The streets of London have lost so many of their local, specialist shops over the years. Shops that catered for the practical needs of everyday life, and also supported activities that were concentrated in the local area. For today’s post, I am in Drury Lane, looking at two shops which highlight how these streets have changed over the last 30 years.
This is the shop of Amos Jones, Chemist, on the corner of Drury Lane and Long Acre, photographed in 1985.
This is the same shop in 2019:
Amos Jones, the Chemist, has now been replaced by The Fine Gift Company, a shop specialising in the sale of handmade Italian silver jewelry – a very different form of business. Although the street sign visible in the photo states Drury Lane, the shop address is 78 Long Acre. There is a Long Acre street sign above the left edge of the shop.
The panel on the right of the shop in the original photo claims that Amos Jones was established in 1785, and also highlights the chemist’s prime location in the theatrical hub of the city by advertising “Specialists in Theatrical Toilet Requisites”. I cannot find any evidence that the chemist was trading at this location as Amos Jones back to 1785. I did find a 1921 reference to Amos Jones being the chemist, and in volume 129 of the “Chemist and Druggist: The Newsweekly for Pharmacy” from 1938 there is a reference to what appears to be a purchase of the chemist trading as Amos Jones at 78 Long Acre.
The shop also advertises the developing and printing of photos – a sideline for chemists that was swept away by the arrival of digital cameras.
I have not been able to find too much history of the chemist, however one reference I did find is when Amos Jones appears to have been caught up in a rather strange toothpaste related crime.
in July 1921, Amos Jones was summoned to Bow Street Court as part as a court case against Alphonse Carreras and Enrique Carreras of King Street, Hammersmith.
Alphonse and Enrique were on trial for running a lottery called “The Enolin Tooth Paste Competition”. The lottery or competition was for prizes to accurately estimate the number of tubes of toothpaste sold during a certain period. The first prize was a motor-car valued at £2,250, with £500 in cash. There were over 3,000 other prizes with a combined value of £5,000.
Amos Jones was summonsed for selling the “chances” .
The court case appeared to hinge on whether the competition involved skill or luck (in which case it would be considered a lottery). The prosecution did agree that the competition was bona-fide and that prizes were awarded, but that it was still a lottery. The judge agreed as he “could not help thinking that the good fortune of the prize winners was the result of a lucky shot, and did not depend upon the exercise of any real skill”.
Alphonse and Enrique Carreras were each ordered to pay a penalty of £50, and costs of £10, 10 shilling.
Amos Jones, listed as a chemist of Long Acre was charged with publishing the scheme, but was dismissed under the Probation of Offenders Act, on payment of £5, 5 shillings costs.
An Enolin Toothpaste show card, of a type which possibly could have been displayed in Amos Jones shop. At the very bottom of the card, A&E Carreras were “Perfumers” who had obviously branched out into the toothpaste trade.
Above the shop in both photos there is a plaque on the wall:
The plaque reads “Eight feet of ground from the front of this house were given by the Mercers Company in the year 1835, for the purpose of widening the entrance of Long Acre”.
This work was part of the widening and straightening of many streets in the area carried out during the first half of the 19th century.
The Mercers Company is a name that I keep finding all over the city. They were significant landowners and the building with the chemist shop was just part of their landholding in Drury Lane and Long Acre.
Walking north along Drury Lane, crossing Dryden Lane and there is another block of buildings with very different architectural styles, however the larger building closer to the camera also was / is part of the Mercers property in Drury Lane.
If you look at the top of the building, directly above the main entrance door there is a Mercers Maiden – the symbol of the Mercers Company and displayed on buildings owned by the company to indicate their ownership.
There are many of these to be seen across London, one of my side projects is to photograph and map these for a future post.
Rather worryingly, the building is empty and boarding covers the ground floor.
The Mercers still own a significant amount of land around Long Acre, and have a map on their website showing their property portfolio in the area.
In the following map, I have marked the old Amos Jones chemist shop with a red circle. The red rectangle indicates that the whole block within the boundaries of Drury Lane, Long Acre, Arne Street and Dryden Street is still owned by the Mercers Company (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).
