Category Archives: Shopping
Explore London’s shops, department stores and markets.
Find out what’s on in London over the Christmas period.
Well, 2020 is nearly over, and I’m sure most of the country is glad to see the back of a very difficult year. While Christmas will undoubtedly be different to what we’re used to, plenty of London’s hospitality and entertainment businesses will be pulling out all the stops to offer a safe and entertaining social event. Expect social distancing, frequent cleaning and masks may be required so you can feel protected while enjoying the festivities. Among the events taking place are foodie fayres, film screenings, pantomimes and art exhibitions.
For December, London will be Tier 2, which means no mixing indoors with people outside your household or support bubble. Up to six people can meet outdoors in parks, private gardens and pub’s outdoor spaces.
20 Dec update: London is now in Tier 4 so a majority of events and attractions are likely to be cancelled or postponed. Please check the event website for further up-to-date information.
Look out for the 🐻 for family-friendly activities.
Look out for the computer symbol 💻 for online events.
- 2 – 24 December : Borough Market’s Festive Kitchen
Enjoy cookalongs, masterclasses and talks from foodie experts and chefs streamed live from a special kitchen in the historic London market. Events take place Wed-Fri online. All live content will be streamed on the market’s Facebook page. Check out Metro Girl’s blog post on the event. 💻
- 2 December – 27 February 2021 : Connected by Light
Although the Winter Lights festival has been postponed, Canary Wharf’s contemporary streets have been lit by a series of light installations. Dusk until 10pm. Free. Installations dotted throughout Canary Wharf estate, E14. Nearest station: Canary Wharf. For more information, visit the Canary Wharf website. 🐻
- 3 – 7 December : The Parking Lot Social @ Syon Park
A line-up of drive-in festive events, including Cinderella pantomime, film nights, car-a-oke, silent disco and festive food market, all from the safety of your car. Times vary. Tickets: £38.78 per car. Syon Park, Park Road, Brentford, TW8 8JF. For tickets, visit the Parking Lot Social website. 🐻
- 3 – 20 December : Cinema in the Snow
Enjoy a festive cinematic experience. Enter through a magical wardrobe and walk through a winter wonderland to the screening room. Watch a mix of classic and recent favourites. Covid-19 safety precautions being taken, including cleaning and socially-distanced seats. Tickets from £19.50. Unit 8, Copeland Park, Peckham, SE15 3SN. Nearest station: Peckham Rye. For more information, visit the Pop up Screens website. 🐻
- 4 December – 31 January 2021 : Dante’s In-Furlough
Step into the Underworld to see The Devil getting married. An immersive, theatrical show with dining options. Social distancing and mandatory face coverings. Thur-Sat: Entry times from 5.30pm-8.30pm, Sun: Entry times from 4.30pm-7.30pm. Tickets: From £25, Dining from £55. The Vaults, Launcelot Street (off Lower Marsh), Waterloo, SE1 7AD. Nearest station: Waterloo, Lambeth North or Waterloo East. For more information, visit The Vaults website.
- 11 – 13 December : Hampton Court Palace Festive Fayre
A celebration of festive food in the grounds of historic Hampton Court Palace. Featuring street food, pop-up bars, artisanal producers, live music, and more. 10am-5pm. Tickets (inc entry to courtyard and gardens): Adults £24.50, Children 5-15yr £12.20, Under 5s free. Hampton Court Palace, East Molesey, Surrey, KT8 9AU. Nearest station: Hampton Court (36 minutes from Waterloo). For more information and tickets, visit the HRP Food Festivals website.
- 11 – 13 and 18 – 21 December : Christmas @ Old Royal Naval College
A host of Christmas festivities are taking place at the Old Royal Naval College. Including the illuminated Christmas tree, festive market (12, 13, 18, 19 & 20 December), carol services, winter dining at the Painted Hall and a production of The Little Match Girl. Event timings and dates vary. Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich, SE10. Nearest station: Cutty Sark, Greenwich or Maze Hill. For more information, visit the Old Royal Naval College website. 🐻
- 13 – 19 December : We’re All Human exhibition @ Pi Artworks
Dutch artist Jade van der Mark presents an exhibition of her large-scale paintings on city life. Open 11am-6pm. Pi Artworks, 55 Eastcastle Street, Fitzrovia, W1W 8EG. Nearest station: Oxford Circus or Tottenham Court Road. For more information, visit the artist’s website or the Pi Artworks website.
