Hamleys Toy Store History how it began and become iconic

Those who have been to Hamleys know that it’s more than your ordinary toy store. Hamleys has brought smiles to millions of people across the globe for centuries. Its toys are one of the finest in the world, sourced responsibly and laboratory tested to comply with international toy standards.

Hamleys caters to people of all ages, be it young or old and the company strives to make their customers happy. They sell everything from soft toys to board games to dress-up costumes and outdoor sports equipment; toy vehicles, learning toys, arts and crafts, and much more.

Today, Hamleys is one of the oldest and largest toy retailers in the world. Despite changing hands, names, disaster, and uncertainty, this classic toy store holds fast with a rich history to back it up. 

How It All Started

Hamleys was founded in 1760 by a Cornishman named William Hamley from Bodmin, England. He opened his first toy store in Holborn, London and called it Noah’s Ark. His vision was to make it the best toy store in the world and sold rag dolls, tin soldiers, wooden horses, and hoops.

Noah’s Ark’s first location was ideal as it attracted upper-class customers from the Bloomsbury district of London. This made the store quite successful. After Hamley’s death, the ownership of the store passed through the family. Over time, the toy shop became famous in the city and attracted more customers.

Joy Emporium and Relocation of First Store

The shop had become a landmark in London by 1837, around the same time as Queen Victoria’s coronation. At this point, the toy shop was run by William’s grandsons and was attracting royal and noble families. In 1881, they opened a new branch on No. 200 Regent Street called Joy Emporium. The store sold science kits, miniature railway train sets, pedal cars, and puppets.

Hamleys acquired the Magical Palace of Conjuring Wonders after Joseph Bland, its owner, died in 1898. In 1901, Noah’s Ark, the original store at No. 231, High Holborn, sadly burnt down. It relocated to Nos. 86, 85 High Holborn.

Renaming, Restoration, and Royal Warrant

The toy store company traded as Hamleys until 1911, after which it rebranded as Messers Hamley Bros. The brand’s name changed again to Messers Hamleys in 1920. Eventually, the brand name changed to Hamleys.

Like many stores in England during this time, Hamleys went through financial losses in the late 1920s and had to shut down in 1931. However, the company was saved by Walter Lines who bought it that same year. After Hamleys re-opened, Walter and his brothers William and Arthur worked hard to bring back customers through the doors. They were incredibly successful.

The company received the Royal Warrant from Queen Mary in 1938.

If a fire and one forced closure weren’t enough, the Regent Street store was bombed five times during World War II. But even an air raid couldn’t keep the shop from going. Staff continued to serve loyal customers.

When Queen Elizabeth II took the throne, she recognized Lines again with another royal warrant in 1955. To show how much she personally loved Hamleys toys growing up, she bought her own children toys from the beloved store.

World’s Largest Toy Store on Regent Street

In 1981, Hamleys moved its premises from No. 200 to Nos. 188-196 on Regent Street, London, England. The flagship store expanded over time to become the largest toy store in the world, with seven floors each dedicated to different types of toys, games, magic tricks, and crafts. It also helps that the Hamleys toy store is strategically located near the Oxford Circus underground station. It is a prominent tourist attraction in London.  

Stores in the UK

In 1987, Hamleys opened its second toy store in York which, unfortunately, closed within a year. Two more stores opened in Newcastle upon Tyne and Bath, which too closed within a year. At present, Hamleys UK toy stores are located in Glasgow, Manchester, Essex, and Swindon.

Hamleys also has stores located in London Heathrow Airport, Manchester Airport, Luton Airport, and London Stansted Airport. You can also find them in London Bridge and St. Pancras International railway station.

The toy store company is set to open new stores in Kent, Leeds, and Liverpool.

Stores around the Globe

But Hamleys is not just located in England. It maintains a vast global presence. At present, Hamleys has over 170 stores around the globe. You can find them on the continent of Europe, Asia, Middle East, Africa, and North America. More specifically, in the Czech Republic, Russia, China, India, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, South Africa, and Mexico.

In India alone, Hamleys has more than 100 stores in 36 cities. 

Hamleys is opening its stores rapidly across the globe and even though the footfall to its toy stores has fallen during the Covid-19 pandemic, its business is continuing online. Yet another hurdle Hamleys is overcoming.

Ownership of the Franchise

In 2003, Hamleys was bought by Baugar Group, an Icelandic investment company. When Baugar Group collapsed, the franchise was taken over by a bank. In 2012, however, it was bought by Groupe Ludendo, a French toy company.

Hamleys was then acquired by Hong Kong-based C. Banner International. In May 2019, Reliance Retail, an Indian retail company, acquired a 100% stake in Hamleys Global Holdings Limited from C. Banner for £67.96 million.

Hamleys Has Stood the Test of Time

Hamleys has been operating for the last 260 years, making it the oldest and largest toy franchise in the world. In 2010, Hamleys was awarded the Green Plaque on its 250th anniversary. They have survived for this long, even though history has thrown the store plenty of curveballs, without losing the charm of their product.

The British multinational toy retailer has been the toy store of the Royal Family and thousands of children over the years. And it seems as if it will continue to be for decades to come. 

The products that Hamleys has sold might have changed over time, but the delight of its customers has not. If William Hamley was here today, he would definitely be proud of the legacy he created.

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