Have you seen this series of videos? I just discovered them through the one on Monet and I loved it!
I recently met a friend in front of the church in Piazza Sant’ Ambrogio, near Santa Croce, in a spot that is the terminus for 3 streets : via de’ Pilastri, via di Mezzo, and Borgo la Croce e via Carducci.
While waiting, I noticed for the first time, although I’ve been in this piazza a hundred times before, something new.
Looking a bit higher than I normally do, I saw a glazed terra-cotta tabernacle, in the style of the Della Robbia, of a figure that I assumed was a priest or even a pope, making a sign of blessing.
I ventured nearer to photograph the inscription below, and was rewarded with this information:
Loosely translated, the inscription reads: “Stop, you passers by, and read this. Know that 2 neighborhoods were passed by the immortal Pope Pius VII on 8 May, 1807, where he devotedly and humbly gave an apostolic blessing to the inhabitants.”
I seldom have occasion to discuss the Catholic Church, that foundational stone of Italian culture, in my blog, so let’s do a little something about that now.
Who was Pope Pius VII?
Portrait of Pius VII painted by Jacques-Louis David
He was born in 1742 as Barnaba Niccolò Maria Luigi Chiaramonti. He would rise all the way to head of the Catholic Church and ruler of the Papal States from 1800 until his death in 1823. Chiaramonti was also a monk of the Order of Saint Benedict in addition to being a well-known theologian and bishop throughout his life.
Chiaramonti was born in Cesena, about 30 miles south of Ravenna, in 1742, the youngest son of Count Scipione Chiaramonti (1698 – 1750) and Giovanna Coronata (d. 1777). His mother was the daughter of the Marquess Ghini; though his family was of noble status, they were not wealthy.
Like his brothers, he attended the Collegio dei Nobili in Ravenna but decided to join the Order of Saint Benedict at the age of 14 on 2 October 1756 as a novice at the Abbey of Santa Maria del Monte in Cesena. In 1758, he became a professed member and assumed the name of Gregorio. He taught at Benedictine colleges in Parma and Rome, and was ordained a priest on 21 September 1765.
In 1789, as the French Revolution took place, a series of anti-clerical governments came into power. During the French Revolutionary Wars, troops under Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Rome and took Pope Pius VI as a prisoner. He was taken as prisoner to France, where he died in 1799. The following year, after a sede vacante period lasting approximately six months, Chiaramonti was elected to the papacy, and took as his pontifical name Pius VII, in honor of his immediate predecessor.
He was crowned on 21 March 1800 in a rather unusual ceremony, wearing a papier-mâché papal tiara as the French had seized the tiaras held by the Holy See when occupying Rome and forcing Pius VI into exile. Pius VII then left for Rome, sailing on a barely seaworthy Austrian ship, the Bellona. The twelve-day voyage ended at Pesaro and he proceeded to Rome.
Pius at first attempted to take a cautious approach in dealing with Napoleon. He signed the Concordat of 1801, through which he succeeded in guaranteeing religious freedom for Catholics living in France, and presided over his coronation as Emperor of the French in 1804. Pius VII presided at the coronation of Napoleon I in 1804.
Once again, in 1809, Napoleon invaded the Papal States during the Napoleonic Wars; this earned him ex-communication. Pius VII was taken prisoner and transported to France. He remained there until Napoleon abdicated in 1813 and Pius VII returned to Rome. He was greeted warmly as a hero and defender of the faith and immediately revived the Inquisition and the Index of Condemned Books.
His works, some notable, some to be regretted:
Pius VII joined the declaration of the 1815 Congress of Vienna, represented by Cardinal Secretary of State Ercole Consalvi, and urged the suppression of the slave trade. This pertained particularly to places such as Spain and Portugal where slavery was economically important. The pope wrote a letter to King Louis XVIII of France dated 20 September 1814 and to the King John VI of Portugal in 1823 to urge the end of slavery. He condemned the slave trade and defined the sale of people as an injustice to the dignity of the human person. In his letter to the King of Portugal, he wrote: “the Pope regrets that this trade in blacks, that he believed having ceased, is still exercised in some regions and even more cruel way. He begs and begs the King of Portugal that it implement all its authority and wisdom to extirpate this unholy and abominable shame.”
