Marks & Spencer started life more than 130 years ago when the Jewish immigrant Michael Marks came to the north of England from his hometown of Slonim, Belarus. He arrived with little money and spoke poor English. Beginning as a pedlar, he soon owned a market stall in Kirkgate Market in Leeds. He classified everything by price, but quickly stopped selling more expensive items when the penny section thrived.

Michael decided to look for a partner to help manage his growing business. He initially approached Isaac Dewhirst, who had loaned money towards his original start up costs. Isaac declined but recommended Tom Spencer – his senior cashier. Tom agreed, and on 28 September 1894 Marks & Spencer was born.

the_beginning_marks (ID 970)  the_beginning_spencer (ID 975)
Michael Marks                             Tom Spencer

Tom Spencer invested £300 and brought considerable skills in administration and accounts, which complemented Michael Marks’ flair for merchandise, selling and dealing with people extremely well.

Marks & Spencer called their new stores “Penny Bazaars”, keeping the penny price slogan and adding the words “Admission Free”. This was a successful marketing ploy, encouraging customers to browse without any obligation to buy. Whilst this is the norm now, it was unheard of then.

By 1900 Marks & Spencer had expanded to include 36 Penny Bazaar outlets, including 12 high street stores with the rest being market stalls.

sheffield-the-moor_-norfolk (ID 1387)

Sheffield the Moor, Norfolk Market 1897
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.

Tom Spencer


Add your comment...

