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In Search Of Other Worlds

May 13, 2013
by the gentle author

Parallel worlds in Bethnal Green

On Sundays, when the crowds throng Brick Lane, I commonly go roving beyond beyond my familiar streets. Upon other occasions, I have gone off to seek snowmen or cherry blossom or desire paths, but yesterday, I went in search of other worlds.

Just as in many mythologies, rivers signify the crossing point between this world and the otherworld, so in my experience of London, shopfronts are often the portals to some of the most interesting worlds I have discovered – such as W.F.Arber & Co Ltd in the Roman Rd or Gardners’ Market Sundriesmen in Commercial St.

Yet such is the nature of my fancy, I only have to see “world” above the fascia of a shop to conjure an extravagant fantasy of what might lie beyond – in “Bargain World” or “Shoe World.” For this reason, I have never visited most of the shops in these photographs because the pleasurable experience of viewing the frontage alone is sufficient to satisfy my imagination. In fact, closed shops such as the antique shops of Kensington Church St and the Fulham Rd where once I used to go window-shopping on Sundays – peering through the gloom into the infinite recession of the shadowy depth beyond – are the most exciting of all. Tell me I am not the only one to have been seduced by the mystery of the Savoy Cafe at 20 Norton Folgate, repossessed by the City of London over a year ago yet untouched inside, with bottles of milk and drinks still visible in the fridge after all this time.

In the cosmology of Bethnal Green, you might expect the juxtaposition of Smokers World and Dreamland Linens to equate with the familiar dialectic of Heaven and Hell in the Medieval imagination. Yet while Dreamland Linens is an ethereal zone of pleasure and delight, draped with luxurious floaty textiles, Smokers World does not the deliver the Gothic chill of a myriad chain-smokers coughing up their lungs in the blue fog of Benson & Hedges, instead it is merely a defunct newsagent that serves as an extension of the curtain shop next door. Thus, in Bethnal Green, the apocalyptic battle of opposing forces has been unequivocably resolved with Dreamland Linens triumphant over Smokers’ World.

London is a city of multiple worlds and no-one can know them all. Sometimes, I get vertiginous feelings trying the envisage the infinite multiplicity of activities surrounding me in the capital – and seeing “World” above a shopfront is my personal imaginative trigger to day-dreaming in this vein.

A portal to a thrifty universe in Bethnal Green.

The gateway to a footwear cosmos in Bethnal Green.

The entry to Frame Land in Brick Lane.

Dosa World offers a universe of South Indian cuisine in Hanbury St

A textile environment at Denim World in Whitechapel.

Michelin man beckons you to an enclave of tyres beneath the arches.

The door to an entire continent of fashion in Dalston.

Cloud Cuckoo Land in Camden Passage looks promising.

Dare you enter the Mad World of 35,000 fancy dress outfits in a Shoreditch basement?

No longer a church, Westland is in fact a showroom for large, spectacular items of architectural salvage.

Going Places in Ridley Rd Market

You may also like to take a look at

East End Desire Paths

East End Snowman

Blossom Time in the East End

10 Responses leave one →
  1. May 13, 2013

    Great article with wonderful photos of shop fronts. Many thanks!

  2. Gary permalink
    May 13, 2013

    You must have run out of steam as you failed to reach “Worlds End”

  3. May 13, 2013

    I love these old shop names. Before there was ‘Poundland’ there were hundreds of other little shops using land and world in their names. I especially like ‘Frameland’. Who came up with that?

    Another great shop name – not remotely world or land related – is a newsagent off the A12 in Romford called Fags and Mags. Does what is says on the tin!

  4. sprite permalink
    May 13, 2013

    The chap in the blue turban in the front of bargain world is a friend, running Khalsa shop for school uniforms a few yards away. Khalsa = Pureland or something to that effect. I’ll never be able to step into Dreamland linen to get my crochet wool with the same eyes again!

    Dreamland linen –
    old rolls of egyptian cotton
    under new ownership


  5. May 13, 2013

    Great post. I was long ago fascinated by “Mark Jason’s Shoeworld” when there was a branch in the now gentrified and dull Brunswick Centre, and absolutely delighted to see this shop again when I moved to Bethnal Green Road. I love the way this humble shoe shop is so proudly possessed by Mark Jason, like some early 80s light entertainment show on TV (Russ Abbott’s Madhouse).

    Smoker’s World is as anachronistic as those shop signs which still show 071 or even 01 telephone numbers – it takes us back to a time not so long ago, but ever so far away.

    Thanks for bringing even more of these to my attention!

  6. May 14, 2013

    Like the tightly-packed window display of Denim World.

  7. May 14, 2013

    yes Gary is right, worlds end…is missing. wonderful! Andrea

  8. Marina B permalink
    May 15, 2013

    Ah, such magnificence! I’ve been transported! Thank you!

  9. May 15, 2013

    Ha I love this! I live right near Bargain World on Hoxton Street and… well it’s neither bargainous nor worldy – but credit needs to be given for being so ambitious! x

  10. May 18, 2013

    just lovely, gentle author,so so very magical and funny.
    I am smiling ear to ear,
    thanks !

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