The building with the Mercers Maiden is the building further north bounded by the green rectangle. This building is not part of the current Mercers portfolio so must have been sold at some point.
Further down Long Acre, the majority of the land to the north of the street, between Neal Street and Upper St. Martin’s Lane is still owned by the Mercers Company. It is a good area for Mercers Maiden spotting and there is also a Mercer Street running north from Long Acre to Seven Dials.
The following photo shows the block of buildings along Drury Lane, the old Amos Jones shop is at the far end of the block.
On the corner of the block, facing the camera was the old Marlborough Head, a pub dating from the early 19th century (the first reference I can find dates from 1818). The building has the curved corner which is an indicator of a building specifically designed as the pub, as this is where the pub name would have been prominently displayed.
The building is now the Lowlander – not so much a pub, rather an establishment which is advertised as “London’s Premier Belgian Grand Cafe”.
The name of the original pub can still be seen carved at the top of the building.
The LMA Collage collection has a photo of the Marlborough Head dated 1971:
Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_02_0974_71_3915
The image of a typical 1970s London Watney’s pub. The store on the right in the above 1971 photo was an Ironmongers, again the type of shop that has almost disappeared from the streets of central London.
To the left of the Marlborough Head, between the pub and Amos Jones was:
- The Drury Tea and Coffee Company
- Enrico’s Sandwich Bar
- Air Express Travel Ltd
Enrico’s is still a sandwich shop, but now called Wings, and the travel company shop is now a dry cleaners.
Walking further north along Drury Lane, and in 1986, at number 180 was S. Krantz & Son, Specialist Shoe Repairers – Proprietor Alfred Krantz.
The same shop today, now Vanity Nails & Beauty:
S. Krantz also advertised their specialty of Theatrical, Municipal and Surgical, which I guess covers everything from theatrical footwear needed for the theatres of the West End, to surgical footwear, perhaps for the medical community of Bloomsbury, and municipal, which I suspect covered everything else.
The shop to the right of S. Krantz in the original photo was a general hardware and tool shop, A couple of wood saws can be seen in the window of the shop on the right of the photo. Today the same shop is selling retro clothes.
The following enlargement from the original photo perhaps shows Alfred Krantz working in the shop?
The above photo also shows an interesting poster in the doorway of S. Krantz, advertising a street party on Saturday 25th in nearby Parker Street, with a Disco, Sports Challenge, BBQ and Yard of Ale – not an event you would see on the streets of the West End today.
There seems to be an ever reducing number of these small, one-off shops, catering for local day-to-day needs, and with a local specialism (the theatrical focus of both Amos Jones and S. Krantz). London’s streets will be poorer without them.
You are quite right – the streets are poorer visually. There was lots to look at in Amos Jones, dating from various times, but I don’t feel much inclination to look at the gifts in the other shop; something about it screams “boring and overpriced” to me. (No doubt I am in a minority there) However, if the London Gift Co survives for 50 years it will no doubt acquire a period charm!
In 1964 I joined an advertising agency in Holborn, Allardyce Palmer.
At lunch time we took our 1/6d luncheon vouchers rounnd to the little cafe on Drury Lane, they had a wall mounted juke box player and we always played Sandie Shaw, always something there to remind me.
Small cafe , workmen, spoon on string, steamy windows.
Anyway.. just up the road was Annello and Davide shoe and ballet footwear makers for Covent Garden dancers. They also made mod street boots in leather and suede. Ever so often I had my suede boots made there including a fab soft leather pair of Chelsea boots.
They kept the last in store so you could go back and reorder!
Lovely street of character all gone
Fascinating, as always. I cycle up Drury Lane most weeks, and have never spotted these buildings. I’ll look out for them more carefully next time, and especially the Mercers signs.
You mention Long Acre. Maybe worth a blog sometime. One hundred years ago along Acre was the centre of the motor trade in London, and signs advertising long-gone makes are still visible in the brickwork of some of the buildings. Armstrong-Siddeley springs to mind.
