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David Rowland / Alamy Stock Photo C976EE Floris 89 Jermyn Street London Perfumes

Beautiful old shopfronts in London

From umbrella dealers to art stores, these shopfronts are windows on an (old) world

By Kate Lloyd
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London is an ever-changing city, but look hard enough and you’ll find beautiful old shopfronts enduring between the skyscrapers and start-ups. Here are the loveliest.

James Smith and Sons
James Smith and Sons
2007

James Smith & Sons

Shopping Gifts and souvenirs Oxford Street

This brolly merchant has been keeping customers dry since 1830. It moved to New Oxford St  in 1857 and its gilded signage has stood there ever since. There might not be much call for some of the items listed above its windows now – not sure you’d be allowed on the tube with a ‘dagger cane’ – but as the area redevelops, let’s hope James Smith & Sons never changes.

Old Curiosity Shop
Old Curiosity Shop

The Old Curiosity Shop

This building (once a dairy) dates back to the sixteenth century, but its name goes back to the nineteenth, when Dickens published his novel. This place was thought to be the inspiration for his titular junk emporium. The building still exudes Dickensian charm, and the gothic sign (painted on the front wall) remains – even if the shop has since pivoted to selling shoes. 

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Berry Bros & Rudd

Shopping Off licences St James’s

Wine and spirit merchant Berry Bros & Rudd has been helping Londoners make merry for more than 300 years. Outside  its original St James’s Street shop  hangs the ‘Sign of the Coffee Mill’ – a tribute to BBR’s beginnings in the coffee biz. In 2017,  the building became company HQ.  But  don’t panic: you can nip round to 63 Pall Mall to get your hands on Berry bottles.

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David Rowland / Alamy Stock Photo

Floris

Shopping Perfumeries St James’s

Founded by Juan Famenias Floris and his wife Elizabeth, this perfume shop has been a celeb fave since 1730. Florence Nightingale wrote Floris a letter about her love of his ‘sweet-smelling nosegays’ and George IV appointed him his official Smooth Pointed Comb Maker. These days, it’s Insta-famous
for the floral displays that frame its classic signage.

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Cruson

Shopping Grocery stores Camberwell

Greengrocer Cruson might not be fancy, but it is a south London institution. It’s been run by Cypriot owner Aris for nearly 50 years, and was open for decades before that. Today, its un-bougie charm is obvious. Cruson is an atmospheric interwar relic, with huge amounts of personality squeezed into  the six minty green letters of its signage.

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E2G2NC
Hemis / Alamy Stock Photo

Cordings

One of the first makers of waterproof coats, Cordings started life in the Strand before moving to Piccadilly in 1877.  But the facade you see today only dates back to 1903. A project to widen Piccadilly meant the original had to be demolished and rebuilt ten yards back from its original site. Bizarre fact: since 2003, it’s been co-owned by rocker Eric Clapton. So there you go.

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Lock & Co Hatters

Shopping Hats St James’s

Once a coffee house, 6 St James’s Street was turned into a hatter’s when James and Mary Lock took over in 1765. It still stands with its original black-and-gold signage – a prevailing aesthetic of the time. The oldest hat shop in the world has a rich history. One of the more eccentric members of the Lock family was said to be the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter. 

L Cornelissen & Son

Shopping Art, craft and hobbies Bloomsbury

The forest green of this art shop has been brightening up Bloomsbury since the 1970s, but Cornelissen itself is way older.  It opened as a shop for lithographic  supplies on Drury Lane  in 1848. By the twentieth century it had branched out into paints and art materials, with customers including Soho habitué Francis Bacon. Maybe its bilious frontage is in his honour. 

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Arthur Beale

Shopping Shaftesbury Avenue

Way before Mr Bing came on the scene, Arthur Beale was London’s fave chandler. The supplier of sailing equipment relocated from a site near the Fleet River more than 120 years ago, bringing its knowledge of all things nautical to the West End. Its marine-hued colour scheme provides an endearing beacon for seafarers washing up in London’s theatre district.

Fox Fine Wines & Spirits

Bars and pubs Wine bars Moorgate

This spot might be a bar now, but until 2015 it was home to an umbrella-maker.  Opened in 1868, T Fox & Co was a keen rival of James Smith. It was refurbished in 1937 in chrome, neon and vitrolite (opaque glass), and despite the business changing, that signage survives. The non-reflective windows once kept displays visible; now  they let you check out who’s at the bar.

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