans in Canterbury is demolished, and a new Fenwick store opened nearby.
Fenwick acquires the Colchester store, Williams & Griffin.