Shopping In Old London
Butcher, Hoxton St, Shoreditch, c.1910
D0 Black Friday and Cyber Monday fill you with overwhelming feelings of lethargy, apathy and disdain? Why not consider visiting the shops of old London instead? There are no supermarkets, malls or pop-ups, but plenty of other diversions to captivate the eager shopper.
These glass slides once used for magic lantern shows by the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society at the Bishopsgate Institute offer the ideal consumer experience for a reluctant browser such as myself since, as this crowd outside a butcher in Hoxton a century ago illustrates, shopping in London has always been a fiercely competitive sport.
Instead of braving the crowds and emptying our wallets, we can enjoy window shopping in old London safe from the temptation to pop inside and buy anything – because most of these shops do not exist anymore.
Towering over the shopping landscape of a century ago were monumental department stores, beloved destinations for the passionate shopper just as the City churches were once spiritual landmarks to pilgrims and the devout. Of particular interest to me are the two huge posters for Yardley that you can see in the Strand and on Shaftesbury Avenue, incorporating the Lavender Seller from Francis Wheatley’s Cries of London, originally painted in the seventeen nineties. There is an intriguing paradox in this romanticised image of a street seller of two centuries earlier, used to promote a brand of twentieth century cosmetics that were manufactured in a factory in Stratford and sold through a sleek modernist flagship store, Yardley House, in the West End.
Wych St, lined with medieval shambles that predated the Fire of London and famous for its dusty old bookshops and printsellers is my kind of shopping street, demolished in 1901 to construct the Aldwych. Equally, I am fascinated by the notion of cramming commerce into church porches, such as the C. Burrell, the Dealer in Pickled Tongues & Sweetbreads who used to operate from the gatehouse of St Bartholomew the Great in Smithfield and E.H. Robinson, the optician, through whose premises you once entered St Ethelburga’s in Bishopsgate. Note that a toilet saloon was conveniently placed next door for those were nervous at the prospect of getting their eyes tested.
So let us set out together to explore the shops of old London. We do not need a shopping basket. We do not need a list. We do not even need money. We are shopping for wonders and delights. And we shall not have to carry anything home. This is my kind of shopping.
Optician built into St Ethelburga’s, Bishopsgate, c.1910
Decorators and Pencil Works, Great Queen St, c.1910
Newsagent and Hairdresser at 152 Strand, c.1930
Dairy and ‘Sacks, bags, ropes, twines, tents, canvas, etc.’ Shop, c. 1940
Liberty of London, c.1910
Regent St, c.1920.
Harrods of Knightsbridge, c.1910
The Fashion Shoe Shop, c.1920 “Repetiton is the soul of advertising”
Evsns Tabacconist, Haymarket, c.1910
F. W. Woolworth & Co. Ltd. 3d and 6d store, c.1910
Finnigan’s of New Bond St, gold- & silversmiths, c.1910
Achille Serre,Cleaner & Dyers, c. 1920
Old Bond St. c. 1910
W.H.Daniel, Cow Keeper, White Hart Yard, c.1910
John Barker & Co. Ltd., High St Kensington, c.1910
Tobacconist, Glovers and Shoe Shop, c.1910
Ford Showroom, c.1925
Civil Service Supply Association, c. 1930
Swears & Wells Ltd, Ladies Modes, c. 1925
Glave’s Hosiery, c 1920
Shopping in Wych St, c. 1910 – note the sign of the crescent moon.
Horne Brothers Ltd, c. 1920
Tobacconist, High Holborn, c. 1910
Yardley House, c. 1930
Peter Robinson, Oxford St, c. 1920
Confectionery Shop, corner of Greek St and Shaftesbury Ave, c. 1930
Bookseller, Wych St, c. 1890
Pawnbroker, 201 Seven Sisters Rd, Finsbury Park, c. 1910
Bookseller & Tobacconist and Dealer in Pickled Tongues at the entrance to St Bartholomew’s, Smithfield, c. 1910
Oxford Circus, c. 1920
Glass slides courtesy Bishopsgate Institute
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