John Lewis’ 150th anniversary is in full swing. Products with designs inspired by and recovered from the amazing archives now held at the Heritage Centre in Odney are everywhere. I was lucky enough to take a look at some of the original patterns and their contemporary versions a few months back so it was actually pretty exciting to see the products themselves on the shop floor in Welwyn yesterday. Whatever the hesitancies we have as historians about the term ‘heritage’ and how it can be appropriated, manufactured and consumed, we should be also be able to recognise when it’s a source of energy and creativity. OK, so I bought the daisy-chain duvet cover…
Anniversaries are often the prompt for reflection and public history depends on them. But how often do businesses and organisations make use of their own history? John Lewis is probably unusual in the extent of the company’s investment in the preservation and active use of its archives. Not only the design of products but the architecture of stores has drawn on archived material (including the Heritage Centre itself).
‘Heritage for business’ was the theme of an event the University of Hertfordshire’s Heritage Hub held last year, at which John Lewis’ Heritage Services Manager, Judy Faraday (a Hub Fellow and a woman much in demand at the moment) explained how and why history mattered to the Partnership. At that event was Agostino Luggeri, the MD of Mulmar, a Hertfordshire Anglo-Italian coffee machine company coming up for its 25th anniversary.
The following film is the product of the resulting collaboration between the Heritage Hub, Mulmar and the production company Magic Beans Media. It ‘premiered’ at the London Coffee Festival, a major event in the industry’s calendar, which attracted 22,000 visitors:
What I hope the video shows is the contribution that a university can make. It is a promotional video, but it’s different from standard marketing products. The relationship with Mulmar had started with a research project, The Cappuccino Conquests, which traced the global history of Italian-style coffee. Professor Jonathan Morris interviewed the business’ founders, which showed how the history of Mulmar was interwoven with as well as emblematic of the story of the UK coffee revolution.
Putting together the video also involved a history MA student and Hub research assistant, Helen Tyler, working through the Mulmar archive and scanning and cataloguing relevant images. A 2nd-year Graphic Design student, Olawale Osunla, won a competition set up to create a new company logo celebrating the anniversary (it appears at the end of the video).
Projects like this can bring the sought-after ‘win-win’ for the company, academics and students and we’re aiming to trace its impact over the following months. John Lewis is leading the way in showing businesses the power of the anniversary, but maybe Mulmar will prove that the local company can do it too.