There were many things that we enjoyed on our recent visit to London, but our visit to Liberty’s (at my request) was not one of them.   Twenty years ago a visit to Liberty’s was a complete delight and I would travel to London just for that purpose.

For those who are not familiar with it, Liberty’s was (is) a rambling, confusing Emporium, fronting on to Regent Street, with a long front of windows, and behind this was a  most beautiful Arts and Crafts building with dark wooden stairs (complete with goblins and small animals carved into the wood where least expected), great galleries that overlooked a spacious void on the ground floor and over whose balustrades were often hung works of textile art.    In the basement was a vast floor devoted to ceramics and somewhere- never  easy to find – was a mysterious department devoted to The Orient.

Liberty’s was famous for the styling of its window display, especially at Christmas.   The windows were dressed with drama but restraint, and were works of arts in themselves, as well as displaying lovely objects.   Liberty’s was never cheap, but its contents were so tasteful and wonderful that one wandered its floors in a dream of delight.

I last visited it, many years ago, with my friend Elizabeth of Oxford.   I was primarily interested in sewing artefacts, she in knitting, but there were treasures galore for both of us.   On that last day with her I bought in the Oriental department a small cup and ceramic spoon, which stands on my desk down to this day.

I think the top floor then held furniture (never much of an interest of mine), but Elizabeth has some very fine inherited pieces and we would start with a leisurely perusal of beautifully constructed furniture.  Over the railing meanwhile would hang wool rugs, or silk wall hangings, or tapestries, or quilts.  I remember a display of Amish quilts with their bold colours.

Then, on the next floor down, came the real business.    Fabrics – a cornucopia of delight.   Wools, fine jersey wools , silks in vivid colours, cottons, Liberty prints, fine Tana lawns.   An endless selection of books of mouth-watering projects of every kind you ‘d ever dreamt of plus a few more besides.  Haberdashery of every description – including some that you’d no idea what it might be used for.    Buttons.   Lace.  Embroidery silks.   Tapestries.   Beautifully worked examples of kits to encourage you.     As Carter said as he looked into Tutankhamun’s tomb, ‘wonderful things’.

I bought my mother a very expensive kit of blue flowers to be worked in needlepoint, which she duly made up and gave me as a cushion.

The lower floor had luxurious clothes.    Delicious children’s clothes, luscious scarves, marvellous stationery and fabulous delicate jewellery.   There were places to have tea and cakes, more shopping, delightful English fragrances.   My friend Nan once gave me a bluebell bath oil of theirs (or of a make which they stocked) which could lift a headache before it settled.   And then the to-die-for ceramics, the one-off  pieces, the heirloom dinner services, and still to explore the random, exotic and lovely Oriental department.

Alas, how are the mighty fallen.   Liberty’s has lost all its window frontage to Regent’s Street and is now restricted to the smaller building behind.   As a result they seem to have  restricted themselves to their most popular ranges and to be catering for overseas visitors with much money and little taste.   There was a very limited selction of f abric – largely for curtains.   They still had Tana lawn in blouses and in fabrics but these looked like something Miss Marple might have worn.    The jewellery looked as if it might have appealed to the temporary female companion of a Russian oligarch.    It was my birthday and I could easily have indulged myself but in truth everything was unreasonably pricy and I saw nothing at all that I actually wanted to carry off.

The pity of it all.   Like losing an old and beloved friend.    I am unlikely to go back there.

I know that when Gibbon said of the ‘barbarian Northern tribes’ who were never friends of Rome – of which I am proud to count myself a member – that they ‘despised life without Liberty’, this wasn’t exactly what he meant.   And I don’t  of course despise life without Liberty’s.   But we are still the poorer.


About adhocannie
I am a good natured woman with a long memory and a swift tongue. I like loooking at things and thinking about them. Also food, clothes, travel, reading, sewing. I try to see the ridiculous in things, but sobriety of reflection keeps edgting in. I have husband, children, grandchildren, friends... I feel rich in things that matter. I am a happy exile. I like writing. I do not like talking about me (though I do.). You willl be much more interesting.

2 Responses to LIFE WITHOUT LIBERTY(s)

  1. Carolyn Hulatt says:

    Hi Anne,

    I forgot to say yesterday that I enjoyed reading your latest blog on the demise of Liberty’s. What a pity. I also remember the store in the good old days. The new cushions and throw have now been placed, rather than thrown on the sofa and look rather nice.

    I see I have a free day today, so must knock on and do the hundred and one jobs which still await…

    Love Carolyn

  2. adhocannie says:

    Everything, as always with you, looked very good and it made things look much more spacious.

    I was struck by your elegant and beautiful Christmas tree decorations – not a motley collection of long ago and forgotten how acquired objects like mine!

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