The business was formed in 1778 by William Clark, who opened a drapery store at 44 Wigmore Street in London. In 1813 William Debenham became a partner and the company name became Clark & Debenham. As trade grew, the company expanded by opening provincial branches in Cheltenham and Harrogate.
In 1837 Clark retired and Clark took on two new partners, William Pooley and John Smith, trading in both London and Cheltenham as Debenham, Pooley & Smith. By 1840 the management of the Cheltenham store was given to Clement Freebody, Debenham’s brother-in-law.
In 1851 Pooley and Smith retired and Clement Freebody became partner with the firm now styled as Debenham & Freebody.
Following Freebody’s retirement in 1876, a new partnership, Debenham & Hewett was formed. By 1883 George Hewett was the sole owner of the Cheltenham store, while Frank and William Debenham managed the London store as a separate concern.
In 1905 the business was incorporated as Debenhams Ltd. In 1985 it was acquired by the Burton Group. In 1998 the merger was dissolved and, as Debenhams plc the company once again became an independent business. Today, Debenhams plc has grown to department stores at 168 locations in the UK and Ireland.