Lisa Oxley, Meadowhall
Sunday 14 May
I love the fact that people hold fond and lasting memories of items bought from M&S. I myself remember, in detail, the first suit I bought from M&S
Kevin Thompson, Byker
Wednesday 17 May
I have grown up understanding that M&S are known for quality in both food and clothes
Sally Ellis, Atlantic Village
Friday 19 May
I just love the fact that the Christening robe is still being used such a wonderful piece of history for the family and for M and S
Ellen Sharpe, Peterborough
Monday 22 May
This story shows from humble begings and knowing your market.The skys the limit in what you can achieve.
Luis Tovar, Sheffield
Thursday 2 November
As a student I find it Fascinating.
Toby Larone, Chesssterfield
Monday 6 November
very interesting read. 10/10 would read again
Bertha Rochester, The Wolds
Monday 20 November
In 1926 when we were little girls we remember going to the penny bazaar and loved seeing all the cheap goods and being able to look but not buy. Wish we could go back to these days but the experience has never changed.
Brian Morgan, Bristol
Thursday 8 March
was Elsie Marion Marks born 1896 related to Michael Marks. She was my grandmother, and Mum always said he was related.
Non Vaughan Williams, Swansea University
Tuesday 15 May
Could you please confirm when was the M and S store was opened in Cardiff and where it was located. Thanks.
ellen tait , edinburgh
Thursday 10 January
i have a plate like the picture by van jones is this a rare find
Denise Thomas, Cardiff
Sunday 13 January
My parents bought a bone China tea set from the penny bazaar in 1930 it was an engagement present to each other. It is beautiful, too precious to use. Sadly my mum was in her hundredth year died just after xmas so it is now safely stored in my glass cabinet.
M&S Company Archive, Leeds
Thursday 17 January
Hi Ellen, the plates were produced to celebrate our centenary in 1984. We have a few in the collection and are always glad to hear that there are more being used elsewhere. Thank you for your comment.
M&S Company Archive, Leeds
Thursday 17 January
Hi Denise, that is lovely to hear. The tea set is clearly very precious, and hopefully it will spark happy memories for you and your family.
Maria, Christchurhc New Zealand
Tuesday 5 February
Worked on Saturdays at M&S Slough. They were very good to their staff both part-timers and full-timers alike. In early 1971/2 they produced a woollen jumper of multi-coloured stripes and it was a top seller. Kept mine for years and years; they have lost the touch of keeping it simple - never overload on variety make a seller and stick to it until you make the next one - shops try to sell everything - too much stock; little is best. Thanks for the time to comment
Mrs Wendy Joy Osben, Romford, Essex
Wednesday 6 February
This is such a good store and the history. Our family are/were the Barker family, who I believe have now bought into the family firm. They worked for J.P. Parker in Croydon and of the Flower Fairies and various cousins re: Barkers of Kensington and Barkers shoes who were married to the Luce family in London. (French).
bonnie thompson,
Sunday 24 February
What would the 1955 tin be worth today
Viv, Wimbledon
Wednesday 15 May
Marks and Spencer = Quality. Bravo
Samantha Stewart , Manchester
Wednesday 19 June
I love M and S food it is really good quality
Diane Berry, Potters Bar
Wednesday 4 September
I have a boxed M&S till red metal with cardboard money. I have owned it since the 1950’s. Do you have any information on this toy please?
Archive Team, Leeds
Thursday 5 September
Hi Diane, great to hear that you still have your 1950s till and money! We have a couple of the red tills in the collection, but I'm afraid we have no other information on them. Thanks for getting in touch.
Elise oliver, Doncaster
Tuesday 1 October
An interesting read on how Marks and Spencer was established.
lee O'leary, hayes
Monday 18 November
nice painting, my friend has the same one
Sunday 12 January
Patricia Bone, Leeds
Wednesday 22 January
On Tony Robinson's programme History of Britain the Victorians he states that the first Penny Bazaar opened on Cheetham Hill in Manchester.
Company Archive, Leeds
Thursday 23 January
Hi Patricia, Thanks for your comment. In 1894 Cheetham Hill was the first Marks & Spencer Penny Bazaar store to open (previous Penny Bazaars were all market stalls). Michael Marks started his Marks' Penny Bazaar in Kirkgate Market, Leeds in 1884. Hope that helps!
Fred davies, Bryncoch
Thursday 23 January
When did the neath store open
Company Archive, Leeds
Thursday 30 January
Hi Fred, The Neath store opened on 11th September 1935. Best wishes, The Archive Team
Rita Aldridge, Hailsham
Friday 14 February
I have hard back foolscapsize book with coloured plates depicting the first Penny Bazaar right through till a 1939 store.They are all coloured and look as if they are from water colours. No other details in the book, just the coloured plates
Lesley, Birkenhead
Tuesday 18 February
The closing of marks and Spencer in Birkenhead has devastated the town. The fact that you won't allow the building to be rented by a competitor is even more devastating as the building is one huge empty space. I grew up with M&s but this has changed my perception of M&s. your satellite stores are out if the way for you most loyal customers pensioners. Why you couldn't keep at least a food store in is a shame.
Company Archive, Leeds
Thursday 20 February
Hi Lesley, Thanks for your comment. The Company Archive relates to the heritage of M&S and changes in retail. This includes archive material about Birkenhead, from the Penny Bazaar that opened there in 1890 to the nearby M&S Foodhalls at Bidston Moss, Bromborough and Heswall today. If you'd like to find out more about the business as it is today, please visit the M&S Corporate website here Best wishes, The Archive Team
Julie, Bradford
Thursday 20 February
