Tag Archives: London shops

Live like Churchill

Gary Oldman’s Oscar nomination for his brilliant depiction of Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour prompts us to check out how the corpulent war leader would spend his time when he was not striking fear into the Third Reich.

Winston Churchill would regularly round off a very comprehensive dinner with a cheese platter.

[A]ND THERE was one London fromagerie he regarded above all others: “A gentleman only buys his cheese at Paxton & Whit?eld”, Churchill once said. Fortunately for the gentlemen (and women) of today’s London, Paxton & Whit?eld is still in business located on Jermyn Street. We have it on good authority that his cheese of choice was a Swiss Gruyère. Along with countries he obviously liked his cheeses to be neutral.

For a man with a copious appetite for alcohol Winston adored soup. He’d eat a bowl of cold thin non-creamy consommé before bed, Fortnum & Masons once supplied a turtle soup for his consumption.

Champagne was Churchill’s greatest strength, as he put it: “In success you deserve it and in defeat, you need it; he once quipped. The king of sparkling wines that Churchill preferred was a very speci?c one – Pol Roger – purchased at the famous St. James’s wine merchant Berry Brothers & Rudd.

Winston fell in love with Havana cigars when he was a journalist in Cuba. Robert Lewis again in St James’s Street supplied him with his 5-6 cigars a day to smoke or suck. Nowadays, that shop is James J. Fox – and those very same orders can still be seen written in a big ledger. It’s reckoned that Churchill smoked in the region of 200,000 cigars in his lifetime. James J. Fox has Churchill’s chair in their small cigar museum.

Churchill’s chair at James J. Fox

Not renowned as one of the world’s greatest athletes, Churchill could have walked the 100 yards between Berry Brothers to Robert Lewis and then, should he have need of a haircut, Truefitt and Hill are opposite. They claim to be the oldest barbershop in the world and count many of the rich and famous among their clients, inside their premises they too have a chair used by, among others, Winston Churchill and Field Marshall Montgomery of Alamein.

Churchill’s chair at Truefitt and Hill

Among other Churchill haunts, a short stroll from his barbers is Browns Hotel on Albemarle Street, which was frequented by Winston so often it’s rumoured they built a bomb shelter him, and the bar here still does a Churchill Martini. During the Second World War, in Room 36, the Dutch government in exile declared war on Japan, whether Churchill was present we do not know.

We do, however, know his club – The National Liberal Club in Whitehall Place. Half-a-mile from Browns, he would almost certainly have taken a cab. Tales in the trade related to him leaving the back seat covered in cigar ash and being abrupt with the cabbie.

In the entrance lobby is a restored portrait of the young Winston Churchill in 1915, as First Lord of the Admiralty, as Churchill was a member of the club for 18 years. The painting was consigned to the basement when Churchill defected to the Tories.

There is a well-known story told of the National Liberal Club, that the Conservative politician (some say it was Churchill, it certainly sounds like him) F. E. Smith would stop off there every day on his way to Parliament, to use the club’s lavatories. One day the hall porter apprehended Smith and asked him if he was actually a member of the club, to which Smith replied “Good God! You mean it’s a club as well?”.

If you want a suit as good as Churchill’s pop along to Savile Row tailors Henry Poole, but don’t say that you are trying to emulate the great man, it transpires that Churchill once swerved a £197 invoice because he didn’t much fancy paying it. Henry Poole is still there today, as probably is his unpaid bill.

Are you being served?

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.

[G]ordon 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.

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)

Off the cuff

I couldn’t resist using the saying ‘ off the cuff ‘ as the title of this post about Turnbull & Asser. Using the title off the cut is slightly unfair as the saying derives from the time when shirts had large detachable sleeves and should you be asked to speak without having first prepared a speech your quickly, gathered notes could be written on one’s cuff as an aide-mémoire, discarding the shirt cuff at a later date and replacing it with a new one.

[W]e don’t know how often, or if this practice ever occurred, what we do know is that shirt maker and Royal Warrant holder Turnbull & Asser were established in 1885 selling their distinctive shirts from their flagship store on Jermyn Street.

Their approach to shirt making is anything but off the cuff – they even have a unique cocktail cuff made famous by Sean Connery with its two-button folded turn-back.


