Proof that you are not being served in London?

Continuing from last week’s post here is proof of the shrinking high street.

A tradition for many of us ‘baby boomers’ at this time of the year was the annual pilgrimage to one or more of London’s department stores. Curiously many had originated with two owners: Bourne & Hollingsworth; Dickins & Jones; Marshall & Snelgrove; Swan & Edgar; Derry & Toms; Arding & Hobbs; or Swan & Edgar. Many now do not exist as stand-alone department stores, just not able to move with post-war shopping trends.

London’s largest store

Gordon Selfridge London’s greatest department store proprietor saw how trends were changing as early as 1909 when he opened the largest of all stores at that time and allowed customers to see the merchandise on offer, and not as his competitors, offering to show prospective buyers a selection chosen by the shop assistant.

To get some idea of pre-war shopping customs watch any episode of Are You Being Served?

War years had protected most stores from the new style, but by the 1970s most had suffered from the birth of style-shopping and both management and staffs were unable to update fast enough to attract the newly-moneyed.

The very best service

Politeness, knowledge of stock and free advice gave way to self-service racks stocking the latest fashions which would change by the season.

The specialist stores: Lilywhites for sporting wear; Fenwicks aimed at country ladies of a certain age; and Libertys for fabrics have clung on, but most have succumbed to the supermarkets of TK Maxx, H&M or the nightmarish souk – Primark.

Should you be in any doubt about the changing face of the high streets consider this list of closed department stores compiled by Diamond Geezer:

Central: Army & Navy (Victoria), Bourne & Hollingsworth (Oxford Street), Catesby’s (Tottenham Court Road), Civil Service Supply Association (Strand), Daniel Neal (Portman Square), Debenham & Freebody (Wigmore Street), Dickins & Jones (Regent Street), Gamages (Holborn), Gorringes (Victoria), Jordans (Lisson Grove), Marshall & Snelgrove (Oxford Street), Swan & Edgar (Piccadilly Circus), Thomas Wallis (Holborn), Woolland Brothers (Knightsbridge), Whiteleys (Bayswater)

North: John Barnes (Finchley Road), Bartons (Wood Green), B B Evans (Kilburn), Evans and Davies (Palmers Green), Jones Brothers (Holloway Road), Pearsons (Wood Green), Stephens (Stoke Newington), Wards (Seven Sisters), Wilsons (Crouch End)

West: Barbers (Fulham), Barkers of Kensington, Bentalls (Ealing), Derry & Toms (Kensington), F H Rowse (West Ealing), General Trading Company (Kensington), Goslings (Richmond), John Sanders (Ealing), Pontings (Kensington), Randalls (Uxbridge), Soper’s (Harrow), Wright Brothers (Richmond)

South: Allders (Croydon, Sutton), Arding and Hobbs (Clapham Junction), Bon Marché (Brixton), Grants (Croydon), Kennards (Croydon), Pratts (Streatham), Quin & Axtens (Brixton), Shinners (Sutton)

Southeast: Chiesmans (Lewisham, Bexleyheath), Cuffs (Woolwich), Fantos (Deptford), Garretts (Woolwich), Hides (Bexleyheath), Hinds (Eltham), Jones and Higgins (Peckham), Medhursts (Bromley), Pyne Brothers (Deptford), Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society (Woolwich), Tower House (Lewisham), Walter Cobb (Sydenham)

East: Bearmans (Leytonstone), Boardmans (Stratford), Chiesmans (Ilford, Upton Park), Dawson’s (City Road), Dudley’s (Dalston), Gardiner’s (Whitechapel), Houndsditch Warehouse (Aldgate), Harrison Gibson (Ilford), Keddies (Romford), J R Roberts (Stratford), Wickhams (Stepney)

Various: British Home Stores, Co-Op, Marks & Spencer, Owen Owen (Finchley, Ilford, Richmond, Uxbridge)

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 13th December 2016

London Trivia: Farrokh Bulsara dies

On 24 November 1991 Farrokh Bulsara better known as Freddie Mercury died at his home at 1 Logan Place. The Queen lead singer died from bronchial pneumonia from AIDS. Mercury was diagnosed with HIV in 1987 but kept his condition private until he released a public statement just a little over 24 hours before he passed away just 45 years old. The outer walls of his house have become a shrine to Mercury.

