Marks and Spencer steps back in time

PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe
PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe
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IT GREW to become one of the UK’s best-loved and biggest retailers, but had the humblest of beginnings on a Leeds market stall.

Now Marks & Spencer has harked back to its Victorian roots by returning to where it all began, Kirkgate Market, for one night only.

With the help of actors portraying characters from the company’s 130-year history, Marks in Time Live: After Hours re-enacted the beginnings of Marks & Spencer, including playing music once sold from Michael Marks’ Penny Bazaar market stall.

The event was made possible after staff at the M&S Company Archive, based at the University of Leeds, worked with students to delve further into the company’s history as part of the Museums at Night festival, which runs until Saturday at museums, galleries and heritage sites across the country.

M&S Company Archive education and outreach officer Helen Chatterton said the festival offered the opportunity to bring the ghosts from Marks & Spencer’s rich history to life.

“The business was very humble to begin with, simply a table offering household goods, but it grew to the penny bazaars on high streets across the country, and eventually to what we have today. We’re very proud of our heritage here in Leeds.”

Among the characters portrayed were Michael Marks himself, a Polish refugee who founded the market stall in 1884 with the slogan ‘don’t ask the price, it’s a penny’; Esther Brown, one of the first female assistants on the penny bazaars in the 1890s and Russian heiress Flora Solomon, who pioneered staff welfare.

The event took place around the Marks and Spencer Heritage Stall, which opened beside the M&S clock in the market in 2013, and included a pop-up vintage tea room.

The Archive, in the University’s Michael Marks building, is open on weekdays, 10am to 5pm, and contains more than 70,000 items.