Friday, April 12, 2013

Tea and "Mr. Selfridge"

The beautiful Wedgwood teapot pictured below in the Sweet Plum pattern, is in stock at the high-end department store, Selfridge & Co., in London, England.  The store has a foodhall that sells tea for steeping in the teapot too!

The flagship store located on the west end of Oxford Street, is the second largest store in the U.K. after Harrods.  It opened on March 15, 1909.  In 2009 it underwent a costly and extensive renovation.

Its founder was Harry Gordon Selfridge, an American-born retail merchant.  He was born in 1856 in Ripon, Wisconsin, but his family moved to Jackson, Michigan when he was only a few months old, and he remained there into his teen years.  When he moved to Chicago, he sought a position at Marshall Field's while in his early 20's, and worked there for 25 years, eventually becoming a junior partner.

While store manager at Marshall Field's, he proposed the idea of opening a restaurant in the store, but his idea was met with opposition from Marshall Field.  In 1890 he succeeded in convincing Marshall Field to open a small tea room, which was an instant success.  It continually grew until by 1903 it served 3,000 people a day!

In 1906 he went to England to build his own department store.  When his partner withdrew, he obtained support from a wealthy tea broker.  [Don't you love "tea connections!"]

1910 Photo of Harry Gordon Selfridge

In June 2012, Selfridges [now owned by the Weston family] launched the highest tea on Oxford Street, provided by Daylesford Café, on the store's legendary rooftop.

British network ITV and PBS co-produced a television drama series by developing an adaptation of Lindy Woodhead's biography, "Shopping, Seduction & Mr. Selfridge", portraying the life of Harry Gordon Selfridge and his London department store.  The series is aptly titled, "Mr. Selfridge," and was aired in the U.K. earlier this year.  PBS Masterpiece Theater began showing the eight-part mini series in the United States on March 31st.  I missed the first two TV episodes, but watched them at the PBS website last night.  I'll be sure to watch the 3rd episode this coming Sunday night.  Have you been watching it?  There is a bit of tea in the script. 

Filming began this month for a second season of ten more episodes to be aired 2014, and a third season is said to be in the pipeline.  Move over, Downton Abbey! ;-)  This series is also set in England's early 20th century Edwardian-era, but the comparison in the two TV series really ends there.

Some have disputed that Mr. Selfridge was a womanizer in real life, claiming he was a hard- working, religious, non-smoking, teetotaler, who was a devoted son, husband, and father, but stories abound to the contrary.  His life definitely unraveled after the death of his wife, Rose [in 1918], and his mother [in 1924], and the financial woes he experienced from the backlash of the Great Depression. While he is said to have had several liaisons, he never remarried.

[Internet Photos courtesy of ITV]

Ironically, in March 2011, Dolly's Cafe/Tea Room opened on the lower ground floor of Selfridges, to celebrate the lives of the Dolly sisters, Rosie and Jenny, identical twins from Budapest, Hungary. The girls immigrated to the United States in 1905, and were favorites on the Vaudeville circuit, and became part of the famous Ziegfeld Follies.   They came to London in 1920, and at a 1921 stage show where Harry Selfridge was in attendance, he became helplessly smitten by Jenny.  He lavished his money on both sisters, and in the end, they contributed greatly to his financial ruin.

Harry was forced to retire from Selfridges in 1941, and he died in 1947 with his fortune completely depleted.


  1. I enjoyed this bit of tea history and its connection to the Masterpiece Theater television series. I haven't seen the show, but I will watch for it now. Thank you for sharing!

  2. I have been enjoying the show as well.
    Sips and Smiles,

  3. Thanks for the background information. I have been watching it and though it is a bit of a soap opera, I am enjoying it.

  4. Thank you for the history, I have been enjoying the series. I leave for London tomorrow and Selfridges is on my list! I hope go to the tea room there 'Dollys', named after his identical twin lovers. So glad to hear there will be more seasons to come.

  5. Dear Phyllis,
    I have been watching. I like it but not as much as Downton or Call the Midwife which is on just before Mr. Selfridge. I do like it though and I Loved your post and all that information. Thank you!
    Have a happy weekend, Ruthie


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