Sunday, 23 November 2014

Fox Umbrellas, 118 London Wall, EC2

Good late-1920s and 1930s shop fronts are few and far between in London. It's not that there weren't many of them - the big shopfitting firms were kept busy installing modern frontages that were all about a clean, uncluttered look with straight lines that simply framed the stock on display. But until the later 20th century there was little respect for these shop fronts - it was easy come, easy go, as they were ripped out and replaced in the post-Second World War decades.

Which is why 118 London Wall, constructed on the ground floor of an early 19th-century terraced house for Fox Umbrellas in 1937 by shopfitting firm E Pollard & Co, is such a rare survivor and has a Grade II listing. This exquisite shop front was the height of modernity at the time, with a Vitrolite front and curved, non-reflective glass, an American invention for which Pollard held the English patent. It looks like a shop from an Edward Hopper painting, dropped into London.

This 'invisible' glass, which was was very expensive, allowed passers-by to see much further into the shop and made the stock on display more visible at a time when interior lighting was duller and less sharp than today. It works, according to British History Online, by using a steeply curved concave glass to deflect light towards matt black 'baffles'. E Pollard & Co installed the same type of glass at Simpsons of Piccadilly, where it is still in place today (the store is now Waterstones).

Vitrolite, a coloured glass, was manufactured by Pilkington Brothers in the UK. Black Vitrolite was commonly used on facades between the 1920s and 1950s, but being glass it's a fragile material, prone to cracks and chips, and was costly to replace.

Stainless steel surrounds frame the fascia, windows and panels, and a band describing Fox's business is positioned above the window, below four Vitrolite panels. The fascia's centrepiece is the stainless steel and red 'FOX' sign, fronted with red neon lighting to set it aglow, with reliefs of foxes running towards it from each side.

As the shop isn't currently in use, I couldn't get any pictures of the interior, but English Heritage says it retains its polished wood and glass fittings. There's some very nice pictures of the interior here by photographer Quintin Lake, as well as a couple taken in the twilight, with the red neon sign switched on.

Fox Umbrellas started life in 1868, when Thomas Fox began making and selling umbrellas from a premises in Fore Street - which was later renamed London Wall following the post-World War Two reconstruction of the area.

Brollies used to be made at 118 London Wall, in the upstairs and basement workshops. The company is responsible for British City gent classics such as the GT9 Whangee, as wielded by John Steed in The Avengers.

Other famous customers included Winston Churchill and John F Kennedy.

The company is still trading, producing own label brollies and also supplying upmarket brands such as Alfred Dunhill and Ralph Lauren. Its factory is in Shirley, near Croydon - see the Once Was England blog for pictures of a factory visit.

However, 118 London Wall was closed in 2011 due to poor trading. Footwear retailer Author since moved in, but went into liquidation in April 2014 The shop front's listed status means it could not be changed, although the outline of a small 'Author' sign is visible on one of the four glass Vitrolite strips. The whole building, which dates from the 19th century (the first floor was originally a barber's shop), is currently up for rent at about £70,000 per annum.

As for the original shopfitter, E Pollard & Co, the company was founded in 1895 in Shoreditch and grew rapidly until it had a number of showrooms, two factories, and branches in Bristol, Manchester, Glasgow and Dublin. The business still exists today in Enfield, north London, as Pollards Fyrespan. The City showrooms that were built for it in Clerkenwell in 1919-20 are still standing, at number 29 Clerkenwell Road.

Monday, 22 September 2014

34 Haymarket, SW1Y

For any of the tourist crowds around Piccadilly looking for a piece of old London, 34 Haymarket is it. It's one of the capital's best known historic shops, featuring in any book on the subject. This is because there just aren't any of these types of shops left in the capital, with a deep-bowed shop front dating from before the Building Act of 1774 - when they were banned from protruding further than 10 inches into the street.

On the ground floor of a mid-18th century four-storey house, the double bow shop front is unchanged since its construction around the same period. The steps were replaced around 1900 due to wear, but everything else is pretty much as was. I read in some descriptions that an old sign still showed the rasp & crown - the mark of a snuff seller - but I couldn't see it when I was there. I may have just missed it though. Two doors - one to the shop and one to the upstairs accommodation - have beautiful fan lights.

