As a city with a rainy reputation, it seems only right that London has an incredible shop dedicated to brollies. James Smith & Sons has been keeping Londoners dry for nearly two centuries. You’ll find all manner of umbrellas here, including a snakewood-and-silver number costing nearly £3,000. Shop manager Phil Naisbitt talks us through its Victorian charm.
‘These original shop signs are from the other James Smith & Sons branches. There used to be six stores, but as fashions changed and those buildings got knocked down, the shops’ fixtures, fittings and signs ended up coming here.’
‘This is a painting of the first James Smith. When he ran the business, everything was handmade by one person. They did every part, from whalebone frames to silk canopies. We like to hold on to these bits of history.’
‘We’ve got quite a stick collection which has built up over time. We have a trout stick made from rams’ horn, and a stick covered in python’s skin. Also, walking sticks made out of bulls’ penises, which wasn’t actually unusual back in the day.’
‘The oldest records of the business date back to 1830. It was in Foubert’s Place. In 1857, we moved to these premises, and have been here since. Last time the store was renovated, an old customer came in and said, “Oh, I thought you were having the place decorated.” It looked exactly the same.’
‘We’ve made umbrellas the same way for about 100 years. One of the old names for an umbrella maker is a “mush-faker”, from “mushroom”. We’ve got a few in our workshop downstairs!’
‘We stick to traditions of recycling, reusing and not just throwing away. We get a lot of requests but we can only fix our own umbrellas. Our repair book is still all written by hand. It dates back a long time.’
‘We’re traditional but we can’t keep selling the same exact things because fashions change. We’ve got colour – in the old days it would have been just black umbrellas. These days the decorative sticks are more popular for dressing up, weddings, fancy dress and parties.’