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At Newmans Stationery

October 24, 2021
by the gentle author

Today we celebrate the wonderful Newmans Stationery in Bethnal Green who printed our Spitalfields Life 2022 calendar in support of Spitalfields City Farm




Qusai & Hafiz Jafferji

Barely a week passes without at least one visit to Newmans Stationery, a magnificent shop in Bethnal Green devoted to pristine displays of more pens, envelopes, folders and notebooks than you ever dreamed of. All writers love stationery and this place is an irresistible destination whenever I need to stock up on paper products. With more than five thousand items in stock, if you – like me – are a connoisseur of writing implements and all the attendant sundries then you can easily lose yourself in here. This is where I come for digital printing, permitting me the pleasure of browsing the aisles while the hi-tech copiers whirr and buzz as they fulfil their appointed tasks.

Swapping the murky January streets for the brightly-lit colourful universe of Newmans Stationers, Contributing Photographer Sarah Ainslie & I went along to meet the Jafferjis and learn more about their cherished family business – simply as an excuse to spend more time within the hallowed walls of this heartwarming East End institution.

We thought we would never leave when we were shown the mysterious and labyrinthine cellar beneath, which serves as the stock room, crammed with even more stationery than the shop above. Yet proprietor Hafiz Jafferji and his son Qusai managed to tempt us out of it with the offer of a cup of tea in the innermost sanctum, the tiny office at the rear of the shop which serves as the headquarters of their personal empire of paper, pens and printing. Here Hafiz regaled us with his epic story.

“I bought this business in October 1996, prior to that I worked in printing for fifteen years. It was well paid and I was quite happy, but my father and my family had been in business and that was my goal too. I am originally from Tanzania and I was born in Zanzibar where most of my relatives have small businesses selling hardware.

I began my career as a typesetter, working for a cousin of mine in Highgate, then I studied for a year at London College of Printing in Elephant & Castle. My father told me to start up a business running a Post Office in Cambridge in partnership with another cousin. They sold a little bit of stationery so I thought it was a good idea but my mind was always in printing. Every single day, I came back after working behind the counter in Cambridge to work at printing in Highgate, before returning to Cambridge at maybe one or two in the morning. I did that for almost two years, but then I said, ‘I’m not really enjoying this’ and decided to come back to London and work full time with my cousin in Highgate again.

I wondered, ‘Shall I go back to Tanzania where my dad is and start a business there or just carry on here?’ After I paid off my mortgage on my tiny flat, I left the print works and I was doing part time jobs and working a hotel but I thought, ‘Let’s try the army!’ Yet by the time I got to the third interview, I managed to find a job working for a printer in Crouch End. Then I had my mother pushing me to get married. ‘You’ve got a flat and you’ve got a job,’ she said but I could not even afford basic amenities in my house. If I wanted to eat something nice, I had to go to aunt’s house.

I realised I needed a decent job and I joined a printing firm in the Farringdon Rd as a colour planner, joining a team of four planners. Although I had learnt a lot from my previous jobs, I was not one of the most experienced workers there and I found that the others chaps would not teach me because I was the only Asian in the workforce. I used to do my work and watch the others with one eye, so I could pick up what they were doing and get better. I think I was a bit slow and so, for a long time, I would sign out and carry on working after hours to show that I was fulfilling my duties.

We did a lot of printing at short notice for the City and my boss always needed people to stay on and work late. Sometimes he would ring me at midnight and ask. ‘Hafiz, a plate has gone down, can you come in and redo it?’ I always used to do that, I never said ‘No.’

After five years, the boss asked me to become manager but I realised that I wasn’t happy because there were communication difficulties – people would not listen to me. My colleagues did not like the fact that I never said ‘No’ to any job. So I felt uncomfortable and had to refuse the promotion. When I decided to leave they offered me 50% pay rise.

Then a friend of mine who was an accountant told me about Newmans, he said was not doing very well but it was an opportunity. We looked at the figures and it did not make sense financially, compared to what I had been earning, yet me and wife decided to give it a go anyway. It took us seven years to re-establish the business.

