The tale of how town helped spark Marks

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AS Marks & Spencer celebrated 25 years at Middleton Grange Shopping Centre back in 1994, the Mail looked at how Hartlepool had helped make the whole retail empire possible. ANDREW LEVETT checks out the story.

WORLDWIDE merchandising giants Marks and Spencer might not have made it to the High Street – if it had not been for Hartlepool.

This bold claim appeared in the Mail 19 years ago this month.

Reporter Margaret O’Rourke explained: “For its founding father Michael Marks stepped off the boat in Hartlepool after his journey from Russian to England in the 1880s.”

Mr Marks didn’t have a penny to his name and couldn’t speak English but became an itinerant peddlar, concentrating on the North-East, particularly Hartlepool and Stockton.

Later he would move to Leeds, where he would meet accountant Tom Spencer to form the famous brand.

“The rest, as they say, is history,” said the Mail.

To mark the 25 years since the Middleton Grange Shopping Centre opened in 1969, there was a big celebration on Saturday, October 29, 1994.

As well as M&S it also involved Boots, Burtons and the late-lamented Woolworths, featuring raffles, food tasting, displays, a treasure hunt and face painting.

Margaret Sleeman, who was co-ordinating the celebrations, told the Mail there was some doubt as to the actual date Marks and Spencer opened in Hartlepool.

She said: “The only date I’ve managed to locate is 1896, but we believe Michael Marks started trading here in September of 1894.”

The firm had a Penny Bazaar in the old market hall, later moving to Lynn Street before the doors closed there in 1969 as the new Middleton Grange store opened.

Among the goods on offer in 1969 were crisps at one shilling (5p) a packet, milk chocolate biscuits at 1s 8d (8p) and rich tea fingers for 10d (4p).

The miniskirt was still in vogue and shorter lengths were selling for 55s (£2.75).

Contact Andrew Levett by emailing andrew.levett@northeast-press.co.uk or write to him at Hartlepool Mail, New Clarence House, Wesley Square, Hartlepool, TS24 8BX.