Famous Department Stores : Jenners of Edinburgh in Scotland.
Famous Department Stores : Jenners of Edinburgh in Scotland
The wasteful pursuits of gambling and outrageous lead-swinging would hardly sound like the beginnings of a hugely successful business enterprise.
But that's how the Jenners Department store in Edinburgh, Scotland came into being back in the 1830's.
This true story begins with two men called Charles Kennington and Charles Jenner. They were employed as drapers at W&R Spence in Waterloo Place in Edinburgh. One day they got a hot-tip on a horse that was running at the nearby Musselburgh Racecourse in East Lothian.
Certain that they were on to a winner they asked their employer for the day off work to attend the race. He of course would have none of it and refused their request. However enterprising young men that they were they bunked off work anyway and headed off to Musselburgh.
Needless to say that on their return to work they were told that they had no work to return to. They had been sacked from their jobs.
Nevertheless that particular cloud had a silver lining as their horse romped home to victory presenting them with substantial winnings.
These were sensible level-headed businessmen after all and instead of frittering away their cash on good living they used it as an investment.
The new store opens
They opened their own store which started trading in 1838 under the name 'Kennington and Jenner'.
Thus from humble origins began the building of possibly the most famous and prestigious department store in Scotland. The name was not changed to simply 'Jenner' until 1924 although in 1874 it had been renamed 'Charles Jenner & Co' as an ex-apprentice James Kennedy had become a junior partner.
Charles Jenner was actually born in Rochester, Kent only moved to Edinburgh when he was 19 years old. He retired in 1882 but continued to maintain an interest in the store. Kennington had retired long before in 1861 before passing away the following year.
The store had slowly evolved since the 1830's expanding to take in more floorspace along Princes Street and back into Rose Street. The workforce grew and the store went from success to success. Disaster struck in 1892 when the building was ravaged by fire although fortunately no one was killed. However Jenner had cleverly insured the building with 23 different insurers and immediately launched plans for new development. It would be on a grand scale.
A new beginning
The current store premises was completed in 1895 and designed by the architect William Hamilton Beattie.
It is one of the standout buildings on Princes Street for its lavish and luxurious facade.
It is of a Renaissance style with touches of the Victorian and Georgian neo-classical signatures.
The fabric of the building is in the famous red sandstone of the Scotish quarries although it has more of a slightly pink-hue in its colour.
It is in fine company situated nearby to the historic steel construction of the R.W. Forsyth Building and the imperious eloquence of the Balmoral Hotel.
On the corner of the Jenners building you will see the inspiration of the Bodlean Library in Oxford. It is a splayed corner in an ornate octagonal design rising up with flying buttresses.
Tragically Charles Jenner never lived to see the completion of his new store as he passed away in 1893. During his life in the manner of many rich and successful businessmen Jenner devoted much of his time to philanthropic work and was also a keen botanist.
A lasting legacy to his memory are the stone carvings on the facade of the building. These caryatids are all in female form and are his tribute to the many women who worked for him. He saw his female workforce as the backbone of his business and therefore the carvings are metaphorically supporting the structure of the edifice. A symbol of the importance of women to the Jenner Department Store.
The interior design
Inside the building the mezzanine style design offers a spectacular open space of floor upon floor.
They rise up to the glazed roof which floods the store with natural light during the day.
It can be confusing inside though if you are on the hunt for that specific purchase rather than just a casual browse.
It has been noted by customers that interior signs are unclear and the place in general is more cluttered with produce than they remember from previous times.
But it still remains a popular department store but not only for shopping and a lunchtime rendez-vous.
It is also a tourist attraction as admirers come to view its external architecture and interior design. It has also been innovative in the past such as introducing electrical lighting and hydraulic lifts in the 1895 construction.
The Grand Old Lady
A great claim to fame by Jenners was that it was the oldest family-owned department store in Britain until 2005. In that year it was sold for over £46 million to the House of Fraser group but unusually they retained the Jenner's name.
This has led some locals and regulars to feel that the place isn't the same anymore. There is a sense that it has lost its family atmosphere which has been replaced by a soulless corporatism.
Certainly there have been complaints that the level of customer service is not what it once was.
The insincere smile of the salesperson and the bland indifference of unenthusiastic staff has usurped the warmth and friendliness of the former years.
Although there have always been grumbles about the ingrained snobbery of the occasionally pompous and aloof store assistant
Unsurprising then that the store has been criticised for its over-priced goods and exclusivity considering its upmarket image.
The personal touch is also missing apparently but perhaps not a condition restricted to Jenners in these modern times of market pressures and competition for customers. People have even noted the many sales and large price reductions as indicative of the times.
Nevertheless, with its nickname 'The Grand Old Lady' christened by the Edinburgh people the store still boast its rarefied status. It was granted a Royal Warrant in 1911 and therefore enjoys patronage from the Queen. It was also referred to as 'The Harrods of the North' although locals will be quick to point out that the Scottish store was founded before its London equivalent.
Not for nothing then do they sometimes call Harrods 'The Jenner's of the South'. The old North-South rivalry still echoes after all these years.
Other places to visit in Edinburgh by Shinkicker
- The Gothic Rocket - The Edinburgh Monument to Sir Walter Scott
It is unfortunate that many people around the world may not know who Sir Walter Scott was. Certainly many more people will know of his most famous novels. The sword and shield epics of 'Ivanhoe' and 'Rob Roy' are undoubtedly his more famous.
- Things to see in Edinburgh, Scotland : The Georgian Architecture of Charlotte Square
Regarded as perhaps the finest example of a city square of Georgian architecture anywhere in the world this is one of the jewels of Edinburgh New Town. Enjoy a virtual stroll around the square to view and learn about its attractions.
- Masterpieces of Modern Architecture : The Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh
It began not with a computer-aided programme or even an architectural drawing board. The first design for the Scottish Parliament was scribbled on a piece of paper one day in 1998.
More by this Author
The city certainly rocks and it surely rolls and it may surprise you to learn that it has a thriving scene for Rock music. Perhaps on a par with the great musical cities around the world.
I often get the response "I never knew they were Scottish" when I mention some of these bands. Many great Scottish bands have contributed to the history of contemporary music over the past 40 years and...
A virtual tour around one of the great Italian Lakes. One of the best you will find online. Detailed, informal and humorous, it summarises the best resorts on Lake Garda from someone who has lived there and enjoyed its...