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Keith Parmenter, Dry Cleaner

June 29, 2017
by the gentle author

Keith Parmenter – ‘I had one lady crying when I said I was leaving’

You have only one day left to collect your dry cleaning from Keith Parmenter’s tiny shop in Princeton St, Holborn, because he is closing tomorrow forever after twenty-eight years. When I visited yesterday, Keith had a mere half a dozen suits on the rail and he was clearing out his shop while awaiting collection of these, which gave me the opportunity for a chat to learn the story that lies behind this modest establishment, measuring just ten by fifteen feet.

In these quiet streets situated between Theobalds Row and High Holborn, Keith has been a popular figure for decades. He is the custodian of house keys and the recipient of parcels for his neighbours, and renowned among the worthy members of the legal profession who rely upon Keith to get their dark suits cleaned efficiently at short notice in readiness for important court cases – you might say he keeps their reputation spotless.

Although his workplace is small, Keith is a man of the world who has seen life and is celebrated for recounting tales of his youthful adventures upon the seven seas. I was as touched to meet Keith as his customers are sad to see him go, and it reminded me how much individuals such as he contribute to the distinctive character of our city.

“I will have had this shop twenty-eight years this September. I also used to have half the cafe on the corner and I had sunbeds in the basement, a solarium – two and half businesses. I was already involved in this before I came here, I took over a dry cleaning shop in Cowcross St next to Smithfield Market. I just met somebody one day who already had a shop and they were a bit short of money, so I squared a few things up and worked with them for a little while and saw how it was done. Then I saw this advertised, and I applied and took over this shop.

I was born in Stratford and I went away to sea as a merchant seaman when I was fifteen and a half. My first trip was on a an Esso oil tanker. I was a galley boy because I always had weak eyes. Although I wanted to, I could not be on deck I could only go into the catering, but in the end I found it to be the best. I worked for the New Zealand Shipping Co, the Port Line, the Union Castle Line encircling Africa and the Cunard Line subsidiary which used to sail from St Catherine Dock beside Tower Bridge. I used to go on four week trips to Italy, via Porto, Lisbon, Cadiz and Seville. It was chartered by Harveys of Bristol and we brought back wooden barrels of port from Porto.

I had a lovely upbringing in Stratford, more-or-less where the Olympic Park is now, and my dad used to buy and sell horses, scrap metal, rags, fruit and veg. He was a proper costermonger. It was all in the family. My grandfather, he came from Belgium and he had a secondhand shop and he would also buy and sell horses. He had stables where the Olympic Park is, that was all open land by the River Lea where I used to ride horses bareback. It was a wonderful time – to be in Stratford and live like that. I had the best of both worlds.

When I did go to school in Canning Town, I was not a very good scholar. I used to play football and I used to box. It was close to the docks and I saw all the ships’ funnels, and I was mesmerised by them. It intrigued me and I always loved history and geography, and that gave me the urge to go away to sea. There was lots of seamen from East London, on every ship I sailed there was always one. At first, I followed in my dad’s trade, I had a scrap yard and I used to buy and sell scrap, and I did house clearances. There is not much I have not done!

It has been wonderful here in Holborn. That gentleman who has just gone by, he is a top barrister. I have met barristers and judges, and got on with everyone. I had one lady crying when I said I was leaving. I have friends from all the different Inns of Court. There is one customer – I am not sure what he does – he is something to do with the Royal Family and last year I went to one of the Queen’s Garden Parties. He got me an invitation and I thought to myself, ‘I would have never believed this when I was a boy in Stratford,’ because I was a bit of a rascal. It has been fabulous here. This is a lovely area.

That building on the corner opposite used to be Yorkshire Television and I saw all the stars from the different shows sitting outside. It was very busy then but it has gone a lot quieter now. I have decided to have a break and I want to do a bit of travelling. Hopefully, I can keep strength up because I still feel pretty good and I work out every day.”

