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The Shops Of Old London

November 26, 2022
by the gentle author

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Butchers, Hoxton St c.1910

Are you short of cash and weary of shopping? Why not consider visiting the shops of old London instead? There are no supermarkets or malls 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.

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 to pay. 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 copyright © Bishopsgate Institute

You may also like to take a look at

The Nights of Old London

The Ghosts of Old London

The Dogs of Old London

The Signs of Old London

9 Responses leave one →
  1. Saba permalink
    November 26, 2022

    A real Sweeney Todd barber shop! We enjoyed a visit in the US with the Stephen Sondheim musical.

  2. Laura Spira permalink
    November 26, 2022

    I remember some of these from my 1950s childhood when a shopping trip to the West End was a big treat!
    “Tobacconist, Glovers and Shoe Shop, c.1910”: not just any tobacconist – Salmon and Gluckstein, who eventually became the catering company, Lyons.

  3. Marcia Howard permalink
    November 26, 2022

    Another unique and fabulous set of mementos & memories. I don’t think I realised Peter Jones’ ever had a store on Oxford Street. I grew up with the one on Sloane Square which is still there. Loved the ‘eyes’ (Specs) on the front of the Opticians/St Ethelburga’s building. Some pretty amazing architecture too, plus billboards. Keep ’em coming Gentle Author, and thank you.

  4. November 26, 2022

    Yet another fascinating post, thank you. I have been trying to find a photograph which shows the front of Henry Ransom’s, my great great grandfather’s, shop in Upper Street, Islington. He had a funeral draper’s business at number 40 Upper Street from c1840 to c1870. Number 40 was the later address as the street numbering, and naming, changed from the early years when his area was known as Hedge Row. His business was known as the “Islington Mourning Warehouse”. I have only been able to find photographs which show his premises very small in the distance, and it is impossible to read any sign. He was located near to the Agricultural Hall (now the Business Design Centre) but sadly his building was demolished many years ago. There may have been photographs taken later than 1870 because the business was sold as a going concern after Henry retired.

  5. Peter Storch permalink
    November 26, 2022

    Always smile at the photo of “Newsagent and Hairdresser at 152 Strand, c.1930”. The Sweeney Todd sign (allegedly the site of) and the fact that the last that I heard it was to become a McDonald’s.

    Oh, the irony!

  6. Mark permalink
    November 26, 2022

    Particularly like the photo following the vista of Regent st, and the wonderful and brand new Art Deco buildings. (Moderne?)

  7. November 26, 2022

    SO much to love, here! The rampant typography, spilling over the facades. I loved squinting to read the theatrical posters, to see what was playing. All the endless fonts, from the refined to the less-so. (how I longed to shop for some “Picture Postcards”……..quickly becoming a thing of the past) Loved spotting that lone letter “E” at the top of the building on Oxford Street. Almost like an accidental streetside eye chart! That Art Deco dress shop, with the cunning mannikins — HOW I would love to see what the interior looked like. (I am imagining miles of mirror, touches of chrome) I’m happy to say I have visited the Liberty storefront, on one of our earliest trips to London (maybe in the early 70s) and still have a marvelous shawl (William Morris design in rust/blue/purple) to show for it. A “legacy” purchase that one makes, to last a lifetime. So far,
    so good!

    Thanks for the shopping spree, GA,

  8. Pauline Dufaur permalink
    November 28, 2022

    I found the photos absolutely fascinating but have one question that you Gentle Author (or one of your readers) may have the answer to. At the top of the photo ‘Dairy & Sacks, Bags etc Shop C1940 I noticed a sign or partial sign ‘Shelter’. Do you know what type of shelter this refers to?
    Many thanks

  9. Jill Eljadi permalink
    November 28, 2022

    So many memories in those store names. REAL shopping Swears & Wells, everyone had to visit a furrier in those days (sad to say).

    Ps I think it was Peter Robinson, (not Peter Jones ) in Oxford street – a favourite boutique well into the seventies, maybe a forerunner of Top Shop

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