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At S. Festenstein & Sons, Furriers

August 9, 2023
by the gentle author

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Observe this young woman peering from the upper window of S.Festenstein & Sons in Banner St, Bunhill Row, around 1900. She looks a little precarious, as if she had climbed up onto a table in her curiosity to look down at the photographer below. She did not know that Mr Festenstein was standing in the doorway in his top hat, three floors below, and I wonder if any comment was made when the photograph was shown to the proprietor later. Yet she had won her place in eternity, which is surely a satisfactory outcome from taking a five minute break?

Danny Tabi, the last furrier in the East End, told me that in 1967 he worked at Gale Furs in Fournier St, when James Mason was filming The London Nobody Knows in the street outside. There is a famous tracking shot that captures all the factory workers as they crowd the pavement and lean from the windows. Danny can name all of them and now regrets that – unlike the woman at Festensteins – he forsook his opportunity to be captured on film, just because he wanted to finish his piece of work in hand.

The fur trade flourished in East London for centuries, working with imported skins that came through the London Docks – and these photographs of Festenstein & Sons, one among hundreds of similar companies, record a trade that no longer suits the sensibility of our modern world and has almost vanished entirely today.

S. Festenstein & Sons, 31 & 33, Banner St, Bunhill Row, EC1

Is this Mr Festenstein in his silk hat?

Factory workers step outside to watch the photographer

In the Factory

In the Skin Department

In the Showroon

Home Order Department

Overseas Order Department

Images courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

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Danny Tabi, Furrier

6 Responses leave one →
  1. August 9, 2023

    Seeing your piece on the fur trade, I remember in the early 1979s walking along the street from Old Bollingsgate and seeing the doors of an old wharf side building open and the warehouse absolutely full of furs, piled high. I spoke to someone by the door (having a quick cigarette break) and he took me inside the doorway so that I could see the impressive stock. This was a warehouse full of pelts just as the world was starting to turn against such things. I presume this building became flats?

  2. Rick permalink
    August 9, 2023

    My grandfather, Morris Lustig was a tailor based at 10 Fournier Street next door to Solly Shamroth the proprietor of Gale Furs. His wife was a cousin of my wife.

  3. Andy permalink
    August 9, 2023

    Gentle Author,
    I think these are fantastic photographs. A lot if my family worked in the garment industry. I did while at school aged fourteen for inaptly named “Paradise.”

  4. Paul Ridgway permalink
    August 9, 2023

    An interesting trade and we see the fruits of its work when the livery companies of the City of London dress for their ceremonial events.

    There were in the 1950s and 1960s fur auctions by the Hudson’s Bay Company in the City.

    Last saw a row of furriers in a street a few hundred metres south of Gare du Nord in Paris in 2013.

  5. Sue permalink
    August 9, 2023

    Fascinating shots of furrier’s business. My mother was trained in the fur trade just before the war. She was an out worker in the Sixties for a Bond Street fur shop called Sharpe Bros. I sometimes went up with her to return work. The brothers were known as Mr.Max and Mr.Maurice, I think they may have been originally from Russia but not sure. Even in the Sixties the building seemed archaic over many floors although it had a posh shop at street level but naturally we never went in there.

  6. Cherub permalink
    August 10, 2023

    When my husband was a chemistry undergraduate at Queen Mary College at Mile End in the late 70s, he had a holiday job with The Hudson Bay Company (which I think may have been at Lower Thames Street). He wore an apron and his job was to hold up pelts to show to visiting buyers.

    I’m glad people wear fake fur now. Back in the early 80s it was fashionable to buy vintage clothing and I had a fox fur stole I found in a charity shop for £5. Dead fox felt a bit creepy to wear, so I sold it to someone else.

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