Debenhams plc is a British multinational retailer operating under a
department store format in the United Kingdom and Ireland with
franchise stores in other countries. The company was founded in the
eighteenth century as a single store in London and has now grown to
178 locations across the UK, Ireland and Denmark. It sells a range of
clothing, household items and furniture and has been known since 1993
for its 'Designers at Debenhams' brand range.
Regent's Place in the London Borough of Camden,
Debenhams is listed on the London Stock Exchange. The company owns the
Danish department store chain, Magasin du Nord, and has a subsidiary
1.1 18th and 19th centuries
1.2 20th century
1.3 21st century
2 Products and services
3.1 United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark
3.2 International franchises
5 External links
18th and 19th centuries
The business was formed in 1778 by William Clark, who began trading at
44 Wigmore Street in London as a drapers' store. In 1813, William
Debenham became a partner and the corporate name changed to Clark
& Debenham. The shop was later renamed Cavendish House and carried
drapery, silks, haberdashery, millinery, hosiery, lace and family
mourning goods. As the trade grew, the partners determined to expand
the business by opening provincial branches in Cheltenham,
Gloucestershire, England, and Harrogate, Yorkshire, England.
By 1823, Clark & Debenham had opened a small drapery business at 3
Promenade Rooms, Cheltenham, selling a selection of silks, muslins,
shawls, gloves, lace and fancy goods. The new shop flourished. In
1837, Clark retired from the business and Debenham assumed two of his
most trusted staff, William Pooley and John Smith, as partners,
trading in both London and Cheltenham as Debenham, Pooley & Smith.
By 1840, the management of the Cheltenham branch appears to have been
given to Clement Freebody, Debenham's brother-in-law. Around 1843,
another branch shop was launched in Harrogate.
Extended and refurbished premises opened in Cheltenham in October
1844. Pooley and Smith retired from the business in 1851 when Debenham
took his son, William, and Clement Freebody into partnership, trading
as Debenham, Son & Freebody. At this time all three shops in
London, Cheltenham and Harrogate were trading in similar goods and
issued a joint catalogue, called the
Fashion Book, that was the basis
of an extensive mail-order trade. In 1876 when Freebody retired, a new
partnership, Debenham & Hewitt, was formed. George Hewitt appears
to have worked at the Cheltenham store as a draper's assistant during
the early 1860s but details of his subsequent career are not known. By
1883, George Hewitt was the sole owner of the Cheltenham business,
William Debenham having withdrawn to manage the London store
as a separate concern.
Crypt Chambers in
Chester houses part of the
Browns of Chester
Browns of Chester store
and is a Grade I listed building.
The business was incorporated as
Debenhams Limited in 1905. The
Debenhams group grew from the acquisition of department stores
in towns and cities throughout the UK, under the leadership of its
chairman, Ernest Debenham. The first of these purchases, Marshall
& Snelgrove at
Oxford Street in London, was acquired through an on
sided merger in 1919. Later purchases included
Harvey Nichols in
Knightsbridge in 1920. Most of the acquired stores
retained their former identities until a unified corporate image was
rolled out. The company was first listed on the London Stock Exchange
in 1928, shortly after it had purchased fellow retail group Drapery
In 1976 the company acquired Browns of Chester. It remains the only UK
store to have retained an individual identity. The business
diversified during the 1970s buying South East based supermarket group
Cater Brothers in 1972, after the death of its chairman Leslie Cater.
Using the new purchasing power
Debenhams modernised its 40 food halls
within its stores, branding them Cater's Food Halls, and opened two
new Cater superstores. However the business declined in the intense
marketplace and in 1979 the chain was sold to
Allied Suppliers who
converted the Cater stores into their Presto format.
Debenhams was targeted three times during the 1980s by the Animal
Liberation Front in protest at the sale of animal furs in stores.
Stores in Romford, Luton, and Harrow were fire-bombed by members, the
worst attack being on the
Luton store. As a result, the company
stopped selling clothes with animal furs. It was alleged by
Caroline Lucas MP in a debate in
Westminster Hall that Bob Lambert, a
then undercover police officer, planted the fire bomb that caused
£340,000 worth of damage to the Harrow branch of
Debenhams in 1987.
It is unclear if anything has come of these allegations as of March
In 1985 the company was acquired by the Burton Group. Following the
closure of the store in
Dudley in January 1981 and the Birmingham
store in 1983, the company's only store in the West Midlands for the
next six years was a town centre store in Walsall. On 4 November 1989,
it opened a store at the
Merry Hill Shopping Centre
Merry Hill Shopping Centre in Brierley
Debenhams demerged from the
Burton Group in January 1998 and
was once again listed as a separate company on the London Stock
Exchange. It expanded under the leadership of
Belinda Earl who was
CEO in 2000.
