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THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE

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1040 Abroad

Selfridges Grade II* Listing Highlights US-UK WWII Links

The central London store was upgraded to Grade II* Listed Status during 2020, highlighting Selfridge’s important historic significance

Published on December 18, 2020

A SIGSALY Machine A SIGSALY Machine (1943)

Selfridges, the famous central London department store, has been upgraded to Grade II* listed status by Historic England. The move not only recognises the architectural significance of the building, which was designed by American designer Daniel Burnham, but also highlights the key role Selfridges played in the Allied effort during World War II.

During the Second World War, the Selfridges building was home to SIGSALY, scrambling apparatus which allowed the US and the UK to communicate through a secure channel. Messages from both Franklin D Roosevelt and Winston Churchill were relayed via the system, allowing the two premiers to retain a vital line of communication after America joined the war.

Over 12 SIGSALY terminals were installed worldwide. The Pentagon received the first installation, with Selfridges’ basement housing the second. The first conference hosted through SIGSALY took place on July 15, 1943. One advantage of Selfridge’s location was its proximity to the US Embassy on Grosvenor Square, which later received its own extension to the system, along with the Cabinet War Room and Number 10 Downing Street.

In total, SIGSALY hosted over 3,000 conferences during the conflict, and was even extended to reach General Douglas MacArthur in the Pacific, after one of the devices was installed on a ship.

As well as highlighting the special relationship during the Second World War, the new status reflects the importance of another Anglo-American link via the department store’s founder, Harry Gordon Selfridge, Sr. Born in Wisconsin in 1858, Selfridge made a big impression on London, and revolutionized the retail industry, developing his store as a ‘social centre, not merely a place for shopping’.

The announcement of Selfridge’s upgraded status was delivered by Historic England as part of an overview of newly listed locations during 2020.

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive at Historic England, said that “Every year, Historic England works to protect the most significant historic sites across the country. Despite the challenges that the heritage sector has faced this year, 2020 has seen many brilliant additions to the List ... we want to ensure England’s rich and varied cultural heritage is protected so that the public can continue to cherish the heritage that makes their local places so important.”

To find out more about Selfridges, and to see other landmarks in England which have been recognized during 2020, go to historicengland.org.uk/whats-new/news/captivating-sites-listed-during-2020.

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Christmas at Selfridges. Selfridges at Christmas, 1944. Photo © Crown Copywrite (IWM)



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