What a wonderful story; apparently my daughter is related to Tom Spencer through her Father's family -what a small world
James F Chadwick. , Standish Born
Tuesday 10 March
What year did they open in Wigan Lancashire.Was it first on Wallgate then the Market Hall then the Makinson Arcade Then to Standish gate.
Archive Team, Leeds
Thursday 12 March
Hi James, Michael Marks opened a Penny Bazaar in the Market Hall in 1891 (closed in 1909). In 1899 a store opened at 29 Makinson Arcade, closing in 1931. The Standishgate store opened in October 1931. You can find out more about the Wigan store on our Store Histories interactive map here Just type Wigan into the search bar and then click on the M&S logo for the store you're interested in. Best wishes, The Archive Team
janice, london
Friday 3 April
m and s is amazing
janice, london
Friday 3 April
John Linskill, Northwich, Cheshire
Saturday 25 April
My mum who passed away in 2016 aged 101 had a very tiny doll in a pram made of metal which she said was bought for her from Marks Penny Bazaar when she was a child, I still have it today still on show in her display cabinet, it's so small and cute, even the wheels turn.
Les Barker, northants
Wednesday 20 May
looking for information of the Marks and Spencer'stores in Bedford in the early 1920s
Alison fitzgerald , Ascot
Monday 25 May
My Nan was married to Samuel Marks who we have been told was part of the Marks family and we have grown up to the family story that he was Disowned by Michael Marks as he was a gambler and an alcoholic but there are no records of a Samuel Marks. I’d love to know if this is an urban myth or if we are related?
Archive Team, Leeds
Thursday 6 August
Hi Les, You can find out more about our stores using our Store Histories app here just search for Bedford. Happy exploring!
Michael Sherman, Scotland
Saturday 29 August
My Mum worked in the Briggate store for over 25 years starting in the canteen and then on the shop floor. I can remember waiting outside the store for her to finish work when I was a young lad. She passed away aged 93 in 2013 and was still in touch with other workers from the store.
josh purvis, pleasant park
Wednesday 9 September
i found this very interesting and would recommend to my good friends to use this website. thank you.
Lewis, E3, London
Wednesday 21 October
I recently found a bar of St Michael "Japonica" soap (wrapped in wax paper and in it's original box) in a charity shop and was wondering if someone could tell me to what year this dates? I think it might be the 80s based on similar items I found online (no exact matches.)
Sue, Frodsham
Tuesday 27 October
I learnt my first name and understanding of a good shop at the age of 6 and remember Marks and Spencer, I remember my mum and aunty talking about the clothes and bras. Later on in life I remember my mother in law chuffing to herself and happy that Marks had introduced a returns policy, my mother in law was obsessed with buying M&S clothes
The Archive Team, Leeds
Tuesday 3 November
Hi Lewis, what an interesting find! It's tricky to date packaging without an image, if you email us a photo of the soap to we can have a look. Many thanks, the Archive Team
Geraldine Walkington, Bolton
Tuesday 17 November
My dad who is 98 has just said that when he was a boy, Catholics were not allowed to work for Marks and Spencer....?
Jean George, Dagenham Essex
Thursday 19 November
I hope M&S get by this bad period in time. I worked for them in Ilford store, from 1968- 1978 as a young mum. best employer, ever had. they were very good to us staff,they had hairdresser on tap, and were very sympathetic if you had family problems. I wept a few tears as I walked out of those doors on my last day. left due to ill health. Made a lot of friends there, will be sad if they have to close.
Jean George, Dagenham Essex
Thursday 19 November
Love the Men's wear. Some of ladies could be improved upon, love the furniture Dept also.
Archive Team, Leeds
Thursday 19 November
Hi Geraldine, Thank you, that’s an interesting comment but the surviving archives show that M&S had employees from a range of different faiths and backgrounds from our earliest days as a chain of Penny Bazaars in the 1880s and that continued through the decades. Best wishes, The Archive Team
Jemma, England
Thursday 26 November
Wow i love the fact that they started the price with just a penny!
Jemma Willson, England
Thursday 26 November
Wow this is iconic
Nadia Khan, Sheffield
Sunday 10 January
this is so special to me as i write my assignment for sheffield hallam uni business studies. its nice to read :)
Cheryl Sankey, Wallingford, Oxfordshire
Tuesday 12 January
I have a good copy of an original Monster Music Book, no.14 in the series: the Third Dance Album. Do you have any of this series in your archives?
I cordery, Uk
Sunday 31 January
Did mr marks marry a lady from Japan?
Archive Team, Leeds
Tuesday 2 February
Hi there, Michael Marks married Hannah Cohen in Leeds in 1886 (Hannah was not from Japan). Best wishes, The Archive Team
Margaret Stanley, Medway towns kent
Wednesday 17 February
There is an error on this page over on the write up it states 1894 !!
Archive Team, Leeds
Thursday 18 February
Hi Margaret, Thanks for your comment. Michael Marks set up his Marks' Penny Bazaar in 1884, 10 years later he went into partnership with Tom Spencer and Marks & Spencer was established. I hope this helps. Best wishes, the Archive team
Deborah ward, Aberdare s wales
Thursday 18 March
My mum worked in penny bazaars in Aberdare many years ago. She used to talk about it to us. Sadly mum passed away a year last xmas age 86. She was about 16 when she worked there.
Maureen Dawson , Newcastle
Saturday 3 April
I worked in M&S Newcastle ‘64-69 I can remember working 5 and half days. We had half day Wednesday can anyone else remember that.
J FALKINER, Herefordshire
Wednesday 19 May
I have a circular brass token M&S PRIZE GOODS Co. London 24 COUPONS on front, stamped number 20 on reverse, small round hole punched out. Is this Marks and Spencer?
