It's amazing what a penny can do. 'Don't ask the price, it’s a penny' was the slogan Michael Marks used when he opened his first bazaar in Leeds in 1884. It couldn’t be any simpler and both his idea and hard work soon paid off. But it was when Michael went into partnership with Tom Spencer in 1894 that the company we all know really started to take shape.
Michael Marks opened the first Penny Bazaar in Leeds in 1884
Painting of Penny Bazaar, Van Jones 1955
This yo-yo was donated by Joy Everett. It belonged to her mother, Alice. It was bought from the Lincoln Penny Bazaar in the 1890s by Alice’s parents.
You can see original Penny Bazaar goods on display at the M&S Company Archive.
I remember going to Marks & Spencer at the end of every summer to get new bits of school uniform. It was always exciting to be getting new clothes, but less exciting that the summer holidays were coming to an end!
1900 - 1920
We were growing and innovating as living conditions were improving. Most shops kept their stock behind counters, but our stores displayed everything on trays for customers to inspect. The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 also meant that resources were limited so people really needed the buttons, needles and threads we sold to update their old clothes.
Haberdashery items like these hooks and eyes were very popular with customers and the Archive holds many examples
A typical example of smartly-dressed female sales staff in our early stores, who would be supervised by the store manageress.
Marks and Spencer has sold innovative products from its earliest days!
Soon M&S shops opened in a wide variety of central sites, like this one at Castle Street Bristol in 1907.
We sold music from 1900 to 1920. It was so popular that people posted their penny to the stores, who sent the music out at no extra cost.
Taking my boys to buy their school uniform at Marks & Spencer. Oh how they loved shopping with their mum!!
1920 - 1940
This era wasn’t easy for anybody, including retailers. But companies who adapted survived. We reinvented ourselves and responded to people’s needs. We started to sell more of life’s essentials, including underwear. Since then the bra has become our most iconic product, with one in three women now wearing one bought from M&S. But there was a lot more going on during this period that shaped the way we operate today.
Underwear first appeared in Marks & Spencer in the 1920s
Miss M Simpson donated this manicure set. It cost a third of her weekly wages as a sales assistant, so she was allowed to pay in instalments.
This tea set is one of many in the archive and was donated by Doreen Newlyn. It features a beautiful art deco design.
M&S started selling records in the 1930s. We had our own brand record line, featuring the ‘Marspen Band’, our in-house musicians.
In the 1930s M&S sold many electrical household goods, including heaters, irons and light bulbs, which were described as lamps.
M&S food departments opened in 1931 selling fruit, vegetables and canned goods.
New houses were being built in the 30s and there was a demand for household goods
Pink coconut cake - was hoping it would be brought back for Jubilee year as well as chocolate crinkle crunch biscuits!!!
1940 - 1950
As war broke out we were faced with even more challenges. We were low on goods and employees, and our stores were under enemy fire. And in 1941 ‘Making of Civilian Clothing (Restriction Orders)’ meant we could use only 5 buttons, 2 pockets and 4 metres of stitching for every item. We learnt a lot, particularly how to offer quality under any circumstances.
Marks & Spencer Utility dress
This children’s book was printed exclusively for M&S. Inside is written "To Harold from Iris, Christmas 1948". Donated by Mrs E Rutter.
With so many men enlisted to the armed forces, M&S faced a shortage of trained and skilled staff – the answer was to promote women from staff to management.
With a simple range of quality dishes, the new Cafe Bars, like this one in the Guildford store in 1941, were a war time success for M&S.
This lump of metal is what remains of the cash float found in the debris of our Bristol store, which was destroyed during an air attack.
My mum looks great in the 50s inspired 125 dress - now I know what she looked like when she was young!
1950 - 1960
We were not complaining when glamour came bouncing back. It was a time for looking forward. And as soon as it became possible that’s just what we did. Optimism was epitomised by a new style of dress influenced by the Christian Dior ‘Corolle’ collection. This style came to be known as the New Look, because its daring form hadn’t been seen – and probably wouldn’t have been allowed – before.
Donated by Mrs P Nicholson, this dress was "worn by all five of my daughters, the hems went up and down depending on which child".
Hats were very popular in the 1950s as they provided an easy way to update outfits. This one is made of straw and carries the St Michael logo.
The popular New Look emphasised a narrow waist and created more interest in corsetry. This item is a sample from a wearer trial in 1959.
This toy cat was donated by Lesley Hughes, who bought it in 1954 for 9s 11d. It was very popular, featuring twice in the employee magazine.
