Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from goo.gl/Ta4oAX.
Published November 11th 2014
The World's Biggest Toy Shop
Spanning seven floors with over fifty thousand toys, Hamleys is not only the world's largest toy store, but also the world's oldest. Estblished in 1760 by William Hamley, the shop - originally called Noah's Ark - was located in High Holborn, until moving to Regent Street in 1881. Today it has many other small outlets across the UK and internationally, but none compare to the wonder of Regent Street.
It being the Christmas season, Hamleys's shop window is decked out appropriately: Santa is sitting in his armchair, reading the names of children on his list, and deciding what to send them. What I can't tell you is whether Santa is there to deliver the elf-made toys to Hamleys or if it is Hamleys supplying Santa.
Whichever happens to be the case, once any child steps through those doors, they will never want to leave. Hamleys caters for all ages and interests, whether you are five, fifteen or fifty, whether you like Barbie, Hot Wheels, or Play-Doh. As well as old familiar favourites, you'll also find innovative new gadgets, and inventions not to be found in any other toy store.
I had not intended on going into Hamleys. I was in the area because I was doing the Paddington Trail, and was searching for one of the statues meant to be stationed outside. When I couldn't find it, I went into the shop to ask if any of the staff knew where it was. Before I even got a chance to ask, a friendly young man, stationed at the front, saw my map and told me the statue had not arrived yet. The only Paddington to see was the one in the left hand corner, which has been there for about five years. It may not have been the Paddington I was looking for, but it was an impressive display, with the Peruvian bear climbing up a precariously balanced mountain of suitcases.
Now that I was inside, there was no chance of my not looking around. The ground floor is dedicated to bears and soft toys of all sorts. Here you will find giant teddy bears, and close-to life-size wild animals, including lions, gorillas, and giraffes. These are not cheap, mind you. The giraffe retailed at £650.
In the more affordable price bracket, there are puppets, including familiar figures such as Punch & Judy, fairy tale characters, astronauts, and Shakespearean actors.
For the collectors out there, you'll discover glass cabinets filled with Steiff, Silver Tags, Charlie Bears, and other artist bears. As a collector, my keen eye spotted that a number of these were above the RRP.
Once you've finished with the ground floor, it's mind your step and all aboard for the underground basement. Down here are video games and outdoor toys, such as scooters.
What is great about Hamleys is the 'try before you buy' aspect. Although obviously not applicable to everything, a number of the toys can be played with. Among these are Nerf guns and Skylanders for X-Box.
I think working at Hameys probably has to be somewhere at the top for the best places to work. As well as serving customers at the till and stocking shelves, many of the staff are demonstrating the toys. Some were performing magic tricks, some were blowing ever-lasting bubble-baloons, another was playing a unique game of paddle ball with an excited child, and the one who appeared to be having the most fun was driving a remote controlled car on the ceiling.
Pre-schoolers will find their realm on the first floor. As they step off the escalator, Thomas the Tank Engine will be there to greet them. Other favourite characters include Peter Rabbit and Elmer the Elephant.
Turn the corner and they'll be able to ride round on some insect-themed push cars, read picture books, and buy an alarm clock that sings a personalised wake-up song.
The next floor is for all things pink: Barbie, Hello Kitty, Flitter Fairies, Sylvanian Families, etc. There's also a section for dress up, with tutus and nail varnish, although I'm not sure I really approve of selling make-up to kids.
Up to the third floor for arts & crafts, and science, where they have things such as Magic Pens, Rainbow Art kits, jewellery kits, Build-A-Bear, Slinkies, and geometric toys.
Film lovers want to head up to the fourth floor, were you can immerse yourself in memorabilia from Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Games of Thrones, and more. This was definitely my favourite section. I enjoyed looking at all the different types of themed chess boards, admiring broomsticks, and most of all, seeing all the wands. Hamley's have an abundance of Harry Potter ones, including ones you don't really see elsewhere. These include the wands belonging to Seamus Finnegan, Dean Thomas, Parvati Patil, and Molly Weasley. But the ones I was most interested in were The Weasley twins wands. I have been wanting these for a while, but because they come as a set on a stand, are more expensive than just being able to get one at a time. I was looking at it for a while in the glass cabinet, before a woman asked if I would like a closer look. How could I resist?
The customer service at Hamleys is great, especially because the staff are interesting the areas they are working in. The woman serving me was also a Harry Potter fan, and we began talking about the Warner Brother Studio Tour, which she wanted to go to. As I have already been, I told her a bit about what it is like.
This floor is also the home of board games, puzzles, and motor madness. There was an extremely impressive puzzle on display featuring a 3D model of Big Ben and Tower Bridge.
It takes a while to get around Hamleys, so at this stage you might be feeling peckish. One level up, and you'll find yourself in pick-a-mix heaven. All your favourite penny sweets (which admittedly have not been a penny for a long time now) from Haribo to Jelly Belly jelly beans. There are also lollies, chocolate, milkshakes, and smoothies.
Last but not least, you can't forget LEGO on the sixth floor. A great attraction to tourists who love London, how much more appealing can you get than LEGO phone booths, LEGO royal guards, and life size LEGO replicas of the Prince of Wales and Duke and Duchess of Cambridge?
Hamleys may be expensive, but the shop is not just about buying toys, it is about the magical experience it offers, whether that be at Christmas or any other time of the year.