28 September 1894: Marks & Spencer opens its first 'Penny Bazaar'

On this day in 1894, Michael Marks and Tom Spencer opened their first ‘Penny Bazaar’ market stall in Leeds.

With a reputation for good quality, if occasionally slightly dull, merchandise, and as the grocer to Britain's middle classes (alongside Waitrose), it's perhaps a little surprising to find out that solid, dependable Marks & Spencer started out life as the 19th-century equivalent of a pound shop in the north of England.

Michael Marks was a refugee from eastern Europe. Originally from Slonim in Belarus, he made his way to Leeds, where he set up a stall in Kirkgate Market.

With business going well, he took on a partner, Tom Spencer, who invested £300 into the business. And on 28 September 1894, the first "Marks & Spencer Penny Bazaar" was born. The stall sold household goods and haberdashery, and, as the name suggested, everything cost one penny.

The business expanded quickly, so that by 1900, Marks & Spencer boasted 36 market stalls and 12 high-street shops.

In the 1920s, M&S changed direction to begin selling clothes, and built up a formidable reputation for selling quality pants and bras. It also changed its pricing policy – goods could now cost anything up to five shillings.

Marks & Spencer built a business selling goods that were exclusively from British suppliers. The brand, "St Michael", was named in honour of its founder, Michael Marks. However, commercial pressures meant that by the 1990s the British-only policy was quietly abandoned.

The company continued to expand right up until the end of the 20th century. Profits peaked in 1997-1998. But it has struggled to keep pace with both quickly changing fashions and the rise of nimbler competition. It was demoted from the FTSE 100 in September 2019, but it remains a retail bellwether, with a market capitalisation of £2bn.

Recommended

21 October 1520: Magellan finds the path to the Pacific
This day in history

21 October 1520: Magellan finds the path to the Pacific

On this day in 1520, a fleet of five ships, led by Ferdinand Magellan in search of a passage to the Pacific, first entered the waterway that now bears…
21 Oct 2020
21 October 1805: the Battle of Trafalgar
This day in history

21 October 1805: the Battle of Trafalgar

On this day in 1805, Britain’s mastery of the seas was assured after the Royal Navy crushed Napoleon’s fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar.
21 Oct 2020
20 October 1935: Mao’s Long March ends
This day in history

20 October 1935: Mao’s Long March ends

Almost exactly a year after setting off, Mao Zedong and his army of communists arrived at the foot of the Great Wall of China on this day in 1935.
20 Oct 2020
19 October 1960: US begins its trade embargo on Cuba
This day in history

19 October 1960: US begins its trade embargo on Cuba

In retaliation for Cuba seizing American property, President Eisenhower banned exports to the island on this day in 1960.
19 Oct 2020

Most Popular

The Bank of England should create a "Bitpound" digital currency and take the world by storm
Bitcoin

The Bank of England should create a "Bitpound" digital currency and take the world by storm

The Bank of England could win the race to create a respectable digital currency if it moves quickly, says Matthew Lynn.
18 Oct 2020
Negative interest rates and the end of free bank accounts
Bank accounts

Negative interest rates and the end of free bank accounts

Negative interest rates are likely to mean the introduction of fees for current accounts and other banking products. But that might make the UK bankin…
19 Oct 2020
What would negative interest rates mean for your money?
UK Economy

What would negative interest rates mean for your money?

There has been much talk of the Bank of England introducing negative interest rates. John Stepek explains why they might do that, and what it would me…
15 Oct 2020