Harrods. The Little Known Secrets Inside The World's Most Famous Department Store

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…..Aaaah Harrods

I call it the Mother Ship, Mecca, the indisputable centre of the glam retail universe. Harrods is London's most iconic and beautiful department store and one of the top tourist attractions in the U.K. estimating 15 million visitors annually. That’s a lot of dark green shopping bags. It’s the 7th most Instagrammed place in London where at any given time you will see tourists taking selfies outside its majestic exterior or inside the world famous Food Hall. This beautiful Grand Dame of London retail occupies over a million square feet in prestigious Knightsbridge. That is over 5 acres of shoes, electronics, toys, make-up, jewellery, art, books, furniture… and of course fabulous, fabulous clothes making it the largest department store in Europe. 

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But like any woman of a certain age and lets face it anyone with so many pairs of shoes is definitely a woman, Harrods has some very interesting and weird history that of course I just needed to share.

Inside The Secret World of Harrods

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Harrods Started In A Single Room

Founded in 1849 Charles Henry Harrod at only 25 years old started selling groceries from a single room.  It expanded into a department store in 1880. Its current location was built in 1905 and took five years to complete.

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First Escalator In England

In 1898 Harrods was the home of England's first escalator which at the time was no more than a leather conveyor belt. Apparently it made some people so nervous that there was a liveried footman with a free shot of Brandy or a healthy dose of smelling salts from a maid that awaited them on top to ease their nerves.

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Harrods Sold Cocaine

Harrods’ Motto “Omnia Omnibus Unique” Latin for “All Things For All People”

Further Translated: If You Have Enough Money You Could Buy Absolutely Anything At Harrods

Harrods is more than just a department store displaying their fine wares on pristine beveled glass shelves. The store’s motto “All Things For All People” has historically meant you could buy anything at Harrods and they do mean anything. Custom blended perfume, holistic health treatments, bespoke tailoring. Not impressed yet…let’s continue. Harrods also offers a specialized tea tailor, custom crafted baby furniture, reupholstery services, eye tests and …they have their own bank, . Still need more…? Well brace yourself.

There is an art gallery that has Warhol and Picasso for sale

A children’s castle playhouse for £85,000

A tea that is £5,000 per kilo

A scented candle by Lalique for £1,190

A racing car simulator for the oh so reasonable price of £125K

A Set of 6 Christmas Crackers for £1,299. But to be fair instead of the tissue paper crowns they were made of satin

Customers can buy Harrod branded gold bars and bullion at Harrods Bank

1902 Harrods started selling yachts 

1919 they stared selling airplanes and flying lesson and yes you can still charter flights with Harrods Aviation 

Harrods Estates sells luxury London properties, houses and apartments

…And up until 1916 Harrods would sell you a bump of cocaine.

“You could buy a baguette [to eat] or you could buy a whole necklace of baguettes made from diamonds,’ says Michael Cole, the store’s former director of public relations.

That my friends is full-service.

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Harrods Embalming & Funeral Services 

Who thought you could keep shopping after you died? Well at Harrods they had their own embalming and funeral services. Famous clients who purchased their funerals with Harrods included the “father of psychoanalysis” Sigmund Freud….hmmmm very interesting (1939) and former Prime Minister Clement Attlee (1967). Talk about shop to you drop.

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Playwright Noel Coward Once Bought A Pet Alligator at Harrods For Christmas

The pet department first opened in 1917 (now closed) and stocked some of the world’s most exotic animals, including alligators, tigers, lions and panthers. Coward bought an alligator from Harrods although uncertain who he gifted to. Proving once again having money doesn’t mean having common sense.

And keeping with the theme of sensible house pets….

King Zog and Queen Geraldine of Albania in 1967 bought an baby elephant as a present for Ronald Reagan. The elephant being an emblem of the Republican party. Very curious how they delivered it.

Harrods Had A Zoo

Along with the pet department Harrods had a zoo. Beginning with livestock like chickens and goats but later added exotic animals. And in other animal news In 2007 a live cobra was used to guard a pair of Rene Caovilla sandals incrusted in diamonds, rubies and sapphires worth at the time £62,000. Harrods wants to go on record that they only use the snake security just on extraordinary events. Noted.

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Winnie The Pooh Was Purchased At Harrods

Although Winnie The Pooh was named after a bear in London’s Zoo in 1921 author A.A. Milne bought a teddy bear in the toy department of Harrods for his son Christopher Robin. That bear then became the inspiration for the famous children’s stories Winnie the Pooh.

Losing A Bet

Harry Gordon Selfridge who owned the fabulous rival store Selfridge’s once made a bet with Harrods’ managing director over which store would make a greater profit in 1917. When Harrods won, Harry Selfridge had a silver replica of the Harrods store commissioned and the replica was on display until recently on the lower level of Harrods. Would have loved it more if it had to have been displayed at Selfridges.

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Harrods Has a Dress Code

Yes, Harrods has a dress code. It prohibits: "...ripped jeans, high cut Bermuda or beach shorts, swim wear, athletic singlets, cycling shorts, flip flops or thong sandals, dirty or unkempt clothing." Furthermore "Any extremes of personal presentation are prohibited as are bare feet and exposed midriffs."

It has also updated its code to include the tech world, “for security reasons, we may politely ask customers wearing Google Glasses to remove them while in areas where we do not allow photography”.

This might be a good excuse to pour a glass of wine, stay in my sweatpants and shop online.

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More Than 12,000 Lights Illuminate The Exterior of Harrods At Night

This began with its Christmas lights in 1959 when 1,100 bulbs were used for the decorations. Now there are more than 12,000 lights with as many as 300 light bulbs needing to be replaced everyday. Mohamed Al-Fayed once the owner of the Harrods turned the lights off as a mark of respect when his son Dodi and Princess Diana died in a car crash in 1997.

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There Is A Memorial To Honour Staff Members That Died In WW1

Craved marble tablets near Door 3, Basil Street between the ground and first floor mark the 147 employees that never came back to work after WW1. The four engraved tablets honour the soldiers, giving details of the department where they worked. 

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Safety Deposit Boxes

You can store your valuables in safety deposit boxes discreetly hidden in the basement.

Harrods At Any Given Time Has Over 100,000 Pairs of Shoes

Wait what??? Harrods 42,000 square foot shoe department aptly called Shoe Heaven, has an incredible offering of over 100,000 pairs of shoes from over 55 designers. What more could a girl want?

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So ladies (and some gentlemen) I have said this before…life is short, buy the shoes. Because whoever said money can’t buy happiness hasn’t shopped at Harrods.