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Liberty Department Store, London
November 10th, 2011
09:52 PM ET

The Revealer: Liberty Department Store, London

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By Olivia Yasukawa, CNN

November 10, 2011
(CNN) –Hidden near Oxford Circus – the center of London’s bustling shopping district – stands a building which resembles a relic from England’s Elizabethan past.

Four million people walk through the wooden archways of Liberty each year into a wonderland of treats and treasures.

Its black and white exterior is characteristically British – a style favoured by the Tudors.

And yet, the building isn’t Tudor at all. In fact, it’s less than one hundred years old.

For those willing to take a closer look, history reveals a secret with a surprising twist: Liberty’s famous façade was rigged from the wreckage of two wooden warships – HMS Impregnable and HMS Hindustan.

Both were battleships built for Britain’s prestigious Royal Navy.

"Britain lived and died by its Navy and its Navy's performance,” said Andrew Baines, historian and Curator of HMS Victory in Portsmouth, on the south coast of England.

“So even though these were old ships that had been broken apart, they would still have a certain amount of kudos to them and their use in Liberty would have carried some of that kudos through," he said.

The size and scale of HMS Hindustan, a sailing ship, is in fact reflected in the whole front façade of Liberty.

"Hindustan is ordered in 1819 but work only starts 10 years later on frames that had been brought from the Far East – teak frames. It takes them until 1841 to build her,” Baines told CNN.

The other ship, HMS Impregnable, was a rare three-deck ship. Ordered in 1854 as HMS Howe and later renamed, she represented the ultimate development of the wooden battleship.

“She is viewed as being a very impressive ship,” Baines said. “She is the largest wooden-hulled ship ever employed by the Royal Navy.”

Both ships had the best quality timber and after a period of service as training ships, they were sent on a course bound for the dockyard, where they were broken up and sold in 1921.

Meanwhile, in the heart of London’s shopping district, Liberty’s flagship store on Regent Street was looking to expand.

Almost four decades after it first opened, Arthur Liberty, the founder, wanted to create a larger store that still maintained an intimate feel. Using the timbers from HMS Impregnable and HMS Hindustan, he turned to the Tudor age for inspiration.

“It’s importing a bit of heritage isn’t it?” John Graves, Curator of ship history at the National Maritime Museum said.

“I think to the well-trained eye, it’s easy to tell once you’re inside Liberty and you are admiring the staircases and so on. You can see the minor imperfections in the wood that they have been recycled from old warships,” he told CNN.

Other little clues allude to Liberty’s nautical history – a wooden carving of sailing ships above a doorway, a stained-glass ship hidden in the corner of a window, blue and white tiles depicting the Navy’s finest.

Anna Buruma, Liberty’s company archivist said, “Liberty is rather special. It has always been a very quirky shop and it suits this building.”

Sadly, Arthur Liberty never lived to see the completion of the magnificent building that still bears his name.

Filed under: backstory • History • photography • The Revealer • UK
soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. oxocubes

    Just across the road, CNN?

    November 16, 2011 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rabenthy

      I can totally ratlee to this post. In fact, I think you wrote this post from inside my head! Get out or do my work now too! As soon as I feel I have accomplished something, a whole lot more piles onto my plate and it feels like a wellspring of to-do's come forward. I know its part of my creative process but feelings of overwhelm and imbalance can overtake me if I let them. For me the key is realizing it is all about embracing what is working for me, and letting go of what I thought I *should* be doing. I think you hit the nail on the head in saying that celebrating accomplishments is so important. Doing this allows me to continue to focus on my version of success. When I can *choose* what I want to feel success with rather than *should* do (for my success) the journey and process is more authentic. And fun.Instead of looking at things as failures or delays, I always try to reframe this energy into what has this delay allowed me to accomplish? And yes, I agree, it's easier to give advice than to follow it sometimes!Welcome back and thanks for helping me to get more clear minded!

      March 26, 2012 at 3:47 am | Report abuse |
  2. Christopher schrubbe

    Very cool story. Their may be a few ghosts in that building of sailors past.

    November 16, 2011 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mhar

      Dear Sir/Madam,Compass Headwear Sdn Bhd Malaysia.was founded in 2003 as a scrap trniadg company providing services to customer as buyer simply called agents,in 2005 we arranged a small start capital,which we started by obtaining own lots and sell them directly, passing the agent chain. To 2008 we already had 3 warehouses and 2 offices in West Malaysia and hoped to get more.We work directly with ferrous and non-ferrous scrap recyclers and scrap yards in Malaysia,Singapore,Thailand and Vietnam. Our main products are HMS, stainless steel scrap,Pet Bottle Flakes,LDPE Films, shredded scrap, compressed cans,Drained Battery Scrap Alumimum scrap and copper scrap. We also sell copper cathodes,For details and current offers feel free to contact us,Thank youMr Mohd Esa Bin BujangCompass Headwear Sdn Bhd

      July 24, 2012 at 11:52 am | Report abuse |
    • tlpzhgg

      RaSE9Q hwrpobyaemar

      July 26, 2012 at 8:14 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Aristocles

    The music for that piece is really out of place; like the music for something really large and majestic, like the Andes or Manhattan's skyline, not a ship turned shop.

