Legendary London shops; Harrod’s

Like Buckingham Palace, the Eye, Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden and Tower Bridge, certain legendary shops rank high on the London visitor’s list. Like these monuments they are British institutions and similarly, each stands, in its own way, for something solid and enduring in the culture of the UK.

Harrod’s of Knightsbridge

Harrod’s grand old department store, with its art nouveau windows, baroque tower and dark green awnings, is a Knightsbridge landmark. Its name is synonymous with quality, variety, style, class and excellent service.

Harrod', London, Travelstripe
Harrod’, London, Travelstripe

Harrod’s began life in 1849 when Henry Charles Harrod opened a small grocery business on Brompton Road. As it provided high quality merchandise and superior service, it soon won a large following of discerning customers. Expansion was inevitable. By the end of the 19th century, Harrods was a state of the art department store, complete with one of the world’s first escalators. It had grown to fill an entire Brompton Road block and its range of goods had expanded to cover “everything from a packet of pins to an elephant”, all of the highest quality of course and always delivered with impeccable service.

Now with seven floors, three hundred and thirty three departments, a staff of over four thousand and with the Qatari Royal Family at the helm, Harrod’s of Knightsbridge is a long way from that first little grocery business.

Its goods include things that Henry Charles Harrod could only have dreamed of and services he could never have imagined. There’s a state of the art Technology Department, with a force of techsperts on hand to connect you to the tablet, pod, pad, notebook or smart phone of your dreams. In the Candle Room Spa, specialists will restore your well-being. Pop-up shops display the shoes, the bags or the designer of the month. Then of course there are the infinite possibilities of a Harrod’s on-line, including Issu a glossy catalogue of the latest stock, so you can select before you shop, virtual tours so that you can plan your expedition and of course on-line services which allow to shop from the luxury of your living room

Still, with all this growth and change Harrod’s has remained faithful to its original mission to provide variety quality and excellent service. And it is this timeless, solid, classic Harrod’s shopping experience that takes me back here time and time again. It’s the doormen, who greet you as you swing through the doors, discreetly assessing your security risk and vetting for infringements of the no shorts, no thongs, no backpacks dress code introduced by Mohammed El Fayed in 1986. It’s the ambience of the place, with its dark-panelled stairs, vast halls, mirrors, studios and feature rooms. It’s the sheer range of beautiful things; like the  8 fashion rooms dedicated to designers  from Armani to Zimmerman and the Parfumerie which sprawls across the entire ground floor,  where a force of glamazons wait in the aisles with atomizers always at the ready. It’s the black clad demi-gods and goddesses, who reign over its departments.

It’s the iconic departments, themselves, like the Refinery (for gentlemen’s grooming) the Cigar Room and the Wine Room. It’s the Feature Halls, which, at festivals like Christmas, brim with the latest in gifts in decorations and in dressings and fare for the yuletide table. It’s the Harrod’s collection of special, souvenirs; London buses, bags and bears, tins of tea, biscuits and sweets, pot mitts and tea towels and especially, the House of Harrod’s China collection, with its exquisite Coat of Arms and Queen Victoria pieces.

It’s those special services, offering bespoke tailoring, jewellery and perfume, the monogram service, the personalized shopping service that will preselect, advise and allow you privacy, time and space to decide on your purchases or the personalized gift service which will guide you to the perfect present, the wrap it gorgeously and deliver it the next day.

It’s the Harrod’s food hall, which endearingly and reassuringly to its grocery store roots, remains at the heart of the building, in the centre of its ground floor. Nothing says indulgence, luxury and quality like fine food and Harrod’s Food Hall says it with great eloquence. There’s a seductive aroma – a blend of coffee, chocolate and nuts and pastry. White, hand-painted Edwardian tiles line the walls and form a backdrop to a visual feast of gourmet chocolates, patisserie, charcuterie and sumptuous arrangements of fish, cheese, fruit and vegetables that make you want to whip out the easel and oils and translate them all into a still life.

It’s the small, simple things, like those little green shopping bags with elegant gold Harrod’s signature.

In none of my Harrod’s shopping expeditions have I ever uncovered an elephant, or even a packet of pins for that matter. I’m sure, though, that they were there in some fabulous guise or other. I’m certain too, that if I had really wanted to find them, a Harrod’s glamazon, demi-god or goddess would have dedicated themselves to the task in true gracious Harrod’s style and I that I would have carried them off, perfectly packaged, in one of those signature Harrod’s bags.

 

 

 

 

 

Brick Lane, Part 6, the Jamme Masjid

Today, Brick Lane still meanders along in the path of old Whitechapel Lane, linking Whitechapel, Spitalfields and Bethnal Green.

Jamme Masjid
Jamme Masjid

Brick Lane’s Huguenot past reflects in street names like Fournier and Weaver and in the last few Georgian town houses. Fashion Street and Petticoat Lane recall Jewish tailors and seamstresses. Their sweatshops and factories live again as million dollar apartments. The first Bangladeshi piece workers who toiled in those sweatshops and factories  have left their legacy in Banglatown.

Nothing, however,  tells Brick Lane’s story more eloquently than the austere brick building on the corner of Fournier Street. In 1976 it became the Jamme Masjid, the Great London Mosque. Under the sun dial on its plain façade a Latin inscription reads “Umbra Sumus”, “We are shadows”. Chase the shadows back across the centuries – to 1898 when this was the Machzikei HaDath, the Spitalfields Great Synagogue, to1819 when it was a Methodist Chapel, to 1809 it when was the Jews Christian Chapel, to its beginning, in 1742, as the Protestant Huguenots’ Neuve Eglise.

On the pavement in front of the Mosque is a postscript, or perhaps a final chapter, to the tale, a roundel, inset with a globe. There is the world of races, cultures and religions which, over the years, have built today’s fascinating, multi-cultural, creative Brick Lane.

 

Brick Lane, Part 5, Brick Lane Market and Brick Lane Festival

If curry and creativity break Brick Lane into territories, the Sunday market knits it together.

Muliticultural Mosaic in Brick Lane
Multicultural Mosaic in Brick Lane

In the 17th century the Brick Lane Market sold fruit and vegetables. In the 19th century it was a Jewish market, with a special dispensation to trade on Sunday.

These days the Brick Lane market defies shape, territory and definition. From daybreak to 2.p.m. it sprawls along Brick Lane in a riot of colour and noise. It spills up Petticoat Lane to Spittalfields. Bangladeshis, Iraqis, Ethiopians, Jewish, Polish, Russians, Chinese, and Cockney traders compete for custom. Food stalls, clothing, and fabric of every kind and ethnicity jostle for space with electrical appliances, household goods and nick-knacks, old and new. Garden supplies nudge works of art, flowers, crafts, trash and treasure, bargains and rip-offs.

The Brick Lane Festival, held every September also binds all the people and the cultures of Brick Lane. Established in 1996 as part of the East London city-side regeneration project, it now attracts more than 60,000 people. Every September Truman’s Dray walk becomes the Festival Food Village. Stalls and concerts showcase the diversity of community cultures. Fashion shows feature traditional Indian fabrics and clothing as well the latest British designs and textiles.

The Banglatown International Curry Festival takes place at the same time. New menus are launched and celebrity chefs fly in from all over the sub-continent to show off their skills.

To see Brck Lane in all its colours, drop by the Sunday Market and definitely, don’t miss the Brick Lane Festival in September.