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The history of Hamleys - London's famous toy shop

The story of William Hamley who created the famous toy shop 250 years ago.

A young boy trys out a toy MG Midget car at Hamleys in 1934
A young boy trys out a toy MG Midget car at Hamleys in 1934

William Hamley, a Cornishman from Bodmin, set up his 'Noah's Ark' toy shop in Holborn in 1760.

He stocked tin soldiers, hoops, wooden horses and rag dolls.

The location of his shop was ideal to attract shoppers from the aristocratic western squares around Bloomsbury.

London at this time was navigated by horse and cart, water was hand pumped and the capital was still fifty years from gas lit streets.

By 1837 the shop, now owned by his grandsons, became famous and attracted families, nobility and royalty of the day.

The success continued and in 1881 a new branch opened in London's Regent Street.

HISTORIC HAMLEYS
Hamleys at its current location in Regent Street
It moved to its current building in 1981
The store has over 5 million visitors a year
It stocks 450,000 individual toys from over 10,000 varieties
It has 335 staff and operates on seven floors
The blitz saw Hamleys get bombed five times, this did not deter the staff - they wore tin hats and served at the front, running in and out of the shop for the toys

The original Noah's Ark, at 231 High Holborn, was destroyed by fire in 1901 and was relocated to larger premises at 86-87 High Holborn.

The stores were famous for imported dolls, scientific sets, pedal cars and miniature toy trains.

However, it was not always a story of success. In the late 1920s Hamleys faced bleak times and was forced to close in 1931.

It later re-opened in the same year after Walter Lines bought Hamleys and worked hard to bring customers back. Walter, along with his two brothers, were the owners of Tri-ang Toys, a toy making company dating back to the 1850s.

His efforts were rewarded when in 1938 Queen Mary gave Hamleys the Royal Warrant. H.M. Queen Elizabeth II followed this with the issue of a Royal Warrant in 1955.

Her Majesty received gifts as a child from Hamleys and gave toys to her own children from the store.

Crowds look at the window display of Hamleys in 1927
Crowds look at the window display of Hamleys in 1927

Bombing during World War II did not stop Hamleys trading and further success meant the shop outgrew its location and moved to where it is today at 188-196 Regent Street.

There are several stores worldwide including Dubai and Denmark and smaller stores are also found at Heathrow Airport.

250th Celebrations

The store celebrates 250 years of history with the unveiling of a Green Plaque and a VIP party.

Stars including Eastenders actress Samantha Womack attended the unveiling on Thursday 11 February.

The Green Plaque Scheme draws attention to particular buildings in Westminster associated with people of renown who have made lasting contributions to society.




SEE ALSO
Archive Pictures: Battersea Park
23 Sep 09 |  History


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