Wednesday, 18 December 2013

49 Gough Street, WC1

Number 49 Gough Street is a small shop with a big history. Situated behind Gray's Inn Road, it seems to have thrived for a number of years within the furniture industry, particularly as an outpost of larger furniture firms.

The house and shop, built in the early 19th century, were previously part of a terrace. Although altered at some point, the wooden shop front is original – English Heritage describes it as "exceptionally fine", with its dentil architrave, cornice and entablature atop fluted quarter columns.

It's no longer a shop. A Google search brings it up as the company address of the director of the British Parking Association, so perhaps it's an office, though there didn't look much happening when I visited on a Tuesday afternoon, and it looks more residential.

I don't know who the first retail tenant was, but in 1891 it was cabinet maker Baldassare Viscardini & Sons. Born in Como, Italy in 1831, Viscardini was living in the East End by 1841, working with his brother and father – the 1851 census shows all three were looking glass frame makers.

In 1857, Viscardini married 19-year-old Rose Martin, daughter of a carpenter. However, Rose must have met an unfortunate end – in 1867 Viscardini, now a widower, married again, this time to Eliza Sheppard, daughter of a boot maker. The wedding was in Holborn, and then the 1871 census has the family at Mount Pleasant, a stone's throw from Gough Street. In 1881 they're at 54 Gough Street, and by 1891 at 49.

Viscardini seems to have had two addresses at this time, the other being 15 West View in Islington, which must've been the family home. The census listing shows the whole of the family firm:

Baldassare Viscardini, 60, cabinet maker
Eliza Viscardini, 40
Amelia E Viscardini, 20
Carlotta B Viscardini, 18, jewel case liner
Baldassare G Viscardini, 17, cabinet maker
Giacomo Viscardini, 15, cabinet maker
John W Viscardini, 13
Beatrice C Viscardini, 10

However, life for Viscardini wasn't just about furniture making. He was clearly a patriotic Italian, as back in 1859 he went back to his homeland to fight alongside general and politician Guiseppe Garibaldi in the Army of the Red Shirts during the Second Italian War of Independence, helping Garibaldi form a united Italy. The Anglo-Italian Family History Society website actually has a picture of Viscardini from his time with the Red Shirts:

Clearly a remarkable man, Viscardini died in 1896 at West View, and is buried in New Southgate Cemetery.

Viscardini's business is still listed as occupying 49 Gough Street in the 1898 Post Office Directory – along with Frederick Nutt, an architectural modeller – but next to move in was possibly E Kahn & Co, listed as an artistic furniture maker in the 1906 directory.

E Kahn was a prestigious French furniture manufacturer, renowned for its copies of 18th-century French furniture, such as this E Kahn commode, which sold at Sotheby's in April 2012 for 37,500 US dollars:

However, there's no suggestion furniture this opulent was made at 49 Gough Street, as this was a smaller branch said to have produced pieces in an English Edwardian style. The company also had premises in St Andrew Street and Charlotte Street (the Shoreditch one) in London, and in about 1884 opened a New York office.

I've no idea what happened to the business, but here's an ad found on Grace's Guide, which lists E Kahn as still at number 49 in 1922 (this ad appeared in the British Industries Fair brochure):

The next Post Office Directory I checked was for 1951, and by this time shopfitters Frederick Sage & Co had installed themselves in number 49. Founded in 1860, the business was based around the corner on Gray's Inn Road until the Blitz in 1941, when its premises were destroyed. Whether it shifted some of its operations to Gough Street after that or was already there before then, this can't have been more than a small limb of a much bigger operation. A picture of the shop in 1947 can be seen here.

It may not look much in that picture, but Frederick Sage was a major shopfitting firm – it was responsible for the original shopfit in Harrods, and for many historic shop fronts on Regent Street, Oxford Street and Bond Street, such as Dickins & Jones, Selfridges and DH Evans on Oxford Street (now House of Fraser).

Remarkably, during each World War the company switched to manufacturing wooden airplanes, before picking up where it left off with shopfitting in peace time.

The business was global, with offices throughout Europe – Printemps in Paris was one job – the US and South America, as well as a factory in Cape Town, South Africa. It wasn't just shopfitting either – interiors were constructed for hotels, restaurants, and P&O and Cunard cruise ships. After the Second World War, Frederick Sage worked on the reconstruction of the bombed House of Commons.