- 17 – 20 December : Love Actually in Concert
Watch the iconic film’s soundtrack performed live by an orchestra accompanying the screening. Socially distanced seating. Times: Matinee 2pm, Evening 6.30pm (staggered entry times). Tickets: £65-£81. Eventim Apollo, 45 Queen Caroline Street, Hammersmith, W6 9QH. Nearest station: Hammersmith. For more information and booking, visit the Eventim Apollo website.
- Now until 31 December : The Drive In
Drive-in cinema offers film screenings and live experiences (e.g. musical performances, theatre, etc) in Enfield. With refreshments available, social distancing guidelines and the audio beamed in through your car stereo. Tickets: One car £35. The Drive In, Troubadour Meridian Water, Harbet Road, Enfield, N18 3QQ. For tickets and more information, visit The Drive In website. 🐻
- Now until 3 January 2021 : United in Light @ Wembley Park
Wembley Park has unveiled a selection of light installations for the festive period, including London’s tallest LED Christmas tree, festive selfie spots and ‘United in Light’, a new Instagram artwork on the Spanish steps. Wembley Park, Wembley, HA9 0FD. Nearest stations: Wembley Park or Wembley Stadium. For more information, visit the Wembley Park website.
- Now until 3 January 2021 :
SummerWinter exhibition @ Royal Academy of Arts
The summer exhibition is now winter as it was delayed due to Covid-19. Check out new art from a mix of established and emerging artists and architects, including Tracey Emin, Rebecca Horn, Anselm Kiefer, Julian Schnabel, Gillian Wearing and Ai Weiwei. Open daily 10am-6pm. Tickets: £20-£22. Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, Piccadilly, W1J 0BD. Nearest station: Green Park or Piccadilly Circus. For more information, visit the RA website.
- Now until 3 January 2021 : Christmas at Kew
A glittering trail which weaves its way through Kew Gardens with stunning sights lit up upon the way. 4pm-10pm. Tickets (advance): Adults £19.50/£24.50, Children £14.50, Under 4 free. Select your entrance gate when booking. Kew Gardens (Royal Botanic Gardens), Kew, Richmond, TW9 3AB. Nearest station: Kew Gardens. For more information, visit the Kew Gardens website. 🐻
- Now until 3 January 2021: The Magic of Christmas @ London Zoo
London Zoo are hosting a series of festive events alongside the usual animal enclosures. You can meet Santa, enjoy VIP Santa Breakfasts and Animal Gift Giving sessions. Open 10am-4pm. Ticket prices vary depending on activities. London Zoo, Regent’s Park, Marylebone, NW1 4RY. Nearest station: Regent’s Park or Camden Town. For booking, visit the ZSL website. 🐻 Read the rest of this entry
The iconic market is extending its delivery service amid the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak.
Life in London has changed rapidly for most of us in the past couple of weeks amid the current Covid-19 outbreak. However, while things are obviously different, it’s important that Londoners support each other and our local businesses during this difficult time.
London’s famous Borough Market has extended its online delivery services to customers within the M25. While the market remains open with strict hygiene and public health measures in place to protect shoppers and traders, it is also offering food and drink delivery to those Londoners who can’t get to SE1.
Borough Market launched its deliveries by zero-emission electric bikes in November 2019, initially within a 2.5 mile radius. However, in light of the Coronavirus crisis, the radius has been extended to any location inside the M25 from 19 March 2020. Electric bikes couriers will be used for a reasonable distance of the market, but vans (hybrid whenever possible) will be used for deliveries further away. Traders and couriers will follow strict hygiene practices with food securely packaged and an option of contactless delivery system if needed if customers are self-isolating and want to avoid contact with others. Meanwhile, the click-and-collect service is also available daily from 12pm-9pm if you’re able to reach the market.
In the coming weeks, Borough Market will be supporting the local community. Trader Bread Ahead is offering free yeast to locals who want to bake their own bread at home. Foodies can also find plenty of inspiration for their home cooking with hundreds of free online recipes, as well as live cooking demos and cookalongs from top chefs and market restaurants on the Borough Market Community Facebook Group.
