After the Burdens left for Australia in 1853, No. 8 Middle Queen’s Buildings had some new occupants. Charles Harrod and his family moved into the house above the little grocer’s shop.
Charles Henry Harrod started business as a wholesale grocer and tea dealer in the East End of London in 1835. By 1849 when he was a supplier to Philip Henry Burden, he had moved his business to Eastcheap in Central London. Tim Dale in his book ‘Harrods: The Store and the Legend’ says that as well as having a supplier-customer relationship, “the two men appear to have become friends as there seems to be no other explanation for Harrod’s subsequent behaviour.” Dale is referring to the fact that, when Burden ran into financial difficulties, “Harrod began to help him by paying the rent and not pressing for payments.” Charles Harrod bought the shop outright in 1853.
Charles Digby Harrod, one of Harrod’s sons, was 12 years old when the family moved to Knightsbridge. Eight years later his father began the sale of the grocer’s shop to him. This occurred in a series of transactions over several years, and the older Harrod continued working in the shop until 1864 when the debt was paid off.
Meanwhile, the locality around the little grocer’s shop began to change with the formation of Cromwell Road in 1855 to cope with the fast growth of the South Kensington area; the building of the South Kensington Museum in the following two years; and then another International Exhibition in 1862. Brompton Road was widened to upgrade the approach to the Exhibition thus eliminating the strips of land that were in front of the houses. This spoilt the residential ambience of the area, and as people moved out, the commercial element increased.
With the widening of Brompton Road, the confusing addresses such as Middle Queen’s Buildings and other terraces disappeared, and the whole of Brompton Road was renumbered in 1863. The little grocer’s shop became 105 Brompton Road. [An 1868 map of London showing Middle Queen’s Buildings between New Street and Queen Street (later Hans Road) can be found at the Mapco: Map and Plan Collection Online website at – http://london1868.com/weller51b.htm]
Charles Digby Harrod was hard working and had a vision for the future. He refused to resort to “cook’s bribes,” which was a payment made by some retailers to servants of the upper classes to receive the custom of their masters. Charles Digby also refused credit to his customers during the early days of his business. These strategies meant he could compete fiercely for lower prices, and the savings were passed on to his clientele.
By 1868 under the leadership of Charles Digby Harrod, the turnover of the business increased from £20 in Philip Burden’s time to £1,000 a week. Harrod began buying up adjacent properties to expand the shop.
Diagram showing the position of No. 8 Middle Queen’s Buildings in 1850 between New Street and Hans Road (Queens Street in 1850) – cropped from Diagram ii, page 25, Dale 1981
Diagram showing the area of Harrod’s store in 1884 – cropped from Diagram iii, page 26, Dale 1981
After a fire in 1883 completely destroyed the premises, Harrods was rebuilt on the same site. In 1889 the Harrods company was floated, and soon after Charles Digby Harrod retired. The floor space of the store continued to expand so that by 1911 the whole block between New Street (now Hans Crescent) and Hans Road was covered. Upper North Street was consumed, as well as the houses on it.
The Position of present day Harrods
Harrods centenary was celebrated in 1949. However, Tim Dale, in his book “Harrods: the store and the legend” concedes that “from the available records it is apparent that Harrod did not become the owner of Burden’s shop premises until 1853.”
For the centenary celebrations a replica of the original shop was built, true to size, in the Central Display Hall of Harrods, complete with employees playing the parts of Charles Henry Harrod and the original assistants.
The replica of the original shop built in Harrods in 1949. The H C Harrod on the outside of the replica refers to Harrod’s name as it was sometimes represented.
An artist’s impression of the shop replica (from The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Mercury, May 4, 1949, p3)
The humble beginnings of Harrods as a little grocer’s shop has never been forgotten. The grocery department, which is now called the Pantry, is department number one and is located on the ground floor in the “heart of the store.”
1. Tim Dale, Harrods:The Store and the Legend, (London: Pan Books, 1981), electronic resource, digitised by Internet Archive, 5. [back]
2. Dale, Harrods, 5. [back]
3. Dale, Harrods, 25. [back]
4. Dale, Harrods, 26. [back]
5. Google Maps [back]
6. Dale, Harrods, 6. [back]
7. Dale, Harrods, plates between p 70 and 71. [back]
8. Dale, Harrods, 60. [back]
“Brompton Road: Introduction,” in Survey of London: Volume 41, Brompton, ed. F H W Sheppard (London: London County Council, 1983), 1-8, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol41/pp1-8.
Dale, Tim. Harrods:The Store and the Legend. London: Pan Books, 1981.
Google Maps https://www.google.com.au/maps/