On 24 November 1434 a severe frost began continuing until 10 February. During the freeze the Thames froze over

On 24 November 1740 William Duell was hanged at Tyburn, bought to Surgeon’ Hall, he recovered before dissection and was transported for life

Having the world’s first failsafe system, raised 1,000 times a year taking 90 secs Tower Bridge has to give precedence to shipping over road

According to The Secret History of London Clubs from 1709, a Mr. Crumpton invited those in the final stage of syphilis, which destroys bone and tissue, to join the ‘No-Nose’d Club’ in the Dog Tavern

Ships surmounting lamposts on The Mall depict Nelson’s fleet who defeated the French and his statue faces towards his fleet in Portsmouth

On 24 November 1952 Agatha Christie’s story The Mousetrap reached the West End, it is still running and is now the world’s longest continual play

The Grade II listed chapel at Claybury Hospital, Woodford Green, a former asylum, has been converted into Virgin Active’s swimming pool

In June 1939 92,000 watched the greyhound racing Derby at White City, only football and cinema drew larger audiences during the 1930s

The Tube is the world’s oldest underground with 290 miles of track and 275 stations were each visited in 16 hours, 20 minutes and 27 seconds by Geoff Marshall and Anthony Smith in 2013

After the Wall Street Crash Buckingham Palace ordered five Daimler Double-Six limousines to help unemployment in the Midlands

The Constable of The Tower of London is entitled to 4p for an animal falling into the moat and all livestock which fall from London Bridge

CabbieBlog-cab.gifTrivial Matter: London in 140 characters is taken from the daily Twitter feed @cabbieblog.
A guide to the symbols used here and source material can be found on the Trivial Matter page.

Are you being served in London?

About 16 shops are closing every day as retailers restructure their businesses and more shopping moves online. A net 1,234 stores shut on Britain’s top 500 high streets in the first half of the year, according to research by PwC.

The demise of Tobacco Dock

Peter Watts writes on his Great Wen site of the demise of Tobacco Dock. Opening in 1989 the dock conversion featured two arcades of shops on two floors inside a skillfully modernised structure that retained its Victorian industrial integrity. It now lies there completely empty.

No more department stores

Once London had a number of prestigious stores many owned in a partnership of two men. Unlike the generically named Next or Top Shop their premises reflected the owners’ personal taste and retain acumen. As our shopping habits change the great days of the department store are probably over. There are some survivors left in London, but many of the great privately owned retail partnerships have gone. Old fashioned concepts like knowledgeable staff, politeness and service are now less important in a digital retail age.

Arding & Hobs

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One of the few stores Sarf of the River. This department store was once situated at Clapham Junction and very often spoken of as “Arding ‘n’obbs”. It opened in 1885 and at that time was the largest store south of the River. Destroyed by fire in 1909 it was rebuilt in Edwardian baroque style the original signage remains in place above the main entrance. Now Debenhams.

Bourne & Hollingsworth

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Mr. Bourne and Mr. Hollingsworth set up a fancy drapers’ shop in 1894 in Westbourne Grove. In 1902 they moved to Oxford Street slowly acquiring the rest of the block including a brothel, a ‘next of Polish tailors’ and Savory’s cigarette factory. Closed in 1983.

Derry & Toms

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A little shop run by Joseph Toms described as a ‘toy and fancy repository’ joined with Charles Derry acquiring seven shops one of which was described as a ‘mourning department’. The firm prided itself on being the main suppliers to the upper classes of South Kensington and had over 200 employees living in. Closed in 1973 and taken over by Biba.

Dickens & Jones

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Dickens originally opened a shop in Oxford Street in 1790 moving to Regent Street in 1835. By 1900 the staff totalled 200, most of them lived in nearby Argyll Street. In the 1890s John Pritchard Jones became a partner and the store changed its name. In 1901 the store was all prepared for a while sale when Queen Victoria died. Most of the stock was dyed black to meet the urgent demand for mourning wear. It is now owned by House of Fraser.

Marshall & Snelgrove

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Opening in Vere Street in 1837 their nearby rival was William Debenham. By 1871 James Marshall the son of the founder had introduced a large mail-order business. Alas the rivalry is over Marshall & Snelgrove is now part of the vast Debenhams empire.

Swan & Edgar

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William Edgar had a haberdashery stall in St. James’s Market and used to sleep under it at night. Meeting Mr. Swan together they ran a shop in the Ludgate area. In 1812 they moved to Piccadilly Circus and then Regent Street premises which had been the Western Mail coach offices and also the Bull and Mouth public house. They retained the inn licence until the late 1970s. Its vast store was closed in 1982.

Waring & Gillow

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The business was established by Robert Gillow in Lancaster about 1731 and by 1765 leased some land in Oxford Street that was to become the Selfridge’s site. S. J. Waring had a cabinet making enterprise in Liverpool and in 1895 had a retail outlet in Oxford Street. The companies merged and made furniture for Boodle’s, the Garrick and Reform Clubs. However, the business of the firm began to decline and the Lancaster workshops closed in 1962 and the company merged with Maples.