- To order produce from Borough Market’s traders, visit the Good Sixty website. For more information about the market, visit its official website.
To find out the history of Borough Market, click here.
A late Georgian shopping arcade became a toy mecca for Victorian children until its demolition in 1902.
The West End has been a shopping destination for Londoners and tourists for over two centuries. Along with popular thoroughfares like Oxford Street, Bond Street and Regent Street, there is also a selection of shopping arcades, providing a sheltered retail experience whatever the elements. Today, two of the capital’s existing shopping arcades are over 200 years old. However, one Georgian shopping arcade barely survived into the 20th century, let alone the 21st century. This post is a long-delayed addition to Metro Girl’s Shopping in Style series, which explores the history of London’s shopping arcades.
After the success of the capital’s first two shopping arcades – the Royal Opera and Burlington, plans were made for another arcade on Strand. Lowther Arcade was designed by architect Witherden Young and built by William Herbert in 1830 (see Young’s architectural plans). It was named after William Lowther, 2nd Earl of Lonsdale (1787-1872), who was Chief Commissioner of the Woods and Forests from 1828-1830. Lowther Arcade ran from the Strand to Adelaide Street and was 245 foot long, 20 foot wide and 30 foot high. The arcade featured 24 small shops, with two storeys above the shop level. The arcade was designed in a Greco-Italian style and was topped by a series of glass domes, flooding the aisle with light. Its classical design complemented the eastern end of Strand (No.s 430-449), which had been redeveloped by Regency architect John Nash (1752-1835) in 1830. Although shorter in length, Lowther Arcade was often referred to as the ‘twin’ of the Burlington Arcade in Mayfair. Just like the Burlington, the Lowther management also employed a Beadle to maintain order.
After opening, Lowther Arcade quickly won over Londoners with its architecture and atmosphere. In his 1834 book National History and Views of London and Its Environs, Volumes 1-2, Charles Frederick Partington wrote: “The Lowther Arcade is decidedly the most elegant establishment of this description erected in the metropolis… When we compare the costly and elegant bijoutrie exhibited for sale, it will be found the dealers lose nothing by comparison with those celebrated in the Arabian Nights and other works of eastern fiction.”
At the north end of the arcade was the Adelaide Gallery, a forerunner to the Science Museum. Opened by American inventor Jacob Perkins (1766-1849), it didn’t prove that successful and was replaced by an amusement hall in the 1840s. It then became home to Signor Brigaldi’s Italian Marionettes in 1852, and during another period was used as a music hall. Read the rest of this entry
The history of the Swan & Edgar department store in Piccadilly Circus.
The decline of the department store is a frequently mentioned casualty of the ever-changing retail industry. A host of department stores in London have been closed down over the decades, with the buildings left behind leaving little trace of the retail giants which one inhabited them. Once household names such as Pontings, Pratts, Bourne & Hollingsworth, and Gamages, have been consigned to the history books. Among these lost London department stores was Swan & Edgar, whose flagship building still exists, looming large over Piccadilly Circus.
Cumbrian-born William Edgar (1791-1869) met George Swan (d.1821) in the early 19th century. At the time, Edgar was running a haberdashery stall in St James Market, while Swan had a shop on Ludgate Hill in the City of London. They went into business together in Ludgate Hill, before moving to 20 Piccadilly in 1812. Business was soon booming and they made over £80,000 in their first year. Nine years later, Swan sadly died, but his business partner Edgar honoured his memory by continuing to trade in their joint name. Swan & Edgar moved to 49 Regent Street in 1841. By 1848, business was going so well, the store expanded to numbers 45-51 Regent Street and the corner of Piccadilly Circus.
Edgar ended up outliving with business partner by over four decades, passing away in 1869. He lived the last two decades of his life with his wife Frances and their five children at Eagle House on Clapham Common’s South Side. The Georgian building was mostly demolished after Frances’ death in 1889, although parts of the south wing exist today as mews housing. The couple are buried in one of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ cemeteries: West Norwood Cemetery in south London.
