David Lewis opened his first small store on Ranelagh Street, Liverpool in 1856. It was a small, glass-fronted shop . It expanded piece by piece between 1910-12 into much larger premises, which were gutted by fire in 1888.
In 1864 Lewis's branched out into women's clothing. In the 1870s the store expanded and added departments, including shoes in 1874 and tobacco in 1879. Also in 1879, Lewis's opened one of the world's first "Christmas grottoes" in Lewis's Bon Marché, Church Street, Liverpool. It was named "Christmas Fairyland".
The Original Department Store Building
LEWIS’S, Liverpool’s landmark department store, fell victim to the Luftwaffe during the May Blitz of 1941 when Merseyside endured a relentless week of bombing.
Saturday, May 3, will probably live on as the most fearsome and destructive of all the raids. Between sundown and dawn, wave after wave of bombers throbbed overhead, pouring thousands of tons of high explosives and incendiaries on to the city.
Lewis’s great store with its roof menagerie was destroyed after taking a direct hit.
One of the victims that night was Andrew Lund, then 46, from Cromarty Road, Old Swan, who was on duty firewatching at Lewis’s.
His daughter, Lilian Langford, has previously told how his body was never found.
She recalled: “The most sad thing about it is that he had changed his fire-watching shift as a favour, with a young man, from the Friday night to the fateful Saturday night.
“This changeover was arranged between themselves, so therefore it was really unofficial. This made the situation extremely difficult regarding obtaining a death certificate.
“As my mother was unfit to do anything, I had the very unpleasant task of having to visit temporary mortuaries to try to identify bodies, articles, clothing, etc, that might have been related to my father.
“Then I had to go to court, to explain the situation, so that my mother could obtain a death certificate. This was so she could get 10 shillings a week widow’s pension.
“My father served in the First World War and came home disabled. Then he was killed in the Blitz, by a stroke of fate because he shouldn’t really have been at Lewis’s that night. It’s just so terrible.”
What remaims of Lewis's Store after receiving a direct hit diring the Blitz
Although the building burnt down in a famous fire of 1886, and was heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe during the Second World War. Nevertheless, it was rebuilt each time, and was refurbished in 1957, later including the installation of the statue ‘Liverpool Resurgent’ to symbolise the city’s renewed vigour following the horrors of the recent conflict
The Rebuilt Lewis's Department store prior to the addition of it's statue
Epstein's Statue Jacob Epstein's bronze figure on the prow of a ship above the main entrance to the Lewis's department store building dates from 1954-6 and stands for the resurgence of Liverpool after the war. The panels beneath, also by Epstein (1955), show scenes from childhood
Above the main entrance to the Liverpool flagship store is a statue of a nude man by Sir Jacob Epstein. Its official title is Liverpool Resurgent but is nicknamed locally "Dickie Lewis". It is a well-known local meeting place and was immortalised in the 1962 anthemic song "In My Liverpool Home" by Peter McGovern:
"We speak with an accent exceedingly rare,
Meet under a statue exceedingly bare"
The rediscovered fifth floor has wood panelling, panelled doors and a tiled floor corridor. A ten foot high Festival of Britain mural on the eastern wall is made of hand painted and hand printed tiles. Another mural on the south wall shows geometric patterns and cutlery.
One of the most interesting features of the building are the lifts, of which some are still in place, but which are to be removed as part of the new Liverpool Central Village. These lifts are original features of the building, and were operated by a member of staff through use of a lever. There were no controls for the customers! Both the fold-down seats and the lever mechanism are currently still in the building, and are mentioned in the listing description. The passenger lifts at the south east of the building still have ‘clocks’ with coloured lights to indicate which member of staff was required on the shop floor.
The clock and lights above the lift
Lewis’s went into administration in 1991, and all but the Liverpool store were sold off, the majority to competitor Owen Owen. The Liverpool store continued to trade though, until it went into liquidation in 2007. Having been bought by Vergo Retail Ltd in the same year it managed to soldier on until the lease on the iconic building came up for renewal. Due to development of the area, the company was no longer allowed to stay. Despite efforts at negotiation. The Lewis’s building façade however,will have a place in the new Liverpool Central Village.
A Computer generated image of Lewis's building incorporation into the new 'Central Village'