MAY/JUNE 2023 ISSUE
a grand day out
The Shine team go back in time and delve into the M&S Archive
WORDS: LORRAINE HARDING, DAVID SMITH,
PHOTOGRAPHY: DANIEL JOHNSON
Where to Go
M&S Archive, Michael Marks Building, University of Leeds, LS2 9LP
The museum is based in Hyde Park, a short bus ride from Leeds city centre.
There are toilets, lockers and an area where you can help yourself to a free cup of tea or coffee.
You can get the No 56 bus from Leeds city centre (travelling to Moor Grange) to the Leeds University Business School on Moorland Road. It leaves from Victoria H stop on Eastgate, or Headrow K stop, on Albion Street. When you get off the bus, keep the University Business School on your right and follow the road towards Clarendon Road crossroads, turn right at the crossroads and travel along Clarendon Road. Turn right at the Western Campus entrance where the barrier is, cross over at the dropped kerbs. The Archive is the bronze building to the right.
The building is on the ground floor and is fully accessible to wheelchair users. Toilets are on the ground floor.
Monday – Friday 10am – 4pm
Saturday Open the 2nd Saturday of every month
The M&S Archive offers a fascinating glimpse into the history of one of the country’s most iconic shopping brands. Marks & Spencer started in Leeds in 1884 - in the Kirkgate Market. This unique collection presents a range of artefacts and stories from the last 140 years. It’s a hidden gem, based at the University of Leeds and we urge you to check it out for yourself. A great (and free) day out for anyone who has ever shopped at M&S!
The 56 bus from Leeds City Centre is a very regular service. We only waited 5 minutes and there were plenty of seats. The best stop is just up from John Lewis on The Headrow. The bus goes past the university and up to Hyde Park. You’ll see the old Grammar School building on the left and the park on the right, just of Clarendon Road. We spotted signs to the Archive just as we got off the bus. It’s in a university building and you walk through into a courtyard; the M&S Archive is in a very new-looking modern building in the far corner. Be aware that parking is very difficult near the university – though there is disabled parking outside the Archive. Much easier to go by bus – or even walk from town! It’s an easy journey back to town too.
our visit By Lorraine Harding
The first sight that greeted us on entry to the Archive was a showcase of multi-coloured bras! However, perhaps the best place to start your tour is a small, well-lit area with black walls, which details the history of
M & S. It all started with the ‘Penny Bazaar’ in Leeds market. There are various items that are replicas of the sorts of things that would have been on sale. We were struck by a family songbook of piano pieces, and in particular by one piece: ’Little Sister’s Gone to Sleep’. A sign of those times when sadly child mortality was much higher than it is today.
A small cinema area shows an advertising film from the 1960s - glamorous models in clingy woolen dresses, skirts and tops. Next to that is a dressing-up area with vintage clothes for both adults and children. A ‘Founders, Colleagues and Suppliers’ section is worth looking at, and listening to; there are audio recordings featuring the voices of employees from the past. Also of interest is the food section. Around the exhibition space are display cases with clothes from various periods - styles which mostly looked familiar to people of our vintage!
We were very pleased to meet Caroline Bunce, education and outreach worker. “We work a lot with the collection to spark conversation and get people talking,” Caroline told us. There is a dedicated community programme that encourages older people to come for visits. One of the highlights is that people are able to handle certain vintage objects from the collection. “It’s a chance to get hands-on with objects,” says Caroline. In addition, loan boxes containing items can be sent for free to care homes, for older people who might struggle to get to the Archive. We enjoyed the pleasant reading-room, where you can delve into the archive, rifling through boxes of old photographs and magazines.
After our visit, it was time to repair to a room behind the reception desk where the free coffee, tea and biscuits are available. There are also lockers for coats and bags in this area. Generally, the building is well set up and welcoming. We all thoroughly enjoyed this visit – it comes highly recommended.
INTERVIEWS Tom Bailey and Paul Atkinson
Yvonne volunteers with Neighbourhood Action in Farnley, New Farnley and Moor Top. We asked her and some other members who were visiting the Archive for their reflections.
My brother-in-law made trousers and suits for Marks & Spencer. It was down near the bus station, there was a factory there, where they used to make the clothes. I remember him saying there was a portfolio of instructions of how the buttons needed to be sewn on, how the seams should be made. It was brilliant. He then went to do some consultation in Morocco on how to make trousers. They had a factory shop in Leeds round about the time my children were born. When I had my babies, we could get cheap baby clothes.
I remember M&S as a meeting place when you were a teenager. We used to go and meet our friends. My granddaughter reminds me of it now! We used to meet in front of M&S in Briggate. I can’t tell you want we used to get up to. It’s lovely here at the Archive, really interesting. We’ve loved it.
