Yes, you read that sign correctly. ‘Shoot the Aged’. Erstwhile pine, and general bric-a-brac, merchants of Lee Road near Blackheath. Their genius strapline read ‘A non-charitable profit making organisation using non-voluntary staff’. Since this photo was taken in 1998, this treasure of individuality has no doubt been converted into some media agency or generic coffee house. And next-door-but one is the ‘Bitter Experience’ wine sellers. Now, just another trendy restaurant.
Ah, the lament of the high street. The demise of quirk and character to an endless iteration of McStarBurger Republics has been documented by just about everyone. And they’re not wrong. One of our favourite bloggers recently worked his way through six Starbucks just along Fleet Street and Ludgate. If there’s one upside to this monotony, it’s that special shops are all the more exciting when we do stumble across them. And it’s in that spirit that Londonist decided to go in search of the peculiar, the niche and the downright bizarre.
By God, is London big; and, upon our word, it does have a lot of shops. For every 999 branches of Boots or Tesco, there’s one 'Shoot The Aged'. Take, for instance, Arthur Beale, yacht chandlers of 194 Shaftesbury Avenue. Here, in the heart of the West End, you’ll find a window display of sheepshanks, clove hitches, ropes and fittings ‘for all your nautical needs’.
Better yet, round the corner on New Oxford Street is James Smith and sons, umbrella makers to the rich and famous. With clientele including Gladstone and Bonar Law, nobody’s going to argue with them when they boast of being ‘the leading umbrella company for 170 years’. Or alternatively, do it the Mayfair way, with a £415 umbrella courtesy of Swaine Adeney Brigg of St James St. Just don’t leave it in the pub.
If you're in the Holborn area, we challenge you to find the unique and incredible Mosaic Workshop. About as specialist as a shop can be, this retailer sells the little tesserae that make up mosaics. And check out that beautiful mock tudor frontage.
Spying is apparently a boom industry, with several high street stores specialising in clandestine accoutrements. Get your covert goods in Hendon, Knightsbridge, Wandsworth, Portman Square and Mayfair.
Perhaps the oddest outlet we’ve encountered is the Animals War Memorial Dispensary, Cambridge Avenue, Kilburn. Are we missing the point here, or is there really much demand for memorials…to animals…killed in wars?
Shopping for others? May we recommend Cuffs & Co. of Covent Garden. Here you can buy nought save cufflinks, that old reliable present for the man who has everything. For a gift more cerebral, you could visit the London Chess Centre on Euston Road. If you’re sound of back, you can pick up a giant chess set with ‘24 inch king’, for only £1495. This place must have the biggest pawn stash outside of Brewer Street.
If you’re in search of a special surprise for the fairer sex, and you’re in the Marylebone area, why not pull into the Flower Station, London’s only drive-thru florist (unless you count the shitty bouquets on offer at the average petrol garage). And while you’re in the area, pop into the nearby Beatles Shop, or Elvisly Yours, next door to one another on Baker Street.
Elvis liked his firearms, and would have no-doubt approved of William Evans,‘traditional gunmakers’ at 67 St James Street. Their .600 calibre sidelock double-barrelled rifles go for a mere £60 000 (excluding VAT). Virtually next door, the discerning gentleman can visit Truefitt and Hill (est. 1805), who, from their window display, appear to specialise in shaving brushes, but are actually a male perfumers and hairdresser. Indeed, they grace the Guinness Book of Records as the World’s Oldest Barber shop, and have a royal appointment to Prince Phillip. Where else can you pick up a silver shaving set for £1400?
Over to the west, you can find all manner of antique bric-a-brac between Kensington and the Westway. You want 19th Century decorative mirrors? You have Through The Looking Glass. You need a new chandelier? There's always Denton. And 19th Century sports equipment? Nowhere better than Henry Gregory of Portobello Road.
But, by goodness, we have no hope of tracking down all the improbable shops of London, and we need your help. Please give generously in the comments section, and let us know your own favourite curiosity shops about town.
Gosh, and we haven't even mentioned Camden.