There was some work going on in the street outside, meaning a chunk of the Haymarket was fenced off, so I struggled to get a decent front-on shot without it being very closely cropped:

From 1754 until 1982 the shop was occupied by Fribourg & Treyer. The company name is still on the window, and other remnants of its stay are evident in the late 18th-century shop fittings - there is an original oak counter, and an Adam-style wooden screen divides the store's front and back.

Fribourg & Treyer was originally a snuff dealer, with King George IV and Beau Brummel among those with accounts. The King even had some snuff named after him, such as King's Morning Mixture, King's Evening Mixture and King's Plain, so was clearly quite the enthusiast.

At one time snuff was manufactured on-site. The shelves that originally held jars of snuff are still behind the counter:

Around the mid 19th-century sales of cigars and tobacco began outstripping snuff and the company became renowned for these. Later regular customers included Kingsley Amis and US actor Glenn Ford.

Here's an illustration of the store in its heyday:

In 1912 the business expanded into number 33, a building dating from the same period as 34 but which has been much altered over the years.

Fribourg & Treyer kept on trading successfully through most of the 20th century. Here's an ad from the Financial Times (February 17, 1976), which makes a feature of the historic shop:

What finally seems to have done for Fribourg & Treyer was when a long lease ended at the end of 1981 and the shop's then landlord, Northdale Investments, decided to increase the annual rent from £12,000 per annum to £40,000. Fribourg & Treyer's then owner, Imperial Tobacco, balked at the price and shut the shop. It is now a gift shop.

Monday, 4 August 2014


Marriage plans have taken over my life these last few weeks.... I will start posting again soon!

Friday, 20 June 2014

Burberry's, 18-22 Haymarket, SW1

The Burberry building at 18-22 Haymarket is, like so many grandiose stores of the Victorian era, a testament to one man's commercial success.

After founding his company in Basingtoke in 1856, aged just 21, and inventing the weather-proof gabardine fabric, Thomas Burberry arrived on London's Haymarket in 1891, and in 1912 constructed this grand premises.

Designed in a Beaux Arts style by architect Walter Cave, the three-storey, stone-faced building stands on the corner with Orange Street. The entablature, supported by Doric columns, runs all around the building and still bears the traces of its former occupant.

The large unaltered display windows on the ground floor also turn the corner to Orange Street. These must have turned plenty of heads in their day. Upstairs, huge arches support the first floor windows and also the second floor windows, which are curved into the arches. A narrow staircase – I imagine a staff one – sits at the lefthand side of the building (behind the lamp-post in the picture below).

Signalling the store's presence to those approaching along the street is an ornate clock, which juts out bearing the Burberry name.

Round the corner on Orange Street is the trade entrance.

As well as a shop, Burberry made this its head office. It traded from here throughout the rest of the 20th century. This is a pic of the store from 1913:

The Haymarket address became a familiar sight on its advertising. This ad is from the Daily Express on 21 September, 1959, with the address bottom right.

When Cherie Blair and her lifestyle guru Carole Caplin brought Lyudmila Putin shopping here in 2003, Burberry had shaken off its chavvy image of the 1990s and was on the brink of expansion. Hence the company moved out in 2008, just a few years after spending millions on a revamp of the building's interior. Its HQ is now at Horseferry House in Millbank, although it is strictly offices, with no shop.

And 18-22 Haymarket has stood empty since, apart from being pressed into action as a party venue now and then, most recently during the London Olympics. It was bought by a mystery Russian businessman for £20m in 2011 - and there was some talk about TK Maxx moving in - but it changed hands again and is now owned by The Apprentice star and Mrs Tiggy Winkle lookalike Lord Alan Sugar's Amsprop Group.

Monday, 12 May 2014

364-368 Kingsland Road, E8

While in Hoxton, I walked up Kingsland Road to see if some other shops were worth getting excited about. A Grade-II terrace of early 19th-century houses, from numbers 362 to 368, has three shops at 364, 366 and 368.

English Heritage lists 364 as having an altered 19th-century shop front, "with pilasters and console brackets to mutuled fascia cornice", and also mentions its six-panel door, which either doesn't exist any more (the door to the upstairs accommodation certainly wasn't it), or was hidden behind the shutters when I visited. The shop is now Shangri-La tattoo parlour, based in the basement, but retail space is also advertised on temporary store lettings website

However, 366 and 368 haven't retained their 19th-century shop fronts, although there is some older ones hidden behind the modern fascias. Number 366, now occupied by vintage designer fashion retailer Storm in a Teacup, does still have a mutule cornice that dates from the 19th century though. Pictures of the store interior can be seen here.

