My little bit of history ‘culture’ for inclusion on my website this week, focussed on a quite a simple subject matter, that some would probably view as not too exciting – however, upon closer research, it is one that is steeped in history, going back some 300 years in some cases, and it’s remarkable to think that its actual ‘landmarks’ are still around and in use in today’s world.
This week’s culture gig is all about London’s ‘oldest’ shops and/or shop fronts – and there are surprisingly quite a few examples around, which I know I have passed by many times without taking much notice – until now!!
The following is a summary of the shops/shop front landmarks that I tracked down and researched:
1567 – THE OLD CURIOSITY SHOP – PORTSMOUTH STREET – (Shoes)
This 16th century building is probably the oldest shop in central London. It sort of mirrors the image of the ‘Old Curiosity Shop’ written about by Charles Dickens, but it can’t be proved that this building was his actual inspiration.
It was made from wood from old ships and at one time it was a dairy on an estate given by King Charles II to one of his mistresses. The building miraculously survived the flames of the Great Fire of 1666 and the bombs of Second World War.
It still functions today as an upmarket shoe shop and the building’s future is protected by a preservation order.
1676 – LOCKE & CO – ST.JAMES STREET – (Hatters)
This is the world’s oldest hat shop, and one of the oldest family-owned businesses on the planet.
The company is responsible for the origination of the bowler hat – and its hats have been purchased and worn by many historical and famous people throughout the centuries – Winston Churchill in particular was rather partial to their top-hats and homburgs. Locke & Co hold a Royal warrant, and the building itself is Grade II listed.
1698 – BERRY BROS & RUDD – ST JAMES’S STREET – (Wine Merchants)
This wine merchant firm have been trading from this address since 1698.
The shop front was revised and installed around 1800, and has unique glazing, battered paneling and its original (but now blistered) paintwork. The premises is Grade II listed and its original old wooden shutters still line the passage next to the shop that lead to Pickering Place.
1689 – EDE & RAVENSCROFT – CHANCERY LANE – (Tailoring)
Ede & Ravenscroft is thought to be one of the oldest firms of tailors in the world. The shop is located down Chancery Lane which in 1689, was the busy centre of the tailoring trade.
The quality of their work won them the honour of being the recognised supplier to royal families, producing a large number or ceremonial robes for coronations and other historic regal events
1706 – TWININGS – STRAND – (Tea)
Twining’s have sold teas and coffees from this shop for over 300 years. It was purchased by Thomas Twining in 1706, and this historic building is one of the oldest shops in London still in its original location.
There’s even a tea-tasting room and small museum dedicated to the history of the Twinings tea company
1720 – RAVEN ROW – ARTILLERY LANE – (now an exhibition centre)
No.56 Artillery Lane in Spitalfields is relatively unknown.
It is a fair old step away from the West End, and is located in a warren of Dickensian style small streets and alleys. The building was built in the 1720s for a Huguenot silk merchant.
The building is Grade I listed, and is now rented out for exhibitions.
1730 – FLORIS – JERMYN STREET – (Perfumers)
“Floris” is the oldest English retailer of fragrance and toiletries and is still family owned and run today by the 8th and 9th generation of the family.
Floris was founded in 1730 by Juan Famenias Floris, who arrived in England from his native island of Menorca to seek his fortune. Shortly after his arrival, in 1730, he secured premises in Jermyn Street, in this elegant part of London’s St. James’s. The business was originally a barber and comb-maker.
The first Royal Warrant granted to J. Floris Ltd was in 1820 as ‘Smooth Pointed Comb-makers’ to the then King George IV soon after his accession. Today this initial Royal warrant is still on display at 89 Jermyn Street together with no less than 19 others. Floris are the official perfumers to Queen Elizabeth II and manufacturers of toiletries to The Prince of Wales.
The mahogany counter still used in the store today was originally purchased directly from the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park in 1851
1750 – SWAINE ADENEY BRIGGS – PICCADILLY PASSAGE – (Leather goods)
This shop was originally a whip making business set up in 1750.
A royal appointment to His Majesty King George III and to his sons, The Prince of Wales and the Dukes of York, Clarence, Kent, Cumberland and Cambridge quickly followed. Further royal appointments continued in the reigns of His Majesty George IV and His Majesty William IV.
1751 – FRIBOURG & TRAYER – HAYMARKET – (was – Snuff & Tobacco)
This late 18th-century shopfront, can be found just off of Piccadilly Circus, and it’s surprising how it has survived throughout the centuries, what with all the redevelopment there has been, and the tourism that visits this particular district of London.
Right up until 1982 the premises was occupied by the tobacco and snuff dealer, Fribourg & Trayer – after that it became a gift shop – and today it is unoccupied.
There is no remaining visible reference to its previous history – other than an individual pain of glass within its Georgian window frontage, where the company name is still on display. The shop front and interior, is Grade II listed.
1787 – JAMES FOX – ST JAMES STREET – (Cigards & Tobacco)
This business has been selling fine tobacco, cuban cigars and all sorts of smokers’ accessories, from these premises for over 225 years and its customers have ranged from commoners to kings.
1790 – D R HARRIS – St. JAMES STREET – (Chemists)
D. R. Harris was founded in 1790 and has been operating in the St. James’s area of London ever since, and they are also the oldest pharmacy in London for which they hold the Royal Warrants to Her Majesty the Queen and HRH The Prince of Wales.
They also specialise in traditional men’s grooming products, particularly shaving soaps, creams, aftershaves, colognes and skincare products, and now also sell a wide range of unisex haircare products, skincare lines and soaps.
1797 – HATCHARDS – PICCADILLY – (Books)
Hatchards is London’s oldest bookshop, established in 1797 by John Hatchard, a bookseller who had been selling books in London’s old coffee houses.
The business has been running from these premises for over 200 hundred years.
1797 – PAXTON & WHITFIELD – JERMYN STREET – (Cheese)
Paxton & Whitfield are one of the oldest cheesemongers in England – and if its cheese you love, then this is most certainly the place to visit.
Their relationship with the Royal Warrant Holders Association goes back to Queen Victoria in 1850 – and the business currently hold two royal warrants, one from the Prince of Wales in 1997 and one from Queen Elizabeth II in 2001.
1806 – JAMES SMITH & SONS – New Oxford St – (Umbella’s & Canes)
Not necessarily the ‘oldest’ shop front – but it’s one that I am particularly fascinated by.
Its frontage was fitted with non-reflective glass, and its windows were designed to eliminate reflections that might affect the visibility of displays – a design that was really expensive back-in-the-day.
James Smith & Sons specialises in umbrellas and walking sticks, which are still made in the basement under the shop.
I find it really strange that the millions of tourists who visit London, always seek out places like Oxford Street and Regent Street to wander down – whereas, just a couple of blocks away are these wonderful buildings, steeped in history – and available to all to visit and view – and fortunately all formally preserved for future generations to enjoy.
Following this trek around town, I popped in to “The Lord Moon of the Mall” pub (a building that was once a major bank’s head office, in its past life) – that is situated down in Whitehall – for the customary ‘cheeky’ beer, plus some nibbles.
Hope you found this excursion and its accompanying photos, interesting