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Teachers' notes

From humble beginnings...

The first ever Marks’ Penny Bazaar opened in 1884 in Leeds Kirkgate Market (pictured right*). Michael Marks classified his merchandise according to price, with one section costing a penny and marked with the slogan 'Don’t ask the Price, It’s a Penny'. This was so popular that he quickly stopped selling anything that cost more than a penny. 

In 2013 M&S opened a Heritage Stall in Leeds Kirkgate Market, very close to the site of the original Penny Bazaar.

Penny Bazaar goods
The goods he sold included small items like nails, screws, pins, soap, wooden spoons, wool, thread and small toys – anything of good quality which could be bought cheaply and sold quickly ( see images on next page)

Unlike other retailers at the time, he allowed customers to see and handle goods before deciding to buy. The stalls were very successful and Marks was soon visiting many different markets held on different days. In 1886 he moved into the permanent covered market in Leeds.

Between 1903 and 1907 M&S opened 24 new branches, with more than 60 in total by the end of 1907. In 1904 they took eight shop units on a short lease in the newly opened Cross Arcade (second image). Each of the eight units contained a different department; hardware, china ornaments, tinware, toys, fancy goods, stationery, crockery and haberdashery.

Penny Bazaar staff
The third photo
  shows the staff of the Leeds Cross Arcade Penny Bazaar c.1906. Most of the girls employed would start work at the age of 14. Click on the image to find out more about their working conditions, hours and wages at the time. The first day that the Cross Arcade store opened, takings totalled £75 by lunchtime, but Michael Marks declared that they would not close until they'd taken £100. They managed this by 4pm, and had taken £175 by closing at 8pm.

This letter of 1975
from Mrs Davies (born 1892) tells us about her memories of visiting her sister at work in a Penny Bazaar, and of the kindness of Michael Marks.

*The artist Van Jones was inspired by an 1898 photo of an actual sales assistant when painting the market stall assistant in his 1955 picture above - click on this link to compare the two. There are more images of girls working for M&S in 1912 and 1926 on the Teachers' notes page.

You can download a timeline listing  key events in the history of the Marks & Spencer store in Leeds over several decades between 1884 and 2012.  

There are suggestions for discussion and activity ideas on the following pages.


Haberdashery - small items for sewing such as buttons, ribbons and zips
Merchandise - any movable goods offered for sale
Hardware - fixtures, equipment, tools and devices for making or repairing objects or structures