On New Oxford Street, not too far from the Tottenham Court Road subway station, can be found one of the most recognisable retail establishments in all of London: James Smith & Sons. Umbrellas are the only product that they have ever offered for sale in their over 200 years of business. Historically, clients were served in the front of the shop while the umbrellas were created in the back of the establishment.
In the year 1830, James Smith established the business in Foubert Place, which is located off of Regent Street. Once upon a time, there was a James Smith location right off of Savile Row. This location specialised in selling umbrellas to famous persons of the time, including prime ministers. In 1857, the son of the company’s founder opened the flagship store on New Oxford Street, which at the time was a popular destination for shoppers.
Its façade is made of brass, mahogany, wrought iron, and glass, and it features gods that advertise beach umbrellas and dagger handles in addition to walking sticks and umbrellas. Its exterior had and still has as many umbrellas, as many as possible, and as a result, the unfortunate consumer is immediately overwhelmed by the variety of options available to them. It is hard to fathom how something as seemingly straightforward as an umbrella can come in a dizzying array of forms and hues and be made from such a wide variety of components.
There are umbrellas made of every material imaginable, from bamboo to silk, so your options are limitless. The handle can be made of a variety of various types of wood, however some umbrellas for use in the city are made of steel instead. Walking sticks, the close cousins of umbrellas, are still available for purchase at this store, so let’s not forget about them.
The company that makes traditional umbrellas claims that the design of the umbrellas itself as well as the materials used to make them have changed very little through time, with the exception that most of the coverings are now made of nylon rather than silk, and whalebone is no longer used. If you are in the area, you should go and have a look because there is a world from the past there, along with a lot of umbrellas.