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date: 20 October 2019

Harrod, Charles Digbyfree

(1841–1905)
  • N. Hansen

Charles Digby Harrod (1841–1905)

by unknown photographer

Company Archive, Harrods Limited, London

Harrod, Charles Digby (1841–1905), grocer and tea dealer, was born on 25 January 1841 at 4 Cable Street, Whitechapel, second child and eldest son of Charles Henry Harrod (1799–1885), grocer and tea dealer, and his wife, Elizabeth Digby (1810–1860). He left school at sixteen, was apprenticed to a City grocer, and trained as a commercial clerk.

In 1861 Harrod purchased the family grocery shop (8 Middle Queen's Buildings, later 105 Brompton Road) from his father. Brompton Road was being redeveloped and wealthier people were moving into the district, enabling Harrod to build up a good counter trade, repaying his father's sale price within three years. He developed a substantial business which ultimately became Harrods Ltd.

On 25 March 1864 Harrod married Caroline (1841?–1922), daughter of James Godsmark, grocer, of 4 Percy Terrace, Gloucester Grove West; they had seven daughters and one son. Harrod was a kindly man, very firm about honesty and punctuality. A devoted Anglican and family man, after retirement he maintained an involvement with children through Sunday schools, even giving parties for children from all denominations at his home. Grandchildren recollected happy times in the close family circle. Harrod's younger brother Henry worked with him in the early 1860s, moving to Old Compton Street with his father in 1866.

Unlike most grocers, who allowed extended credit to households (even bribing servants to patronize their shops), Harrod advertised his goods for cash (with free delivery), at a very low margin of profit. This risky strategy worked and he competed successfully with the co-operative stores. People were curious after seeing the advertisements, came, appreciated the quality of the goods, purchased, and returned. As business expanded, more commercial space was needed and a first step was for the family to move from the house. Then Harrod roofed over the garden of 105 Brompton Road, acquired numbers 101 and 103, and, in 1883, a large block of land behind them. Continuous rebuilding increased the premises. By 1883 there were six departments, selling food and household items, staffed by 200 assistants.

On 6 December 1883 the shop caught fire, destroying everything, including packed Christmas orders. The purchase of new goods, repacking, and delivery began immediately. Harrod was determined that everyone should be supplied for Christmas. The press wrote admiringly, the public in turn were impressed by their reports, and bumper Christmas trade resulted from the publicity. Harrod provided a staff member, taken ill rescuing some accounting books from the fire, with invalid fare until he recovered. Trade continued from premises nearby until the grand new Brompton Road store opened in September 1884.

Although not teetotal, Harrod would not seal a business deal with a drink or accept gifts from business associates. He personally interviewed staff, and paid a half sovereign to each going on holiday. Latecomers were fined but, unusually, he would pay overtime. Harrod presided over an annual dinner for staff on the premises. The quality of staff played an essential part in the success of the business, as did Harrod's hard work and integrity.

According to Amy Menzies, many customers asked to be served personally by Harrod, described as a 'good looking young man' serving behind the counter and 'most obliging' (Menzies, 55). In addition he was known occasionally to help customers in dire straits, charging their orders to his account. As the store became fashionable his customers ranked from 'the Peer to the peasant', and Harrods traded worldwide (Local industries, 4).

In his final years Harrod suffered from arteriosclerosis and retired, in poor health, in 1889. He sold the firm for cash to the newly floated Harrods Stores Ltd, recognizing he would not retire completely if he retained any interest. However the Harrod name was retained by the new firm in recognition of the quality of his business. On retirement, Harrod became involved in politics in Somerset, where he also served as a JP; and then after moving to Sussex in 1902 he was elected a Liberal member of the Sussex county council. While living at Culverwood, a house he purchased at Cross in Hand, Sussex, Harrod served as chairman of the local schools attendance council. Harrod died on 15 August 1905 at the Grosvenor Hotel, London, and was buried on 19 August at Waldron parish church.

Sources

  • ‘Founder of Harrods stores: beginnings of a great commercial colony’, newspaper cutting (obit.), 17 Aug 1905, Harrods Ltd, London
  • ‘Local industries, no. 10. Cash v. credit. Mr C. D. Harrod’, Chelsea Herald (30 Aug 1884), 4
  • Sussex Express (22 July 1905)
  • Sussex Express (12 Aug 1905)
  • Sussex Express (19 Aug 1905)
  • Sussex Express (30 Sept 1905)
  • G. Frankau, research notes and draft of an unpubd book on the history of Harrods, 1944, Harrods Ltd, London
  • Harrodian Gazette (Aug 1913), 13
  • Harrodian Gazette (June 1923), 136–7, 153
  • Harrodian Gazette (May 1928), 133–40
  • Harrodian Gazette (June 1928), 184
  • Harrodian Gazette (Sept 1930), 348
  • Harrodian Gazette (Oct 1955), 435
  • Miss Condor, ‘The story of Mr C. D. Harrod’, text of a talk by the granddaughter of C. D. Harrod, 26 Jan 1932, Harrods Ltd, London
  • corresp., Harrods Ltd, London [incl. corresp. of Dr R. Harrod, P. Harrod, Mr B. Heather, and Mr Godsmark]
  • A. C. B. Menzies, Modern men of mark (1921), 55–7
  • Post office and trade directories, 1830–1915, Guildhall Library and Metropolitan archives
  • T. Dale, A palace in Knightsbridge (1995)
  • F. H. W. Sheppard, ed., Southern Kensington: Brompton, Survey of London, 41 (1983)
  • b. cert.
  • m. cert.
  • d. cert.

Archives

  • Harrods Ltd, London

Likenesses

  • oils, priv. coll.
  • photograph, Harrods Ltd, London [see illus.]

Wealth at Death

£147,494 17s. 7d.: probate, 21 Sept 1905, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

Calendars of the grants of probate … made in … HM court of probate [England and Wales]