Under Napoleonic rule, the Jewish Ghetto had been abolished and Jews were free to live and move where they would. Following the restoration of Papal rule, Pius VII re-instituted the confinement of Jews to the Ghetto, having the doors closed at nighttime.
Pius VII was a man of culture and attempted to reinvigorate Rome with archaeological excavations in Ostia which revealed ruins and icons from ancient times. He also had walls and other buildings rebuilt and restored the Arch of Constantine. He ordered the construction of fountains and piazzas and erected the obelisk at Monte Pincio.
The pope also made sure Rome was a place for artists and the leading artists of the time like Antonio Canova and Peter von Cornelius. He also enriched the Vatican Library with numerous manuscripts and books.
The so-called “miracle” of Pius VII. On 15 August 1811 – the Feast of the Assumption – it is recorded that the pope celebrated Mass and was said to have entered a trance and began to levitate in a manner that drew him to the altar. This particular episode aroused great wonder and awe among attendants which included the French soldiers guarding him who were in disbelief of what had occurred.
Relationship with the United States. On the United States’ undertaking of the First Barbary War to suppress the Muslim Barbary pirates along the southern Mediterranean coast, ending their kidnapping of Europeans for ransom and slavery, Pius VII declared that the United States “had done more for the cause of Christianity than the most powerful nations of Christendom have done for ages.”
For the United States, he established several new dioceses in 1808 for Boston, New York City, and Philadelphia. In 1821, he also established the dioceses of Charleston, Richmond and Cincinnati.
Pius VII died in 1823 at the age of 81. He was later buried in a monument in Saint Peter’s Basilica by the leading sculptor of the day, the Danish Bertel Thorvaldsen.
Two current exhibitions celebrate this American master.
The rich history of Padua was only partially discussed here. This post continues the story.
Beginning with the 12th Century in Padova:
The Carrara Family, also called Carraresi, was a medieval Italian family who ruled first as feudal lords about the village of Carrara in the countryside near Padua and then as moderately enlightened despots in the city of Padua.
Having moved into Padua itself in the 13th century, the Carraresi exploited the feuds of urban politics first as Ghibelline and then as Guelf leaders and were thus able to found a new and more illustrious dominion. The latter began with the election of Jacopo da Carrara as perpetual captain general of Padua in 1318 but was not finally established, with Venetian help, until the election of his nephew Marsiglio in 1337.
For approximately 50 years, the Carraresi ruled with no serious rivals except among members of their own family. Marsiglio was succeeded without incident by Ubertino (1338–45), but Marsigliello, who succeeded Ubertino, was deposed and murdered by Jacopo di Niccolò (1345–50).
Jacopo was then murdered by Guglielmino and succeeded by his brother Jacopino di Niccoló (1350–55), and Jacopino in turn was dispossessed and imprisoned by his nephew Francesco il Vecchio (1355–87). Such a nice family to call your own.
Despite this chaos, the Carrara court was one of the most brilliant in all of the Italian peninsula. Ubertino in particular was a patron of building and the arts, and Jacopo di Niccolò was a close friend of Petrarch.
Only with the exception of a brief period of Scaligeri (the ruling family in Verona) overlordship between 1328 and 1337 and two years (1388–1390) when Giangaleazzo Visconti held the town, Padua was pretty much owned by the Carraresi.
The many advances of Padova in the 13th century naturally brought the commune into conflict with Can Grande della Scala, lord of Verona. In 1311, Padua had to yield.
But, even under the Carraresi, it was a long period of restlessness, for the Carraresi were constantly at war. Under Carraresi rule, the early humanist circles at the University of Padua were effectively disbanded: Albertino Mussato, the first modern poet laureate, died in exile at Chioggia in 1329, and the eventual heir of the Paduan literary tradition went to the Tuscan Petrarch.
In 1387, John Hawkwood won the Battle of Castagnaro for Padua, against Giovanni Ordelaffi, for Verona.
The Carraresi period finally came to an end as the power of the Visconti and of Venice grew in importance. Padova came under the rule of the Republic of Venice in 1405, and mostly remained that way until the fall of the Republic of Venice in 1797.
There was just a brief period when the city changed hands (in 1509) during the wars of the League of Cambrai. Padova was held for just a few weeks by Imperial supporters, but Venetian troops quickly recovered it and successfully defended Padua during a siege by Imperial troops (Siege of Padua).