Sean Connery in the 1962 film Dr No notice those cuffs: Turnbull & Asser turn back button closure

After taking 18 body measurements a paper pattern is created from which a digital format is made to use in creating your unique shirt. Here is, for me, that remarkable part of the shirt making process. A sample shirt is produced and you are asked to wear and launder it as normal three times. This allows for shrinkage in the fabric before the final adjustments are made.


Michael Caine in Get Carter

Their shirts have made an appearance in many iconic films including The Italian Job, Get Carter and The Great Gatsby Michael Caine, for instance, has insisted that his shirts were made by Turnbull & Asser since The Italian Job in 1969.

Main picture: Turnbull & Asser Jermyn Street March 2010 UK Made

Mr Selfridge’s grave

Recently on a cold, overcast March morning I was to be found standing by a rather unprepossessing grave situated under a Holm oak by a small parish church in Dorset.

It was the culmination of a book that I had been reading whilst holidaying in that charming part of England.

Lay’d beneath a modest headstone is the greatest retailer London has ever seen and the subject of a fascinating biography.

[D]ubbed ’Mile-a-minute Harry’ this man changed the way we shop while at the same time as gambling away his fortune. Considerably older, and it has to be said, less handsome than Jeremy Piven who plays Harry in the TV serialisation of the book, Harry Selfridge perhaps did more to change the perception of the department store than anyone else.

He made heavy use of advertising and gimmicks to draw in customers and also permitted browsing, let customers handle merchandise, and paid his employees a high enough wage that permitted them to live away from the business instead of over it.

Harry also coined the phrase “the customer is always right”. Harry Gordon Selfridge focused much of his attention on women from all social classes. His store was the first to have women’s toilets, permitting them to stay all day instead of having to go home. He even championed women’s suffrage at a time when suffragettes bombed public buildings to bring attention to their cause. He flew their flag above the shop, published ads in their newspapers, and carried items in their colours.


His mother’s grave – Lois Selfridge


Harry Gordon Selfridge’s grave


His wife’s grave – Rose Selfridge

His very utilitarian grave is flanked by his mother’s tomb and his wife Rose’s ornate grave with its angel. Following her death, Harry Selfridge became something of an elder socialite and his gambling habit increased. He entered into a relationship with Jenny Dolly whose gambling habit was shared and encouraged by Selfridge, who would often charge his and her gambling debts to the store.

Eventually, he was forced out over this poor financial management. In later years, he would regularly travel to the store in shabby clothes, and once was even arrested for vagrancy.

Shopping, seduction and Mr. Selfridge by Lindy Woodhead.

The oldest bookshop in Britain

I have recently been given a Kindle Voyage, I’ve wanted an e-reader for years but have never got round to purchasing the device, preferring the look and feel of the real thing.

But having taken the plunge am I contributing to the forecast that e-books will be the death-knell of the traditional bookshops that once proliferated on our high streets?

James Daunt doesn’t think so.

[H]e started Daunt Books 25 years ago and has since become the managing director of Waterstone’s which among other outlets owns Hatchard’s in Piccadilly, which curiously is a stone’s throw from Waterstone’s flagship store which now occupies the old Simpsons store.

John Hatchard opened his shop in 1797 at number 173 Piccadilly and in so doing making it the UK’s oldest bookseller and now arguably the best known in the world.

Four years later it moved to its present address a few doors down the road and with the well-heeled residents of Albany opposite it quickly became a fashionable rendezvous. Daily papers were laid out on a table by the fireplace and there were benches outside for the customer’s servants.

The inaugural meeting of the Royal Horticultural Society was held here, as did William Wilberforce who used the same room for anti-slavery meetings. Hatchard produced publications on many of the social issued of the day: Christian Observer; Society for Bettering and Conditions of the Poor; political pamphlets; and children’s’ books.


Hatchard’s gained their first Royal Warrant from Queen Charlotte, wife of George II and the shop has since always held the Royal Warrant. This most literate of bookshops in its time has had some prodigious customers: Byron, Palmerstone, Peel, Wellington, Gladstone, Thackeray, Oscar Wilde, G. Bernard Shaw, Lloyd George, G. K. Chesterton, Somerset Maughan to name but a few.

The shop still has a homely, club-like atmosphere, with comfortable chairs, lots of interesting nooks and crannies, and knowledgeable staff who don’t rush you.

The popularity of our electronic readers might have convenience on its side, but Hatchard’s remains one of the most inviting bookshops in the English-speaking world.

Photos: Hatchard’s by Hannah Swithinbank (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)