Although both founders had died, their names continued to live on through the department store as it continued trading. An 1883 advert boasted the huge range of articles offered for sale, billing the store as “wholesale and retail silk mercers, drapers, furriers/ Mantle and costume makers and seal skin merchants/ Novelty and economy in dress/ All articles of fashion of the latest styles and reliable quality”. The department store’s popularity was boosted by the opening of the nearby Piccadilly Circus tube station in 1906 and became a popular meeting place for friends and lovers to rendezvous. In December 1901, the managing director Walter Morford (who had been in the role since 1895), ended up in trouble with the police over the store. People complained his moving window displays were causing congestion on the pavement, with sometimes hundreds of people blocking the pavement to look at the action. Morford ignored several police summons, complaining he had spent over £100 on designing the windows to attract customers. Read the rest of this entry
Cheese lovers rejoice! It’s time to research your Christmas dairy needs as the annual ‘An Evening of Cheese’ returns to Borough Market. On Wednesday 11 December, the historic market will be opening its doors for a late-night celebration of cheese. Over 20 cheesemongers will be showcasing their cow, goat and sheep’s milk cheese from UK and international producers. Foodies can get inspired for their festive cheeseboard by talking to cheesemongers and getting advice on drink and cheese pairings. You can also pick up cheese recipes and watching cheese-based cooking demos in the Market Hall’s Demo Kitchen.
Meanwhile, in the run-up to Christmas, Borough Market are extending their opening hours to help Londoners get prepared for their food and drink needs for the festive season. The market will be open daily until 4pm on Christmas Eve, including Sundays. There will be plenty of seasonal fun, with local choirs performing in the Market Hall, festive Demo Kitchens and Cookbook Club sessions with Angela Clutton and Ed Smith, author of the Borough Market Cookbook. Customers will also be able to use the new click-and-collect service, to make their food shopping even more convenient.
- An Evening Of Cheese takes place on 11 December 2019 from 6pm-8pm. At Borough Market, 8 Southwark Street, SE1 1TL. Nearest station: London Bridge. Free entry. For more information, visit the Borough Market website.
- Borough Market is open every day during the Christmas period from 4 December until 4pm on Christmas Eve – including Sundays.
For a guide to what else is on in London this December, click here.
The history of Bedfordbury, which dates back to the 17th century.
Due to widespread slum clearance and redevelopment over the centuries, there aren’t many Georgian shop buildings left in the West End. However, two such shops have managed to survive for over 200 years, despite previously standing in one of the most notorious slums in central London.
Bedfordbury is a short road of only about 500ft, linking New Row to Chandos Place. The name Bedfordbury comes from the Earls of Bedford, who acquired the seven acres of land in the 16th century. As Edward Russell, 3rd Earl of Bedford (1572-1627), focused his energies on developing the centre of estate, the fringes became a magnet for haphazard building. A series of small alleys linking Bedfordbury to St Martin’s Lane, including May’s Buildings, Hop Gardens, Turner’s Court, Goodwin’s Court, and Brydges Place, started to pop up. By 1700, the Earls and Dukes of Bedford had practically lost control over the buildings. The lack of landlord control meant the buildings’ standards were far from adequate and the area started to disintegrate into slums, with large groups of families being squashed into upper storeys above the shop levels. In 1887, the steward of the 9th Duke of Bedford’s London estates, wrote: “Every grantee became his own freeholder and his plot of land was under his own absolute control, with this result: that Bedfordbury commenced its career by every man doing what was right in his own eyes in the way of building. A number of alleys came into existence, and instead of a single house being put upon a single plot … a man would put two or three or four on it, may be half-a-dozen houses, or cottages, or anything he pleased upon it, and that went on in perpetuity; and from the time those grants were made until a few years ago… Bedfordbury gradually became one of the worst dens in London.”
No. 23 and No. 24 are likely to be the oldest existing buildings today on Bedfordbury. Built in late 18th century, the terraced houses incorporate the entrance to Goodwin’s Court. Both buildings stand tall at three storeys and have dormered mansard roofs. However, No.24 is slightly wider and features two dormers, with the entrance passage to the Court on the left. The current ground floor shop fronts are not original. No.24’s shop dates back to around the first half of the 19th century, while No. 23 has a mid-century bowed shop window to complement the similar styled windows of Goodwin’s Court.
