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HomeCultureLondon Icons: 10 Interesting Facts about Harrods That You Probably Didn't Know

London Icons: 10 Interesting Facts about Harrods That You Probably Didn’t Know

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Harrods is the jewel in the crown of London department stores. Charles Henry Harrod opened it in 1834 when he was only 25 years old and today it is still a major shopping destination. As much a London landmark as it is a store, it has certainly picked up an interesting factor or two during its 180 years.

Lots of Floor Space

Covering over five acres of land and having more than 1,000,000 square feet of floor space, Harrods is easily a landmark in its own right. The current building was constructed between 1901 and 1905. It was commissioned by Richard Burbidge, who had previously installed one of the first escalators in the former building in 1898.

Losing a Bet

Harry Gordon Selfridge, whose store rivaled Harrods in the early 20th Century, once made a bet with the Harrods managing director over which store would made a greater profit in 1917. When Harrods won, Selfridge had a silver replica of the store commissioned. The replica is on display on lower ground floor today.

It’s a Zoo in There


Animals have long had an association with the store. Playwright Noel Coward once bought a pet alligator there for Christmas. Another time, a cobra was used to guard a pair of sandals worth £62,000 due to the diamonds and sapphires embedded in them. In 1967, a baby elephant was bought at Harrods and given to Ronald Reagan. The store also had a zoo in 1917 that started off with chickens and goats and later added exotic animals. Fictional animals also have a great history with Harrods, as author A.A. Milne bought a teddy bear there for his son Christopher Robin, a bear that became famous as Winnie the Pooh.

Everything You Want

The store’s motto is “Omnia Omnibus Ubique”, which, translated from Latin, means “All things for all people, everywhere.” The motto reflects the store’s goal to provide everything a shopper could want. Even today, the store has 330 departments and shoppers can get everything from the latest fashions to toys and even Krispy Kreme donuts.

Humble Beginnings


Harrods began as a small store in Stepney, East London in a single room. Besides himself, Harrod employed two assistants and a messenger boy. At first, Harrods only sold tea and groceries. The store moved to Knightsbridge and expanded in 1849. After the Crystal Palace opened two years later in 1851, Knightsbridge became very busy and the store enjoyed great success.

Fly in Style

Harrods opened the first airport fashion department store in the world at Heathrow Airport in 2008. Each terminal now has its own store to ensure that customers from all of the world can shop at Harrods, even if they’ve only got a layover. Shoppers at airport terminals can shop tax free – so if spot something in the store you want – save 20% (the UK sales tax) by getting it at the airport.

All the Customers

On an average day, approximately 100,000 people come to shop at Harrods. On peak days, especially during the Christmas season, this number can jump up to 300,000.

Not-So-Little Green Men

The “Green Men” are an ever-present sight at the store. Officially referred to as “Carriage Attendants”, they act as ambassadors for customer service, opening doors, greeting VIPs, and helping to carry packages for hardcore shoppers. Harrods employs seven of them at any given time.

Bright Lights


At night, Harrods is lit up by 12,000 light bulbs on the store’s façade and 300 bulbs have to be changed every day. This began with its Christmas lights in 1959 when 1,100 bulbs were used for the decorations.

An Eccentric Owner

Mohamed Al-Fayed and his brother Ali bought Harrods in 1985 from House of Fraser in a bitter battle with mining conglomerate Lonrho. Mr. Al-Fayed has put a few personal touches on the store since then, including the Egyptian Room, which features several busts of himself, and two memorials to his son Dodi and Diana, Princess of Wales, following their tragic deaths in 1997. In 2000, he chose not to renew his royal warrants, citing that the Queen and Prince Charles had not shopped there in several years and it would be hypocritical for him to continue to display the seal. In 2010, he sold Harrods to Qatar Holdings for £1.5 billion.

John Rabon
Author: John Rabon

John is a regular writer for Anglotopia and its sister websites. He is currently engaged in finding a way to move books slightly to the left without the embarrassment of being walked in on by Eddie Izzard. For any comments, questions, or complaints, please contact the Lord Mayor of London, Boris Johnson's haircut.

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  1. I didn’t realize Al-Fayed sold it. I was there last year and asked to see the Diana memorial, and most of the attendants didn’t even know what it was, which makes sense now. There was only 1 left (not 2), and I finally found it in the basement. It was quite tacky, too – no wonder it wasn’t top-of-mind for everyone.

    • I went there in 1999 to see Diana’s Memorial. Was very disappointed it was at the bottom of the escalator and not what I expected at all.

  2. Harrods also supplies its own water, it has three wells. I have a couple books about Harrods and it is an absolutely interesting place to read about.

  3. I’m mad at Harrods since it stopped its own house charge account cards several years ago and made people use some other stupid system of outside credit cards. So I, who had a Harrods charge since 1972, no longer could charge things there. Phooey on you, ‘Rods! I now go with Mr. Selfridge.

  4. The service I had in one of the food courts was apporling. Four cream teas as a snack as we were going to the theatre then dinner, over £80 for four dry scones and no drinks till 30 minutes after the scones were served, then they were served because asked several times. The delay in service made us late for the theatre and rewined the evening. Shocking, I wouldn’t eat there again.
    I do love shopping there and have had a card with them for many years, just a shame the shopping spree is broken when I have to go for lunch across the street.

    • I also prefer Selfridge’s shop because having to pay a quid to wee is insulting. I made sure to get a hefty spray of perfume in the loo to feel better about the cover charge!!

  5. When I was expecting our daughter, I had a terrible craving for kosher-style pickles and could NOT find them anywhere. On a trip up to London with our teenaged son, we stopped in at Harrod’s. He was hungry and begged for a salt beef sandwich (corned beef). At the food halls, we got him just what he wanted – and it came with a side of pickled vegetables! They weren’t kosher dill pickles, but so good and just what I wanted! When I asked the counter attendant if I could buy the pickles somewhere else in the store, they told me “No,” and suggested that if I wanted them, I would have to buy another entree at the deli sandwich counter. SO – Omnia Omnibus Ubique doesn’t always apply.

  6. My husband and I visited in 2012 and had lunch at the steakhouse. While we were eating Mr. Al-Fayed was visiting the store and passed by where we were eating. It was really neat as we mainly went to see the Diana memorials, etc.

  7. I think the royals withdrew the warrants based on the behavior and accusations by Fayed. It certainly hurt the trade by white Brits, but it seems now that Muslims are about all that shop there.

  8. I worked at Harrods as my Saturday Job when I was 15 which was 37 years ago!! The underground Tunnel system is as amazing as the store and they used to have their own telephone exchange many years ago!! My Granddad retired as chief ‘time keeper’…but that was in the late 70’s and both my Mother, Uncle and Brother have also worked there….so we have kept it in the family!! The women in the perfumery dept used to be the wives of the ‘very comfortable’ and did the job for ‘pin money’…..their counterparts of today although still quite beautiful, are definitely not classy, but many things change and Harrods I believe no longer has a ‘pet shop’ there, which is only right…..so Kudos for moving on!!

    • Hello T Belton
      I give a talk ‘My life and times at Harrods’, proceeds to charity. This covers the period 1959 – 1972. It may be interesting for us to have a chat.

  9. I have some table place settings in a Harrods box but have been told they are not Harrods as they are unmarked. Did Harrods mark everything they manufacured? Can anyone give answers regarding this information, please.

    • Hello Mary

      Harrods did not manufacture anything themselves but commisioned suppliers to supply goods on an exclusive basis. In many cases these would have Harrods branding but not always.

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