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John Lewis Kingston | by stavioni
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John Lewis Kingston

The history of John Lewis Kingston


The opening of John Lewis Kingston in September 1990 represented the culmination of a quarter of a century of planning to establish a John Lewis department store to the south of London.


The John Lewis Partnership first expressed interest in the Horsefair site in 1970, but this was conditional on the road system being developed to counter Kingston`s reputation for congestion. Plans failed to materialise and the company looked elsewhere.


When those plans too came to nought, the Partnership once again engaged in conversations with the Royal Borough, and in 1979 an agreement in principle was reached to develop the site. Public inquiries followed, but when they were resolved the GLC decided it would not fund the road works.


A solution was eventually reached in 1986, when the GLC`s highway powers passed to Kingston upon Thames, who single-mindedly pursued the re-shaping of the town's road system. This included pedestrianising the town centre and building a dual carriage relief road.


There are not many chances these days to design a freestanding, purpose-built department store and the commission was a challenging one, not least because the relief road diagonally bisected the site.


It was felt that it provided the opportunity to draw on the rich tradition of department store design, originating in the 19th century and exemplified by such magnificent buildings as `Bon Marche` or `Au Printemps` in Paris - huge daylit spaces, exuberantly employing newly developed engineering techniques in cast iron and glass, and exemplified in the 20th century by Peter Jones at Sloane Square.


In short, the brief was to make a building that would take a place in this tradition, a 'Peter Jones' for the 1990s.


The design made the road a natural feature of the architectural concept and, in effect, the building itself became a bridge over the new road, forming a powerful link between the town centre and the riverside. Inside, the four selling floors, including the ground floor, surround a very large, daylit central space from the sides of which one can look down into the branch of Waitrose, housed in the basement.


Planned in the form of stepped terraces, the floors are linked by lines of escalators, which rise to the centre of the building from the main entrances.


Since its opening, the shop has gone from strength to strength. The building project may have taken a quarter-century to reach fruition, but most customers will surely agree that the wait was worthwhile when they reach the spacious, elegant shopping environment that is John Lewis Kingston.


Below the shop are remains of a mediaeval undercroft and part of the old 12th century bridge, discovered in 1988 during excavations for the shop. The chalk and flint vaulted cellar, built circa 1350, was lifted bodily from its original position and placed in the basement of John Lewis.


Taken from the history section of

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Taken on June 13, 2012