From the late 18th century to the present day, there has been a high turnover of businesses in the shops at No. 23 and 24. In 1791, a man named Barnard Baker sold household upholstery and hardware, followed by chandler and coal dealer Richard Davis in 1798. Next door at No.21 was a pub called the Cock & Bottle, which stood on the site for over 100 years, but has long been demolished. In 1833, a miniature and jewel case maker William Fuller, of No.23, was declared insolvent at the debtors’ court. By 1842, 23 and 24 were the premises for surgeon JN Walters and hairdressers Cowan & Co respectively.
Moving into the 19th century, the turnover of shops and residents continued to be high – no doubt many were keen to move on when finances allowed due to area’s reputation as a slum. Among the businesses at 23 and 24 in the mid 19th century were greengrocer Michael McNallay and hairdresser/perfumier Reuben Clamp. In 1859, Victorian author and journalist George Augustus Sala (1828-1895) wrote of his disgust of Bedfordbury, describing it as a “wretched little haunt”. He elaborated: “A devious, slimy little reptile of a place, whose tumble-down tenements and reeking courts spume forth plumps of animated rags, such as can be equalled in no London thoroughfare save Church Lane, St Giles. I don’t think there are five windows in Bedfordbury with a whole pane of glass in them. Rags and filthy loques are hung from poles, like banners from the outward walls.” In April 1871, No.24 made the newspaper after one of its residents, John Pencott, was hospitalised after being bitten by his girlfriend in the cheek.
Christmas markets and fairs in north, south, east, west and central London this November and December 2019.
Christmas is fast approaching and no doubt, many of us are feeling the pressure of the countdown to the big day. It’s that time of year when our usual monthly spending budgets go out the window and we get ready to splash the cash. However, if you’re struggling for gift ideas and want to get your loved ones something a little different, then why not pay a visit to one of London’s Christmas markets or fairs. As well as a host of stalls, many of the festive events offer entertainment, hot food and drink and other immersive Christmassy experiences. Many of the markets and fairs are free entry, although some have a small entry fee, with money raised going to help charities.
Whether you live in north, south, east or west London, or just visiting the capital, there’s plenty of festive shopping opportunities around town.
Here’s a guide to London’s best Christmas markets and fairs this 2019.
Long-term Christmas fairs
Some markets are opening throughout the run-up to Christmas, with some still going into the new year. Most of these markets will close earlier than usual on Christmas Eve and be closed all day on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day.
- 8 November – 5 January 2020 : Christmas in Leicester Square
The West End’s famous square will feature a Christmas market in Bavarian-style huts and Santa’s Grotto. A Spiegeltent will play host shows. Free entry to Leicester Square, but tickets required for Santa’s Grotto and the Spiegeltent. Leicester Square, WC2H. Nearest station: Piccadilly Circus or Leicester Square. For more information, visit the Christmas In Leicester Square website.
- 8 November – 5 January 2020 : Southbank Centre Winter Market
Wooden chalets selling festive food, drink, gifts and treats alongside the river on the South Bank. Open Sun-Thu 11am-10pm, Fri-Sat 11am-11pm. Free. Queen’s Walk, South Bank, SE1. Nearest station: Waterloo, Westminster or Embankment. For more information, visit the Southbank Centre website.
- 21 November – 5 January 2020 : Winter Wonderland Market
Winter Wonderland covers a huge expanse in Hyde Park and offers a German market selling gifts, as well as food and drink. You can bring the whole family and get into the festive spirit with a fun fair, circus, live shows and an ice rink. 10am-10pm. Free entry. Nearest station: Hyde Park Corner, Marble Arch or Knightsbridge. For more information, visit the Winter Wonderland website.
- 23 November – 22 December : Christmas Market on the Piazza
Festive market at Wimbledon every weekend and occasional Fridays (13, 20 December). Featuring over 50 stalls, street food and drink. 11am-6pm. Free entry. The Piazza, Wimbledon, SW19 1QB. Nearest station: Wimbledon. For more information, visit the Love Wimbledon website.
- 26 November – 5 January 2020 : Christmas by the River
Annual festive market featuring food, drink, craft and gift stalls across The Scoop More London, Hay’s Galleria and London Bridge City Pier. 11am-10pm. Free entry. Queen’s Walk and Hay’s Galleria, SE1 2DB. Nearest station: London Bridge or Tower Hill. For more information, visit the Tudor Markets website.
