Growing up in Bodmin, Cornwall in the 18th century, William Hamley might have become a tin miner. Or a fisherman. But he had other ideas... William founded what is today known as Hamleys. The shop was originally called 'Noah's Ark' and opened at High Holborn in London in 1760. The toy shop was highly convenient for the wealthy families of Bloomsbury when buying toys for their children.
By the time Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837, Hamleys was already a London landmark. Families flocked to William's 'Joy Emporium', now owned by his grandsons. So successful was the shop that in 1881 a new branch opened in Regent Street. To cope with the public's growing appetite for playthings, Hamleys added a further five floors of toys.
The Holborn branch was destroyed by fire in 1901 and was relocated from 231 to 86-87 High Holborn. Even being bombed five times in the Blitz did not stop Hamleys. Wearing tin hats, staff served at the shop entrance, rushing in to collect the toys then handing them over at the door.
The business has survived in various forms to the present day, and at one time was the largest toy shop in the world. Hamleys moved to its current Regent Street premises in 1981. The store is considered one of London's major tourist attractions, and receives about five million visitors a year.
Official site: www.hamleys.com
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