As a part of the Venetian Republic, Padova was governed by two Venetian nobles, a podestà for civil affairs and a captain for military affairs. Each was elected for 16 months. Under these governors, the great and small councils continued to discharge municipal business and to administer the Paduan law, contained in the statutes of 1276 and 1362. The treasury was managed by two chamberlains; and every five years the Paduans sent one of their nobles to reside as nuncio in Venice; this elected official was in place to watch out for the interests of his native town.
The City Walls:
For more information see: https://digilander.libero.it/clapad5/padova/mura.html
1. The Romans would seem to be the first to surround Padova with walls. Of the walls built during the ancient Roman era, the only traces to survive are those incorporated into the foundations of certain palazzi. The route of these walls corresponded to a meandering line formed by the river Medoacus (now the Brenta). Inside the walls, Padua’s first urban center developed.
2. The Mura Duecentesche (“13th century walls”; aka the mura comunali or mura medievali) were built at the start of the 13th century by the Comune of Padua. Their route was delimited by the two branches of the Bacchiglione, the Tronco Maestro and the Naviglio Interno, which came to be used as defensive ditches. There are several remains of them around the Castello and near Porta Molino. More minor remains are to be found in the Riviera Tito Livio and Riviera Albertino Mussato; the only gates to remain from this wall are the main north gate, Porta Molino (or Molini, after several mills in the area which functioned up to the early 20th century), and the main west gate, Porta Altinate (named after the road to Altino which began here).
(The Porta Molino‘s upper stories were used at the end of the 19th century as a reservoir for the town’s first drinking water system; tales of the tower being used as an observatory by Galileo Galilei during his time in the city are probably false. The Porta Altinate fronted onto the Naviglio Interno, crossed by an ancient Roman three-arch bridge, and in 1256 this gate was stormed and destroyed by crusaders fighting against Ezzelino da Romano [as recorded in an inscription recorded by Carlo Leoni]. It was rebuilt in 1286. The Naviglio and the bridge were buried in the 1960s.)
3. 14th century, the Mura Carraresi were built by the Carraresi in the 14th century and followed a route that would be followed almost by the later 16th century wall. Almost nothing remains of them the Mura Carraresi, since they were demolished during the War of the League of Cambrai to create the Renaissance wall. However, some sections can be seen in via delle Dimesse, near the Prato della Valle.
4. The Mura Cinquecentesche (16th century Walls; aka the Mura rinascimentali or Mura Veneziane) were built to protect Padova by the Venetian Republic during the first decades of the 16th century. It was a project of the condottiero Bartolomeo d’Alviano.
Canaletto, View of Padua from outside the city walls with the Church of San Francesco and the Palazzo della Salone
The Mura rinascimentali were protected on their west flank by a canal known as the fossa Bastioni, which still exists. The Renaissance walls survive to this day, almost entirely unbroken apart from sections demolished in the 1960s to build the new Ospedale Civile.
The City Gates:
Nearly all the walls’ gates survive. For even more information, see: http://digilander.libero.it/clapad5/padova/porte.html
Porta Savonarola – Completed in 1530. Designed by the architect Giovanni Maria Falconetto, this gate was built with a frieze showing the Lion of Saint Mark, symbol of the Venetian Republic, which still survives. Picture below:
Porta san Giovanni – Completed in 1528. Designed by the architect Giovanni Maria Falconetto, this gate originally had a frieze showing the Lion of Saint Mark, symbol of the Venetian Republic (the frieze here was destroyed during the Napoleonic Wars). Picture below:
Porta Ognissanti (or Portello, Portello Nuovo or Portello Venezia) – Originally entitled Portello or Little Port, the gate was built at the terminus for the river trade along the Brenta between Padua and Venice. The present building replaces the Portello Vecchio, on what is now via San Massimo, but is rather different from the city’s other gates of this date – the external facade is adorned with shining rocks from Istria, with four pairs of columns surmounted by an architrave embellished with four trachyte cannonballs. The three-arch bridge carrying the road over the Canale Piovego and through the gate is guarded by two white stone lions. Stones in the gate (still legible today) commemorate the ancient origins of the town, speaking to “its good governance.” Since 1535, a clock stands out from the gate in Nanto stone. Traces of frescoes can also be seen inside the gate. 5 pictures below:
Porta Liviana – Begun in 1509, it was completed in 1517 and named in honour of Bartolomeo d’Alviano himself.
