This year sees the 75th anniversary of the opening of the roof garden on top of the Derry and Toms department store in Kensington. There were three themed gardens adorning the roof of the store containing over 500 varieties of plants as well as some birds, including its now iconic flamingos, six stories above the streets of London. The roof gardens are still open today under the ownership of the Virgin Group and comprise a club and music venue as well as the original gardens, flamingos and all.
The records for the Derry and Toms store are held at University of Glasgow Archive Services as part of the House of Fraser collection with many items held containing pictures and information about the roof garden.
One promotional article from c.1952 ( reference: FRAS 1530) discusses the success of the gardens, with over 160,000 visitors coming in the previous summer, but also details the complexity of the roof design which necessitated experimental building methods to stop the complex water features, which includes a waterfall, leaking into the store below. It also states that though the flamingos were apparently now enjoying their new home on the Kensington rooftop, London Zoo had to be consulted as their distinctive pink colour was fading due to their diet.
Volumes of photographs show the construction of the building from the open foundations to the completed roof garden, including a black and white picture of Queen Mary’s visit to the rooftop (reference number FRAS 1502/2) which was subsequently used on the cover of the story of the Baker family, A Garden in the Sky, by D.W. Peel. Further photographs can be found in promotional materials for the gardens, many of which are in colour, emphasising the array of plant life, and the now-pink flamingos.
Administrative information from the 1950s is also held for the roof gardens, including plans involved in a dispute over property valuation and consultation on the legality of charging guests for entry as a way of raising money for charity.
For more information on what we hold on the roof garden why not look at our House of Fraser catalogue online to see our full collection on the roof garden and much more.