As for their history, I've not had chance to research back into the early 19th century, but the 1882 Post Office Directory says number 364 was occupied by Alexander Towne, a junior surgeon - not an obvious shop tenant, but no one more obvious is listed. At 366 there was James Brown, who ran a library, no doubt as a commercial interest charging a fee for book lending.

William Catt, grocer and tea dealer, is at 368. Interestingly, an obituary in The Standard of November 6, 1884, records the death of Elizabeth, wife of William Catt, at the age of 43. It turns out Elizabeth was the fourth daughter of Alexander Towne, the junior surgeon at 364.

In 1895, James Brown and William Catt are still there, but lithographer Jani T Maffuniades is at 364.

And finally, the 1910 Directory has no record for number 364, but at 366 is a tobacconist, Jas Tomlinson Jr, and at 368 is Bernard George Hyatt, umbrella maker. A&W Hyatt, a manufacturer of trimmings, girdles and tassels, was a family business based in Hackney. It expanded into umbrellas in the early 20th century, opening four stores, including the one at 368 Kingsland Road.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

2 Pearson Street, E2

While wandering around Hoxton recently, I nipped to Pearson Street, where there is an early mid-19th century Grade II-listed terrace, including a shop at number 2.

The shop isn't in a good way, and as I haven't had time to do more than research the address on Google, I'm not sure when it was last a shop. However, it's available to let at the moment, should anyone be interested, and willing to refurbish it!

The shop dates from the period the terrace was built, and although the shop front has since been altered, according to English Heritage, it is a standard, simple Victorian design.

However, it's difficult to see what is original and what isn't. It's ramshackle to say the least, with the pilasters sat unevenly on rough plinths, battered stall boards, and everything is heavily painted in battleship grey (apart from the console brackets and door).

There are lots of these types of Victorian shop fronts around, as their simple, inoffensive designs have proved less likely to offend the changing tastes of developers than the gaudier efforts also produced by the Victorians. What makes 2 Pearson Street interesting is its survival within the terrace as a whole, rather than the shop on its own merit.

In 1876 a furniture salesman, George Rolfe, was listed at number 2. The Post Office Directory in 1895 and 1899 records Edwin Merrill, a marble mason, at the address.

An advertisement in the Hackney Express & Shoreditch Observer of October 21, 1905, shows that "brake proprietor" and "cartage contractor" Thomas Cook was based here.

Thomas Cook's signage can still be seen on the side of the building.

The 1915 and 1921 directories list Lavington Bros, carmen, as the occupiers. Carmen were drivers of carts who were hired to transport goods around the city, so it seems to have been a continuation of Thomas Cook's business, but under a different name/ownership. Clearly these businesses would have all had use of the yard behind, with the entrance next to the shop.

Friday, 21 March 2014

56-58 Artillery Lane, E1

In the 18th century, rising prosperity and social mobility meant shopping began to change from something done almost entirely out of necessity, to a leisure pursuit whereby luxury items and fripperies became objects of desire. As a consequence shop fronts around the mid-century became increasingly elaborate as they competed to turn shoppers' heads.

Surviving shop fronts from this mid-Georgian period are rare, which makes 56 Artillery Lane, London's best example, all the more remarkable. Its neighbour, number 58, is also noteworthy. This is number 56:

The building dates from 1690, but in the 1750s Huguenot silk merchants Nicholas Jourdain and Francis Rybot inserted two shop fronts on the ground floor, in a spectacular rococo style. Number 56 still dates from this time, but 58 was updated with a plain Regency-style front in 1827.

The shop front at 56 has five Doric columns (the one on the left smaller than the others) set on plain stone pedestals. These divide the frontage into four bays, occupied by two bow-fronted windows, the shop door and house door. The windows have architraves and triglyphs along the top, and stallboard gratings below. A rococo cartouche flanked by palm branches is fixed above the shop door.

Classical design is big on symmetry, but as is usually the case with shop fronts their efforts are compromised by the need for a door leading to upstairs accommodation. However, the moulding above the house door is even more spectacular than the cartouche above the shop, in my opinion, with drapery hung around an Aurora mask surrounded by rays and scrolls below.

