Published: 06:00, 29 July 2021
| Updated: 15:17, 29 July 2021
It's escaped a devastating bombing raid with only minor damage and had an unwelcome visit from a family of globe-trotting tarantulas.
Marks & Spencer is today celebrating its 100th anniversary in Canterbury’s high street and as Lydia Chantler-Hicks discovers it's had quite the history.
The popular retailer first opened its doors in St George’s Street on July 29, 1921, and has since remained a permanent presence in the ever-changing city centre.
On the night of June 1, 1942, at the height of the Second World War, parts of the city were decimated in the ruthless Baedeker raid.
The German Luftwaffe descended, showering bombs over Canterbury and reducing St George’s Street to rubble.
But the M&S store miraculously escaped with only minor damage, and was one of the only buildings that remained standing.
A great deal of debris required clearing, but the shop managed to reopen again a few days after the attack.
This episode is representative of the fixity with which M&S has remained in the high street since, weathering the test of time for a century.
While its original grand facade - built in the 1930s - remains the same, the store has undergone numerous extensions over the years and the items it sells have changed to roll with the times.
To mark its 100th anniversary, people have shared their memories of the shop from over the years.
Former employees reminisced about the “fantastic” perks they enjoyed, and recalled the store having an in-house hairdresser, dentist and doctor to help care for them.
Sara Skelton, who worked as a Saturday girl at the store in the late ‘60s, said: “You could get a three-course lunch for sixpence.
“At the end of the day food was sold to staff at very low price.
“It was the first time I ate a peach that had not come from a tin, and the day I got a chicken for sixpence the whole family thought I had won the lottery.”
Margaret Cook added: “Staff in those days were able to buy food at the end of the day for half-price. Most went home loaded with goodies - we all got food bargains.
“Also staff could get their hair done for half-price within the store.
“Christmas was great - a whole month’s money bonus and a party as well. The staff were well looked after.”
Mrs Cook recalls working in the store’s food department in 1982, when the Pope made a historic visit to Canterbury, while former employee Pauline Harvey recalls rumours of a “ghost” that haunted the oldest parts of the building.
Meanwhile David Bryant says his mum, who worked in the account department in the ‘50s, was there when staff unpacking a shipment of bananas were met with a chilling surprise.
“A huge tarantula and loads of its babies climbed out, scaring everybody witless,” he said.
“An expert was called in from London Zoo. The store was closed for a couple of weeks.
“[Mum] resigned and worked at Nasons.”
M&S was unable to verify this story.
Its longest-serving employee, customer service assistant Ann Steadman, started at the shop in 1979 aged 15, and has worked there since.
She said: “I started working at the store in 1979 at the age of just 15.“The store has changed a lot since then, but our colleagues and customers have remained at the heart of everything we do. It’s incredible to be involved in such a big celebration in our store’s history.”
Countless others from across the district hold fond memories of visiting M&S in Canterbury over the years, be it for edible treats or travel money.
Janet Farbrace remembers queuing up outside the store on Christmas Eve 1968 to buy her turkey, while former Barclays worker Doreen Mills recalls dashing to M&S during her lunch breaks in the ‘70s to buy a brand-new treat: prawn cocktail crisps.
Today, the store will celebrate its 100th birthday with a visit from The Lord Mayor of Canterbury and Percy Pig.
Store manager Sarah Morgan said: “Our 100th birthday is a great opportunity for both our colleagues and customers to come together and celebrate our legacy in the city.
“The store has evolved to offer an even bigger, better and fresher experience for customers over the years and we look forward to continuing to make shopping that little bit easier and more convenient for our local community for many more years to come!”
Send your memories of the store to email@example.com