The Bentall Centre, Kingston

Kingston is one of the largest retail centres in the south-east and Bentall’s itself is popular among many shoppers. In the days approaching Christmas, Bentall’s Kingston is said to take over £1 million per day…

From Historic England entry:

“HISTORY In 1867 the retailer Frank Bentall opened a small drapery shop in Kingston upon Thames. The venture was markedly successful, and later geographical expansion saw the firm open branches in several other towns across southern England. Around 1930 the then proprietor, Leonard Bentall, employed the architects Sir Aston Webb and Son (by that time headed by Sir Aston’s eldest son Maurice) to design a vast new department store on the original Kingston site, occupying more than a hectare at the corner of Clarence Street and Wood Street.

The work, carried out by a large team of contractors led by John Mowlem & Co., proceeded in two main phases, allowing the store to transfer its operations gradually to the new building as its old premises were demolished. The first phase, comprising the Wood Street façade and the main shop floors behind, was completed by the end of 1932, while work on the Clarence Street section (including a quadrant corner block with sculptures by Eric Gill) was undertaken in 1934-5. A third phase, which would have seen the Clarence Street façade extended across a series of existing buildings, more than doubling its length, was not carried out. The new Bentall’s was a steel-framed structure with an open-plan interior on five floors, with a central escalator hall rising through the full height of the building. Other features included a 750-seat restaurant, a ‘mannequin theatre’ for fashion shows and (across Wood Street to the north-west) a multi-storey car park. Webb also built a large furniture depository for the store, some distance away in Hardman Road.

In 1990-2 the entire Bentall’s site was redeveloped with the exception of Webb’s façade which was retained as part of the frontage to a new indoor shopping complex known as the Bentall Centre; the semicircular Wood Street entrance lobby was reconstructed in its original location. The depository building survives and is Grade II listed.”

From the Visual Arts Data Service:

“During 1930’s a new building for the Bentall’s store was commissioned by Leonard Bentall, son of Frank Bentall the founder, from the firm of Aston Webb, with Maurice Webb responsible for the main design. LB was an admirer of Christopher Wren’s work on the façade of Hampton Court and wanted this, rather than a more contemporary design, to inspire the new store. Gill was commissioned by Maurice Webb.

Conflict arose between (Arthur Eric Rowton) Gill and Leonard Bentall over the carving of the coat of arms. Bentall complained publicly to Gill while standing in the street that the tail of the leopard curved downwards rather than up saying it looked like a dog and dishonoured the family name. Gill replied that this was unavoidable because of the nature of the stone and offered to add a few more spots. Gill was not skilled at carving animals and often asked his assistants to do it for him, although in this case probably did all the carving himself as both the coat of arms and window reliefs were carved in situ. The letters were carved in the workshop, the L and S by an apprentice called David Kindersley who worked for Gill for many years and wrote an account of his time spent with him. No mention is made of Gill’s work on the Bentall’s façade by Rowan Bentall in his memoir of the store.

New building unveiled on 9th September 1935″

The company was formerly listed on the London Stock Exchange, but since 2001 has been owned by the private Fenwick group.

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