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Marks and Spencer born in market
Marks and Spencer in Leeds
Marks and Spencer started in Kirkgate market

Michael Marks, a Russian-born Polish refugee started a market business in the 1880s, with a borrowed £5.

The penny bazaar in Kirkgate market was adorned with the slogan 'Don't ask the price - it's a penny.'

The role of the city in the founding of what became Marks and Spencer is celebrated by an archive in Leeds.

In partnership with the University of Leeds the company has moved 60,000 historical items, from London, to be housed in the university.

The M&S archive includes many items that have never been seen publicly before - from products and photographs through to company literature and advertising.

A selection of these items will be housed in the University's Centenary Gallery within the Parkinson building.

A M&S recruitment brochure
One of the images from the 1947 company brochure

After a decade in the market, as a sole trader, in 1894 Marks formed a partnership with Yorkshireman Tom Spencer, a former cashier in another retail firm.

By 1904 Marks and Spencer were able to put the business on a firmer footing opening shop premises at the, then recently-opened, Cross Arcade in the city. This was a step up for the entrepreneurs as they moved from market stall to a covered arcade. Slowly from these humble beginnings in Leeds a national shopping institution was born.

As the Edwardian era boomed Tom Spencer died in 1905, followed by Michael Marks two years later. Despite the deaths of both founders the business survived and began to flourish.

A revolutionary move

Marks and Spencer Limited became a public company in 1926 and the famous St Michael trade mark was registered two years later. It was a label that was to find itself inside some of the underwear and clothes of a large proportion of the population

Something that seems commonplace now - self-service - was viewed as a revolutionary move in retailing when in 1948 the company held its first shopping trial at the Wood Green store in London.

1960s M&S skirt
Mrs Brookes wearing a M&S skirt in the 1960s

The company even expanded overseas when in 1975 Marks and Spencer's first stores in continental Europe opened in Paris and Brussels. Through every twist and turn of popular fashion Marks and Spencer have tried to find clothes to match the public appetite. From the floral dresses of the 1940s to the 60s 'daring' mini-skirts and today's big sellers. The store has seen a revolution in fabrics including developments such as Lycra.

In 2009 M&S claimed that 21 million people a week entered one of the company's stores.

M&S archive material released
02 Jun 09 |  England



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