Back in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, I visited London several times a year, mostly for my job. For the first few years, I didn’t really know anyone in the city and, in my free time, spent hours and hours just walking around, visiting museums, bookstores, tearooms, and vegetarian cafes.
Liberty & Co. was always on my list. I could while away hours in there, looking at fabrics, rugs, Indian furniture, Arts & Crafts decorative arts, and books. There was a cafeteria-style tearoom on the basement level where learned to take milk in my tea and discovered millionaire’s shortbread (before I became vegan). I couldn’t afford much at Liberty’s, but the dollar was strong enough back then that I was able to buy some of their signature-print items as gifts.
I've popped into Liberty's in recent years and have seen many changes since I used to haunt its floors decades ago. The bookshop is gone, the lower level tearoom is gone, and there’s pretty much nothing in the store that I can afford these days. I decided to spend a little more time there today, on the 3rd and 4th floors which house fabric and ethnic and Arts & Crafts furnishings.
I love that there is still a department that sells ribbon, buttons, and sewing notions in addition to its famous printed fabrics.
The annual Arts & Crafts exhibition was on and prices have risen since the days when I used to source furniture, metalwork and ceramics from this period for a museum.
I own a couple ceramic tiles like those above. They were designed by J. Moyr Smith and depict scenes from Shakespeare’s plays. My U.K. trips provided opportunities to add to my collection of Victorian tiles, however I rarely paid more than $5 and never more than $15-20. These at Liberty were priced at £125 each.
You can view more pieces in the exhibition here.
By coincidence I was wearing a belt and skirt that looked right at home in Liberty’s rugs and carpet department!
* I believe the name is just "Liberty London" now, but since I'm stuck in the 19th century, I still think of it as "Liberty & Co."