The company struggled through the 1960s, and in 1968 was swallowed up by British Electric Traction. No doubt plenty of its work is still around today – in fact, I found these haberdashery shop drawers for sale on eBay...

Monday, 9 December 2013

Selfridges - Provisions and Groceries opening

As I didn't have time to post a new shop over the weekend, I dug out this ad from the Daily Express of November 25, 1914, announcing the opening of Selfridges' Groceries and Provisions departments, more than five years after the store opening.

Does the business still stick to "London's Lowest Prices - Always", a claim that was often used in Selfridges' early ads? I doubt it.  

Note it's Selfridge's with an apostrophe – the apostrophe was dropped in 1940, 19 years after Harrods did it.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

93-101 Judd Street, WC1

Turning off gridlocked Euston Road, Judd Street doesn't look like it promises much. Between 1808 and 1816, 84 houses were built on the street, but few survive. There aren't any on the eastern side, but on the street's western side a stretch of original buildings erected in 1816 survives, from numbers 85 to 103. Of these, 93 to 101 have shops.

The Grade II-listed block is made from multicoloured stock brick. Here's a pic looking north in 1954, from the Royal Institute of British Architects' picture library:

Starting at the southern end, number 93 has an early to mid-19th century shop front with a slightly projecting window with four pretty, arched frames, and one console on the right of the fascia. Consoles, which are used on some of the other shop fronts in the row, are typical of mid-19th century shop design – they first became popular in the 1830s as a new way of marking off separate fascias in rows of shops.

For a random snapshot of number 93's history I looked in the 1898 Post Office Directory, and at that time number 93 was a linen draper run by Maria Barnard. Today it's a travel agency.

Next door, number 95 has a fine early 19th-century shop front, again in a style synonymous with the period – the Greek Revival, widespread from 1810. The four Corinthian columns support an inswept entablature and a dentil cornice.

British History Online has what looks to be an original plan for number 95, although it has consoles on either end of the fascia and no inswept entablature.

In 1898, number 95 was a butcher's, William Vardy. In 1950 it was also a butcher, but now under the name E Price. To see a pic of E Price in 1950, click here.  As far as I can tell from the RIBA pic from 1954, it was a butcher's then too, but this time under the name CW Bettiss – lots of chopping and changing in the butchery trade, it seems. At present it looks to be some sort of office, but is definitely the scruffiest shop on the row.

Number 97 looks similar to 93, but the shop front is early 20th-century. There was no listing for 97 in the 1898 Directory, so I'm not sure it was ever a shop before the current shop front was built.

Another 20th-century shop front, albeit a dainty imitation of a mid-19th century one, sits alongside at number 99. Since, I think, 1997 it's been Photo Books International, which specialises in – you guessed it – photography books. However, when I visited it had 'closing down' signs in the windows. Again, there's no listing for this address in the 1898 Directory.

Fortunately there is one more early 19th-century shop front, number 101. It's different to the rest of the row, with two simple, broad flat pilasters, inswept entablature and protruding cornice. The projecting window has pleasingly big panes. In 1898 it was occupied by the London & Provincial Window & House Cleaning Co. Unlike the other shops, it only makes do with one door, rather than two (one for the shop, one for the upstairs accommodation). Today it's split into three residential flats.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

St James's Bazaar, 10 St James's Street, SW1

Just yards away from Berry Bros & Rudd, which has thrived for over 300 years, is 10 St James's Street, site of a rather less successful retail venture but which is a notable example of the bazaar – a popular new retail development in early Victorian Britain (London's first was the Soho Bazaar, opened in 1816).

This stuccoed building stretching round onto King Street, where it has an impressive wide porch with Tuscan columns, was once St James's Bazaar, a gallery of individual shops set across two 150ft-long floors. It was constructed in 1830-32 at a cost of £20,000.  

Opened in April 1832, it was an opulent development – an issue of The Morning Post that same month noted its palace-like interior, although was amused that this was devoted only "to the display of bijouterie, toys and minute elegancies and trifles of every description".

