Fenwick launches circus spectacular to celebrate 140 years on the high street - here's what's in store

Roll up, roll up – the circus is in town.

Saturday, 9th April 2022, 4:55 am

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Food, fashion and more in store for Fenwick 140 celebrations
Food, fashion and more in store for Fenwick 140 celebrations

Bold fashions and flavours combine under the Big Top for a milestone anniversary that’s reaching new heights at Fenwick.

The household name store is celebrating 140 years of fashion and flair in Newcastle’s Northumberland Street with a year-long parade of big events and a big £40 million investment announced for the store to take it into the future.

Shoppers from across the region are being invited to run away to the circus, whether it be browsing exclusive brand collaboration collections from the likes of Edeline Lee and Rixo to Paul Smith and Palmer Harding, tucking into dishes at the new Café 140 or exploring a special exhibition which traces the colourful history of the store.

Hula Hoopist Satya performs for Fenwick 140 to mark the start of a year of celebrations

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It was on March 23, 1882 that John James Fenwick opened his stylish store in Northumberland Street, which would go on to become a North East icon, as well as one of the UK’s most-successful department store brands.

His son Arthur Fenwick had a lifelong passion of circus and brought that sense of showmanship and wonder to the business, as well as a number of his circus family, who were famous and frequent visitors to the Newcastle store and its tea rooms, which played host to both human and crocodile performers. It’s his passion for life’s curiosities which inspired this year’s 140 celebrations. Here’s what’s in store:

Café 140

Step through a specially-adorned Big Top doorway at the rear of the store and into a fabulously flamboyant circus-themed attraction, from the specially-made carpet in signature Fenwick green emblazoned with retro strongmen and hot air balloons to artworks of contemporary aerialists on the walls.

A special Big Top doorway at the rear of the store leads to the Cafe 140 and exhibition

Part of the area features Café 140, a new café open throughout 2022 serving traditional dishes executed with style.

The menu is a classic affair, a culinary delve through the decades with traditional brunch dishes, served until 11.30am, such as eggs Benedict (£10) and freshly-baked Viennoiserie (£3.50) through to a range of open sandwiches and light plates and cakes and desserts, such as picture-perfect peach melba (£5) and slabs of gloriously retro Battenberg (£5).

I ordered one of the open sandwiches - smoked salmon, pickled beetroot and horseradish, on rye bread (£11). Sandwiches can be a simple affair but, as you’d expect from Fenwick, this version was of top quality: fantastic, fresh ingredients paired perfectly to create a medley of flavours.

So too, my salad choice of chicken Waldorf salad (£12.50), a simple dish done well.

Smoked Salmon, Pickled Beetroot and Horseradish, on Rye Bread from the Cafe 140 menu

Make sure to wet your whistle with a tipple from the drinks menu. There’s a concise selection of coffees and house wines, but make sure to try the Fenwick own brand English sparkling wine (£10 a glass), a beautifully crisp fizz, with a light sweetness that’s not as heavy as some of its sparkling counterparts.

It’s the kind of product you’d expect from this grand old dame of department stores .Though the styles have come and gone over the decades, quality has always been in fashion at Fenwick.

:: Café 140 is open Monday - Saturday: 9am until 5pm and Sunday: 11am until 5pm. Walk ups only.

Elegance & Acrobats: 140 years of fashion and flair

'Exhibition 140: Elegance & Acrobats: 140 years of fashion and flair​', is open daily throughout 2022 and is free to attend.

Next door to Café 140, the 140 exhibition, which is open daily throughout 2022, is a fabulous foray into the colourful world of circus.

As well as telling the story of the store on information boards, it features fashions through the decades, tracing the changing role of women in society through their clothes.

There’s also a kaleidoscope of theatrical costumes, clowns and circus artefacts on display, representing some of the many colourful characters who’ve graced the store over the years – and even a hall of mirrors so visitors can shape shift.

As well as a look back in time, the exhibition also celebrates designers of the future. Fenwick partnered with the School of Design at Northumbria University and Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums (TWAM) for some reinterpretations of the Fenwick archives, with students creating their own outfit interpretations of the store’s changing fashions.

Other events

In addition to fashion and food collaborations under the Fenwick 140 branding available to buy, there will be a range of events announced throughout the year to mark the milestone year. There’s also a podcast series entitled ‘The Woman Who...’ narrated by actress Zawe Ashton celebrating women past and present who embody female empowerment through the circus of life.

The colourful exhibition celebrates fashions through the decades

Fenwick timeline – always in fashion

::1882 – The original Fenwick opens at 5 Northumberland Street, serving the finest fashions of the day, and becomes so successful it takes over larger premises at No 39 two years later, followed by No 37, where the department store still stands.

::1891 – Fenwick opens at New Bond Street in London’s most-luxurious shopping district.

::1902 – The store hosts its first ever Christmas Bazaar.

::1911 – Fenwick Newcastle opes the Terrace Tea Room.

::1913 – The Newcastle store unveils its new neo-classical frontage and celebrates with a lavish opening day.

::1921 – As business booms in Newcastle, Fenwick acquires the Blackett Street block of buildings.

::1927 – Fenwick prints its first-ever issue of Fenwick News, the ‘house newspaper.’

::1930 – Pioneering British aviatrix, Lady Isobel Chaytor, selects Fenwick to design her flight suit for the first ever flight from London to Australia by a female.

::1938 – Circus performer Koringa visits Fenwick’s terrace tearoom with her pet crocodile.

::1962 – Fenwick of Leicester opens.

::1971 – Fenwick debuts its first animated Christmas window display, sparking a North East festive tradition.

::1984 – Fenwick opens in York.

::1990s – The store collaborates with fashion illustrator David Downton, the latest in a long history of partnerships with talented creatives.

::2013 – John James Fenwick, a great-grandson and namesake of founder JJ Fenwick, receives a CBE for services to retail.

::2015 – Fenwick Food Hall opens in Newcastle

::2016 – Fenwick becomes Royal Ascot’s Official Millinery Sponsor.

::2020 – For the first time in its history, Fenwick closes all of its stores due to the pandemic. But the Christmas window reveal still takes place digitally, reaching more than a million people worldwide.

::2022 – Fenwick launches a year of celebrations to mark 140 stylish years.

The curiosity and playfulness of the circus, as beloved by the Fenwick founder's son, informs the celebratory events
Fenwick started life in Newcastle and went on to become one of the UK's most-successful high street brands
The store has called Northumberland Street home for 140 years