1. Biographical notes from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography by G. D. Rawle, rev. Gareth Shaw.
Liberty, Sir Arthur Lasenby (1843-1917), fabric manufacturer and retailer, was born at Chesham, Buckinghamshire, on 13 August 1843, the eldest son of Arthur Liberty, draper and lace manufacturer, of Nottingham and Chesham, and his wife, Rebecca Lasenby. He was educated at University School, Nottingham. On leaving school at the age of sixteen he began work in a relative’s lace warehouse before moving to London, where he was appointed joint manager of Farmer and Roger’s oriental warehouse in Regent Street. This was the foremost depot in England for the sale of goods from the Far East. Liberty held this position until 1874 and during this time he came into close contact with artists interested in oriental and other crafts, who used to meet there, among them Leighton, Burne-Jones, Rossetti, Whistler, and William Morris.
In 1875 Liberty married Emma Louise, daughter of Henry Blackmore, of Exmouth, Devon, and went into business on his own account, with three employees, at 218a Regent Street, which he called East India House. Here the same coterie of friends continued to meet. By 1882 the business had expanded so greatly that separate shop premises were opened at 142-4 Regent Street for the sale of home furnishings. The original East India House, which continued to sell fabric and dresses, also expanded to occupy nos. 216, 218, and 222 Regent Street. This was to form the site of the Liberty department store.
Liberty acquired a genuine enthusiasm for handcrafted wares and, with the zeal of a reformer, sought to provide an antidote to the spread of mass-produced goods. He was also a shrewd business organizer, careful in the selection and treatment of his staff, many of whom remained in his service throughout their working lives. One of his principal designers was the architect Edward William Godwin. Liberty was a zealous promoter of better conditions for employees and an enthusiastic supporter of the early-closing movement. But his success was due mainly to his own thorough methods, his artistic perception, and his knack of anticipating the trend of public taste. As early as 1875 he realized that the industries of the East were influencing a much wider circle than a few connoisseurs; he therefore tried to satisfy the growing demand for oriental textiles and colours by marketing fine fabrics of softer texture and subtler tint than had hitherto been generally obtainable in the West.
Liberty’s influence on the British silk and woollen industry of the 1870s was considerable. In conjunction with his friend Sir Thomas Wardle he succeeded in introducing fine dyes previously supposed to be the exclusive product of the East. His aims were closely parallel with those of William Morris, and it has been supposed that Liberty was largely guided by Morris’s example. The suggestion is erroneous, for Liberty was in close touch with a large circle, and his artistic ideas were influenced by the East rather than by the medieval Western art to which Morris was devoted. But both men educated the artistic taste of the public, and stimulated manufacturers to higher standards of design and workmanship. In 1888-9 Liberty and his wife visited Japan in order to study Japanese arts and crafts and the details of their manufacture.
In 1913 Liberty was knighted in recognition of his services to applied and decorative arts. He was JP and deputy lieutenant for the county of Buckingham, and high sheriff in 1899, juror on several international exhibitions, member of council of the London chamber of commerce, and an officer of numerous commercial and artistic associations. He retired from business in 1914, and died at his home, Lee Manor, Buckinghamshire, on 11 May 1917. He was survived by his wife. Since there were no children of his marriage, his business empire was continued by his nephew and great-nephews.
J. W. Ferry, A history of the department store (1960)
A. Adburgham, Shops and shopping, 1800-1914: where, and in what manner the well-dressed Englishwoman bought her clothes (1964)
A. Adburgham, Liberty’s: a biography of a shop (1975)
CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1917) Archives City Westm. AC, corresp. and papers
The above picture is by Arthur Hacker, oils, exh. RA 1913, Liberty & Co. Ltd, London
2. Relevant dates and genealogical information, compiled by Michael Smith
Arthur Liberty 1814 – 1901
Arthur Lasenby Liberty 1843 – 1917
- 1814 Arthur Liberty (father of Arthur Lasenby Liberty) born
- 1842 Arthur Liberty married Rebecca Lasenby in Chesham Bucks
- 1843 Arthur Lasenby Liberty (ALL) born in Chesham, Bucks
- 1851 The family were living at Moor Farm, Chesham. The household consisted of Arthur and Rebecca Liberty, ALL, Gilbert and Laura Liberty, plus George and Elizabeth Sutthry with their son, and five servants.
- Before 1861 The family moved to 2 Cranmer Street Nottingham.
Arthur Liberty worked as a draper or possibly lace manufacturer
- 1859 After his education at Universty School Nottingham ALL began work with his uncle who sold lace and later with another uncle who sold wine.
- c. 1859 ALL apprenticed to a draper in Bakers Street London
- 1862 ALL began employment with Farmer and Rogers, women’s fashion specialists, of Regent Street. He quickly rose to become manager of the warehouse but they refused to make him a partner in the business
- 1875 ALL married Emma Louise Blackmore, they had no children
- 1875 ALL opened Liberty & Co. in Regent Street
- 1880 ALL moved to the Manor House, the Lee Bucks
- Between 1885-88 Arthur Liberty and family moved to Tintagel, 14 Mapperley Road, Nottingham where they lived until 1904
- 1899 ALL became High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire
- 1901 Arthur Liberty died
- 1917 ALL died at The Lee Bucks
Genealogical information via Google:
Sir Arthur Liberty’s ancestry is:
Father: LIBERTY, Arthur
Birth: NOV 28 1814 – Weybridge, Surrey, England
Christening: DEC 25 1814 – Weybridge, Surrey, England
Census: 1841 – Chesham, Buckinghamshire, England
Marriage: OCT 4 1842 – Chesham, Buckinghamshire, England
Census: 1881 – Nottingham – St Mary, Nottinghamshire, England
Death: JUL 31 1901 – At the Lee, Buckinghamshire, England
Marriage: JUN 3 1802 – Chesham, Buckinghamshire, England
Death: MAR 21 1820 – Weybridge, Surrey, England
Birth: 1731 – Kensworth, Hertfordshire, England
Marriage: JAN 5 1756 – Ivinghoe, Buckinghamshire, England
Death: AUG 29 1815 – Dunstable, Bedfordshire, England
3. From Tom Zadik’s research on 4 Cranmer Street:
Arthur George Liberty, a Lace Manufacturer with premises on Stoney Street.
The Libertys moved into no 2 Cranmer Street between 1854 and 1858 and lived there until after 1885. The 1861 census shows Arthur Liberty and his wife Rebecca, both aged 46, with their children Gilbert Charles (11), Ada Rebecca(7) and Octavia Rose(2) together with a servant called Emily Hart. It does not mention their son, also Arthur Liberty, who founded Liberty’s of London. Liberty snr was born in Weybridge, Surrey, and we know from the Liberty’s website that ‘Arthur Lasenby Liberty was born in Chesham, Buckinghamshire in 1843. He was employed at Messrs Farmer and Rogers in Regent Street in 1862.’ The younger children were born in Nottingham. In 1881 Ada and Octavia were still living with their parents.
Between 1885 and 1888 the family moved round the corner to 14 Mapperley Road, ‘Tintagel’. The 1901 census shows that Arthur, Rebecca and Octavia were living there. One of the trade directories shows Rebecca as the householder in 1904, but by 1910 someone else was living there.