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Michael Marks, (1859, 1863 or 1864 – 31 December 1907), was one of the two co-founders of the retail chain Marks and Spencer.



Marks was born in Slonim, at that time part of Russia and as of 2009 part of Belarus, as Michał Marks[citation needed] of Jewish ancestry, and emigrated to England. His date of birth is unknown; his naturalization papers say 1859, but his marriage certificate suggests 1863 or 1864.[1] He moved to Leeds where a company called Barran was known to employ Jewish refugees. He married Hannah Cohen at the Jews Synagogue on Belgrave Street (The Great Synagogue) Leeds in 1886.

Marks met Isaac Dewhirst, the owner of a Leeds warehouse, in 1884. A deal was arranged whereby Marks agreed to buy goods from Dewhirst and to sell them in nearby villages. The venture was a success and enabled Marks to raise enough capital to establish a stall in Leeds' open market. He also sold goods at Castleford and Wakefield markets.

Marks also made the decision to rent an area at the new covered market in Leeds, which traded six days of the week. Famously, one of his stalls sold goods that cost only one penny. Next to the stall was a poster with the words "Don't Ask the Price, It's a Penny". Over the next few years, Marks expanded his business and opened similar stalls in covered market halls all over Yorkshire and Lancashire.

Marks and Spencer

In 1894, Marks decided that if he was to expand the business further he would need a business partner. He initially approached Isaac Dewhirst, who decided against the offer but suggested that his cashier, Thomas Spencer, might be interested. Spencer decided that the £300 required for a half-share in the business would be a good investment.

The running of the business was split between Spencer, who managed the office and warehouse, and Marks, who continued to run the market stalls. Spencer had developed some important contacts while working for Isaac Dewhirst and these allowed him to get the best prices for goods by dealing directly with the manufacturers. Together, Spencer and Marks were able to open stores in Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Middlesbrough, Sheffield, Bristol, Hull, Sunderland and Cardiff.

A new warehouse in Manchester was built in 1897. This store became the centre of a business empire that by then included thirty-six branches. New stores had been built in Bradford, Leicester, Northampton, Preston, and Swansea. London had a total of seven branches.

On 5 May 1897, Marks was naturalised as a British subject.

In 1903 Marks & Spencer became a limited company. Spencer's original £300 investment had grown to a value of £15,000, and he retired later that year. Michael Marks continued to develop the business until his death in 1907.

In the 1930s, long after Marks' death, his son Simon Marks later the 1st Baron Marks of Broughton laid the foundations for a long tradition. He introduced the 'St Michael' brand name in honour of his father, and it was in use until 2000. The current chairman has said that "M&S should fly the St Michael brand with pride", hinting that its return may be in sight.


  1. ^ Chislett p. 8.

Chislett, Helen (2009). Marks in time : 125 years of Marks & Spencer. London: Weidenfield & Nicholson. ISBN 978-0-297-85873-7. 

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