T J Harries of Oxford Street
Thomas J Harries was born in Carmarthenshire, the son of Thomas Harries of Llansteffen, farmer. ‘TJ’ and his brother William opened their first draper’s shop at Cambrian House, Carmarthen.
‘TJ’ moved to London and worked first at Wallis of Holborn and then as a buyer at D H Evans, Oxford Street. He opened his own shop at 260 Oxford Street in either 1885 or 1887 (sources vary on this date).
Interestingly ‘TJ’ and ‘Old John’ Lewis knew each other and were friends. John Lewis had opened his first shop in 1864 so had been in business for over 20 years by the time Harries opened his. The story goes that Lewis, being worried about the potential competition, bought the two shops adjoining Harries’ and opened a ladies costumiers there to prevent expansion.
Harries knew that sooner or later he would need to approach the formidable Lewis on the subject of purchasing the two shops but when and how? During a chance meeting on Oxford Street Harries introduced himself and offered to assist John Lewis with his campaign to be elected as the Liberal Candidate for Marylebone on the new London County Council. The result was a landslide victory for Lewis and the formation of a firm friendship which made Lewis more amenable to selling the shops to Harries later on.
Harries’ business was successful and after ‘TJ’ died in 1902 it was purchased from the administrators of his estate by a newly formed public company T J Harries and Co Ltd (1902). Despite the premises being damaged by fire in 1922 the business returned what the contemporary press referred to as ‘satisfactory dividends’ in the years up to 1928. At this time the ordinary shares of the company were held by a very few individuals and rarely came up for sale on the market.
John Spedan Lewis formed a new company after the death of his father in June 1928. The creation of John Lewis and Company Ltd was partly in order to raise capital to pay duties on John Lewis’ estate and partly in order to purchase a controlling share of T J Harries and Co, in a deal which was unanimously accepted by the latter’s shareholders on 18 September 1928. The aggregate purchase price reported by the press was £542,000.