Debenhams in Bury St Edmunds
Debenhams opened its largest British store on 4 September 2003, at the
new Bull Ring shopping centre in Birmingham. The new store
contains 19,230 sq m and opened 20 years after the company
Birmingham city centre store due to declining trade. A
private consortium named Baroness
Retail Limited acquired the company
in November 2003, and it returned to a listing on the London Stock
Exchange in 2006. The consortium comprised CVC Capital Partners, Texas
Merrill Lynch Global Private Equity, and
Debenhams' flagship store in
The company purchased the brand name and stock of Principles in March
2009 after the business entered administration. Principles operated
concessions within 121
Debenhams stores, and was subsequently
Ben de Lisi as part of the Designers at Debenhams
range. In November 2009,
Debenhams acquired the Danish department
store group Magasin Du Nord for £12.3 million. The company
operates six stores in Denmark under the Magasin brand.
In July 2010
Debenhams purchased the 115 Faith concessions trading
within its stores, after Faith entered administration. In April
2012 the company announced it would be building 14 new stores, and was
in negotiations over a further 25 sites in the UK. Debenhams
agreed to become the anchor store at the Riverside shopping centre in
Shrewsbury. By September 2012, the company announced that
like-for-like sales had risen by 3.3% in the six months up to that
Debenhams moved to a new headquarters in 2013, in Brock Street,
London. The company moved to a new building, built by
British Land in
Regent's Place. The company leased 174,500 square feet
(16,000 m2) of office space from
British Land for 25 years.
The company began a refurbishment of its flagship store in Oxford
Street in 2013, which involved the installation of 180,000 aluminium
tiles on the exterior of the building that appears to ripple with the
wind. An existing floor was also converted to become a trading floor.
The total cost of the refurbishment was in the region of £40 million,
Debenhams contributed £25 million. The owner of the
building, British Land, also contributed towards the cost. The
refurbishment is due to be completed by February 2014.
The company's trading statement for the 17 weeks up to 28 December
2013 was released on 31 December 2013, and revealed a reduction in
pre-tax profit from £115 million to £85 million. On 2 January
2014, the company's chief financial officer Simon Herrick resigned,
following criticism of his financial decisions. On 13 January 2014
Debenhams shares were bought by Sports Direct, the retailer
run by Mike Ashley. The stock market purchase of 56.8 million shares
(worth around £46m) was made without the prior knowledge of the
Sports Direct stated at the time it intends to be a
supportive share holder. The
Debenhams board responded by stating they
are open-minded with regard to exploring operational opportunities to
improve its performance.
Sports Direct sold its shares on 16
January 2014, although they took out an option to buy further shares
up to a total of 6.6%. In August 2017, it emerged that Ashley had
secured 21% of the shares which gave him over 10% of voting rights in
Debenhams opened two new stores, one in
Stevenage and one
in Wolverhampton. The 80,000 sq ft
Stevenage store was opened on 24
August 2017 at Roaring Meg
Retail and Leisure Park by Celebrity
fashion designer Julien MacDonald and local hero Jean Robinson, who
had won a competition for the privilege. The store is the first to be
designed under the vision of
CEO Sergio Bucher, with a new layout and
format with the emphasis on encouraging people to stay longer. 
The second store to open during 2017 is the new 93,000 sq ft store at
Wolverhampton's Mander Centre. The store was opened on 12 October 2017
as part of the centre's £35 million refurbishment, it is also
Debenhams' first store in Wolverhampton. It is only the second to
feature the new layout previously only seen in the
and only the second to feature the companies new deli-restaurant
format Loaf & Bloom, only previously seen at Milton Keynes. 
In February 2018, the company announced a reduction of up to 320 store
management roles across the business by the end of March. Sports
Direct increased its holding in the company to 29.7% on 2 March, just
below the level whereby it would be required to submit a formal
Products and services
Benefit stand in the
Sutton, London branch
In 1993 the company introduced the 'Designers at Debenhams' brand, the
creation of then
CEO Belinda Earl,
Ben de Lisi and Spencer Hawken.
The idea put designer names and brands at
High Street prices,
including Jasper Conran, John Rocha,
Betty Jackson Black, Butterfly by
Matthew Williamson, H! by Henry Holland, Star by Julien Macdonald,
Frost French, Erickson Beamon, Eric Van Peterson, Janet Reger, Pip
Hackett, Melissa Odabash, Ted Baker, St George by Duffer, Jeff
Banks, and Ben de Lisi. The company also sells goods under a number of
brand names that it owns.
