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William Whiteley

Person  Male  Born 29/9/1831  Died 24/1/1907

Categories: Commerce, Tragedy

Entrepreneur and founder of Whiteley's department store on Queensway, now Whiteleys shopping centre. A bequest from his will formed Whiteley Village.

Born in Yorkshire and, 1848, apprenticed to a draper in Wakefield. Following a visit to the Great Exhibition in 1851 he came to London immediately his apprenticeship was over. He lived frugally and worked in shops until he had enough saved to open his own business at 31 Westbourne Grove in 1863. He expanded into neighbouring properties and extended his range from linens to include foods, imported goods, etc. becoming a true department store. It was destroyed in a huge fire in 1887, but quickly rebuilt.

In 1907 Whiteley was murdered by Horace George Rayner who apparently believed Whiteley to be his father. Black Kalendar has a full version of the story from which we understand that Whiteley had had an affair with Rayner's mother's sister and had a son by her. Rayner claimed that members of his family had told him that Whiteley was also his father. Rayner obtained an interview with Whiteley at his office in the Westbourne Grove store and asked for money. When Whiteley refused Rayner shot and killed him and then shot himself in the head but managed only a serious injury. Convicted of murder he was originally sentenced to death but this was commuted to life imprisonment and he was released in 1919.

In 1911 a new store designed by J. J. Joass  and John Belcher was built in Queensway (then called Queens Road), claimed to be the largest shop in the world. In the 1950s the upper floors were converted to office space which was used by LEO Computers, and named Hartree House.

The store closed in 1981 and reopened in 1989 as a shopping centre. The facade and some staircases remain.

Both the plaque and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography gives Whiteley's birthplace as Agbrigg, south-east of Wakefield, but Wikipedia disagrees and puts forward the nearby small village of Purston instead.

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William Whiteley

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Wiliam Whiteley - biographical plaque

William Whiteley, the founder of this Trust, was born at Agbrigg, Yorks on th...

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William Whiteley - plaque

The quotation is from Psalm 41.1.

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William Whiteley - relief

1831    1907 William Whiteley {On ribbon:} labora et vive {Latin for: work a...

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