Haines of Sloane Square is London’s oldest news kiosk: it’s been in Alex Bailey’s family since his great-grandfather opened it in 1892. He tells us more…
‘I’ve travelled a lot over the years, throughout Asia, America and Europe, but I’ve yet to find a city that competes with London. I love the buzz of it, and I feel privileged to have been born into a family that has such an established business here. My great-grandad started out selling newspapers from a wooden box in the middle of Sloane Square. In fact, the reason my mum and I are here is because he used to deliver papers to houses in Eaton Square, and one of them would invite him in to warm up. My great-grandmother was the head cook, so they met over a glowing fire in the basement and the rest is history.
Although it’s been in my family for 125 years, there was never any pressure for me to take on the business. I graduated with a degree in criminology and my mum suggested working for the kiosk until I found something more permanent, but I’ve been managing it for four years now and I really enjoy it. Sure, at 5am on a cold December morning I sometimes think: Why am I doing this? But before you know it, the shift has flown by.
When my mum was a child the family delivered papers on foot. Later we did it by bike then by car, but we don’t do that now as newspaper circulation has dropped. The only magazine we’re selling more of is Private Eye. Of course, some of that is based on where we are, as it’s a fairly affluent area. Buckingham Palace is only a mile away and the Royal Hospital is round the corner, which is where all the war veterans live. One of the highlights of my day is serving those Chelsea Pensioners because they always have great stories about their weekend antics. They get invited to Chelsea football ground a lot with complimentary alcohol, so they’re always having a good time.
Apparently, before I worked here, another regular customer was Princess Diana. She worked at a nursery nearby, and as a teenager she used to come and flick through all the fashion mags.
We’ve always been part of the community. There was an old lady who lived opposite us in Sloane Gardens who told my mum that she couldn’t bend down to get her milk from the doorstep, so Mum got the milkman to deliver her milk to us.
For a while we had two kiosks, but the downturn in paper sales and increase in rent meant that, in 2008, we had to close one. Soon afterwards, Westminster Council said it was planning on having uniform kiosks across the borough and asked if we wanted to try the design. That’s the kiosk we have now, which was created by Thomas Heatherwick, who’s probably most famous for the Olympic Cauldron and the new Routemaster. The stand looks a bit like a beehive and we get people asking about it and taking photos. It was even part of an exhibit at the V&A.
I’m not sure newspapers have much of a future, so I’m trying to modernise the kiosk and stock more of what people want to buy. We got fridges for drinks in the ’90s, and now we sell everything from stamps and greetings cards to cigarettes and phone chargers. We may be a news kiosk, but newspapers aren’t our major income; the money is in drinks now. Our real USP though is our history, and I hope that means people will continue to come and see us.’
Visit Haines of Sloane Square at SW1W 8EE, opposite Sloane Square tube. Or read barber Vangelos Georgiou’s story of 46 years cutting hair in Bermondsey.Share the story