John Lewis and the foundation of the Oxford Street shop, 1864

A street view of Oxford Street from the late 1700's, showing the location of number 132
A street view of Oxford Street from the late 1700's, showing the location of number 132
John Lewis as a young man, 1870
John Lewis as a young man, 1870

Orphaned

John Lewis was born in 1836 in Shepton Mallet, Somerset. By 1844, at only 8 years old, he was an orphan, and he and his siblings were subsequently brought up by members of his extended family. John and two of his sisters probably lived with an aunt by the name of Christian Speed. Many hold that the ‘Spedan’ element of ‘John Spedan Lewis’ came from a reversed amalgamation of Christian Speed’s name.

Going it alone

At the age of fourteen, John Lewis began an apprenticeship at a shop in Wells. After gaining much-needed experience in the industry, and travelling across the country from Somerset to Liverpool, Lewis moved to London, and became the youngest silk buyer in London at a shop owned by Peter Robinson on the corner of Oxford Street and Regent Street. In 1864, after saving hard and being helped financially by his sisters, Lewis took the decision to go into business himself, and took the lease on a small shop at 132 Oxford Street.  His first day’s taking were recorded as 16/4d, equivalent to about £75 today.

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