Still known to many of its customers as George Henry Lee, even to this day this much-loved Liverpool store has a proud heritage, with its genesis in two quite different department stores, George Henry Lee and Bon Marché.
George Henry Lee
Founded in 1853 by Henry Boswell Lee, George Henry Lee started life as a bonnet warehouse at 12 Basnett Street on the corner of Leigh Street. The shop prospered and grew, gradually developing into a department store. In 1874, the last of the Lee sons retired and control passed to Thomas Oakshott, who, in 1887, became the first tradesman to become Lord Mayor of Liverpool, an appointment which added to the prestige of the enterprise. In 1910, the year Thomas Oakshott died, the company had over 1,200 employees and the Basnett Street frontage was rebuilt with elegant Edwardian marble pillars. Shortly after the First World War, the Oakshott family sold the shop to an American, H. Gordon Selfridge, who in turn sold the business, together with the other 14 stores in his Provincial Stores Group, to the John Lewis Partnership in 1940.
Meanwhile across the road, a very different department store had developed. Founded in 1878, Bon Marché was modelled on its famous namesake in Paris and featured French fashions, perfumes and accessories. It became renowned for its sense of style and its encouragement of the arts, and in 1927 a gallery was built in which a series of exhibitions, lectures and concerts were staged. During the 1930s promotional events were a regular feature and citizens flocked to see Gracie Fields selling stockings for fifteen minutes. In 1937 it introduced Younger Liverpool Ltd., an early example of a boutique style department.