Porta Santa Croce – On the site of a gate in the Carraresi wall, the present gate was begun in 1509 and was originally defended by a tower, demolished in 1632.
(For a walk to view the city walls, you can start from Piazza Garibaldi, where there is the medieval Porta Altinate (1286), one of the 3 oldest city gates, with short sections of walls still visible at various points of the Ponte Romani and Tito Livio rivers, then walk along via San Fermo (with the church of the same name leaning against the city walls). Walk from the Largo Europe and the Riviera Mugnai until you reach the intersection with via Dante, then you arrive at the 2nd medieval gate, Porta Ponte Molino, with its large pointed arch surmounted by a mighty tower.)
The End of the Venetian Republic:
In 1797, the Venetian Republic came to an end with the Treaty of Campo Formio, and Padua, like much of the Veneto, was ceded to the Habsburgs. In 1806, the city passed to the French puppet Kingdom of Italy until the fall of Napoleon, in 1814, when the city became part of the newly formed Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia, part of the Austrian Empire.
Austrian rule was unpopular with progressive circles in northern Italy, but the feelings of the population (from the lower to the upper classes) towards the empire were mixed.
In Padua, the year of revolutions of 1848 saw a student revolt which on 8 February turned the University and the Caffè Pedrocchi into battlegrounds where students and Paduans fought side by side. The revolt was, however, short-lived and there were no further episodes of unrest under the Austrian Empire (nor previously had there been any), as in Venice or in other parts of Italy. The opponents of Austria were forced into exile.
Under Austrian rule, Padua began its industrial development; one of the first Italian rail tracks, Padua-Venice, was built in 1845. In 1866, the Battle of Königgrätz gave Italy the opportunity, as an ally of Prussia, to take Veneto, and Padova was also annexed to the recently formed Kingdom of Italy.
At that time, Padova was at the center of the poorest area of Northern Italy, as the Veneto was until the 1960s. Despite this, the city flourished in the following decades both economically and socially, developing its industry, being an important agricultural market and having a very important cultural and technological center as the University. The city hosted also a major military command and many regiments.
The 20th Century:
When Italy entered World War I on 24 May 1915, Padova was chosen as the main command of the Italian Army. The king, Vittorio Emanuele III, and the commander in chief, Cadorna, lived in Padua for the period of the war.
After the defeat of Italy in the battle of Caporetto in autumn 1917, the front line became the river Piave, only about 35 miles from Padua. This put the city in the range of the Austrian artillery. However, the Italian military command did not withdraw. The city was bombed several times, with about 100 civilian deaths. A memorable feat was Gabriele D’Annunzio’s flight to Vienna from the nearby San Pelagio Castle airfield.
In 1918, the threat to Padua was removed. In late October, the Italian Army won the decisive Battle of Vittorio Veneto, and the Austrian forces collapsed. The armistice was signed at Villa Giusti, Padua, on 3 November 1918.
During the war, industry grew rapidly, and this provided Padua with a base for further post-war development. In the years immediately following WWI, Padua grew outside the historical town, despite the fact that labor and social strife were rampant at the time.
As in many other areas in Italy, Padua experienced great social turmoil in the years immediately following World War I. The city was shaken by strikes and clashes, factories and fields were subject to occupation, and war veterans struggled to re-enter civilian life. Many supported a new political way, fascism.
As in other parts of Italy, the National Fascist Party in Padua soon came to be seen as the defender of property and order against revolution. Padua was the site of one of the largest fascist mass rallies, with some 300,000 people reportedly attending one speech by Benito Mussolini.
New buildings, in fascist architectural style, sprang up in the city. Examples can be found today in the buildings surrounding Piazza Spalato (today Piazza Insurrezione), the railway station, the new part of City Hall, and part of the Palazzo Bo hosting the University.
Following Italy’s defeat in WWII on 8 September 1943, Padua became part of the Italian Social Republic, which was a puppet state of the Nazi occupiers. The city hosted the Ministry of Public Instruction of the new state, as well as military and militia commands and a military airport.
The Resistenza, the Italian partisans, was very active against both the new fascist rule and the Nazis. One of the main leaders of the Resistenza in the area was the University vice-chancellor Concetto Marchesi.