Before 1895 the street was called Raven Row, and 56 and 58 were numbers 3 and 4. Originally a mercer's shop run by Francis Rybot, 56 remained in the Rybot family until around 1782, by when Thomas Blinkhorn, a silk weaver, was here. Blinkhorn stayed till 1799. Grocer Edward Jones moved in around 1813, staying till 1858. In 1859 it was occupied by another grocer, Cornelius Barham, and remained a grocer's until 1935. After that the building went into a decline, although at one point was an insurance office.

Number 58's original occupier Nicholas Jourdain left around 1772, when it was taken over by grocer and tea dealer Andrew Fowler. The area's dominant silk trade soon returned to the shop though, as from 1817 to 1836 silk and satin dressers Perry & Co (or Perry & Archer) were here. Following the collapse of the Spitalfields silk trade around the 1830s it became a glass warehouse until 1857, then from 1858 to 1935 was occupied by cigar maker IS Wilks & Co – although the 1910 Post Office Directory has a sign writer, Joseph Leopold Wolfson, also sharing the building.

The whole building was damaged by a fire caused by paraffin lamps in 1972.

For a comprehensive history of the two buildings up until the early 20th century, see British History Online.

Art collector Robert Sainsbury, using architects Dezeen, restored the building between 2005-09, turning it into a not-for-profit art gallery, named after the street's old name, Raven Row. Here's a picture from inside number 58, taken by David Grandorge (as are the two further down).

Parts of an 18th-century room from number 58 were shipped to the US in 1927 and stored at the Art Institute of Chicago - they were originally used in an exhibition on English interiors. In the 1980s they came back to England (minus about 25% of it), where they sat in an Essex warehouse for a couple of decades before they were discovered by the architects and reinstalled.

The pale stone colour of the exterior paintwork on the restoration is in keeping with that used until the 1870s, after which some dark reds appear to have been used, and then later, following the fire, dark greens.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Leadenhall Market, EC3V

At one time England's most important meat market, Leadenhall Market is today a monument to Victorian retail, with some great places to eat and drink, one remaining butcher, some good shops and some tepid, unremarkable ones – Cards Galore, Pizza Express etc, I'm looking at you.

However, they all strive to blend in with the Victorian scheme, and the building is a thing of beauty, all iron, glass and timber, hemmed in by red brick and Portland stone, sitting snugly in the City of London.

The site has a retail history stretching far beyond Leadenhall, as a Roman basilica and forum were built here in AD70. The forum contained shops, banks and offices, around a market place. The basilica housed the town hall and law courts.

Leadenhall Market – Ledenehalle originally, as it was conducted in the courtyard of a lead-roofed mansion – was first recorded in 1309, and in 1345 Edward III designated it as a place where non-Londoners could sell poultry (the market in the street called Poultry was for Londoners only), which he hoped would weaken the black market for the meat. It came under the control of City authorities in 1411 and was rebuilt between 1439 and 1455.

By the 17th century it was famous for its meat. An oft-quoted story tells how Charles II took the Spanish ambassador, Don Petro de Rouquillo, to visit. The ambassador was impressed: "There's more meat sold daily in your market than in all the kingdom of Spain," he said.

Samuel Pepys recorded a visit in his diary. It was a rare sojourn, as it was usually the job of a maidservant to shop in the markets, and not the done thing for gentlefolk. But Pepys was without a maidservant at the time and, to avoid embarrassment, went after dark. "Thence to my wife, and calling at both Exchanges, buying stockings for her and myself, and also at Leadenhall, there she and I, it being candlelight, bought meat for tomorrow, having never a mayde to do it, and I myself bought, while my wife was gone to another shop, a leg of beef, a good one, for six pense, and my wife says it worth my money. So walked home with a woman carrying our things."

The below image of the old market is from the The Illustrated London News of December 27, 1845.

The market in Pepys' time had three courts: one for beef, one for veal, mutton and lamb, and the middle taken up by fishmongers, which also took up the south and west sides. More fishmongers, poultry and cheese shops filled the passages penetrating outwards into the City.

Although damaged during the Great Fire in 1666, the market survived and was rebuilt as a covered structure split into the Beef Market, the Green Yard and the Herb Market.

This map of the market shows the area in 1772 – there is a Flesh Market, Fish Market and a Herb Market on the eastern side – and also an illustration of the front of the old market:

And so the market continued, through the 18th and most of the 19th century. Newspaper archives recount thefts of meat, selling of meat unfit for human consumption, retailers breaking The Game Act of 1831 by selling out of season (The Times of March 3, 1855 reported that 10 of the market's biggest traders were summoned to court for this), but otherwise business boomed, with vast varieties of poultry. In 1809 a new breed of duck was discovered on sale – named the ring-necked duck, a live one wasn't recorded in the UK until 1955, after it had been discovered to be native to North America.