Shoppers wandered among stalls "tastefully distributed in curves, lines and circles". Gas lighting illuminated the bazaar in the evening. There was also a magnificent display of looking-glass arranged among the shops, according to The Morning Post. Here's a small ad from the time, mentioning one of the retailers in the bazaar – Howe, a glover.

However, about one year after opening, the bazaar closed. By 1839 it had apparently stood empty for six years. Owner William Crockford blamed the "change of fashion [which] has affected not only this property but all property of a similar description in the Metropolis".

In the early 1840s the building hosted a couple of notable exhibitions. In 1841, a diorama of the funeral of Napoleon proved popular, and in 1844 the decorative works for the New Houses of Parliament were exhibited, including designs for doors and stained glass windows. This was less popular – The Standard of May 28, 1844 reported that the exhibition "although better attended yesterday than on any other day since its opening gratuitously to the public, was nearly deserted, the number of persons visiting it not reaching to more than 200 or 300 during the day". The picture below is from The London Illustrated News at the time of the decorative works exhibition.

In 1847, Crockford's widow converted the building into chambers. It has subsequently been used as offices, apart from when it was the Junior Army and Navy Club from about 1881 to 1904, and a two-year stint as a confectioner's run by Paris firm Rumpelmayer from 1907.

The building has been altered over time by its various owners – the current St James's Street entrance was constructed in the early 20th century, and the exterior was heightened in 1897 and 1914.

Go here for more on the history of the Victorian bazaar.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Berry Bros & Rudd, 3 St James's Street, SW1

After the Great Fire destroyed the City of London, shopping moved westwards, to Covent Garden, Strand and Holborn. And when the Palace of Whitehall burnt down in 1697/8, the court of William III moved to St James's Palace, and St James's Street quickly became a fashionable locale.

Businesses serving this wealthy clientele sprung up, particularly on the street's eastern side, and thanks to its coffee/chocolate houses and clubs it became the epicentre of masculine aristocratic society.

The firm now known as Berry Bros & Rudd was set up as a grocer's in 1698 by Widow Bourne. Her daughter married William Pickering and this family business supplied the area's coffee houses - the sign of the coffee mill still hangs over the shop.

The store remained in the same family, although the names of the family heads changed from Pickering to Clarke and then, in 1810, to Berry. It was around this time, when the company was led by George Berry, that wine became the principal focus. In 1920, Hugh Rudd, previously a wine merchant in Norwich, became a partner and in the 1940s his name was added to the fascia.

Although non-family directors began to be appointed after the Second World War, Berry Bros & Rudd is still run by members of the Berry and Rudd families, over 300 years since its creation. It remains a retailer to the aristocracy, currently holding royal warrants for HM The Queen and the HRH The Prince of Wales.

The three-storey building was originally two terraced houses with one shop, built circa 1731-2 by the Pickerings to replace their original structure. In 1800 it was altered to become a single property.

The oldest (the right-hand side as you look at it) part of the wooden shopfront, which has an interesting quasi-gothic design, dates from 1800; the left-hand part is a convincing 1930s imitation. There are vast wine cellars below, which stretch out 150ft to the centre of St James's Street.

The store retained its wooden shutters long after the introduction of roller shutters (the first London shop to use rollers shutters was Swan & Edgar of Piccadilly in the 1830s). These cumbersome wooden panels were carried in and out each day by the apprentices. They slotted into a groove and were pinned into the ledge above the stallboard. To see a pic of the store in 1980 with its shutters up, go to and check out the London Shops & Pubs section.

The wooden shutters helped prevent serious damage to the shop front during the Second World War. They're now kept in the side alley leading to Pickering Place (pictured), but were pressed into action in 2011 during the London riots.

Stepping inside is like entering the 18th century, as the interior has changed little over the years, with wood-panelled walls, plenty of original fittings and shelving, and rickety, uneven wooden floors leading into small, separate rooms.

The scales that were used to weigh tea, sugar and spices began in 1765 to be used to record the weights of aristocratic customers - "people of fascination", according to Henry Fielding. Six generations of English and French royalty had their body sizes recorded for posterity; it was a sign of social status to have your name written into the books. The scales are still inside the shop today.

