Yes, you read that sign correctly. âShoot the Agedâ. Erstwhile pine, and general bric-a-brac, merchants of Lee Road near Blackheath. Their genius strapline read âA non-charitable profit making organisation using non-voluntary staffâ. 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 âBitter Experienceâ 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 theyâre not wrong. One of our favourite bloggers recently worked his way through six Starbucks just along Fleet Street and Ludgate. If thereâs one upside to this monotony, itâs that special shops are all the more exciting when we do stumble across them. And itâs 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, thereâs one ‘Shoot The Aged’. Take, for instance, Arthur Beale, yacht chandlers of 194 Shaftesbury Avenue. Here, in the heart of the West End, youâll find a window display of sheepshanks, clove hitches, ropes and fittings âfor all your nautical needsâ.
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, nobodyâs going to argue with them when they boast of being âthe leading umbrella company for 170 yearsâ. Or alternatively, do it the Mayfair way, with a ÂŁ415 umbrella courtesy of Swaine Adeney Brigg of St James St. Just donât 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 weâve encountered is the Animals War Memorial Dispensary, Cambridge Avenue, Kilburn. Are we missing the point here, or is there really much demand for memorialsâŠto animalsâŠkilled 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 youâre sound of back, you can pick up a giant chess set with â24 inch kingâ, for only ÂŁ1495. This place must have the biggest pawn stash outside of Brewer Street.
If youâre in search of a special surprise for the fairer sex, and youâre in the Marylebone area, why not pull into the Flower Station, Londonâs only drive-thru florist (unless you count the shitty bouquets on offer at the average petrol garage). And while youâre 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,âtraditional gunmakersâ at 67 St James Street. Their .600 calibre sidelock double-barrelled rifles go for a mere ÂŁ60 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 Worldâs Oldest Barber shop, and have a royal appointment to Prince Phillip. Where else can you pick up a silver shaving set for ÂŁ1400?
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.