Toward the end of the war, as the Allied Command freed Italy from German occupation moving from south to north, Padua was unfortunately bombed several times by Allied planes. The worst hit areas were the railway station and the northern district of Arcella. Because of the location of the German command center in Padua, it was during one of these bombings that the Church of the Eremitani took a direct hit. It was a miracle of sorts that the nearby Scrovegni Chapel was not hit as well.
You can see on the map below how close the Scrovegni is to the church (Chiesa degli Eremitani on the map).
Tragically, the Church of the Eremitani was graced with some of the finest frescoes by Andrea Mantegna and they were almost complete obliterated. This is considered by some art historians to be Italy’s biggest wartime cultural loss.
Art conservators have been able to do the almost impossible and stitch together the remnants of the frescoes as seen in the next picture. I’ll be posting about the frescoes soon.
The city was liberated by partisans and the 2nd New Zealand Division of the British Eighth Army on 28 April 1945. A small Commonwealth War Cemetery is located in the west part of the city, commemorating the sacrifice of these troops.
After the war, the city developed rapidly, reflecting Veneto’s rise from being the poorest region in northern Italy to one of the richest and most economically active regions of modern Italy.
The subject of Padua is vast. I’ll be posting yet more very soon.
The “Emporio Duilio 48,” was founded in Florence (in the current Coin department store building, in Via de ‘Calzaiuoli) in 1902. The sales formula was, everything was under the price of 48 cents.
It is a fascinating story about early 20th-century Florence, with the tragedy of WWII a part of it.
The creator of the formula “all at 48 cents” was Joseph (Giuseppe) Siebzehner who was born in Vienna in 1863 and died in the Milan-Auschwitz route in the train departed on 29 January 1944 from platform 21). He was a Jewish merchant of a large Polish family, originally from Kańczuga (south-eastern Poland), married to Amalia Koretz (born in Plzeň on 15 March 1871 and dead in Auschwitz), daughter of Ferdinando.
The Siebzehner, already active in trade in Vienna at the end of 1800, took over the commercial activity called Grande Emporio Duilio and founded in Florence in 1888 by the Papalini brothers, who in turn had taken over the renowned Bazar Bonajuti, founded in 1834 by the architect (son of merchant) Telemaco Bonajuti.
The expansion of the Florentine headquarters in 1907 gave rise to the new name Emporio Duilio 48. This was soon joined by the two more stores in Montecatini and Viareggio; the latter was initially located in a bench where today stands the renowned shoe store Gabrielli, next to Magazzini 48.
It seems that after 1911 there were also 2 stores in Bologna, named simply: Emporio Duilio.
It’s clear that Giuseppe Siebzehner was a cutting-edge merchant, ahead of his time in Italy.
In fact, from the family archive (owned today by Count Federico di Valvasone and the last descendant, Riccardo Francalancia Vivanti Siebzehner), it emerges that Giuseppe already had two exclusive contracts at the end of the 19th century.
One with a comasco producer of festoons, lights of paper and decorations for the holidays.
The other, even more important, was with the great Bolognese blacksmith, Giordani, who built prams, tricycles, and especially bicycles for which he became a famous producer after WWI.
Even more avant-garde, Joseph was the first to produce a product catalog with mail order, a forerunner of today’s online shopping phenomenon.
The activity later passed into the hands of Giuseppe’s sons: Giorgio Vivanti Siebzehner (born in Florence, 1895 and died in Florence, 1952), lawyer and author of the Dictionary of the Divine Comedy and his brother Federico (born in Florence, 1900 and died in Florence in 1978), an electronic engineer who was among the first in Italy to conduct extensive experiments on ceramic resistance at the Italian Ceramics Society – Verbano. He, was awarded the honor of Knight to Merit of the Italian Republic in 1956.
Over time, the Francalancia Vivanti Siebzehner heirs of Valvasone and Bemporad took over the property until the commercial activity was sold to Coin Department store in 1988. The Viareggino building was instead ceded to the Fontana family in the 1990s. They later opened the Liberty Store, one of the most famous record and video games stores in the city.
A fixture in the London shopping scene, Liberty is a department store in Great Marlborough Street, in the West End of London. It sells highly curated selections of women’s, men’s and children’s clothing, make-up and perfume, jewelry, accessories, furniture and furnishings, stationery and gifts. The firm is well known for its floral and graphic prints.
