29 January 2018
William Hamley, a Cornishman who had always wanted to own a toy store, opened his first shop in Holborn in 1760. The location was chosen to attract the well-heeled Bloomsbury crowds. The location and the brand changed, eventually becoming London’s — and one of the world’s — most famous emporiums for kids.
Hamleys moved to its current premises on 188-196 Regent’s Street in 1981.
Its original Holborn store was called Noah’s Ark. Once it moved to 200 Regent Street in 1881, it was known as the Joy Emporium, before finally becoming Hamleys, long after the original Mr Hamley had died. Well, almost.
The firm actually traded as Hamley’s (with an apostrophe) until about 1911, when they started to be referred to as Messers Hamley Bros. That lasted until about 1920, when the branding became Messrs Hamleys (without the apostrophe). Soon after, it became just Hamleys.
We doubt the reason behind this apostrophe drop is as unhappy as the reason Selfridges no longer has one.
…is what the store claims, and we have no reason to dispute it. It predates Harrods (which has long peddled toys) by nearly 90 years. There are further claims that is the largest toy store in the world. Anyone who’s visited all seven floors, with a child, close to Christmas, won’t dispute that either.
In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Hamleys wasn’t faring so well, and was forced to close. It was saved, however, when Walter Lines — who remembered riding on one of the delivery trucks as a child — bought it. Lines, along with his two brothers, owned a toy company. He restored the shop to its former glory and ushered customers back through the doors.