Archive Team, Leeds
Thursday 20 May
Hi there, this sounds interesting. If you could send some photos to us at we will be able to have a look. Many thanks, the Archive team
Terry Groarke, Swinford Co Mayo Ireland
Monday 21 June
I have a small liquorice all sorts tin and would love to know how old it is. It has a mark M&S 93 1504
Company Archive, Leeds
Monday 21 June
Hi Terry, It's likely the 93 refers to the year. But if you'd like to send a photo to, we can double check for you.
Amanda, Manchester
Tuesday 22 June
My dads two sisters worked for Blond Brothers Organisation who made clothes for M&S. One of them received a sewing machine as a retirement present in 1958 her name was Florence Lowe. I was gifted the sewing machine when she passed away in about 1980 I was told she designed the very first negligee that M&S sold. One of my dads other sisters had other items which her son took to the museum in Yorkshire.
Bonnie Sparks , California
Tuesday 21 September
amazing i love marks and spencers!
Wednesday 22 September
this story is just amazing
Eren Yeager, Japan
Tuesday 28 September
This is cool my English isn't good
Rachel, Berlin
Monday 4 October
Marie rose, Walsall
Sunday 14 November
Was there a M&S in aldridge walsall
Archive Team, Leeds
Monday 15 November
Hi Marie, There was a store in Walsall on Park Street from 1934-1980,when M&S moved to the Saddler Centre. We have no record of a store in Aldridge. Best wishes, the Archive Team.
Catherine, Wakefield
Sunday 28 November
There is a story in my family that my great grandfather was initially in business with Michael Marks before he opened the stall in the market. Apparently they had a falling out and parted ways. I would love to find out anything about this if possible. Does any earlier history exist? MJany thanks.
Archive Team, Leeds
Monday 29 November
Hi Catherine, if you could email us at with your enquiry we'll be able to get back to you. Best wishes, the Archive team
Tony Carson, Berkshire, UK
Thursday 9 December
A truly wonderful example of honest enterprise, of realising that there were many poor people than rich people, and that they therefore constituted a valuable, hitherto untouched market opportunity. Finding sufficiently cheap goods, being willing to accept lower profits, in order to attract the poor, and providing excellent value for money.
Maddie, Maidstone
Wednesday 5 January
I am so sad M&S Maidstone is closing, I started work there 1959, on the hosiery and jumpers department, I’m sure it was doing well, first class food, convenient for all the elderly people living in town !!
Francis greene, Swansea
Wednesday 23 February
Was the penny bazaar in Swansea?
Archive Team, Leeds
Thursday 24 February
Hi Francis, there was a Penny Bazaar in Swansea at 16/20 Swansea Arcade, it opened in 1902. Best wishes, the Archive team
Mary Repa, Kitchener ON CANADA
Tuesday 10 May
Many years ago I bought a favorite dress I hated to part with.
Sheila Brown, Dorset
Saturday 4 June
My first job was at Corahs I did my training as a seamstress there in 1964 and made clothes for Marks & Spencer’s and still sewing today
Sharon Harris, Blackpool
Friday 17 June
My dad was the manager of Marble Arch M&S in the 50s and early 60s! Walter Harris.
Elizabeth lowes, Doncaster
Saturday 6 August
My grandads sister Elsie may Cartwright marks was married into the family
sandy collins/sandpearl, londonformerly Leeds
Thursday 11 August
my late grandfather simon libson had a stall in Leeds market oposite simon marks and one day so the story goes he asked my grandfather to go into business with and my granfather said no. my grandfather sold zips and buttons and they swapped items.
David Milcoy , Southport
Sunday 21 August
When did m&s open in chaple market Islington London
Archive team, Leeds
Tuesday 23 August
Hi David, we opened our first Islington store at 239 Upper Street in 1904, it closed in 1923. On 7 December 1914, M&S bought 3, 5 and 5A on the Liverpool Road, in July 1930 the store was rebuilt and extended into Chapel Market. Best wishes, the Archive team.
Gillian Herrity, Harrogate
Saturday 27 August
I have a ladies woollen bathing costume, which must be about 1920 ish.It has the St Micheal label,and is in good condition. Would it be of any interest to you? It is the typically shown model, no support but the modesty panel across the hips.
Gillian Herrity, Harrogate
Saturday 27 August
Might have wrongly attributed a St Margaret swimsuit to you.Although I do remember St Michael being an early branding.Sorry the 1920s swimsuit might not be one of yours.
Archive Team, Leeds
Tuesday 30 August
Hi Gillian, Your swimsuit sounds really interesting. If you could email us at with a photograph of the suit if possible, we'll be able to take a look. Best wishes, the Archive team.
Emily Green, Falkirk
Monday 3 October
i love M&S. The workers are so nice. the food is amazing and such a good price!!! yous are me one and only true love, i go here when ever i'm sad because it makes me happy. love you all x
Jen Newton , London
Monday 24 October
When did M&S first begin selling jewellery? I have a small collection of my mothers costume jewellery possibly purchased from the late 1970’s. Would these be listed as Vintage now? Thank you
Archive Team, Leeds
Tuesday 25 October
Hi Jen, We've sold jewellery from the really early days of the Penny Bazaar shops. We have an advert from 1912 for brooches, hatpins and bracelets. 1970s would be classed as vintage now, feel free to email us at with pictures of your jewellery and we can see if there's any more information we can provide. Best wishes, the Archive team
B.Turner , Grantham
Friday 4 November
In 1970s what was M&S shop in Hong Kong called?
the Archive team, Leeds
Monday 7 November
Hi there, it would have been Dodwell's. We traded as a supplier of St. Michael products to Dodwell’s in Hong Kong from 1963 to 1988. Best wishes, the Archive team.