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Sunday, 20 May 2012

Shopping Saturday - Arthur Lasenby Liberty

Arthur Lasenby Liberty was born in Chesham in 1843, the son of Arthur Liberty, draper and lace manufacturer. When he was young the family moved to Nottingham, a major centre of the lace industry, but after leaving school he worked for a while in Nottingham, then moved to London to work at Farmer and Rogers Oriental Warehouse. This was the premier outlet for the goods from the far east, which were becoming very fashionable in the later 19th century. He rose to the position of joint manager there, and remained with Farmer and Rogers until 1874.

London Gazette 14 February 1913
He founded his own small business in Regent Street in the following year, called East India House, which eventually became the famous Liberty's department store on the same site. The store is still there today, with its distinctive black-and-white building displaying the Royal Arms. The business is entitled to do this as the holder of a Royal Warrant to supply goods and services to Her Majesty the Queen. True to its origins, the name Liberty remains associated with a particular decorative style, the 'Liberty print' and the designs of William Morris.

Arthur Liberty continued to be very successful in business and counted among his friends a number of artists and designers including William Morris. He also held a number of public offices including deputy lieutenent and high sheriff of his home county of Buckinghamshire. He was knighted in 1913 and retired from business the following year to his home at Lee Manor, near Chesham.

Printed sources, including his entries in Who's Who and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, state that in 1875 he married Emma Louise Blackmore, daughter of Henry Blackmore of Exmouth in Devon. The couple had no children, but the department store business remained in the family, passing to his nephew and great-nephews after his death in 1917.

Divorce file TNA Ref: J 77/87
What is much less well-known is that his marriage to Emma Blackmore was not his first; on 8 June 1865 he married Martha Cottam at St Pancras parish church, but this marriage ended in divorce in 1869, on the grounds of Martha's adultery with one Augustus Glover. When he married Emma Blackmore he is described on the marriage certificate as 'bachelor' but he had made no attempt to conceal the existence of his first marriage from the church authorities. On the contrary, the record of the marriage licence he obtained from the Bishop of London two days before the marriage gives full details of his marriage to Martha Cottam and their subsequent divorce.

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