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 11th June 2013

Escape to the Country

Now retired, I’m able to sample the delights of afternoon television, and what a feast for the eyes.

Take one random Friday afternoon’s fare from the BBC, consisting of four quiz shows and a diet for avarice: Bargain Hunt; Money for Nothing; Antique Road Trip; Street Auction; and Coast and Country Auctions. Clearly, all designed to show my fellow Baby Boomers the value of their tat or alternatively an attempt to stave off dementia.

The most successful of these formats is Escape to the Country, shown every afternoon, with one satellite station showing almost wall-to-wall repeats of the programme.

This is hardly surprising, for apart from watching the goggle box, the oldies other preoccupation is considering leaving The Smoke.

While the population of England as a whole is ageing (primarily brought about by better health care), recent figures from the Office for National Statistics suggest that London has become a turn-off for the over-65s.

At the beginning of Escape to the Country, the featured couple is asked just why they are considering leaving their urban home. Predictably, being screened by Auntie, the pair don’t cite graffiti, litter, the proliferation of fast food outlets, mugging, teenage stabbing, or their new neighbours which hail from a different ethnic or cultural background, it’s always traffic, accompanied by a location shot of a few cars passing their front door.

Well, back to those statistics geeks. For they have found only 11.9 per cent of Londoners are now oldies, a decline of 3 per cent over the last 30 years; in fact, 25-34-year-olds make up 24 per cent of inner London’s population.

A professor from that hot-bed of youthful protest, The London School of Economics, blames high property prices (something the BBC fails to mention featuring couples wanting to cash in their accumulated property wealth), and the Prof. elaborated for we simpletons, asserting that youngsters flood into the capital from around the world. Let’s face it if you want to work and/or get laid there are more opportunities in London than say, Nether Wallop.

Assuming that I’m in possession of a winning Euro Millions ticket (will they be available after Brexit, no one says), what is the right choice for this old codger?

My choice would be a small house near the coast for weekends, while a low-maintenance apartment in the Barbican with easy access (and free travel) to theatres, museums, galleries and the inevitable hospital visit.

So should the nation’s broadcaster start a new afternoon slot featuring those wishing to return, my suggestion, to paraphrase Samuel Johnson, would be: ‘When a man is tired of Life, he is also tired of the Countryside’.

Featured image: Cows in a beautiful green field by Fir0002 (CC BY-NC)

London Trivia: Religious zealot

On 17 November 1558 England’s first Queen, Mary I died. She is best known for her aggressive attempt to reverse the English Reformation. During her five-year reign, Mary had over 280 religious dissenters burned at the stake in the Marian persecutions, in her pursuit of the restoration of Roman Catholicism in England and Ireland which led to her denunciation as ‘Bloody Mary’ by her Protestant opponents.

On 17 November 1750 at midnight Westminster Bridge opened to pedestrians and horses to the sound of drums, cannons and trumpets

In 1961 after crashing his Rolls-Royce in London Lord Derby successfully escaped prosecution claiming the long bonnet obstructed his view

The last thatched cottage in inner London survived in the Paddington area until 1890s when it was demolished for St. David’s Welsh Church

Captain Thomas Coram appalled by the number of abandoned babies set up the world’s first incorporated charity in 1739 the Foundling Hospital

The world’s oldest military corps is the Queen’s Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard officially founded in 1485

The Cranbrook Estate, Bethnal Green was used as a location for Lew and Andy’s flat on TV show Little Britain

Peach Melba created at the Savoy for soprano Nellie Melba used her favourite ingredients to reduce the cold of ice cream on her vocal cords

Wembley London’s largest stadium’s roof covers 90,000 spectators during match days, at other times remain open giving sunlight for the turf

On 17 November 1876 Aldgate tube station opened, the station features in the Sherlock Holmes’ mystery The Adventure of Bruce-Partington Plans

Cabbies face a daily £1 fine should he take two consecutive days off ‘without just cause’ according to The London Hackney Carriages Act 1853

Fleet Street hack Woodrow Wyatt when asked by a French hotelier to spell his name replied Waterloo-Ypes-Agincourt-Trafalgar-Trafalgar

CabbieBlog-cab.gifTrivial Matter: London in 140 characters is taken from the daily Twitter feed @cabbieblog.
A guide to the symbols used here and source material can be found on the Trivial Matter page.

Taxi talk without tipping

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