This is a wonderful post for me. My cousin had a Saturday job at Amos Jones in the 1980s. No doubt in part because her Mum owned the Sun Tavern at 66 Long Acre. My family were from the Seven Dials and had a flower shop on Shorts Gardens as well as a wholesale business in the flower market. We spent many Sundays in the late 70s roaming around a derelict WC2, helping the Covent Garden Community Association painting murals to brighten up the hoardings whilst they battled with the GLC to preserve the character of the area.
I live off Drury Lane. Hi Julie. Your comment interested me. There’s a really good documentary on utube that was made in 1973. It was about the closure of Covent Garden Market. It showed some Peabody residents trying to save the area. The glc were going to butcher the place. I think my building on Kemble St would have gone. They were going to turn Maiden Lane into an awful walkway. The whole of the area was going to be demolished. (Horrible 70’s office blocks & shops were to replace such a lovely history. So it’s thanks to your family & friends that the area hasn’t been lost & i have a flat in Covent Garden! (I’m very grateful).
Vicky – thanks I will have a look for it
Your posts are always interesting. I especially like this one. As i live right off Drury Lane. (Kemble St). I have a Peabody flat in Bruce House. It too, has a ‘colourful’ past. Peabody owns the whole building which consists of Sarastro the Turkish restaurant, Look Ahead which is a home for people with mental health issues & Centrepoint. A hostel. (The residents often cause problems in the area). I live over Sarastro over the back. Which is right over St Clement Danes Primary School. My building had been a hostel for homeless men. One of the biggest in London. Originally there were no doors on the front. Men would be hanging from the open windows, drunk with paper bags covering their whiskey bottles! Singing at the top of their voices. It was just full of dormitories. Bed after bed. But there were a couple of shops on the ground floor. A cobblers & a laundry room. I’ve recently found some interesting photos of my building on google. I’ve even heard Charles Dickens stayed in my building one night.
In 1995 it was changed into individual flats & even the Queen came & officially opened it!
I’m worried too about the boarded up buildings on Drury Lane. I’ve asked local shop owners. They’ve said they think LSE owns it now. So some sort of student thing. (Still worrying). I used to wrk off Portugal St, Holborn in the 90’s (the Civil Service). I walked round there in the summer. Didn’t recognise anything. My old building was near that lovely old pub the Seven Stars which always has a resident cat. My building wasn’t at all attractive but it was facing onto the back of the Court of Appeal which is on Fleet St. I think it was built in the 60’s/70’s. I don’t like that style of architecture. Of course it’s been demolished & replaced with more unwanted luxury flats. (So sad & annoying that London is being butchered). Anytime i get attached to an area, a little street. I worry. I think will that be there next month. Next week?
The story that upset me a few years ago. Was as usual. Some greedy insensitive property developers bought an old pub. This pub was due to be listed the next day. But some greedy person tipped them off. The staff were told to take the day off. The next thing. They brought the bulldozers in. Demolished most of it. There were photos in the paper. Even pints had been left on the bar. It left alot of heartbroken local residents. The case went to court & the Judge. Ordered the company to rebuild it. With the original bricks. It was a fantastic outcome. But i’ve been too scared to look into it. To see if it has been done.
The more i fall in love with the past. The more i dread the future!
Re The pub you mentioned being demolished.
It was the Carlton Tavern in Carlton Vale, NW6, near Kilburn Park.
It has been re-built !
I drove past it the other week.
It’s nearly finished.
Have a look on Google Street View. You’ll see what it was like before demolition and a recent view (April 19)
I have arthritis. I’m having a severe flare up. Literally bedridden. So your post about the pub has really cheered me up. Thanks. I love old pubs & when i hear of so many closing. It breaks my heart. There was a really beautiful old pub in Aldgate. Down a lovely old alleyway. (The Star). I went to a meeting to try & save it. We succeeded in saving the building. But it was turned into a poncey restaurant! But at least the building was saved.
Thank you so much for your wonderful posts (whoever you are). Brightens up an otherwise miserable day.
And the intriguing comments that follow …
You must turn it all into a book or tv documentary.