- 27 November – 24 December : Ealing Christmas Market
A host of traditional Christmas cabins pop up in Ealing Broadway Shopping Centre for an annual festive market. There will also be hot food and drink, Santa and his elves, as well as carol singers and local choirs. 11am-6pm. Free entry. Ealing Broadway Shopping Centre, Ealing, W5 5JY. Nearest station: Ealing Broadway. For more information, visit the Eat Me Drink Me website.
- 28 November – 22 December : River Walk Christmas Market
Buy Christmas food, drink and gifts at the riverside market near Battersea Power Station. Open Thu-Sun. Free entry. Riverside Walk, Battersea Power Station, SW8 5BN. Nearest stations: Battersea Park or Queenstown Road Battersea. For more information, visit the Battersea Power Station website.
One-off or short-term Christmas fairs
- 4 – 10 November : Spirit Of Christmas Fair
For the super organised, get ready for Christmas early with this fair, where you can stock up on gifts, design and food all ready for the festive season from over 750 independent boutiques. There will also be a winter restaurant and a champagne bar. Opening times vary. Tickets from £25. Olympia Grand, Hammersmith Road, Kensington, W14 8UX. Nearest station: Kensington Olympia. For more information, visit the Spirit Of Christmas Fair website.
- 13 November : A Merry Marylebone Christmas launch
Marylebone’s annual Christmas Lights charity switch-on, food and drink, gift stalls, tombola and live music performances. 3pm-7pm (lights switch on at 6pm). Free. North end of Marylebone High Street, Paddington Street and Devonshire Street, Marylebone, W1G. Nearest station: Regent’s Park or Baker Street. For more information, visit the Marylebone Village website.
- 13 – 17 November : Country Living Christmas
Handmade gifts from hundreds of artisan designers and makers. There will also be a lifestyle theatre with experts giving talks and demonstrations, crafting studio, Hampstead tea room and Champagne bar. Opening times vary. Tickets start from £19 (Adults), £8.50 (Children). Business Design Centre, Islington, N1 0QH. Nearest station: Angel. For more information and tickets, visit the Country Living Fair website.
- 14 November : Christmas Shopping Event @ Seven Dials
Get into the festive spirit with an evening of fashion, food and more as Seven Dials is closed off to traffic. Featuring music from a live orchestra and switching on the Christmas lights. The boutiques and eateries will be offering 20% discount. 5pm-9pm. Register for a free ticket on the website for discounts and freebies. Seven Dials, Covent Garden, WC2H 9HD. Nearest station: Covent Garden or Leicester Square. For more information, visit the Seven Dials website.
Dolphins, and whales, and kelp – oh my! New Carnaby Christmas installation to be unveiled at shopping party
The subject of the environment and the urgency to save the planet is rightly a big concern right now. So this festive season, Shaftesbury are collaborating with ocean conversation charity Project O to launch the Carnaby Christmas 2019 installation. Instead of traditional festive decorations, the light installation will be given an oceanic twist.
The iconic Carnaby Street will be transformed into a theatrical underwater scene, with pink coral, whales, dolphins, clams and seahorses floating above you. The message ‘One Ocean, One Planet,’ will highlight the need for conservation and the desperate need to reverse the effects of climate change. One of the main features will be a 5-metre sculpted whale which blows bubbles. Meanwhile, on the side streets of Carnaby – Foubert’s Place and Newburgh Street, 200 illuminated vampire squids will glitter away, while a mermaid will be resting on the famous giant plug on Ganton Street.
A host of sustainable materials have been used to create the installation, with every element made using recycled and reusable materials, including repurposed fishing nets, 500m of used bubble wrap and 1,500 recycled plastic bottles. The installation will be given its colourful appearance with 100% cotton fabrics and 100 litres of water-based, eco-friendly vegan paint.
The lights switch-on will coincide with the annual Carnaby Christmas Shopping party, where visitors can enjoy special events, activities, promotions and discounts throughout the district’s over 100 shops, restaurants and bars. There will also be tap-to-donate points, with all money raised going to ocean charities.
- The Carnaby Christmas Shopping Party takes place on 7 November 2019. From 5pm-9pm (lights switch-on at 6pm). Free. Carnaby London, Soho, W1F. Nearest station: Oxford Circus or Piccadilly Circus. The light installation will be on show throughout the festive period. For more information and to register for your 20% discount, visit the Carnaby London website.
For a guide to what else is on in London this December, click here.
