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.

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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