    November 17, 2011 at 12:53 am | Report abuse |
  4. cythara

    I love to see new photos of these old ships of the line. I have a couple here, but I have never seen those of the HMS Impregnable. It is sometimes hard for people to understand just how large those wooden ships were. There is also a short film (somewhere) of the last wooden ship of the line afloat being sunk (on purpose) by the Royal Navy just after WW2. It is a beautifully poignant video, where you can sense an entire age slipping quietly to its rest beneath the waves.

    November 17, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lotje

      Attn : Mr. Managing DirectorSubject : Scrap Metal & Ship Traders.Dear Sirs,FYI. All Sorts of metal scrap Trading House ,therefore, Suppliers/Exporters and Buyers please cotacnt.Waiting for your replyThanksAzizur Rahmancell # 8801711529689REGENT Trading AgencyPlot # 22, Street # 3, Sec # 7,C/A., Mirpur, Dhaka-1216Tel # 880-2-8053300Fax # 880-2-8053311E-mail :

      July 24, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
      • Rodan

        Curious that the downrigging was pefomrred using a modern crane instead of making use of the rigging features described in the sources such as Steel and Boudriot the Burton tackles and topropes. A traditional removal of yards, topgallant masts, and topmasts could have been very interesting to spectators (and to those of us viewing the video). But, I suppose it would take much longer.

        August 28, 2012 at 8:38 am | Report abuse |
    • alfiani

      Ah thank god your back. Wednesdays have been boring wiuohtt the old Eclipsed read to fill the time.What a grand sport the old rugger is. Maybe Tom should work towards becoming a Number 8 (on his back!) Mind you, as a number 7 (or any other number) he could get a start in the Australian team given the shame of loosing to Ireland.Don't let those film people bully you around. Dig in like a good old fashioned Number 3 and show them what hard work is all about.Great to have you all back. Let the frivolities begin

      July 26, 2012 at 6:14 am | Report abuse |
  5. Aldo

    Hello Milo,It seems almost eodrybvey who’s doing “creative” work has this same problem: you know you have to do write/draw/compose/whatever today, you are all set, ready to go, and then… you go and do the dishes. Check your mail. Read that interesting article you saw in the newspaper yesterday…What I don’t understand is why we do that. Even when I try to be really honest with myself, I do not fully see the reason behind this behavior. There are some possible explanations, but none seems right.Am I just being lazy? Sorry, but no. I’m not a lazy person. And if it was laziness, than why would you go and do the dishes and all those other chores? Then I would be sitting in the sofa for the rest of the afternoon, watching old James Bond movies with the cat on my lap. Hey, doesn’t she need feeding…Perhaps I don’t really really really like to do the work I’m supposed to do? Nah. Come on! I’m an illustrator. I get to sit and draw and play with shapes and colors all day long. Sensual pleasures!Perhaps I’m afraid? Of failing? Then why do I sometimes quit when I’m on a roll? I’ve made a nice drawing yesterday and I feel I’m getting better all the time, finally finding something like an own voice as well… That should be stimulating, no?Perhaps I’m afraid of success? Then why do I like to post my work on a blog? Why do I try to attract the attention of people? Why would I seek out job opportunities? I could do the work and keep it in my sketchbooks and private files. Guaranty no “success”.Or are all these answers just too simple? Is it some intricate combination of all of the above? Because, of course, I sometimes do get afraid people won’t like what I made. And sometimes I don’t feel like scanning those sketches. And sometimes I do spent the afternoon watching Thunderball, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Dr. No, one after the other. And yes, I do like to be on my own so leave me alone, thank you very much.So, I don’t know. And I wonder what other people think about this? Do you know exactly WHY you’re feeding the cat instead of starting the work you’re supposed to do?What? Is it that late already? I guess I better start scanning those sketches….All the best,GilliomGilliom-Monsieur Bandit recently posted..

    March 24, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      Beautiful photographs, the inisde of the ship is pretty dark you have worked with the light really well, such vibrant photos, really love the one in the wedding ceremony of the girl in the white lace dress looking very bored by it all!

      July 24, 2012 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
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    Hello, I was doing research for a different topic and this caught my eye. Great share! Cheers!

    September 17, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Report abuse |