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M&S announces 125th anniversary archive exhibition in partnership with University of Leeds

Marks & Spencer and the University of Leeds today announce a new partnership that will see highlights of the company's archive exhibited to the public for the first time.

Under the partnership, M&S will move pieces of its extensive archive collection to Leeds from London in a celebration of its heritage, 125 years after Michael Marks, the company's founder, opened his first stall at the city's Kirkgate market in 1884.

The M&S archive includes more than 60,000 items, many of which have never been seen publicly before - from products and photographs through to company literature and advertising.

From early summer 2009, a selection of these items will be unveiled in a free public exhibition housed in the University's Centenary Gallery within the Parkinson building. The University will host a series of lectures highlighting the social and academic value of the archive. These public lectures will cover topics like social history, textiles, local history and the story behind M&S.

The exhibition will track M&S' journey from market stall to penny bazaar to international retailer; showcasing how M&S is woven into the fabric of British life - from the clothes we wear and the food we eat, to the high moral and ethical standards we expect from businesses and employers today.

Stuart Rose, M&S Chairman said: "M&S has been at the heart of the community for 125 years and since we began life as a market stall in Leeds we have amassed a wonderful collection of products and memorabilia that offer an intriguing insight into the M&S of today.

"In this special year, we are delighted to be celebrating our Leeds roots by exhibiting part of our company archive for the first time here in the city. The University of Leeds, with its outstanding academic reputation, is the perfect partner for this collaboration." 

University of Leeds Vice-Chancellor, Professor Michael Arthur, said: "This partnership brings together one of Britain's leading universities with one of Britain's leading businesses and offers significant potential benefits to both as well as the wider Leeds community.

"Marks & Spencer has been part of this country's economic, cultural and social fabric for 125 years and because of this, it is of interest to scientists and historians alike. The academic potential of the company's archive is considerable for staff and students and it will be a valuable resource for education and research."

M&S and the University of Leeds are also in advanced discussions about permanently relocating the entire company archive to Leeds and housing it in a purpose built location on campus. The full archive would be open to the public and academics for the first time.

The scale of the full archive is considerable and the collection has been deemed by independent experts as having the potential to be one of the UK's finest commercial archives. It includes clothing, toys, books, homeware and food packaging. It also offers an unrivalled insight into the company's corporate history as it includes an extensive collection of internal and external company documents.

M&S has appointed Metaphor to creatively design the exhibition and work starts onsite this week.

For further information:

Please contact the University of Leeds Press Office on +44 (0)113 343 4031 or email

Notes to editors:

The University of Leeds is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK with more than 30,000 students from 130 countries and a turnover of £450m.  The University is a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities and the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise showed it to be the UK's eighth biggest research powerhouse.  The University's vision is to secure a place among the world's top 50 by 2015.

The archive exhibition is the latest addition to the University of Leeds' rich collection of cultural and artistic assets which includes the Library and Special Collections, the Stanley and Audrey Burton Art Gallery, the Clothworkers' Centenary Concert Hall and a theatre complex, stage@leeds. The Refectory remains a perennial favourite with bands; and the University's ground-breaking partnership with Opera North is attracting plaudits.

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