But Berry Bros & Rudd isn't a business relic. It has constantly moved with the times - after all, the family motto is 'Don't stop changing'. More recently it was the first wine merchant to launch a website,, way back in 1994, and set up the Berry's Broking Exchange, in which customers buy and sell wines that are stored in the company's temperature-controlled Basingstoke warehouse.

I paid a visit on a bright winter's day, with the sunlight reflecting off the handsome shop front's blistered black paintwork. Although I enjoyed visiting Twining's the other week, my enthusiasm for wine easily beats that for tea, so I was looking forward to picking up a nice bottle.

When a shop assistant approached, I asked to see the port wines. Apart from two bottles, the whole lot were in the cellar, so after a brief chat in which he displayed his extensive wisdom but didn't patronise my very limited knowledge, I came away with a nice bottle of 2006 crusted port that was uncorked later that evening. He said when I returned, we could explore my tastes further...

Some of the pics (the first and third, ie the good ones) were sent to me by Berry Bros & Rudd's press office, and were taken by Joakim Blockstrom in 2011.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

35 Swinton Street, WC1

The shop's not much to look at, but along with the corner house this dates from circa 1835-44 and is Grade-II listed.

The Post Office Directory of 1898 lists it as a chandler's shop run by a Mrs Amelia Bowerbank. I had a look through some earlier directories, but as the listings weren't by street I couldn't find anything for it ... so that's pretty much all I know.

Architecturally, it's a wooden shopfront with pilasters, entablature (although with some rectangular panels attached) and bracketed cornice, but there's nothing fancy.

Swinton Street's first houses were built in 1776, and it was originally a small cul-de-sac. The first occupant was able to gaze across the meadows to Fleet Brook. The western end of the street dates from that period, but the later houses that extended eastwards, including number 35, were begun in the late 1830s and completed by 1844.

And the street has pretty much remained the same since, despite major developments in the nearby area, notably the building of the railways and King's Cross station. I had a look around to see if I could find any old images of Swinton Street and the best I could do was this from a London Illustrated News of 1862, which shows the construction of the first section of the Metropolitan tube line, between Paddington and Farringdon. A small section of Swinton Street can be seen jutting out to the left behind the front-facing building just left of centre. The few houses furthest away are Britannia Street.  

Sunday, 27 October 2013

173-179 King's Cross Road, WC1

I'd walked past 173-179 King's Cross Road a couple of times before, and each time lots of cars were parked outside. I was hoping to get lucky and find no cars there, but it wasn't to be...

Anyway, this terrace of four shops with housing above was built around 1796-99. It was previously called Field Place, but was changed following the building of King's Cross, when the road leading to the station, Bagnigge Wells Road, and the rows and places along it were all renamed King's Cross Road and renumbered accordingly.

It's not the most salubrious area, but that's often why old shops like these have survived. If these were on a busy high street, chances are the shop fronts would have been replaced by a wall of glass a long time ago.

The wooden shopfronts have pilasters carrying entablatures with projecting cornices.  The buildings are all made from yellow stock brick.

Number 173 is still in commercial use, as an architects. Although no longer a shop, it's the only one of the four to have lettering on the entablature. In the Post Office Directory of 1898, it's listed as Caxton Printing Co.

Number 175 is now a four-bedroomed house, with no commercial use. The wooden shop front has been well maintained but is a little scruffier than its neighbours, despite the pot plants. In 1898 it was occupied by Never-Rust Metal Plate Co.

Number 177 has previously been a tobacconists, a foundry and a chandler (John Hurst, according to the 1898 PO Directory) at various points in its existence, but like 175 is now a four-bedroomed house - the shop area is now the kitchen. It was a foundry for most of the 20th century, run by the Brimson family, but this closed down in 1985. Apparently much of the machinery from the foundry was acquired by the Museum of London. There is still a working pulley inside the house, which was used to move molten metal. The shop front style is the same as at 175, although looks better preserved - particularly the wood-panelled stall riser below the windows.

Finally, number 179 was restored in 1989. It still seems to be in commercial use, with a few different random company names coming up in Google searches (including a photography firm for fetish websites), but it's not clear who is currently there from the outside. The 1898 directory names a corn dealer, Bushnell & Sons, as the occupier - the company also had number 181. Of all the shop fronts it's the most ornate, with some nice curved arching in the window corners.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

R Twinings & Co, 216 Strand, WC2

Londoners have been buying tea from Twinings on the Strand since 1706, when Thomas Twining took over what was originally called Tom's Coffee House at Devereux Court, where 216 Strand now sits.