In October 2010,
Debenhams announced the launch of four new designer
names to its fashion range; Jonathan Saunders, Preen, Jonathan Kelsey,
and Roksanda Ilincic, who will be working with the retailer on a new
concept called Edition.
Oasis concession in the
Sutton, London branch
Stores also contain concessions whereby other retailers may trade.
Brands in stores include Oasis, Coast,
Phase Eight and Warehouse. In
June 2014, the company announced a trial of
Sports Direct concessions
in its Harrow and
Southsea stores, which if successful would be
expanded to other stores. This followed the purchase of a stake in
Debenhams by Mike Ashley, the owner of Sports Direct, in January
2014. Later that year,
Debenhams also launched trials of Costa
Mothercare concessions within stores.
In October 2016, the company announced it would begin to focus less on
clothing and more on food, beauty products and gifts. It also
hired the former lighting buying team of collapsed rival BHS to begin
introducing new lighting departments in stores.
this in December 2016 with a plan to discontinue its Betty Jackson
Black ladies fashion brand, and significantly reduce its Jeff Banks
menswear range in favour of expanding the Hammond & Co. brand.
The company operates retail websites in the UK and Ireland, as well as
a mobile-enabled website and mobile apps that allow customers to shop
the online range and scan product barcodes in store.
Debenhams provide store card and credit card services, operated by
NewDay. Insurance products are also provided under the
by other financial companies.
Debenhams also operate bureaux de change
in selected stores. The company also operates a loyalty card
programme, branded the
Debenhams Beauty Club, where customers can
collect points with the purchase of health and beauty products.
United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark
As of 2015, the company owns and operates 178 stores in the United
Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark. Stores in Denmark trade under the
Magasin du Nord
Magasin du Nord brand. Stores in Ireland are operated by Debenhams
Ireland, which is a subsidiary of
Debenhams plc; most of these stores
were formerly branded Roches Stores.
Debenhams occupies the most
sites of any of the traditional department store groups in the UK. The
majority of the original trading names of the stores, in each of their
respective locations, were replaced with the "Debenhams" name during
the 1970s. All department stores in the group now trade as "Debenhams"
(although the store in
Chester is still dual-signed as
Browns of Chester). New stores are usually located within wider town
and regional shopping centre developments. Stores amalgamated into the
Bought 1952; Rebranded 1973
Basildon, Chatham, Clapham Junction, Ilford, Portsmouth, Sutton,
V H Bennett
Bobby & Co.
Bournemouth, Eastbourne, Exeter, Folkestone,
Bought 1928 as part of Drapery Trust.
Bought 1928 as part of Drapery Trust; Rebranded 1971.
Browns of Chester
Bought 1958. Rebranded 1973. Closed 1978.
W & A Chapman
Merged with Footman Pretty when the current store was built.
High Holborn & Birmingham
Bought 1928 as part of Drapery Trust.
Elliston & Cavell
Merged with Corders once the current store was built.
Griffin & Spalding
John K Hubbard
Croydon & Staines
Bought 1928 as part of Drapery Trust.
Glasgow and Hanley
Bought 1928 as part of Drapery Trust.
Marshall & Snelgrove
Oxford Street, London, etc.
Bournemouth, Brighton, Hastings,
E P Rose
Sheriff & Ward
Nuneaton & Stratford upon Avon
Style & Gerrish
Swan & Edgar
Bought 1928 as part of the Drapery Trust.
Taylors of Clifton
Bought 1949. Closed 1967.
Debenhams brand is used for stores operating under licence in 26
other countries. These are Armenia, Bahrain, Bulgaria, Croatia,
Cyprus, Czech Republic, Egypt, Estonia, Hungary, Iceland (closed as of
2017), India, Indonesia (closed as of 2017), Iran, Jordan,
Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Latvia, Malaysia, Malta, Pakistan,
Philippines, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United
Arab Emirates, and Vietnam. The company announced in January 2013 that
it planned to increase the number of international franchise stores to
150 within 5 years.
In late 2015 it was announced that
Debenhams had acquired all seven
Stockmann stores in Russia.
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Stockmann Sells Department Stores After 26 Years in Russia
The Moscow Times
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Debenhams.
Documents and clippings about
Debenhams in the 20th Century Press
Archives of the
German National Library of Economics
German National Library of Economics (ZBW).
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