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 Photo-a-Day      (Sunday, 17th November, 2019) Views: 313 
End of an Era

End of an Era
 End of an Era   by Thomas Walsh  (iPad)
M&S in Wigan town centre closed last week.

Comment by Thomas(Tom)Walsh. on 17th November 2019 at 00:35
Marks & Spencer.

Goodbye to St. Michael and all that !

As we approach the end of trading at M&S in Wigan town centre it is timely to look at the company's long connection with our town . I am aware of the sadness felt by everyone about the closure and it's possible consequences . I hope this potted history will be of interest to readers.

Wigan played no little part in the expansion of the company .The story however begins in Slonim in the Russian partition of Poland . Michael Marks left his home age 19 and came to London to start a new life. He soon left the capital and headed for Leeds, there he met Isaac Dewhirst, the owner of a Leeds warehouse, in 1884. A deal was arranged whereby Marks agreed to buy goods from Dewhirst and sell them in nearby villages. The venture was a success and enabled Marks to raise enough capital to establish a stall in Leeds' open market. He also sold goods at Castleford and Wakefield markets. In 1891 he opened a stall in Wigan Market Hall . The family also moved to live in Wigan about that time. They made their home at 152 Great George Street where his daughter Miriam was born on 1st February 1892 ( Died 14th February 1972) . An interesting fact on her Birth Certificate Michael's signature is marked with an ' X '. They also resided at 57 Darlington Street before leaving Wigan for Manchester in 1896.

On 27th March 1897 the Mayor of Wigan Councillor Robert Richards and the Chief of Police , Captain A Bell confirmed to the Home Office a period of residence of Michael Marks and gave a character reference in connection with his application for naturalisation. On 5 May 1897, Michael Marks was naturalised as a British subject.

Why Wigan from Leeds ? I think it's fair to assume two factors would have influenced his decision, the opening of The Wigan Market Hall in 1877. Covered markets were a fairly new phenomenon allowing trade to be conducted six days a week, instead of just on market days . The second I feel sure was that there was vibrant Jewish community in Wigan at that time with its own Synagogue situated in Great George Street, probably in a converted house and the street where he made his home ,it is surely too much to be just a coincidence !

To digress briefly ; it was reported in The Wigan Observer on 28th. of October 1888 the Rabbi of the Wigan Synagogue ,Rev Bercovitz a Russian -born pastor to Jewish community was killed in Wallgate when a horse escaped from its cart . The cart veered off the road and hit the reverend gentleman killing him instantly . He left a wife and five children , the newspaper went on to describe him as being held in great respect not only by his all his flock but by all who knew him. I include this to illustrate how assimilated the Jewish community had become in Wigan at the later part of the nineteenth century .



The business was expanding at such a rate that Michael Marks required a partner and capital - enter Tom Spencer , a bookkeeper at Isaac Dewhirst who paid £300 for a half share of the business consisting of 8 Bazaars and a a warehouse in Wigan on the 28th of September 1894 , Marks and Spencer was born in Wigan .There is some dispute as to where the (new)company was founded ; it is claimed the first Bazaar to bear the joint name was on the Cheetham Hill Road shop, Manchester and is reputedly the site of the foundation of the (new) company .
I contend that notwithstanding that claim , the fact that Michael Marks lived in Wigan and the warehouse was in the town when the partnership was established ,Wigan's claim to be the birthplace of the (new) company is in my opinion indisputable. In M&S own archive it reports that the first shop was opened in a Leeds Arcade in 1904 that is clearly inaccurate. The Manchester shop opened 1896 and by 1900 the company had 36 outlets including 12 shops the others being market stalls. That year saw the opening a Bazaar at 29 Makinsons Arcade . 1918 saw a shop opened in Standishgate . On the 2nd of October 1931 the business was transferred a much larger store at 11 Standishgate (sight of the present store ) at the same time the Makinsons Arcade Bazaar closed

In Israel Sieff memoirs , he recalls that his friend and later brother- in-law Simon Marks son of Michael related that during his time in Wigan , Simon then aged four after hearing the patter of clogs on the cobbled streets begged his Father for a pair, many years later he wrote, ' At night I would wrap them up in brown paper and put them under my pillow, I wanted be like the other children ' Both the men mentioned in this paragraph went on to be chairmen of M&S and both were given life peerages . Simon during his tenure adopted the brand name ' St Michael ' in honour of his Father.

In 1903 Marks and Spencer become a limited company. So successful had the company become that the Thomas Spencer's £300 ( today's equivalent £33554 ) investment grew to £ 15,000 ( £ 1,58214 2019 ) , not a bad return in 7 years ! He retired from the company later that year, he died in 1905 aged 51 . Michael Marks died in 1907 aged 48. It's fair to say that both men died before their time , at that time an adult male could reasonably expect to live to 60 .


The profits generated in Wigan and the other early outlets sowed the seeds for the company as it is today . You cannot but wonder what Michael Marks and Thomas Spencer would think of the decision to abandon Wigan centre after 125 years . Abandon is an emotive word I know but that is exactly how it feels to the people of Wigan . The company had an enviable reputation for caring for staff and customers alike, that accolade is beginning to look a little thin .

I'm aware that the company is to open a food only outlet at Robin Park and whilst this is welcomed by many it will surly lead to a further exodus of footfall from the town centre threatening other businesses . This move to out of town shopping is by no means confined to Wigan it is a country wide trend . However much we lament the degrading of town centres and think it should be reversed , it's rather like King Canute trying to stop the tide; or the more modern version of that maxim ' trying to put toothpaste back in the tube ' - sad but undeniably true .


Comment by Janet ( jouell ) on 17th November 2019 at 03:20
When a store like M & S, (a store that has been there as long as I can remember) closes. I don't have much hope for the rest of Wigan...


Comment by Alan (on Vancouver Island) on 17th November 2019 at 03:59
OMG I am currently wearing a shirt that came from M & S. Most of the big department stores in Canada are disappearing also. The World is changing faster than we old folks can cope with.


Comment by linma on 17th November 2019 at 06:37
Always been a part of my life, so sad.


Comment by Mick on 17th November 2019 at 07:03
So sad the Romanian women who sells the big issue will have to relocate as well


Comment by sue on 17th November 2019 at 07:20
Yes that is truly the end of an era, I don't live in Wigan anymore but the memories of shopping in marks with my mum are as clear as ever, I wonder what she would have thought if she was around to see it , although to be honest she preferred Gemini m+s .


Comment by PeterP on 17th November 2019 at 08:51
Will now have to go to Warrington if you want clothes from M&S.


Comment by irene roberts on 17th November 2019 at 09:04
Sad to see this. I remember going in as a small child... not often, as Marks', Pendlebury's and Lowe's were expensive shops to people like my Mam, but we went in occasionally. I remember the men's clothing had the St. Michael label on in those days but the Ladies' clothes had the St. Margaret label on, its logo being a lady's head that looked like a nun to my young eyes. Does anyone else remember that? So many shops and stores are going the same way these days, but it's a case of use it or lose it. Goodbye, M & S. We'll miss you.


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