‘I would have never believed this when I was a boy in Stratford’

Keith Parmenter’s last days of dry cleaning

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Taken to the Cleaners

15 Responses leave one →
  1. June 29, 2017

    Keith had an interesting and varied life, and I wish him all the best and lots of fun for the years to come. Valerie

  2. James Harris permalink
    June 29, 2017

    Enjoy good health and happiness on your travels Mr. Parmenter.

  3. June 29, 2017

    Nice to read your story, I hope you have a lovely retirement x

  4. June 29, 2017

    Keith is a top gent, suave, always upfront you have to be when running a one man business, there has to be lots of stories locked away in that gym like frame of his. GA has brought some out for us they are all fascinating & nice. I agree with Keith retire when peaking in life – he will not regret going into this retirement world in Holborn. He will be in great demand in the voluntary sector with his knowledge of the small business world. I think its vital to get a soulmate/confidante when you move on. Poet John PS – !Charities take note this top man could be available.

  5. June 29, 2017

    What a lovely man. I hope Kieth is able to revisit all the places he went to in his younger days. It would be great to see a blog on him in a few years after he has traveled a bit.

  6. Ros permalink
    June 29, 2017

    All the best to you Keith Parmenter in your retirement and I hope you have many new adventures. I enjoyed reading about your life.

  7. Juliet Wrightson permalink
    June 29, 2017

    This is incredibly sad because it looks as if Mr. Parmenter has not sold the business with all the good will that must have accrued. Does this mean that it is no longer viable for a single trader to run such a business? High rents, rates and the Internet will soon mean the residents of London will be missing out on the day to day interaction with local shopkeepers.

  8. June 29, 2017

    Look at that smile!!! This is the kind of gent who will redefine the word “retirement”.
    (There is so much to learn from others, if we are open to hearing their stories.
    Thanks to the GA for bringing us daily doses of optimism and humanity. )

  9. Helen Breen permalink
    June 29, 2017

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, you continue to find these great stories about interesting characters like Keith – wonderful. No doubt his success had much to do with his positive attitude, sunny disposition, and openness to change.

    I enjoyed the part about Keith being invited to the Queen’s Garden Party. I guess there are several in the summer. I just happened to be near the Queen’s Gallery (attached to Buckingham Palace) one June day when I noticed scores of well- dressed ladies and gents gathering through the nearby streets. When I asked, one gal said they were invited to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Grenadier Guards Association.

    They were all dressed to kill and looked great, although many of the gals were clearly hurting with their spike heels on the pavement. I could tell that for most it was the thrill of a lifetime. I am sure Keith enjoyed his garden party too.

    Love the colorful Holburn area of London too….

  10. Mezlerara permalink
    June 29, 2017

    He looks like such a lovely happy man! These posts are my favourites

  11. June 29, 2017

    I love these stories; they bring me closer to the marvellous human-ness of London and indirectly of the world. Thank you, Gentle Author, for retelling the fascinating stories of “ordinary people.” And good luck, Mr. Parmenter, as you continue your adventures. One thing that struck me: there is no better presentation for a dry-cleaner’s service than for him to be impeccably dressed. And yet you do not see that in the United States. Odd.

  12. David Bishop permalink
    June 29, 2017

    What a great post! Thank you

  13. Richard permalink
    June 29, 2017

    All the best to a good man.

  14. Howard Ricklow permalink
    July 11, 2017

    I’m glad that this article has been posted. I have been a customer of Keith’s since 1998 but obviously hadn’t been in recently since the first I knew about it was walking past the shop on Saturday and seeing that it had closed down.

    All the very best Keith for the future; and do stay in touch.

  15. Dr Brian Lascelles permalink
    August 1, 2017

    My general practice surgery was at 4 spital square a 1939 house purpose built on the site of St Mary Spital for Dr William Parry who died about 1946 and my father , Dr Walter Lascelles took over the practice . I have written a lot in this blog about life in the 1950 s and onwards .The amount of information revealed is truly fascinating and I am glad about the forthcoming book

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