M&S’s in-house designer, Charlie Wilkinson, produced this beautifully drawn and coloured design.
I have been a loyal customer and shopped at M&S since 1965 when I was a little girl and often hid under clothes rails as my mother shopped. I would then panic if I couldn't find her but the lovely staff never failed to come to my rescue. I still hang around those tempting rails of clothes and I'm 52.
1960 - 1970
Forget miniskirts and The Beatles, it was chickens that mattered. This was perhaps a time when anything seemed possible. Innovations in food and textiles meant new products moved quickly from the research laboratories to the shelves. Uniquely, chilled - rather than frozen - chicken also moved quickly all the way to our refrigerated shop counters, always staying at 4 degrees centigrade.
M&S was the first major British retailer to offer fresh, chilled chicken
As miniskirts became fashionable, tights became essential. American Tan was the shade that all of our sales assistants wore in the 1960s.
Lycra was first used within M&S for corsetry. This stretchy fabric was used for girdles, which had replaced the stiffer corsets.
Over the years, staff uniforms have changed according to fashions. The M&S Company Archive holds many different examples.
M&S has always found innovative solutions to customers' changing lifestyles
My nan had her photo taken for the front of your magazine in the 50s, she was in full Welsh dress and sitting outside her home knitting.
1970 - 1990
Suddenly guests were impressed by how little effort you put into dinner. Lifestyles were changing rapidly. More women were going out to work, so we made things easier by introducing good quality, nutritious convenience food, like boil-in-the-bag meals and microwave dinners. But even if time was limited, it didn’t mean the menu had to be. Exotic Chinese and Indian ranges reflected the new travel opportunities of the times. And in the design department big changes were also happening.
Microwave Cooking by Jenny Webb was donated by Mrs Gladys Smith, who bought it in 1983
This is a pair of boy’s cotton BMX pyjamas, age 5-6. BMX bikes were a must-have on Christmas present lists in the late 1980s for most children.
In 1979 Marks and Spencer became the first high street retailer in Britian to sell the Chicken Kiev.
Men’s suits have been the focus of much product development, with the first machine washable suit being introduced by M&S in 1987.
This leisure jump suit is nightwear. It dates from 1978 and is made from brushed nylon, a popular fabric for nightwear in the 1970s.
I am still wearing my Marks & Spencer cotton vest. It is thirty two years old and I wore it as a young sailor on board HMS Fearless during the Falklands conflict. It even has my name, D Cruickshanks stamped on it.
1990 - 2010
Competition meant that we now needed to be better than ever, and all departments played their role by creating new and improved products like this. Believe it or not, the pudding is a real feat of food technology. Taking 18 months to develop, the real challenge was making sure the sauce wasn’t soaked up by the sponge around it. But success was achieved, and the result was a real hit with customers.
Melting middle chocolate puddings are one of our most successful products
2006 saw Limited Collection introduce ‘fast fashion’ to M&S, quickly bringing catwalk trends to customers. These sandals hit the stores within 4 weeks.
This dress, designed to celebrate 125 years of M&S, uses a print originally designed by the artist Kathleen Guthrie in the 1940s.
Buttercream filled coconut meringue/macaroons (circa 1966????) 4 in a pack, bought as a very special treat from M&S in Wood Green on the way home from visiting my aunty, in our original Austin Mini!!! PS. I would love to see those back, I have never found anything to replace them.
Marks & Spencer is looking forward to the next 130
years. Our core purpose is ‘Enhancing Lives. Every Day’, through our
company values of Innovation, Inspiration, Integrity and In Touch. These are
the building blocks of Plan A, our eco and ethical programme which is at the
heart of how we do business. Following the launch of Plan A in January 2007, we’ve introduced
Plan A 2020 which consists of 100 new, revised and existing commitments,
helping us to achieve our ultimate goal of becoming the world’s most
sustainable major retailer.
We're safeguarding the heritage of M&S for the future
As a brand with influence over 250,000 workers worldwide, we work to improve the livelihoods of our suppliers and their communities.
We are reducing how much of our clothing and packaging ends up as landfill by improving packaging, recycling more and using fewer plastic bags.
We've improved labelling to make it easier for you to eat well, and have trained 1,500 Health Advisors to provide advice on healthy living.
I remember often having to evacuate Kilburn store, during bomb alerts in the early 70s. One particular time, when a colleague became hysterical at the assembly point, as the boy she liked was in the store as a member of the 'fire party'. She forgot my fiance was also a member of it & in there too!