The history of the Cecil Brewer staircase and Heal’s flagship store at Tottenham Court Road.
London is full of some pretty spectacular staircases, many hidden from view from the general public. In my opinion, one of the capital’s most lovely ones is located in Heal’s furniture store in Tottenham Court Road.
Heal’s has a long history on Tottenham Court Road, having had a store on the street for over 200 years. Heal’s was originally founded by John Harris Heal (1772-1833), a feather dresser from the west country. He opened his first store in Rathbone Place in 1810, before relocating to 203 Tottenham Court Road in 1818. The store soon won over Londoners with its feather mattresses, which were significantly more comfortable than the typical straw palliasses that many were sleeping on at the time.
When John died in 1833, his widow Fanny (1782-1859) and their son John Harris Heal Jnr (1810-1876) took over the business and renamed it Fanny Heal & Son. In 1840, they moved the premises to the current site at 192 Tottenham Court Road with a new purpose-built store. The new building was designed in a Venetian Palazzo style by architect James Morant Lockyer (1824-1865) and was completed in 1854. Now incorporating No.s 186-198, it became known as one of the largest stores in the capital.
By 1916, Heal’s was under management by John Jnr’s son Sir Ambrose Heal (1872-1959), who had joined the family business in 1893 after completing an apprenticeship as a cabinet maker. He wanted to modernise the business for the 20th century and enlisted his cousin and best friend Cecil Brewer (1871-1918) and business partner Arnold Dunbar Smith (1886-1933) to design a new store. The original building was demolished to make way for the new store, which was was built between 1914-1917. Brewer erected his namesake spiral staircase at the back of the store in 1916, ready to take visitors upstairs to the new Mansard Gallery. The helix of lights tumbling from the ceiling were added after World War II. The concrete and wooden staircase was refurbished in 2013 and a Bocci chandelier was added, completing its picture-perfect look.
If you look closely as you ascend the staircase, you may notice a bronze sculpture of a cat. Known as the store mascot, the cat has been perched on a windowsill of the stairs since they were built. One interesting story involves 101 Dalmatians writer Dodie Smith (1896-1990), who worked at Heal’s toy department for 10 years in the 1920s and had an affair with Ambrose Heal. She confessed in her autobiography to selling the cat, with an unimpressed Ambrose later writing to the customer to cancel the sale with a note reading, “Heal’s mascot. Not for sale.”
Although Heal’s hasn’t been a family business since 1983, it’s still trading in furniture and homewares on Tottenham Court Road over two centuries later. The store was Grade-II listed in 1974 and it’s magnificent staircase is still used by customers to access different departments.
- Heal’s, 196 Tottenham Court Road, Fitzrovia, W1T 7LQ. Nearest stations: Goodge Street, Warren Street or Tottenham Court Road.
For more London architecture posts, click here.
To discover more retail history of London’s shopping arcades and department stores, click here.
Returning to Borough Market this December is the hugely popular celebration of cheese. With Londoners planning their festive cheeseboard, this is a great place to get inspiration for your next special dinner. This annual late-night shopping event offers Londoners than chance to meet over 20 of the market’s cheesemongers and explore a huge range of cow, goat and sheep’s milk cheese from UK and international producers.
On Wednesday 12 December 2018, ‘An Evening of Cheese’ returns to Borough Market. Expect to see cheese stalls taking over the market, with experts on hand to advise you on your festive cheese needs, including cheese recipes and drink pairings. There will also be a cheese-based cooking demo in the Market Hall’s Demo Kitchen.
Among the world cheeses taking part include:
- Drumlin – Heritage Cheese (Ireland).
- Oude Beemster Gouda – Borough Cheese Company (Holland).
- Canarejal Cremoso – Brindisa Ltd (Spain).
- Roquefort – Mons Cheesemongers (France).
On the night, market traders will compete in the ‘cracking of the parmesan wheel’, while local choirs and carol singers will bring some Christmas cheer.
- An Evening Of Cheese takes place on 12 December 2018 from 6pm-9pm. At Borough Market, 8 Southwark Street, SE1 1TL. Nearest station: London Bridge. Free entry. For more information, visit the Borough Market website.
- Borough Market is open every day during the Christmas period from 5 December until 4pm on Christmas Eve – including Sundays.