Beginnings

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

Comments

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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 s.wales
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
BARBARA BATEN VON MOLNAR, WINNETKA IL
Sunday 12 January
MY DAUGHTERS WORE ST MARKS DRESSES IN 1964 AND 1967. MY FATHERS FAMILY WAS FROM LITHUANIA AND CONTINUED FRIENDSHIP WITH SIR SIMON AND LADY MARKS THROUGH THE 1970S—.LOVELY MEMORIES
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 https://corporate.marksandspencer.com/home. 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 http://marksintime.zincmediadev.com/store_history/. 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
amazing
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 http://marksintime.zincmediadev.com/store_history/ 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.)