Skating With The Selfridge's

Postcard of Selfridge's decorated for Queen Elizabeth II's Coronation, 1937

Selfridge's on Oxford Street in London opened its doors on March 19, 1909. The department store was the brainchild of Wisconsin born Harry Gordon Selfridge, a self-made man who became known as 'the P.T. Barnum of the retail world'.

Selfridge's was a groundbreaking enterprise in its early years. It was the first such business in Great Britain to introduce in-store exhibitions and demonstrations, the bargain basement and eye-catching window displays. It was also the first department stores in Great Britain to display beauty products out in the open to encourage browsing and install a fragrance counter in the front of the store.

Mr. Selfridge treated his staff exceptionally well and personally walked the floor in every department every day. He introduced the term "shop assistant" and crusaded to curb the expression "shop girl", which he believed to be "an epitaph almost of disrespect." He changed the way people in Great Britain shopped.

Harry Gordon Selfridge

What many may not know is that Selfridge's also played a role in changing the way people in Great Britain thought about figure skating. In August of 1924, Mr. Selfridge had an ice rink that had previously been installed in Albert Hall moved to his department store's rooftop terrace.

On September 8 of that year, he brought in 'the world's greatest skating experts' - Howard Nicholson and Freda Whitaker - to give demonstrations of 'acrobatic' pairs skating and ice dancing at intervals through the day. It is believed that the rooftop rink at Selfridge's lasted at least a couple of months and was used multiple times, showcasing figure skating as a spectacle... to sell winter sports wear and ice skates. Volume 105 of "The Clothier And Furnisher" noted, "To mark the opening of the Alpine sports department a mannequin parade of Alpine sports equipment - the first of its kind ever to be held in London - was also given on the roof garden ice rink."

An exhibition of figure skating atop his store wasn't exactly an arbitrary choice for Harry Gordon Selfridge. Harry's daughters Rosalie and Violette regularly skated alongside the likes of Madge and Edgar Syers at Prince's Skating Club at Knightsbridge. The Selfridge family all took to the ice at the Hotel des Alpes in Murren, Switzerland in February of 1914.

At one point, Mr. Selfridge bought the Hotel Bellevue in Interlaken, Switzerland for his staff to have a chance to winter in Switzerland themselves, taking in the great skating and skiing. In his book "Ski Joy: The Story Of Winter Sports", Harry Stone noted, "Occasionally he even patronized it himself, not at that time being encumbered with his multiple girlfriends the Dolly Sisters."

In the modern day, Selfridge's has survived and thrived in Great Britain. The triumph of Lindy Woodhead's book "Shopping, Seduction & Mr. Selfridge" and the highly successful series "Mr. Selfridge" - with its iconic characters like the indomitable Lady Mae Loxley, faithful Arthur Crabbe  and charming Henri LeClair - have only heightened interest in the man behind the legendary store. Selfridge's connections to skating continue in recent times too... Its Trafford Centre, Manchester location has boasted an ice rink for customers. All things do come back in season eventually!

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":