The principal buildings of the Kingston store were completed in 1935 to a design by architect Maurice Webb and inspired by Wren's design for Hampton Court. The fine stonework on the facade was the work of Eric Gill. This original facade has been retained as part of the Bentall Centre shopping development, in which the principal Bentalls store is now located. The store previously occupied buildings covering the entire site of the development and between 1935 and 1976 was the UK's largest department store outside central London.
In addition to the Kingston and Bracknell stores, Bentalls once operated stores in Worthing, Ealing, Tunbridge Wells, Chatham, Tonbridge, Lakeside, and Bristol. The Bournemouth-based Beales group acquired the lease to three of these sites and the Worthing and Tonbridge stores continue to trade under the Beales name.
In 1987, construction began on creating a new Bentalls department store and shopping centre. This new development was to include a five-level department store and a four-level adjoining shopping centre including over 100 retail units. The development took five years to complete and was built in two phases, allowing the existing department store to trade throughout the development period. The first phase, the "new" department store opened in July 1990. The new shopping centre was opened in November 1992 by Edward Bentall (descendant of Frank Bentall).
The shopping centre's atrium ceiling is higher than the nave of Westminster Abbey or the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral. The original department store's façade was retained. Another significant feature of the centre is an escalator that travels from the ground to the second floor. It is the largest single-truss escalator in the world with only a top and bottom support.
By Mark Matlach
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