In pictures: John Lewis at 150

The retail stalwart has been on the British high street for 150 years. We take a look back at how it's transformed UK shopping.

by Elizabeth Anderson
Last Updated: 25 Jun 2015

John Lewis opened its first store on Oxford Street in 1864. Since then the chain has become something of a British institution, famed for its employee-ownership model which has propelled it into a £4bn business with 41 stores across the UK.

To celebrate turning 150, John Lewis has released an advert which looks at the ways in which it has has been in its customers’ lives in a history spanning three centuries.

‘We hope the campaign will evoke nostalgia leaving our customers feeling uplifted and excited about a summer of celebration,’ said Craig Inglis, Marketing Director, John Lewis.

MT has trawled the John Lewis archive to see how the partnership has transformed since its beginnings in the mid-19th century...

Oxford Street, 1864

The John Lewis name first appeared in London in 1864 as a small draper’s shop in Oxford Street. Somerset-born John Lewis started his retail career as a local drapers’ apprentice before moving to London in 1856.

He became a salesman for the prestigious Oxford Street draper Peter Robinson but on 2nd May 1864 Lewis took the plunge and opened his own store.

General departments, 1899

In 1905 John Lewis took control of the Peter Jones department store in Sloane Square, Chelsea, after the death of its Welsh founder. According to shop legend, Lewis bought the business from Jones’ two sons using 20 £1,000 notes from the takings of his own business.

Peter Jones exterior, 1900 (image credit: The Library Time Machine)

It was Mr Lewis’s elder son, John Spedan Lewis, who took the first steps towards making the company a Partnership. He thought it unfair that the owners of the business should get all the profits and benefits, and proposed the idea of sharing it amongst his staff.

When Lewis senior died in 1928, Spedan Lewis inaugurated the John Lewis Partnership – a trust for the benefit of the workers. Shortly after, Lewis introduced the most famous price promise on the high street, ‘never knowingly undersold.’

Moving into supermarkets, the Partnership bought upmarket grocer Waitrose in 1937, which at the time had 10 stores and 160 employees.

Acton Lane Waitrose, c. 1914

John Lewis launched its own website in 2000 and took more than £1bn in online sales last year. The Partnership’s Christmas TV ads have now become a festive favourite, although its first one didn’t appear until 2007.

John Lewis is now one of the UK's top ten retailers with 41 John Lewis shops (31 department stores and 10 John Lewis at home), 317 Waitrose supermarkets, an online business, one production unit and a farm.

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