The location was ideal as the area had recently seen an influx of the aristocracy, who had been forced out of the City by the Great Fire of London.

The shop, which Twining renamed Ye Golden Lyon, began selling cups of wet tea (as well as coffee and drinking chocolate), but dry tea soon became the main focus as domestic tea drinking grew increasingly fashionable.

Twining wasn't the first tea merchant - London grocer Daniel Rawlinson was selling tea (then known as "the new China herb") 60 years before Twining - but the business flourished, helped no doubt by the marketing clout of its appointment in 1711 as "purveyor of teas" to Queen Anne. Sir Christopher Wren and "hardened and shameless tea drinker" Dr Johnson were just some of the famous patrons of the tea house.

The shop staff - all male - originally wore swallowtail coats, snow white shirts and white ties. It's said their uniforms often became covered in tea dust, yet Twining insisted they could only serve customers if their outfit was spotless.

According to English Heritage, the stucco shopfront with elegant portico leading inside dates from the early 19th century, although some people claim it was constructed in 1787. It's a narrow shop, with just the door opening onto the Strand, and is only one storey. Steps inside lead to a basement, which I assume houses the stockroom.

The Grecian columns either side of the doorway support an entablature, atop which are perched a pair of Chinamen with their backs resting against a British lion.

Part of the shop and all the back premises were destroyed by bombing in the Second World War, although the store reopened within a few hours, trading from a temporary desk.

The Twinings logo - the company obviously didn't care about apostrophes - is the world's oldest continually used logo, created in 1787. The business is also London's longest-running rate payer.

The interior has recently been updated, including a new sampling counter where I supped a few varieties - I recommend the rooibos flavoured with orange and cinnamon. There's also a museum at the back of the store.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

43 Eastcheap, EC3

The first thing you notice when appoaching 43 Eastcheap, on a corner beside St Margaret Pattens, is its pillarbox red paint job. Get closer though, beyond the tree out front, and the full effect of its stuccoed timber shop front becomes clear.

The building is early 18th century, but the shop front was added in the early 19th century. To the front, one large flattened bow window is framed by matching double doors with Corinthian columns.

Topping off the whole arrangement is an elegant cornice.

Number 45 next door is a 1966 replica of the house that originally stood there, which was built at the same time as 43.

The shop's longest-standing occupant was Joseph Long, mathematical, optical and hydrometer instrument maker, from 1885 to 1936 (after moving here from Little Tower Street, where the business was based from 1821-84). Here's the kind of thing the business manufactured and sold - an alcohol slide rule, used to measure the alcoholic strength and excise duty of spirits.

I also managed to find a bill of sale from 1918, which I've scanned in. Unfortunately a hole makes it impossible to see what was purchased.

It seems even back then the business was proud of its handsome shop, judging by the illustration.

A picture from 1934 (watermarked, as it's courtesy of Architectural Press Archive/RIBA Library) shows Joseph Long towards the end of its stay at 43 Eastcheap.

A news piece from The Times of October 7, 1936, reported that the London County Council listed the shop front along with the Royal Exchange and Mansion House, among others, as worthy of preservation.

A picture from the mid-1960s, which I can't reproduce, shows a later occupant, wine merchant John Martin.

Monday, 23 September 2013

9 Laurence Pountney Lane, EC4

Hemmed in by modern office buildings in the midst of the City, the narrow Laurence Pountney Lane, first recorded in 1248, cuts through from Cannon Street down to Upper Thames Street.

There used to be a church on the street, but it was burnt down in the Great Fire and never rebuilt. The churchyard is still here though, and directly south of it on the same side of the street is number 9, a red brick house dating from about 1670 - it was built on the site of a wine merchant's shop and house that also perished in the fire. It was partly reconstructed in the early 18th century, and a late 18th-century shop front has survived.

When it ceased to be a shop I don't know, but it was turned into offices at some point and only converted back into domestic use in 2004. The one-window wooden shop front, with a fairly large fascia and flat pilasters, is in great condition. There's also still a pulley and a trapdoor for lifting port and sack into the cellar.