In an age where most umbrellas (and I) have a full-blown temper-tantrum at the first sign of rain; James Smith & Sons‘ commitment to creating quality, handmade umbrellas is pretty special. This charming little shop on the corner of New Oxford Street is known across the globe, and has become a central London landmark in it’s own right. But what’s the story behind London’s oldest brolly shop? Allow me to explain…
The Grade II-listed Hazelwood House was constructed back in the mid-1800s. The current shop-front dates back to the 1870s and looks like it could have been taken straight from the set of a movie adaptation of Oliver Twist. This charming shop (complete with its original Victorian fittings) acts as a time machine, transporting you straight back to Victorian London. Whilst we’re on the subject of transporting back; let’s rewind a little bit and find out how exactly this little umbrella shop came to be.
James Smith set up his umbrella business in 1830 in a shop on Foubert’s Place in Soho. The umbrellas were made in a workshop out the back of the shop and then sold out the front. In 1851, a lightweight steel frame was invented by Samuel Fox. Smith was one of the first umbrella manufacturers to get on board with this new design, and the business became very successful as a result. So successful, in fact, that they needed to expand to a larger shop. They set up shop on New Oxford Street, where they’ve resided ever since.
For a short while, they also had a shop on Savile Place. This shop was said to be so narrow that an umbrella couldn’t even be opened up inside (probably for the best considering the bad luck it supposedly brings). The narrow shop was eventually knocked down and a new premises was opened near Piccadilly Circus – that store was later bombed in World War II. Low and behold, the New Oxford Street shop was the only James Smith & Sons store to survive to tell the tale.
The shop front and its fittings are still pretty much the same today as they were back then; a rare surviving treasure of central London. Inside the shop, you’ll find all manner of brollies: folding umbrellas, sun umbrellas, slim umbrellas and solid umbrellas (drink every time I say umbrellas, am I right?). The store also sells canes and walking sticks; all handmade and carefully crafted, of course.
They offer the finest, luxury umbrella selection (a niche market – but a successful one, all the same). Even if you’re not on the lookout for a new (and pretty darn expensive) umbrella; I’d highly recommend a visit to this shop to revel in its rich history and grandeur.