By the late 19th century, the Victorian vigour for sweeping away the clutter and dirt of history meant the old market's days were numbered. In 1880-81 the current structure was built, designed by Sir Horace Jones (also responsible for Billingsgate Fish Market, and the Central Meat Market and General Market in Smithfield). It was influenced by the Galleria Vittoria Emanuele II in Milan, although somewhat smaller. It opened in December 1881, just in time for Christmas trading. Here's a picture from the The Illustrated London News of December 24, 1881, of the newly opened market:

The ornate cast-iron and glass structure has a classical look, with ionic columns and a timber and glass dome as the centrepiece where the footways meet. The cruciform plan isn't straight, due to the need to preserve ancient rights of way – it's always open to wandering Londoners through day and night.

Higher rents kept some of the old market's traders out of the redeveloped building, meaning the class of trader went up, although it was still primarily a wholesale market. Not that the poor didn't shop there too: "Just over London Bridge there was Leadenhall Market. Go over there in the afternoons, cos there was no fridges then so the fish that was left – you could get a bagful for 3d – we'd get the best of the fish, where they [artisans]'d be the buying the cheapest." (from Loaves and Fishes, History Workshop Journal, no 41, spring 1996)

The success of the redevelopment meant the market continued through the 20th century. A restoration in 1990-91 accentuated the internal colour scheme, and shop tenants have since been encouraged by the City of London Corporation to base their shop fronts on Sir Horace Jones's original tripartite pattern, including the decorative cast-iron ventilation grilles. Some shops still have wrought-iron hooks outside, which were used to display poultry.

There are offices above the shops, and today it is mostly City workers who bring money to Leadenhall. Looking at them in their expensive suits and crisp shirts, it all seems a long way from the blood and stink of the meat market.

As with any high street or market, the relentless tide of clone stores and decline of independent retailers have impacted on Leadenhall, meaning many of its 101 retail units are occupied by chain stores or restaurants. But it's had to diversify to survive, and its survival should be celebrated.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

16-20 Barter Street, WC1

Tucked away behind High Holborn is Barter Street. The street name has only existed since 1937 – before then this was Silver Street, built as part of the Bloomsbury Square development in the 17th century. The street has a terrace of three early 19th-century shops.

All have neat, identical wooden shopfronts, with pilasters, unremarkable entablatures and bracketed cornices.

The fact that the street is hidden away means many of the past shop tenants seem not to be of the type that relied on passing trade. In 1882's Post Office Directory, only one of the shops is listed – number 16, occupied by blind maker Edward Jinks.

But by 1894 number 16 is occupied by John Hawley, tailor, who has been joined at 18 by bootmaker James Claridge. Number 20 is shared by Charles James Evans, a mathematical instrument maker, and wine merchant WJ Hollebone & Sons.

Leap forward to 1919 and confectioner Jane Owen has taken over number 16. At 18 is chimney sweep James Christopher Catlin, while at 20 is a printer, Jules Petit, and still WJ Hollebone & Sons.

In the 1951 Post Office Directory, Marine & Overseas Services Ltd's mail order office is the only shop listed, at number 16. This is the only business I've been able to find any significant remains of amid the depths of the internet. The exact nature of the company is unclear, but it did sell all sorts of bits and bobs such as watches and mathematical instruments, usually by mail order through adverts in newspapers and magazines. This one is from 1950 and was in Model Engineer magazine (from Grace's Guide):

I don't know about being the "ideal gift", but slide rules seem to have been a major part of its business for some time – it called itself The British Slide Rule Co at some time, judging by a classified ad in The Times (April 25, 1942). This is one of the company's slide rules (found here):

Perhaps a better gift idea was this "unique bed table", as advertised in Picture Post (November 5, 1949):

Another ad in The Times (December 1, 1949) offers "Swiss ex-RAF" watches for sale:

Perhaps this, from The Watch Forum, is one of them? Look closely and you can see Marine & Overseas Services Ltd written on the face:

Collage has a pic of the shops from 1956, but there doesn't appear to be much going on...

Today, numbers 16 and 18 are one business – London City Print. Number 20 is occupied by a solicitor, Brion & Co, which specialises in immigration law.