The shop is named after Peter Rees Jones (1842–1905), the son of a Carmarthenshire hat manufacturer. After serving an apprenticeship with a draper in Cardigan he moved to London and established a small shop in Marylebone Lane. He then moved to central London, and in 1877 moved to 4–6 King’s Road, the site of the present store. The business flourished, soon expanding to cover most of the block, occupied on a 999-year lease from the Cadogan estate at £6,000 per year, the terms of which have never been increased. After a period of troubled trading and the death of Peter Jones, the store was purchased by John Lewis.
John Spedan Lewis (22 September 1885 – 21 February 1963) was an English businessman and the founder of the John Lewis Partnership. Elder son of John Lewis, who owned the John Lewis department store, London, Spedan joined the business at 19 and in 1914 assumed control of Peter Jones in Sloane Square, London. On his father’s death he formed the John Lewis Partnership and began distributing profits among its employees in 1929. He transferred control of the company to the employees in 1950 and resigned as chairman in 1955.
“Spedan Lewis was probably drawn into architecture by his wife Beatrice, née Hunter, an architect’s daughter, who had worked in the store and had refined tastes. Rebuilding Peter Jones was the more urgent task. Guy Dawber had briefly been the partnership’s consultant architect. But around 1928 Lewis wooed C. H. Reilly, the ebullient professor of architecture at Liverpool University. Reilly was just then shedding his taste for American Beaux-Arts in favour of continental modernism. He came on to the firm’s board and soon recommended to Lewis a protégé, William Crabtree, who had submitted a final-year project at Liverpool for a department store. Joining the partnership in 1930, Crabtree first spent time investigating London stores before undertaking minor jobs at Oxford Street. He became friendly with the Lewises and accompanied them on a visit to Paris in connection with refurbishing the fur department. But he was not employed as the primary architect for reconstructing Peter Jones.
That task fell in 1933 to Slater & Moberly, rebuilders of Bourne & Hollingsworth further east in Oxford Street, after Lewis had solicited advice from Howard Hollingsworth. The layout of the new Peter Jones (1933–5) was largely due to Slater & Moberly, while the credit for the suave, curvaceous but not altogether practical curtain wall belonged to Crabtree, egged on by Reilly but modified with vertical mullions at Spedan Lewis’s insistence. Though keen to have a fresh, exciting building, Lewis shunned advanced modernism and rejected the horizontality of Crabtree’s first design (influenced by Mendelsohn’s Columbushaus in Berlin). Peter Jones, and indeed other buildings erected by the partnership in the 1930s, including ‘Clearings’, a set of plain brick warehouses in Draycott Avenue, Chelsea, designed by A. H. Moberly, were credited to Slater & Moberly with Reilly and Crabtree as consultants. That formula concealed much friction. In their long, amicably fencing exchanges, Reilly persistently advanced Crabtree’s claims and denigrated Slater & Moberly, while Lewis replied that Crabtree had done less than Reilly alleged and was difficult to work with. A brittle tolerance developed between Slater and Crabtree; there was even abortive talk of the latter joining the Slater & Moberly firm. Spedan Lewis for his part remained friends with both, but on a more equal footing with Alan Slater, who was invited to Leckford to fish and tried to interest Lewis in Richard Acland’s Common Wealth Party during the war.”