History of Debenhams as retailer closes doors for final time

Debenhams has been a mainstay of British shopping for 242 years, but will now close its doors for good.

In 1778, William Clark opened a cloth shop at 44 Wigmore Street in central London, selling expensive fabrics, hats, gloves and umbrellas.

The company had a humble start in life, with Mr. Clark continuing to run the sole store until he met a potential investor.

William Debenham partnered with the shop owner in 1813 and pumped money into the business that then became Clark & ​​Debenham.

Five years later, it opened its first store outside the capital, in Cheltenham, and began to expand dramatically.

When Clement Freebody invested in the company in 1851, it was renamed Debenham & Freebody, and it continued to grow by picking up smaller rivals and expanding its wholesale business.

Acquisitions continued into the next century and Debenhams Ltd was founded in 1905.

After the end of World War I, the shopkeeper merged with Marshall & Snellgrove and in 1920 bought the Knightsbridge shopkeeper Harvey Nichols.

Seven years later, the Debenham family left the company as it was listed on the London Stock Exchange.

In 1950 Debenhams was the largest department store group in the UK, with 84 businesses and 110 stores.

In 1985, Debenhams merged and became part of the Burton Group, which was soon renamed Arcadia, only to split 13 years later after a period of rapid store expansion and the launch of its first international franchise sites.

After the split from the Burton Group, Debenhams was listed on the London Stock Exchange until 2003, after which it was taken over by Baroness Retail.

Baroness, backed by private equity firms CVC Capital Partners and Texas Pacific Group, began stripping the firm’s assets, including a £ 450 million sale and leaseback of 26 properties and internal cost savings.

Three years later, Baroness nearly tripled its value when it was listed on the stock exchange, but the retail group was now weighed down by a portfolio paralyzed by expensive leases.

Nevertheless, Debenhams continued to grow and in 2007 acquired nine Roches stores in the Republic of Ireland and two years later Magasin du Nord, Denmark’s leading department store chain.

In 2014, after a decline in corporate profits, retail magnate Mike Ashley bought 4.6% of the company’s stock.

He steadily expanded his ownership of the department store business, reaching 29.7% in 2018.

However, the company had now felt the full effect of difficult high street conditions and skyrocketing rents, resulting in a pre-tax loss of £ 491 million in 2018.

In April 2019, the retail giant entered the administration and was taken off the stock exchange.

It underwent a major restructuring to restore it to its former glory, but it now seems likely that it will disappear for good after Christmas, after going into liquidation.