When Liverpool’s most important buildings are discussed, it is surprising how often retailing is left out. In Quentin Hughes’s City of Architecture, not a single shop features in his selection – a surprising omission. Cripp’s on Bold Street (now Waterstones), GH Lee on Basnett Street, Lewis’s (one of the better post-war buildings) and Premier Buildings (on the corner of Church Street and Hanover Street) were all worthy of inclusion. However, the shop that should have been in for both architectural and historical significance is Compton House – now home to Marks and Spencer, Joseph Sharples describes it as majestic and of international significance because it was one of the earliest (if not the first) purpose-built department store, finished five years before Bon March? in Paris.
The store replaced an earlier building destroyed by fire in 1865. Two brothers, William and JR Jeffrey financed a new building, which opened in 1867. In Picton’s words, tragedy struck: “Mr William Jeffrey, the brother and right hand of the principal, was cut off suddenly by apoplexy and JR Jeffrey was left to fight his battle alone. The battle was a losing one.” The receipts of the new shop never met the outgoings and in March 1871, the shutters were closed.
The photograph shows its later reincarnation as Compton Hotel, with William Russell as proprietor. On the ground floor, the shops are Lilly Addinsell (hatter and hosier), JR Cramer & Co., William Hay & Co. and, on the right hand side, Watts & Co., drapers.
In the revised City of Architecture (due next year), Compton House will find its place as one of Liverpool’s great pioneering achievements.

Compton House, Church Street c1880

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