The Fascinating History of Self Storage

The Fascinating History of Self Storage

It’s human nature to want to own things - to have possessions we want to keep for ourselves. We need to keep useful, practical stuff - furniture, a car or bike to get us from A to B, and clothes to keep us warm. We like to keep stuff that makes us more comfortable or creates a favourable impression to others of who we are, or that might hold some sentimental value. 

It’s also human nature to want to keep our stuff safe. We take steps to keep our possessions protected against theft, fire, damage or loss. The greater the value of the item, the greater the steps we might take to keep it safe.

It’s important to understand this nature to see why and how self storage has developed over the years - it has grown from a basic human need to own more than we need or use and to keep it safe. Where we don’t have enough space at home or work or lack sufficient security, we can turn to the self storage industry to store our belongings until we need them back.

Early self storage

In the days of the 1666 Great Fire of London, diarist Samuel Pepys famously buried a lump of cheese in his back garden to protect it from the flames because it was expensive and important to him. There are other early examples of people keeping their belongings away from their homes either to keep them safe or to make more space at home. 

The self storage industry grew from that basic drive, providing secure storage space for those who could not provide it for themselves.

At first, in 19th-century Great Britain, the self storage business served wealthy Victorians who were discovering the joys of long-distance travel. Not wanting to leave their belongings in an empty house while they were away for long periods, they would pay banks to store their stuff securely. 

Banks were seen as secure and highly trustworthy, and people routinely stored valuables such as jewellery and heirlooms in vaults anyway. It was, therefore, natural for Victorians to place their trust in the banks to store their other belongings, too - furniture and furnishings, paintings, and clothing, for example. 

The banks only had so much space in their vaults, though, so the banks began acquiring additional storage space in warehouses and stables, which they would then make secure for use as storage rooms.
Meanwhile, in mid-19th-century America, private individuals began to offer storage, mainly to immigrants arriving in the US with all of their worldly goods. The luggage and belongings of those seeking to make a home in America were safely stored until they had found lodgings or a permanent home. Purpose-built warehouses began to be constructed in the early 1900s.

The beginnings of modern self storage in the UK

In America, by the 1960s, it had become an established practice for people to store their belongings in secure storage rooms that were rented to them for their exclusive use. People could see how useful it was to have a space away from home to keep their excess belongings. 

Eventually, this idea carried across the Pond to Great Britain. Initially, business storage was more popular than storage for personal belongings - businesses were expanding in the 1980s. They needed more space for stock and supplies but didn’t necessarily have the square footage in their offices to keep it all. Land in the cities was very expensive (as it still is today), so buying larger business premises there was prohibitively costly - renting storage space in self storage warehouses was an affordable, viable alternative.

On a smaller scale, garage lock-ups were increasingly popular amongst people seeking space for their excess personal belongings. This form of self storage wasn’t without its issues - it was difficult for owners of the garages to be certain that they were being used for legal purposes, and garage lock-ups are often subjected to break-ins. Belongings stored in poorly maintained garage lock-ups were also at risk from damage by the elements (as they have flat roofs prone to rot and leaks) and pests. Alongside lock-ups, self-storage businesses were beginning to develop, offering indoor rooms within warehouses or empty apartment blocks as storage space.

By the 2000s, personal self storage had become more commonplace, and better-quality self storage units had begun to emerge. 

Safestore’s history 

Safestore was founded in 1998 with the purchase of 3 freehold properties in London. Since then, we have opened over 130 stores across the UK and dozens of stores across western Europe spanning 5 countries (France, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Germany).  As a group, we now provide self storage for over 71,000 customers and are really proud of the service we provide.

Our stores are predominantly indoors, with lockers and rooms (from 10 sq ft to over 500 sq ft) that are self-contained and housed in our secure warehouses. They’re covered by security systems, including alarms and CCTV, pest control and fire detection and prevention systems. You can rent a self storage unit with us for as little or as long as you like, depending on your chosen contract.  We are also open 7 days a week, and you can add things to (or remove things from) your unit whenever you like during our normal trading hours. For increased security, you are the only keyholder for your unit

Whether you want to store archives, stock or equipment for your business, or furniture, furnishings or excess belongings to free up space at home, we will keep everything safe, clean and dry for you.

If you would like a no-obligation quote or to find out more about Safestore self storage in your local area, please call us, chat with us online or call in, and our experienced, friendly team will be happy to help.


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