Liberty of London

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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).

 

The (extraordinary) British Museum

What can I say that hasn’t already been said 1,00,000 times or more about this incredible museum?

I will let my pictures speak for me.

 

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Whenever I am lucky enough to visit the British Museum, I always go right to the Elgin Marbles.

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Mass tourism is the bane of my existence.  I hate it with every fiber in my being.

 

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Did I mention that I detest mass tourism? I do.

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Mass tourism.

 

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August 12, 1944, in the mountains outside of Lucca

The Sant’Anna di Stazzema massacre was a Nazi German war crime, committed in the hill village of Sant’Anna di Stazzema in Tuscan, in the course of an operation against the Italian resistance movement during the Italian Campaign of World War II.

On the morning of August 12, 1944, the German troops entered the mountain village of Sant’Anna di Stazzema, accompanied by some fascists of the 36th Brigata Nera Benito Mussolini based in Lucca, who were dressed in German uniforms.

The soldiers immediately proceeded to round up villagers and refugees, locking up hundreds of them in several barns and stables, before systematically executing them. The killings were done mostly by shooting groups of people with machine guns or by herding them into basements and other enclosed spaces and tossing in hand grenades.

At the 16th-century local church, the priest Fiore Menguzzo (awarded the Medal for Civil Valor posthumously in 1999) was shot at point-blank range, after which machine guns were then turned on some 100 people gathered there. In all, the victims included at least 107 children (the youngest of whom, Anna Pardini, was only 20 days old), as well as eight pregnant women (one of whom, Evelina Berretti, had her stomach cut with a bayonet and her baby pulled out and killed separately).

After other people were killed through the village, their corpses were set on fire (at the church, the soldiers used its pews for a bonfire to dispose of the bodies). The livestock were also exterminated and the whole village was burnted down.

All of this was accomplished in three hours. The SS men then sat down outside the burning Sant’Anna and ate lunch.

These crimes have been defined as voluntary and organized acts of terrorism by the Military Tribunal of La Spezia and the highest Italian court of appeal.

However, extradition requests from Italy were rejected by Germany. In 2012, German prosecutors shelved their investigation of 17 unnamed former SS soldiers (eight of whom were still alive) who were part of the unit involved in the massacre because of a lack of evidence.

The statement said: “Belonging to a Waffen-SS unit that was deployed to Sant’Anna di Stazzema cannot replace the need to prove individual guilt. Rather, for every defendant it must be proven that he took part in the massacre, and in which form.”

The mayor of the village, Michele Silicani (a survivor who was 10 when the raid occurred), called the verdict “a scandal” and said he would urge Italy’s justice minister to lobby Germany to reopen the case. German deputy foreign minister Michael Georg Link commented that “while respecting the independence of the German justice system,” it was not possible “to ignore that such a decision causes deep dismay and renewed suffering to Italians, not just survivors and relatives of the victims.”

Sources, Wikipedia and http://paradiseofexiles.com/liberation-day-in-italy/

August 4, 1944: Florence, Italy and Anne Frank in Amsterdam

As the Allied Forces entered Florence in the early hours of August 4, 1944,  the brigade Sinigaglia, the division Arno, and the brigade Lanciotto were enthusiastically welcomed into the Oltrarno district. The Allies allowed the partisans to keep their weapons; the Florentine men then started a roundup, searching for the German snipers that were firing at the unarmed populace. These snipers wanted to terrify the population and to slow the progression of the Allies, particularly in the districts of San Frediano, Conventino, and San Niccolò.

Meanwhile, the Nazis were still on the right or north side of the Arno. The military base of the partisans, the CTLN (Comitato Toscano di Liberazione Nazionale, Tuscan Comitate of National Liberation), was installed in the society Larderello, in Piazza Strozzi n. 2.

At first, the command of the third zone in via Roma n. 4, led by the Partito d’Azione, acted as the connection center. In order to follow both the Germans and Allied movements, a sentry was stationed atop the Cupola del Duomo. The personnel stationed there included a deputy commander, a political commissar, and a chief from the first commander corps.

As for the Florentines, on August 4, only a few of them attempted to leave home. But the following day, without food or water, women and boys started to queue in front of the town’s water fountains and doorways with available wells, as well as in front of the bakeries. The few peddlers selling fruit and vegetables were extremely busy.

To be continued.

Sources:

http://diariodiunfiorentino.altervista.org/liberation-florence-11-august-1944/?doing_wp_cron=1564842755.6783099174499511718750

http://diariodiunfiorentino.altervista.org/the-insurrection-of-florence/?doing_wp_cron=1564846863.0551791191101074218750

 

Meanwhile, in Amsterdam, a place also occupied by the Nazis, on August 4, 1944, after 25 months in hiding, Anne Frank and the seven others in their secret hiding place were discovered by the Gestapo. The German secret state police had learned about the hiding place from an anonymous tipster, who has never been definitively identified.

After their arrest, the Frank family and their fellow Jewish associates, were sent by the Gestapo to Westerbork, a holding camp in the northern Netherlands. From there, in September 1944, the group was transported by freight train to the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination and concentration camp complex in German-occupied Poland. Anne and her sister, Margot Frank, were spared immediate death in the Auschwitz gas chambers and instead were sent to Bergen-Belsen, a concentration camp in northern Germany.

In February 1945, the Frank sisters died of typhus at Bergen-Belsen; their bodies were thrown into a mass grave.

Several weeks later, on April 15, 1945, British forces liberated the camp.

https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/anne-frank-1