One hundred and twenty five years ago, in 1884, Michael Marks set up his stall in Leeds Kirkgate Market and put up the famous sign, 'DON'T ASK THE PRICE-IT'S A PENNY'. He was very successful and later joined up with Thomas Spencer who paid £300 in 1894 to gain 50% of the growing business, and the world famous brand M&S -Marks and Spencer became a name to be reckoned with on British high streets.
Michael was born in Slonim, Poland, now part of Belarus, in 1859, and emigrated to Britain and married Hannah Cohen at Leeds Jewish Synagogue in 1886. In 1897 he was naturalized as a British subject and in 1903 Marks & Spencer became a limited company and he died 4 years later. His son Simon took over and established the St.Michael brand, named in honour of his dad, that was used until 2000. There are now over 840 M&S stores world wide, including 600 in the U.K., and in 1998 the company was the first in Britain with sales over over $1 billion.
This morning I visited the market, where I usually buy fruit, Polish bread, Yorkshire ham and more and then walked a few hundred yards to Briggate and the flagship, 4 floor Marks & Spencer Leeds store with its mouth watering window displays, to the birthday celebrations, and chatted with store manager Andrew Lloyd, an Arsenal fan, resplendent in his store bought navy suit, and looked over the 1 penny bazaar. I was actually wearing an M&S brown corded jacket purchased a year ago. For three days only, they have set up a replica of the stall in the front of the store and you can purchase 5 items out of a choice of 15, from tea mugs, tea towels, women's knickers, key chains, cuff links, passport holder, men's socks etc., for only ONE PENNY EACH!!!
You are encouraged to make a donation to a charity, Wheatfields Hospice in Headingley,part of Sue Ryder Care, on behalf of which a tenor, David Gregory was singing at full voice to the shoppers. I made a contribution into the buckets held by Mike and Helen, who told me more about the work of the hospice. It's behind the Arndale Centre, where 30 years ago I was passing by the newly opened Kentucky Fried Chicken(now KFC). I had stepped inside and who was serving behind the counter that opening day but Colonel Harland Sanders himself, trying to figure out pounds, shillings and pence? The Colonel was of course another famous pioneer across the pond.
There was a time when half the men's and women's underwear in Britain was bought at the chain, and QUALITY is something I have always associated with the brand. If you go to the big M&S store in London on Oxford Street near Marble Arch, you will find that the whole world comes to shop for quality and value.
M&S will be building a bronze replica of Michael Mark's first cart down at the Leeds Market and renovate the historic market clock, and next month on June 4th will be moving their company archives to a special exhibition at the Centenary Gallery at Leeds University, a mile up the hill.