Thursday, 22 September 2011

The importance of being Edgar

So, the two men who gave their names to Edgar & Swan- one of our first, and arguably our most central department stores- weren't both alive when it became a national treasure of an emporium.

There are two accounts as to how this story began. The first sees William Edgar setting up a haberdashery stall at St James' Market in Haymarket. Penniless, he slept underneath this very stall every night. Saving what he could to start a shop of his own.

St James' Market, Haymarket c.1850 by Charles James Richardson
Alternatively, it began when he walked to London from Carlisle (yes, walked) ready with a letter of introduction from a draper he had helped out at home, and addressed to a London draper who we shall soon all meet, aka George Swan. Now if this is the case, Swan employed him from the off and a few years later Edgar had proven himself partner material. (Material. Ha! Geddit?)

Both these tales are romantic to someone like me, reading about it now from the warmth of home. I have images of him wrapped in the luxurious fabrics he would later sell, asleep on the cold damp streets of London, a Dickensian hero with charm and ambition. Oliver Twist like, walking country lanes on his way to the city that would see his retail dreams come true.

Was anyone else obsessed with the 1968 musical film version of Oliver as a child? I can still along. To all the songs. And must confess a bit of a crush on the Artful Dodger. The actor, aptly named Jack Wild, sadly died of cancer in 2006.
Whatever his introduction to the London, he must have been a hard worker to become such a spectacularly stellar success. Not to the manor born or to the manor bred, but to the manor made. As Eagle House in Clapham- now destroyed save the billiards room- was to become his home. A guidebook at the time described it as a 'large handsome house built with stock grey bricks' a 60 metre frontage and 'carriage drive', extensive gardens, a lake and gazebo. Florence Nightingale's grandfather was an earlier resident. And in those days there was no X-factor style quick buck to a house like this. Especially not from beneath a market stall.

The south side of Eagle House, Clapham, London

But that is it for now. I need to sleep (in a bed, but not a mansion) and dream of retail royalty...

No comments:

Post a Comment