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Fashioning an Icon

T&L travels back in time to learn more about the fascinating evolution of one of Wimbledon’s defining landmarks.

As we fondly look back at our 20 years working with Wimbledon’s local community, we couldn’t help but delve into the fascinating history of one of the town’s most influential buildings. Elys has been an iconic feature of Wimbledon’s streetscape for over 140 years and has undoubtedly helped shape the Wimbledon we know and love today.

SMALL BEGINNINGS

Elys opened its doors in 1876 as a small tailor, outfitter and drapery seller. Founder, Joseph Ely, left Essex aged 16 to walk to London in search of prosperity, and opened the store after gaining experience in the retail trade. After testing the potential for custom by counting the number of people who passed the corner each hour, Joseph decided to build on Alexandra Road, at the bottom of Wimbledon Hill, certain that the shop’s position would bring business. After 10 years of successful trading, Joseph moved to larger premises on the corner of Worple Road, where the store still stands today.

THE RAIL TO SUCCESS

The introduction of the tram to Wimbledon in 1907 caused the store’s real success, bringing in custom from New Malden and Raynes Park. Joseph even persuaded conductors – by gifting them with pullovers – to shout “Elys corner!” before the tram stopped outside the store.

KEEPING IT IN THE FAMILY

When Joseph Ely passed away in 1910, crowds gathered on the corner of Worple Road to watch the funeral procession of 20 horse-drawn carts travel to the cemetery in Gap Road. From then on, Joseph’s four sons took on the business and it wasn’t until 1987 that the last member of the Ely family, Vernon Ely, stepped down, aged 80.

DIAMOND JUBILEE FORTNIGHT

To celebrate its Diamond Jubilee, in 1926 Elys produced its first ever coloured catalogue and hired a horse and cart, bearing the store’s logo, to patrol the streets of Wimbledon and announce the event.

TRANSFORMATION

In 2006, the store underwent a multimillion pound revamp to bring it into the 21st century. The refurbishment was designed to attract a new type of shopper, and introduce big brands such as Estée Lauder. Bernard Dreesman, Head of Owners of Morleys Stores commented: “We are trying to make this end of the town a little more sexy.”

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