Come Instore! The Inspiration Behind Carrington’s Department Store

I’m often asked about the inspiration behind Carrington’s department store so I thought I’d take you back to where it all began in Brighton, where I grew up.

On the corner of North Street and East Street, not far from the seafront, stood a magnificent powder-blue building with intricate white cornicing around enormous arched windows. Opened in 1865, Hanningtons department store was the most prestigious shopping address in Brighton, synonymous with elegance, style and glamour, and where the staff lived in attic rooms on the top floors, and a maze of underground tunnels stretched beneath the Brighton streets – with one tunnel linking to the Royal Pavilion, presumably so Prince Regent could pop instore to shop without being detected.

Hanningtons Store Front Picture

Hanningtons Store Front

Hanningtons was a place where nothing bad ever happened, or so it seemed to me. It smelt of Revlon lipstick and Chanel perfume (the glorious old one) and exuded luxury – from the Art Deco tearoom to the uniformed attendant in the Ladies powder room; even the open gilt-caged lift fascinated me. Entering through heavy glass and gold-handled doors, I have vivid memories of a plush deep-pile navy blue carpet (sound familiar? Carrington’s has one just the same), soft and springy as we went from one department to another, and they flowed beautifully – pens (where I was bought my first fountain pen) into handbags into hosiery into hats and then on to perfumes, Hanningtons had it all. And then up a short flight of stairs to Womenswear and Haberdashery, all with glass-topped counters and polite sales assistants who called me ‘Miss’, and my Granny ‘Madam’. After purchasing an item, the sales assistant would handwrite a receipt on a carbonated pad before asking, ‘is there anything else you require today?’ It was all very Are You Being Served?

Hanningtons EntranceVisiting Hanningtons was a treat, an occasion, and the place to purchase a special gift, especially at Christmas time, with Santa’s grotto being the ultimate festive experience. We went every year, and every year was better than the last. An elf escorted us into the ‘magic’ lift, which then mysteriously transported us to Lapland, and then along a corridor swathed in snow and twinkly lights where Father Christmas would be waiting, ready to take our handwritten Christmas lists before giving us a present. It took my breath away.

Sadly, Hanningtons is no longer there, the building is, but it’s whitewashed now and has been turned into a number of much smaller shops with bright lights and hard wood flooring – times change I guess, but I hope to have captured a whiff of those wonderful childhood memories in the Carrington’s series.

Luck and love

Alexandra x

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