I am still in touch with Mr & Mrs Newman who were here in Bethnal Green twelve years before we came along in 1996. Before that, they were in Hackney Rd, trading as ‘Newmans’ Business Machinery’ selling typewriters. I remember when we started there were stacks of typewriter ribbons everywhere! Digital was coming in and typewriters were disappearing so that business was as dead as a Dodo.

It was always in my mind to go into business. My idea was simply that I would be the boss and I would have people working for me taking the money. After working fourteen hours a day for six days a week, I thought it would be easy. Of course, it was not.

We refurbished the shop and increased the range of stock. We had a local actor who played Robin Hood when we re-opened. We wanted an elephant but we had to make do with a horse. We announced that a knight on horseback was coming to our shop.

We deal directly with manufacturers so we can get better discounts and sell at competitive prices. I concentrate on local needs, the demands of people within half a mile of my shop. I go to exhibitions in Frankfurt and Dubai looking for new products and new ideas, I have become so passionate about stationery…”

Nafisa Jafferji

Marlene Harrilal

‘We wanted an elephant but we had to make do with a horse’

The original Mr Newman left his Imperial typewriter behind in 1996

Hafiz Jafferji

Qusai Jafferji quit his job in the City to join the family business

Qusai Jafferji prints a t-shirt in the recesses of the cellar

Photographs copyright © Sarah Ainslie

Newmans Stationery (Retail, Wholesale & Printing), 324 Bethnal Green Rd, E2 0AG

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10 Responses leave one →
  1. Wendy permalink
    October 24, 2021

    Newman’s is a fabulous shop – always helpful and happy. I’m temporarily away from London but when I move back to my home in Berhnal Green I will be resuming my popping in and stocking up. Lucky you GA – being invited to see their stockroom.

  2. Jill Wilson permalink
    October 24, 2021


    I wish I had such a great stationers near where I live ( I was deeply shocked the other day to find out that the local WH Smith’s doesn’t even stock the classic UHU glue, let alone all the varieties on display at Newman’s!)

    Lucky you having such a fab shop and printing facility within walking distance. Enjoy!

  3. October 24, 2021

    It’s the best – I remember coming here from Whitechapel to buy things for myself and my children; it reminds me of the neighbourhood stationery shops I found in Tokyo, Japan when I was there in 2020. Long may Newmans thrive and prosper!

  4. Mary permalink
    October 24, 2021

    Who does not love a stationers? When I was living in Bow in the early 1970s I used to pass a wonderful stationers on the Mile End Road, and could never resist popping in. I think it was in one of the properties that were demolished to build the DLR. Sadly, I do not remember the name, but perhaps one of my fellow readers does?

  5. Jude permalink
    October 24, 2021

    I would love to work here! Trouble is I probably wouldn’t have much salary left, I’d be buying everything! Have always loved stationery from being a little girl…

  6. October 24, 2021

    I loved everything about this post. This emporium is seemingly one-stop-shopping for everything I love. And the fact that they also offer printing services…….Crazy-good. But the best part was learning the personal back story of the owners, and their journey. The pristine orderliness of the store belies the up/down/sideways pathway that lead to this success story. And we, the fortunate readers of Spitalfields Life, get to know it ALL. I’m so grateful to begin my day with this feeling of optimism.

    Sarah Ainslie’s photos are always appreciated, too!

  7. October 24, 2021

    I’d like some advice on how to leave this shop….I could stay for hours! Very grateful too for a place that still respects the paper diary!!!

  8. October 25, 2021

    Yes, stationery is really a big theme. I love to browse around in the related stores. Whether it’s ink for my fountain pen or special notebooks — I often get things from France because there’s still a distinct culture for it there.

    Here in Kassel, a traditional stationery store has been forced to close. The reason: the declining writing culture (because of SMS on mobile devices).

    When I still had the leisure to send homemade greeting cards, I also made my own universal envelopes. I know what Terry Smith is talking about!

    Love & Peace

  9. sara midda permalink
    October 29, 2021

    Thank heavens I’m safely out of temptations way.
    But no,could they think of opening a shop in WEST Sussex ?

    Best wishes Sara

  10. October 29, 2021

    An inspiring story! Long may Newmans prosper

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