As an archivist, I have the pleasure of discovering some truly fascinating documents and products that make up the rich history of this company. However, it’s rare that I have the opportunity to meet an individual whose family has played a key role in shaping the M&S we know today.
Last month, I had the privilege of meeting Josephine Sherbourne – a long standing M&S shareholder who, by a fortunate twist of fate, was selected to be a member of our Private Shareholder Panel. It was at the first panel meeting that she shared her story with our CEO Steve Rowe. Josephine had brought documents stretching back over 100 years, which told how her grandfather, Louis Esterman, had sold 30 of the stores from his business, The London Penny Bazaar Company, to Marks & Spencer, enabling us to enter the prosperous London market for the first time.
Given his own family’s longstanding connection with the business, Steve is quite a well-versed M&S historian but Josephine’s family’s role was a new discovery for him and he suggested the team arrange for her to visit the Archive in our founding city of Leeds.
It was a real treat to dig deeper into one of the lesser known chapters of our history. Described in our archive material as a ‘rival’ company, the London Penny Bazaar Company bears many parallels to M&S. Both were established by hardworking European immigrants in the late 1800s, who grew their respective businesses thanks to a simple pricing mechanic and a sharp eye for good quality, basic household goods.
In advance of the visit I studied our catalogues and unearthed a range of fascinating artefacts - from evidence that Louis Esterman attended an M&S Board Meeting in 1913 through to photography of the London Penny Bazaar Company stores, many of which show the distinctive arch of glass panels below the signage as you can see in the picture above.
We even hold some of the original products sold at the London Penny Bazaar stores. It was a delight to hand Josephine the very products her grandfather may have selected, from pencils and sewing kits to sheet music - a very popular choice of family entertainment at the turn of the last century!
My personal highlight was being able to present Josephine with photographs of her grandfather that she had never seen. Josephine had her own surprise for the Archive team, when she kindly donated the original contracts of sale for the Putney and Clapham penny bazaars, which remain as M&S stores today. These will be fantastic new additions to our archive collection.
It’s amazing to think that without the Esterman family, M&S might not have had the opportunity to establish itself in London and the South East. The visit was a surprising and very happy outcome of our shareholder engagement activity.