Sunday, November 7, 2010

Charing Cross Road, London


Striking a light

Small-town shopkeepers like those in the excellent Turn Back Time: The High Street didn’t usually have shop fronts with the full complement of glittering effects that were sometimes seen in the Victorian period. But in London is was a different story. Where there were hundreds of shops competing for one’s attention, Victorian shop designers did everything they could to catch the eye of potential customers – bright colours, lots of lights, gilding, and lavish displays of goods.

Painted glass, often with mirror effects, was a favourite material for shop names, numbers, and glittering descriptions of the goods on sale, especially in the second half of the 19th century. Passing fashions and the fragility of glass mean that few of these dazzling signs have survived. Some of the best loved are on the umbrella shop in New Oxford Street that I blogged about a while back. This is another, on Smith’s tobacconists in Charing Cross Road. This was apparently the first shop to open when this stretch of the street was redeveloped at the end of the 1860s. The sparkling glass welcomes cigar-smokers in particular, as it did in the 19th century, testimony to the Victorian shopkeeper’s skill at attracting the notice and the money of those who passed by.

10 comments:

martin said...

This one's a gem.I've walked past it countless times but I've never been inside.I always felt that one should be asking for something grander than twenty Embassy filter.
Hopefully they will continue to trade on the cigar market.I understand they also sell snuff,which is a rare commodity anywhere these days.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Yes, there's another glittery sign saying 'Noted snuff shop'. But my nostrils remain innocent of such mixtures.

rig7 said...

All this reminds me the long-gone Fribourg & Treyer pipe and snuff shop at the top of Haymarket. I used to buy enormous spotted snuff hankerchiefs there.

Philip Wilkinson said...

The Fribourg & Treyer premises was an even older –I think Georgian – shop. I think the old frontage is still there but housing a different business.

Jon Dudley said...

Fribourg and Treyer sponsored the Brighton Speed Trials back in the 70's...not many people know that. Nice lettering Philip.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Jon: I learn something new every day.

Jon Dudley said...

Sadly, whatever comes from me is entirely useless. Enjoying the TV series by the way...quite emotional last night.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Ah, but you never known when useless information is going to come in useful. Glad you're enjoying the series.

Derek Brown said...

Sad to report that G Smith & Sons has now closed down.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Derek: Thanks for pointing this out. A sad loss to the street.