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London's Lost Department Stores: Derry & Toms
Posted on Jul 29, 2005 - 03:44 AM by Bill McCann

Most of London's Department Stores began life as small drapers' shops in the 19th century. Many of them went on to become household names and some even became internationally known. However, the developments of the late 20th century brought changes that proved too much for some and names such as Swan & Edgar or Derry & Toms are now but fading memories. The store itself might be gone but the Derry and Toms roof gardens have had a recent makeover and the flamingoes are back!

Derry and Toms

Derry and Toms, 99-121 Kensington High Street.

A view of the Spanish garden on the Derry and toms roof.

Joseph Toms is listed in the 1854 Post Office Directory as he proprietor of a small "Toy and Fancy Repository." In 1862 he joined forces with his brother-in-Law, Charles Derry and by 1870 they had acquired seven shops around their original site. One of these was set aside as a "Mourning Department" and the complex provided accommodation for more than two hundred live in employees. They could boast of themselves as the main suppliers to the upper classes of South Kensington.

It was also in 1870 that a neighbour on Kensington High Street, John Baker, began operations from two small drapery shops. His business eventually grew to become John Baker and Company Limited and, in 1920, the company acquired the Derry and Toms business, whose name they retained. A large rebuilding programme was initiated and resulted, in 1932, in the present "Derry and Toms" building, designed by Bernard George.

A feature of the new building was a restaurant "The Rainbow Room" and a roof garden designed by Trevor Bowen, the then Vice-President of Barkers, and Ralph Hancock, a landscape architect, and which was completed in 1936-38. Covering one and a half acres, the garden boasted 500 shrubs and trees and a flowing stream which was home to a flock of pink flamingos. There were a Spanish garden, a dutch Garden and a British woodland garden. Each year 15,000 bulbs were purchased for the Dutch and 38,000 bedding plants, from the garden's own nursery, were laid out.

The business closed on January 13 1972 and was taken over a few months later by Biba, a small family fashion business which had thrived in the 1960s. Their "Dream Emporium" did not survive the change in fashion tastes and the recession of the early 70s and it closed in 1975. Eventually, the retail premises were taken over by Marks and Spencer and British Home Stores. The gardens, however, suffered from the changes in ownership and in 1976 the local council placed a Tree Preservation Order on the trees to prevent damage from unnecessary removal or ill-advised pruning. Until 1981 the restaurant operated as an independent restaurant and nightclub, known as "Regines." It was then acquired by Richard Branson and is now part of his portfolio of exclusive properties known as Limited Edition by Virgin.

The gardens have been fully restored and now consist of the Spanish Garden with its Court of Fountains and formal design; the Tudor Garden and Walkway constructed in traditional stone and the English Woodland Garden complete with its stream and ducks. The flamingos are back and the restaurant is now known as the "Babylon." The entire space can be hired for corporate events or private functions and there is also an exclusive member's club on Thursday and Saturday evening in the nightclub.

The gardens can be visited when they are not otherwise engaged by exclusive events or club nights but it is necessary to telephone first for details of accessibility.


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London's Lost Department Stores: Derry & Toms

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