I love any business with a great history and didactic information in a store window. They could just as well be showing their product line for sale, but they choose to edify. That’s my kinda store. Especially when it’s Liberty of London!
While the exterior of this classic London stop has remained in its mock Tudor style best, the interior and the product lines have changed vastly, even in my lifetime. While I prefer the way the store was when I first visited it with my mother in the 1980s, I have no doubt the management knows how to keep the store vital. I always enjoy a visit to this lovely emporium on any trip to London.
Before this summer, the last time I was at Liberty was in the early 2000s with my then 11-year-old red-headed son. At that time, Paula Pryke had a flower shop at the Liberty main entrance. It was dynamic! Her shop is gone and the store still has a ghost of a flower shop at its front door. But, I miss seeing Paula Pryke’s gorgeous arrangements there. He was less interested in Liberty than in going in and out of tube stations and traveling by train.
Liberty was created by Arthur Lasenby Liberty, who was born in Chesham, Buckinghamshire, in 1843. His father was a draper and, beginning work at 16, he was apprenticed to a draper. Later, Liberty took a job at Farmer and Rogers, a women’s fashions specialist in Regent Street, rising quickly up the ranks.
He was employed by Messrs Farmer and Rogers in 1862, the year of the International Exhibition. By 1874, inspired by his 10 years of service, he decided to start a business of his own, which he did the next year.
With a £2,000 loan from his future father-in-law, Liberty took the lease of half a shop at 218a Regent Street with three staff members. His shop opened in 1875 selling ornaments, fabric and objets d’art from Japan and the East.
Liberty hadn’t wanted to open just another store — he dreamed of an “Eastern Bazaar” in London that could fundamentally change homeware and fashion. Naming his new shop “East India House,” his collection of ornaments, fabrics and objects d’art from the Far East captured the attention of London, already in the crux of orientalist fervor.
It only took 18 months for Liberty to repay his loan, purchase the second half of the store, and begin to add neighbouring properties to his portfolio. From the beginning, the store also imported antiques, with the original V&A museum actually purchasing pieces of Eastern embroidery and rugs for its collection. As the business grew, neighboring properties were bought and added.
In 1884, he introduced the costume department, directed by Edward William Godwin (1833–86), a distinguished architect and a founding member of The Costume Society. Godwin and Liberty created in-house apparel to challenge the fashions of Paris.
In 1885, 142–144 Regent Street was acquired and housed the ever-increasing demand for carpets and furniture. The basement was named the Eastern Bazaar, and it was the vending place for what was described as “decorative furnishing objects”.
Liberty renamed the property “Chesham House,” after the place in which he grew up. The store became the most fashionable place to shop in London, and Liberty fabrics were used for both clothing and furnishings. Some of its clientele included famous Pre-Raphaelite artists.
To show the kind of innovative approach Liberty had for his business, in November of 1885, he brought 42 villagers from India to stage a living village of Indian artisans.
Liberty’s specialised in Oriental goods, in particular imported Indian silks, and the aim of the display was to generate both publicity and sales for the store.
During the 1890s, Liberty built strong relationships with many English designers. Some of these designers, including Archibald Knox, practiced the artistic styles we now call Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau. Liberty helped develop Art Nouveau in England through his encouragement of such designers. The company became associated with this new style, to the extent that even today in Italy, Art Nouveau became known as the Stile Liberty, after the London shop.
In 1882, author and playwright Oscar Wilde went on a tour of the United States, bringing with him a wardrobe full of clothes from Liberty, creating a demand for the store’s fashions with Americans. Wilde was obviously a huge fan of Liberty.
The iconic Tudor revival building was built by Liberty so that business could continue while renovations were being completed on the other premises. This great building was constructed in 1924 from the timbers of two ships: HMS Impregnable (formerly HMS Howe) and HMS Hindustan.
HMS Impregnable (c.1900), one of the two ships used to build Liberty
The emporium was designed by Edwin Thomas Hall and his son, Edwin Stanley Hall. They designed the building at the height of the 1920s fashion for Tudor revival.
