At Liberty in London

BEFORE WE MARRIED in 1993, many of our kind friends wanted to give us wedding presents. A large proportion of them wanted to choose gifts from a ‘wedding list’. For those who are unfamiliar with this kind of list, let me explain. A ‘wedding list’ is a list of items, usually available from a shop chosen by the bride and groom, from which those wishing to give wedding presents can choose. As the items are bought, the shop removes them from the list so that the likelihood of duplicate purchases is reduced.

We were a little reluctant at first, but people insisted that it would be helpful if we compiled a wedding list. We chose to have our list at a shop that we both enjoy visiting: Liberty on Great Marlborough Street, very close to Regent Street.

Above an entrance to Liberty shop

From the outside, Liberty looks like an extremely well-preserved example of Tudor architecture, too good to be true. It is not because it was completed in 1924.

Liberty was founded by Arthur Lasenby Liberty (1843-1917), son of a draper. In 1875, he opened his own shop on Regent Street. According to the Liberty website (www.libertylondon.com), he wanted:

“… a London emporium laden with luxuries and fabrics from distant lands, his dream was to metaphorically dock a ship in the city streets. To this day, a voyage of discovery awaits on the good ship Liberty, with history hidden amongst six floors of cutting-edge design, unexpected edits and beautiful wares from the world’s greatest craftspeople. In 1875, Arthur borrowed £2,000 from his future father-in-law and took a building on Regent Street, London with just three dedicated staff and plenty of ambition.”

By the time that Liberty opened his shop, the British public was fascinated by Japan and other parts of Asia. In 1885, he brought 42 villagers from India and set up a temporary ‘living village’ of artisans in the shop.

The website added:

“Liberty’s collection of ornaments, fabric and objets d’art from around the world proved irresistible to a society intoxicated at the time by Japan and the East and Liberty effected social change in interior design and dress, so much so that the Art Nouveau period in Italy is called ‘Liberty Style’.”

Liberty died before his new shop was completed. Designed by Edwin T Hall and his son Edwin S Hall, it was built in the Tudor Revival style that achieved great popularity in the 1920s.  Not only is the shop’s exterior in the Tudor Revival style, but also its interior. A great dela of wood was used in the construction as the shop’s website revealed:

“… the builders Messrs Higgs & Hill were given a lump sum of £198,000 to construct it, which they did from the timbers of two ancient ‘three-decker’ battle ships. Records show more than 24,000 cubic feet of ships timbers were used including their decks now being the shop flooring: The HMS Impregnable – built from 3040 100-year-old oaks from the New Forest – and the HMS Hindustan, which measured the length and height of our Liberty building.”

Even if you do not wish to purchase anything from our long out-of-date wedding list, a visit to Liberty is rewarding not only to see the wonderful range of beautiful products on sale but also to narvel at the building and its many finely crafted decorative features.

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