Although Highcliffe, particularly in summer, can be a pleasant experience for a wander while visiting the local cliffs and seashore, there is no branch of Selfridges here! However, the founder of the London store, and one of the pioneers of the department store concept, Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder, lived in the Castle and is buried in St Mark’s Churchyard, on Lymington Road between the Castle and the High Street.
He was born in Wisconsin, in the United States, in January 1858. As a baby he moved with his parents to Jackson, Michigan. When he was ten he, like some youngsters today, began his commercial career delivering newspapers, then working in a shop, finally moving on to work in a bank at the age of fourteen when he had left school.
When he was in his late teens he became a stockroom ‘boy’ in a Chicago store, and spent 25 years there, working his way up until be became a junior partner. He married the wealthy Rosalie (Rose) Buckingham and developed a considerable personal fortune. He had five children, the first tragically died at birth in 1891.
it is interesting that Harry Selfridge was the first to coin the phrase, ‘Only x shopping days to Christmas’, which even today we look forward to with great anticipation! He opened the first branch of Selfridges in Chicago in 1904. It was sold just two months later, when he went into ‘retirement’ for two years.
He went to London in 1906 and was surprised to see that there was no grand store there, so invested £400,000 to open one at the western end of Oxford Street, where it stands to this day.
Selfridge promoted the idea of shopping for pleasure, and it was advertised extensively. Items on sale were easily accessible to customers. There were affordable restaurants, a library, reading and writing rooms, special reception rooms for French, German, American and Colonial customers, a First Aid Room, and a Silence Room, with soft lights, deep chairs, and double-glazing. This was to encourage customers to linger in the store, to see it as a relaxing, enjoyable experience, and the staff were trained to help in a gentle, non-pushy way.
So Why Highcliffe?
Mr Selfridge leased Highcliffe Castle in the early years of the century and bought Hengistbury Head. During the First World War his wife opened Highcliffe Castle as a convalescent home for American Soldiers. He had wanted to build another castle on the Head, but that didn’t happen. Though he was just renting Highcliffe Castle, he added mod-cons, including bathrooms and steam central heating. Harry Selfridge became a British citizen in 1937.
His fortunes turned, because of the depression and his profligacy – he was fond of the ladies (his wife had died in the ‘flu epidemic after the war) and frequently lost at gambling. His fortune had gone when he died in 1947, and is buried in St Mark’s Churchyard, next to his wife and mother, with a surprisingly basic headstone. There is a sign near the church entrance, pointing to the graves, which are a tourist attraction and still attract attention – notice the flowers in the top picture. Look at the header image to see the sign.