Norman lives in New Farnley and dressed smartly for the occasion of his visit. It was a kind of busman’s holiday for Norman, because he used to work in the textiles trade.
I’ve been going room to room, listening to people and reading the information. There’s a cosy atmosphere and it’s interesting to find out all about the history of M&S. I’ve always shopped at M&S. For as long as I can remember, it was always a decent shop. Decent, well-made products. The attitude was, if it’s Mark’s, it’s decent. They made things for the masses, but not “over-done”. And they were all quality products.
However, I never bought a suit at Marks & Spencer. Always had them made-to-measure. Leeds was the centre of made-to-measure suits – more than any other part of the country. Leeds was predominantly a tailoring town. The centre of the industry. The mills were in places like Cleckheaton, but in Leeds it was tailoring. There was nearly always one or two of your family working in the clothing industry. I had suits made by individual tailors. People were tailors, but had a
a job on the side too. In those days, you could go into an M&S store, be measured, have your suit made and pick it up a couple of weeks later. I worked within the industry, in sales. I sold clothing to individuals. Jackets, suits. I worked for myself but I knew where to look because so many people I knew worked in the business. Cousins, aunties, uncles – they were all involved, like me.
THE DINNER LADIES
Judith and Margaret have been friends for decades. The grew up in the same area of Leeds and live close by now. They enjoyed reminiscing about all the clothes and toys M&S used to sell – not least the yo-yos!
Judith: It’s brought back memories. The old clothes, all that. When I was a kiddie, my mother used to make my clothes. So, my main memory of Marksies is the knickers! Marksies food has always been nice. You can rely on the quality of all the food and the clothes. We live in Wortley. Grew up in Farnley. We’ve known each other a long time. Met
when the kiddies were little – they’re in their 60s now! Margaret: We couldn’t buy clothes at M&S in the old days. We were on rations – coupons. These days it’s good because you can take things back. You used to try on the clothes in the fitting rooms, but these days I can’t be bothered – I bring it home and take them back of they don’t fit. We met at Ringways, we used to go out dancing, all together. Then we worked together at the school. Judith: We were dinner ladies, in the playground – halfway between a mother and a teacher.
Sometimes, I used to make naughty boys hold my hand because it kept them under control!
A HISTORY OF MARKS & SPENCER
by David Smith & Paul Atkinson
In 1884, Jewish immigrant Michael Marks arrived in the UK from Belarus. He opened a Penny Bazzar stall at Kirkgate Market in Leeds, using the slogan, “Don’t ask the price, it’s a penny”. The business grew and 10 years later he teamed up with Tom Spencer; Marks & Spencer was born. By the turn of the century the pair were operating 12 Penny Bazaar Stalls and 24 market stalls. The company’s first HQ was in Manchester, but Michael and Tom remained proud of their Yorkshire roots. In 1926, Marks & Spencer started a clothing range. This part of the business grew to overtake the rest. By the 1950s, the company had become part of the fabric of British retail. M&S’s famous refund policy came along in 1953, to the joy of customers everywhere!
David Smith has fond memories of the flagship shop in Leeds: “The large M&S store at 47-49 Briggate opened in 1951 on the site of the pre-war Rialto cinema. I remember going there with my parents in the 1950s, when I recall most of the basement being devoted to a café with numerous tables and chairs arranged on a grid layout. My parents liked to sit down and have a cup of tea and I would always get a chocolate wafer biscuit in golden wrapping. I remember the taste, which was something like the Blue Riband wafers that you can still find today. The ground floor was set out with rows of island counters, each one with different goods laid out all around it (shirts, pullovers, etc.) and an attendant serving in the middle. No plastic packaging then - and this was before self-service took over everywhere. Of course, M&S was always trusted for quality.”
For Paul Atkinson, the shop is associated with his mother: “She’d make daily visits to the Wakefield branch: It was a ritual pilgrimage every day without fail. The amount of clothing that was in her wardrobe still with the price tags on was unbelievable. Whether Mum was in Leeds, Wakefield, or Sheffield….it would always merit a trip to M&S.”
The M&S archive in Leeds was set up around 11 years ago. Prior to being at its current location, the collection was stored “on the premises of one of the larger stores in London,” says Caroline Bunce, education and outreach officer. “It was decided that there would be a purpose-built archive, with a remit to share the collection with the public. It hadn’t been available to the public before that. It started as a temporary exhibition at the Parkinson Building at the University of Leeds.” A new building was constructed and is now open all year round for everyone to visit.