selfridge lost his fortune -- 12/15/17

Today's selection -- from Shopping, Seduction & Mr. Selfridge by Lindy Woodhead. By 1941, Harry Selfridge, once the wealthy and proud head of his namesake retailing empire, had lost his fortune and was ousted by his investors. He became increasingly destitute, but clung to his memories of grandeur and continued to visit the store, unrecognized, and on one occasion was even arrested for vagrancy:

Harry Gordon Selfridge, 1930s

"Surprising as it may seem, he still went into the store on most days, taking the lift once exclusively reserved for him but now designated for all directors and stubbornly sitting in his office, where he and Miss Mepham went through the ritual of 'let's pretend'. They pretended there were letters, memos, invitations or meetings. In reality there were none. He would still don his top hat and walk the store where staff, though pleased to see him, were also embarrassed. They didn't know what to say. What could they say? He was said to be 'making plans'. Why, no one could really fathom, but word went out that he had dreams of starting a new enterprise, and Mr Holmes struck again with a letter:

'It was clearly the intention of the Directors and especially in the minds of their advisers that for practical and psychological reasons, you would vacate the Managing Director's accommodation so as to give complete freedom to the new Management ... I am instructed by the Board to ask you to be good enough to arrange for such personal possessions as you would wish to be removed before the 26th April ... one other matter which the Directors view with some concern is that you are contemplating commencing independent business activities ... they do object and deprecate very seriously that such negotiations should be conducted from the store address.

"In case Selfridge didn't get the point, he was given the use of a small office in Keysign House, a company property across the road, his pension was cut by a third and the services of Miss Mepham were withdrawn. ...

"He continued to spend several hours a day sitting alone in his empty room on the opposite side of the street, writing letters to various acquaintances in authority, offering his services 'for the war effort' and hoping -- in vain -- that he might be given some useful work. Eventually he stopped coming.

"In January 1941, just a few days before his eighty-fifth birthday, the Board stripped Harry Selfridge of his title of President and, with year-end net profits at an all-time low of only £21,093, slashed his pension yet again. Now living on a meagre £2,000 a year, Harry, Serge and Rosalie vacated Brook House and moved to a two-bedroom flat in Ross Court, Putney. In June that year, isolated and alone in Hollywood, [his former long-time mistress] Jenny Dolly committed suicide, hanging herself with the sash of her dressing-gown. ...

"He was increasingly frail and would sit by the fire in Ross Court, shuffling papers and burning his private letters while Rosalie looked on in despair.

"On some days he would stand at his local bus stop on Putney High Street, his rheumy blue eyes searching the road for the arrival of a No. 22. Virtually deaf, his mind rambling, he hardly spoke. Harry Gordon Selfridge had retreated into his own private world, full of memories no one could share. Still wearing curiously old-fashioned formal, shabby-genteel clothes, his patent leather boots cracked and down-at-heel, his untidy white hair falling over a frayed shirt collar, his by now battered trilby pulled low, he moved stiffly, aided by a Malacca cane. On the bus, he would carefully count out the pennies for his fare, buying a ticket to Hyde Park Corner, where he got off to wait for a No. 137 bus, quietly telling the conductor 'Selfridge's please.' Seemingly lost in memories of past glories, unrecognized by anybody, the old man shuffled the length of the majestic building before crossing the road to the corner of Duke Street. Stopping there, leaning heavily on his cane, he would look up to the roof of the store and along to the far right upper corner window, as though searching for something. Miss Mepham met him one day when he was suffering from a virulent attack of shingles and was in great pain. She fled back to her office, so distressed that she wept. Sometimes, when he was standing on the street, a hurrying pedestrian would bump into him. Once he fell heavily. On one pitiful occasion the police arrested him, suspecting he was a vagrant."



Lindy Woodhead


Shopping, Seduction & Mr Selfridge


Profile Books


Copyright 2007 Lindy Woodhead 2007


barns and noble booksellers
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

All delanceyplace profits are donated to charity and support children’s literacy projects.


Sign in or create an account to comment