John Lewis (1838-1928) was a philosopher and town councillor.  He was the founder of the John Lewis department store and the department store chain.

He was born in Shepton Mallet, Somerset and orphaned at the age of seven. He was raised by his aunt Ann Speed. John Lewis was apprenticed to a local draper at the age of fourteen, and he moved to London at the age of 20 to become a silk buyer working for Peter Robinson’s department store in Oxford Circus.

In 1864 John Lewis opened his own small shop called John & Co, at 132 Oxford Street, which is on part of the same site as the present store. In 1905 John Lewis bought Peter Jones in Sloane Square, of which he relinquished control in 1914 to Spedan, his son.

John Lewis was seen as dictatorial employer; the stores struggled to retain their staff, who were often dismissed arbitrarily.  His management style brought him into conflict with his sons who disagreed with his business methods.

He died at “Spedan Towers” in Hampstead at the age of 92.


John Spedan Lewis (1885-1963) was an English business and the founder of the John Lewis Partnership.                             

He was the elder son of John Lewis, who owned the John Lewis department store in Oxford Street, London.  He was born in Marylebone in 1885 to John and Eliza Lewis. He was educated at Westminster School and entered his father’s business straight from school at the age of 19.  On his 21st birthday he was given a quarter share in the business.  In 1914 he assumed control of Peter Jones in Sloane Square, his father’s second shop.

It was around this time that he first realised that the salaries of himself, his brother and his father were the same as all their employees. In 1909, a serious horse-riding accident prevented him from working for two years.  Whilst convalescing he evolved the idea to share the company profits with their employees. This ethos grew over time and scope to become the foundation of the John Lewis Partnership.

Upon his father’s death in 1928 he took control of the Oxford Street store. The John Lewis Partnership was officially formed in 1929 and profits were distributed amongst the employees now known as ‘partners’. Partnership Benefit meant that workers would get the whole profit distributed in the form of shares, which could be realised for cash.  In 1950 control of the business was transferred to the employees. 

In 1955 Spedan Lewis resigned as chairman and was known henceforth as “The Founder”.  He died in 1963, and in accordance with his wishes was buried at sea.  In 1985 this plaque was unveiled by Peter Lewis, the grandson of John Lewis.

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