Alan (tour guide/speaker)
When you are cataloguing Mercers Maidens, don’t overlook door knockers – Langley House on the north side of Long Acre has two. Fascinating article, as always – thanks for all the investigation that goes into this.
I was musing about a related issue the other day: the disappearance of chip shops and tea shops. They seem to have been replaced by infinite numbers of Nero, Costa, and Starbucks.
I worked in Kingsway 1963-4 and recall regularly walking round to Drury Lane to go to Sainsburys (their original store?) to do weekday shopping, the whole area was very miserable and run down. I recall there was a huge demolished block which had been Odhams press (?) somewhere between Endell Street and Drury Lane which for some years was turned into a Japanese Garden (?) waiting for development. Covent Garden Market was also a pretty desperate place, very busy, mostly jammed with Bedford lorries being unloaded into barrows which were then pushed with much shouting and noise several hundred yards to the appropriate store building. Covent Garden Market was in disputes for 10 years (thank god) and dormant until the eighties when finally the GLC gave it it’s first makeover, after the Charing Cross Hospital moved to Hampstead (?) in the late 70s. Thanks for all your great articles, over the years. Best wishes Richard
From Google, the ex-Mercers buildings seems to have been occupied until recently by King’s College.
It appears the plan is to demolish the whole of that block bounded by Drury Lane/Dryden Street/Arne Street/Shelton Street and replace with either flats (permission granted in 2016 so probably expired now) or more likely offices (permission refused to Helical Bar in 2017, but granted to the Diageo Pension Trust in 2018). Dropping the new building in behind the retained façade of course, as seems to be the current vogue, and with retail units on the ground floor. So perhaps not too different to the current configuration.
Replying to correct myself: from the Westminster council website, the 2016 residential planning application was withdrawn not granted.
Speculating here, but I suspect that the Mercers Company have retained the freehold of the site, and granted a longish lease (say 99 or 125 years) to the pension fund. Helical Bar may been granted a shorter lease to develop the site, conditional on planning permission being granted. The recent boarding up of the buildings suggests the permission for the office redevelopment granted in 2018 is likely to be implemented soon.
Why rounded corners on pubs? I can’t find an explanation online. The one in your photo also has curved glass in the corner window.
Great article on a rapidly disappearing part of London very interesting follow up comments following the blog
I remember the S Krantz shop well, as I used to get my shoes repaired there. It was a real old fashioned shop with a real craftsman working on the shoes, not just a big machine and a tub of glue like you get in most so-called cobblers these days.
Further down Drury Lane towards the Strand there used to be a theatrical supplies shop, I think called Brodie & Middleton, which was a remarkable place.
I feel lucky to remember the days when the streets around Covent Garden were filled with specialist little shops, rather than luxury gift shops.
I remember there being a timber yard on Endell Street: it wasn’t visible from the street, and you went through an archway on the west side of the street, and you were suddenly in an old fashioned timber merchant. The times some of us bemused the tourists on the Covent Garden plaza carrying lengths of timber or sheets of plywood down to the Strand.
I used to work for L&H Nathans on Drury Lane they were Film,TV and Theatrical costumiers, I was there for two years 1969-70 having started when I left school.
The area around was proper working class then due to the markets proximity but with pockets of trade shops which were always interesting to go in,the pubs around were busy due to having early morning licences for the market traders,well most of them were.
When I go back now to there it is with a certain sadness of how the area is now, some would call it progress I guess,but I would disagree, the area certainly no longer has a sense of community which further makes one look back to a time when it did.
Thank you for this interesting page. I was wondering if anyone remembers a building in a side road off Kingsway (possibly Parker Street) which had a big globe in the window which you could make rotate by waving your hand across the front of tbe window. It would have been around the 70s/80s. I can’t think what the building or exact street were.
Hello David, I’m Laura in the 2022 course. I came across your post because of my interest in the Majestic Wine shop next to your Mercers building. The whole of that is under gigantic construction, has been for a while; the Shelton Street passageway is now hoardings both sides.
Used to buy my shoes oat anello and Davide in Drury Lane. Also a great little cafe on the corner 1964/5