The history of John Lewis & Partners – the UK's favourite department store

We take an in-depth look into the history of ‘the partnership’

John Lewis’ history is a long and colourful one, from its humble beginnings selling fabrics to its latest turnover of £9bn via in-store and online sales, insurance and broadband services and even groceries (from its sister company Waitrose).

As well as a thriving online business, the company is regularly touted as one of the nation’s favourite retailers. It has 50+ department stores and John Lewis & Partners at Home shops, and hundreds of Waitrose supermarkets across the UK.

For much of the last five decades, the company was quite slow off the blocks when it came to modernisation, but over the past 20 years or so, it has been making up for lost time.

It launched a hugely popular online retail site in 2001, introducing standalone John Lewis at Home stores and working closely with both new and established designers to create exclusive collections.

‘John Lewis has such an amazing heritage, and design has been intrinsic in creating this,’ beams Philippa Prinsloo, John Lewis’s Head of Design for Home.

‘Everything we create in the studio goes through such a long design process,’ she says. ‘We all work towards trends for each season so will have a style and colour palette that stick to.’

The history of John Lewis & Partners


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(Image credit: TBC)

Experienced silk buyer John Lewis opens a drapers and haberdashery store on London’s Oxford Street. The store soon expands its offering to include household goods and clothing.


vintage picture with horse carts

(Image credit: TBC)

The company’s flagship store on London’s Oxford Street circa 1885. It is still found on the same (slightly larger) site today.


John’s sons, John Spedan Lewis and Oswald Lewis, joined the company.


Following several years of poor profits in the Peter Jones store in London’s Chelsea, Lewis gives control of the store to John Spedan in 1914. John Spedan quickly realised that the staff at Peter Jones were unhappy and unmotivated so he made a number of dramatic changes to company policy.


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(Image credit: TBC)

John Spedan buys his brother Oswald out of the company.


At the age of 92, John Lewis dies, leaving the entire company in the hands of John Spedan. He applies radical changes to the business that he had already introduced successfully at Peter Jones. These included shortening employee’s working day and offering them three weeks paid holiday per year.


john lewis with suit

(Image credit: TBC)

John Spedan Lewis founds the John Lewis Partnership, with the profits of the company distributed to all employees in the form of a bonus or company stock. 90 years later, it's still hailed as the secret to the company’s ongoing success.


The company grows from strength to strength, acquiring grocery business Waitrose in 1937, and three years later, another 16 stores across England.


cloth showroom with chairs

(Image credit: TBC)

Early in World War II, a bomb falls on a section of the Oxford Street store. The resulting fire completely destroys a large area of the store. The image above shows the silk rooms in the Oxford Street store in the 1930s, prior to the bombing.


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(Image credit: TBC)

John Spedan transfers his remaining shares in the company to the John Lewis Partnership, making all employees equal partners in the company’s ownership. The company prospers, branching out to sell new technology such as the television.


John Spedan Lewis passes away.

2001, the company’s online shopping website, launches.


The first standalone John Lewis at Home store opens in Poole.


John Lewis celebrates its 150th birthday. The company redistributed over £200 million of profit to its 91,000+ partners, which works out at just over two month’s extra pay per partner.

A special pop-up shop appears in every store across the UK, bringing all of the exclusive limited edition products together in one place. The flagship store on Oxford Street holds a special exhibition created by the people behind the Harry Potter movies

It allows you to experience what it was like to shop in the original store last century and even transports you into the shop of the future.


John Lewis rebrands as 'John Lewis & Partners', as the businesses focus on what differentiates them from its competitors. It also launches its 'Find, Keep, Give' gift shop.

Ginevra Benedetti
Deputy Editor (Print)

Ginevra Benedetti has been the Deputy Editor of Ideal Home magazine since 2021. With a career in magazines spanning nearly twenty years, she has worked for the majority of the UK’s interiors magazines, both as staff and as a freelancer. She first joined the Ideal Home team in 2011, initially as the Deputy Decorating Editor and has never left! She currently oversees the publication of the brand’s magazine each month, from planning through to publication, editing, writing or commissioning the majority of the content.