Hamleys is one of the premier toy stores not only in London, but in the world. Proudly located on Regent Street, it is both the oldest toy shop in the world and the largest one in London. There are plenty of great large retail stores in the city, Harrods, Fortnum & Mason, Liberty, Selfridges, and more, but none quite like Hamleys. Its history and renown is such that the store brings as many tourists to it as some of the city’s monuments. Whether you’re going for yourself or your kids, here are some interesting facts to enjoy while you browse Hamleys seven floors.
Oldest in the World
As mentioned, Hamleys is, in fact, the oldest toy store in the world. William Hamley formed the store as “Noah’s Ark” in 1760 and carried everything from rag dolls to tin soldiers. By 1837, it was already a London landmark and, then owned by Hamleys grandsons, saw even Queen Victoria as a patron. The current store opened in 1881 and soon went from only two floors to a total of seven. In addition to stores in Glasgow, Cardiff, and Manchester, Hamleys has stores all over the world including Russia, Abu Dhabi, South Africa, Mexico, and even the United States.
As the world faced the Great Depression, Hamleys was hard hit as well and closed in 1931. Walter Lines then bought the store and worked hard to re-open it and bring back customers. Groupe Lendendo currently owns the chain, though it was rumoured that it was planning to sell to a Hong Kong based corporation in October 2015.
Hamleys has a pair of mascots, giant bears named Hamley and Hattie.
Building a New Bus Stop
2014 was London’s Year of the Bus and Hamleys decided to celebrate in its own unique fashion. The store constructed a bus stop on Regent Street made entirely out of LEGO bricks. Over 100,000 bricks were used to construct the stop that was part of Transport for London’s celebration of the Routemaster bus. It took fourteen days for Duncan Titmarsh, at the time the UK’s only certified LEGO Professional, to construct the stop. More than just a display piece, the LEGO bus stop actually served nine routes and remained in operation from 19 June to 15 July, 2014.
Bombs Can’t Stop Them
Hamleys was hit no fewer than five times by German bombs during the London Blitz, but the store remained open for business. Staff wore tin hats and served customers out of the front door, rushing in to get the toys and making the exchange back at the front.
Hamleys has been granted Royal Warrants twice. Despite the patronage of Queen Victoria, the store would not receive its first Royal Warrant until Queen Mary issued it in 1938. Queen Elizabeth would follow with another in 1955.
Hamleys employees, even the sales associates, get some pretty sweet deals for working in the shop. Besides the typical discount on merchandise, employees get their birthday off, can receive an interest-free travel loan, and even a contributory pension plan. It certainly must be appealing as the main store has 335 staff members.
Different Toys for Different Floors
Each of Hamleys seven different floors is stocked with different kinds of toys. The ground floor is almost exclusively reserved for stuffed animals and you can find everything from the traditional teddy bear to exotic animals and near life-sized giraffes and elephants. Interactive toys are in the basement, games on the first floor, preschool toys on the second, girls’ toys on the third, hobbies on the fourth, and boys’ toys on the fifth. The store stocks 450,000 toys of over 10,000 varieties.
Green with Envy
Plenty of stores would love to be in business for over 255 years. To celebrate the 250th anniversary, the store threw a massive VIP party and unveiled a Green Plaque. The Westminster City Council bestows its Green Plaques on buildings where famous individuals lived and worked. They are green to set themselves apart from the Blue Plaque Scheme present in other parts of Greater London. The plaque is dedicated to William Hamley and was unveiled in February 2010.
Everyone Comes to Hamleys
The store on Regents Street gets over 5 million visitors per year.