Irelands 1st Department Store



As the object design and theme of memories was proposed by the Austins Department Store to celebrate its long historical ties to Derry, I visited the store to get some inspiration

The Department Store has a fascinating history. Its opened back in 1830 as a drapery store owned by Thomas Austin, and designed by an architect who when on to design the Guild Hall. The store is famous for its unique design inside and out, defining features include a large old wooden staircase and original lift.

It is a remarkable design, untypical of restrained Edwardian buildings, and makes the most of its wonderful corner site. Inside, the main feature was an open stair well running through the floors, topped with a fine glass atrium.

However, many of the objects for sale are wildly varied and unorganized – there is little meaning to them in the context of the historical importance of the store. One reason for this may be that having stood for more then 100 years, the store has become a mish-mash or varying styles from all different time periods.

I took reference photos of the most interesting and memorable parts of the store for me, and while some of the objects for sale are interesting, it was the textures of the staircase and wallpaper that sparked my interest

Down the years Austins has also had a large ‘family’ of loyal staff. In the 1930s, staff and apprentices lived in a dormitory above McKinlays in the Diamond, which was owned by Austins

The possibilities for memorial objects are particularly varied, as the store has stood through many important Irish events such as the famine and the Troubles, and I also found interesting details about how people lived and the technology they used that could be re-imagined to link the store to its history

  1. Hamill, N. 2013. Our History Seven Generations. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 16 Nov 2013].

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