History of the Department Store (1876-Present)

The Bon Marche department store was built in 1876 by James Smith, a local businessman from Tooting who won £80,000 in prize money when his racehorse Roseberry won an unconceivable double at Newmarket.  Inspired by the opulence of the original Bon Marche in Paris, James Smith embarked on creating an unrivalled shopping destination in Brixton, which would also be the first steel framed building in the UK. 

Following the success of the main store on Brixton Road, a Ferndale Road annex named Toplin House was added in 1906 to provide two additional floors of retail, and staff accommodation on the upper levels.  Underground tunnels linked Toplin House to the main store – one for men, another for women.

After almost 50 years as a retail destination, with a brief stint as a bomb shelter during World War II, Toplin House was sold in 1955 and converted into offices.  The Bon Marche consolidated all departments into the main store on Brixton Road, where it continued trading until 1975.


Toplin House and a collection of adjacent buildings, which include the original horse and cart Brixton Fire Station, were used by a variety of occupiers including the British Refugee Counciluntil 2012 when the site fell vacant and subject to squatters.  The only part of the site which remained in use was the Post Office on the corner with Stockwell Avenue.

Architects Squire and Partners purchased the dilapidated Edwardian department store in 2015, and have entirely reimagined the space allowing the existing fabric and layers of history to inform the new design.  Collaborating with craftspeople and furniture makers, the restored and extended building provides an exciting array of creative workspaces.

Incorporating the family of buildings along Ferndale Road, Squire and Partners’ redevelopment includes the former Brixton Fire Station, and establishes a variety of creative and retail units including a roastery for Volcano Coffee, Kaboola Kitchen, Pure Vinyl, Brixton Post Office and Canova Hall.