In 1922, the builders had been given a lump sum of £198,000 to construct it, which they did from the timbers of two ancient ‘three-decker’ battle ships. Records show more than 24,000 cubic feet of ships timbers were used including their decks now being the shop flooring: The HMS Impregnable – built from 3040 100-year-old oaks from the New Forest – and the HMS Hindustan, which measured the length and height of the famous Liberty building.
The ships were not Liberty’s only association with warfare. Carved memorials line the department store’s old staircase pay tribute to the Liberty staff who lost their lives fighting in WWII for a different kind of liberty – freedom from the regimes of the Axis powers.
One only need to look up to the roof , upon which stands a marvel of a gilded copper weathervane. Standing four feet tall and weighing 112 pounds, this golden ship recreates The Mayflower, the English vessel famous in American history for taking pilgrims to the new world in 1620.
The interior of the shop was designed around three light wells that form the main focus es of the building. Each of these wells was surrounded by smaller rooms to create a cosy feeling. Many of the rooms had fireplaces and some of them still exist.
Liberty of London was designed to feel like a home, with each atrium was surrounded by smaller rooms, complete with fireplaces and furnishings.
Ever the purveyor of craftsmanship, Arthur Liberty had a furniture workshop in Archway, London. Run by Lawrence Turner, the workshop produced Liberty Arts and Crafts furniture and the intricately carved panels and pillars found throughout the store. The craftsmen allowed his fantasy, ensuring every ornament was a one-off – paving the way for discovery.
Sadly, Arthur died seven years before the building’s completion and so never saw his dream realised. But, his statue stands proudly at our Flower Shop entrance to welcome you warmly into his emporium of wonder.
The architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner was very critical of the building’s architecture, saying: “The scale is wrong, the symmetry is wrong. The proximity to a classical façade put up by the same firm at the same time is wrong, and the goings-on of a store behind such a façade (and below those twisted Tudor chimneys) are wrongest of all”.
During the 1950s, the store continued its tradition for fashionable and eclectic design. All departments in the shop had a collection of both contemporary and traditional designs. New designers were promoted and often included those still representing the Liberty tradition for handcrafted work.
In 1955, Liberty began opening several regional stores in other UK cities; the first of these was in Manchester. Subsequent shops opened in Bath, Brighton, Chester, York, Exeter and Norwich.
During the 1960s, extravagant and Eastern influences once again became fashionable, as well as the Art Deco style, and Liberty adapted its furnishing designs from its archive.
LIBERTY PRINT ‘CONSTANTIA,’ 1961
In 1996, Liberty announced the closure of all of its department stores outside London, and instead focused on small shops at airports.
Since 1988, Liberty has had a subsidiary in Japan which sells Liberty-branded products in major Japanese shops. It also sells Liberty fabrics to international and local fashion stores with bases in Japan.
Liberty’s London store was sold for £41.5 million and then leased back by the firm in 2009, to pay off debts ahead of a sale. Subsequently, in 2010, Liberty was taken over by private equity firm BlueGem Capital in a deal worth £32 million.
In 2013, Liberty was the focus of a three-part hour-long episode TV documentary series titled Liberty of London, airing on Channel 4. The documentary follows Ed Burstell (Managing Director) and the department’s retail team in the busy lead up to Christmas 2013.
Channel 4 further commissioned a second series of the documentary on 28 October 2014. This series featured four, one hour-long episodes based on six months worth of unprecedented footage. Series two aired in 2014.
Liberty has a history of collaborative projects – from William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti in the nineteenth century to Yves Saint Laurent and Dame Vivienne Westwood in the twentieth.
Recent collaborations include brands such as Scott Henshall, Nike, Dr. Martens, Hello Kitty, Barbour, House of Hackney, Vans, Onia, Manolo Blahnik, Uniqlo, Superga, Drew Pritchard of Salvage Hunters and antique lighting specialist Fritz Fryer.
The website for Liberty also has these suggestions for you to watch for as you sally throughout the sprawling store:
The clock on the Kingly Street entrance of the Liberty store has some words of wisdom for the shoppers who pass by. It says “No minute gone comes back again, take heed and see ye do nothing in vain.” Above the clock, the striking of the hour chime brings out figures of St. George and the Dragon, to recreate their legendary battle every sixty minutes. On each corner of the clock are the angels of the Four Winds: Uriel (south), Michael (east), Raphael (west), and Gabriel (north).