Thursday, 8 October 2009

Old London Traditional shops - James and Sons Umbrellas

James and Sons
In 1830, James Smith founded the famous firm of James Smith and Sons at Foubert Street in London's West End. His Son, also called James, was quite an entrepreneur and moved the business to New Oxford Street in 1857 - he also opened six other businesses including Hatters and a BarberShop. He had eight sons and a daughter, and when he moved to Tasmania with two of his sons to take up farming, he left the others to run the business at home. In 1930, it was his grandson Mr. Mesgar (great grandson of the Founder) who moved back from Tasmania to take over the running of the business.

A branch shop was opened just off Savile Row, and it was from here that umbrellas were sold to Gladstone, Bonar Law and Lord Curzon among many dignitaries. When this shop was pulled down to make way for a new road, the branch moved to New Burlington Street, but this was unfortunately bombed by the Luftwaffe in World War II
The business in umbrellas has always thrived - perhaps because of the English weather, but also because of the outstanding reputation the company has for new umbrellas and their repair service. The company was one of the first to use the famous Fox Frame and have led the field in utilising the most recent advances in fabrics and structure.
For a long time, the company specialised in making Ceremonial Umbrellas and Maces and gentlemen's canes and these are in service around the world. Until the 1920's the cane or stick was an essential part of the well-dressed males attire. During World War, I many hundreds of thousands of military 'swagger sticks' was sold to soldiers but today the cane or stick is used mostly as an aid to walking.
Much of the business for sticks comes from America where there has always been a shortage of good sticks and canes. One client even asked the company to make him stick in every English wood possible - he received over 70 sticks in total!

Apart from being the leading umbrella company for 170 years and the first name in sticks and canes, the shop on New Oxford Street is a legend in itself. It is a perfect example of Victorian shop front design and has remained virtually unaltered in 140 years. Inside it is a unique experience; most of the fittings were designed and made by a fitter kept in full employment by Mr. Smith. It is a must on any visit to London.

The First James Smith started our traditional of umbrella making in 1830 when he opened a small shop in Fouberts Place, off Regent Street. He made the umbrellas at the back of the shop, and customers were served at the front.

That tradition is still maintained in our New Oxford Street premises. Our workshops have always been situated in the basement, and it is there we still make umbrellas and walking sticks. These days we sell so many that some have to be made specially for us by other small family firms. The design and materials of the gentleman's traditional umbrella have changed little over the years apart from the fact that most of the covers nowadays are made from nylon. It is generally recognised that London has been the home of the best umbrellas and walking sticks, and we are pleased to be able to continue that tradition.

We would be delighted to welcome you to our beautiful shop and look forward to your visit. We are on New Oxford Street, very close to Tottenham Court Road Underground station and the British Museum. If you are coming from Oxford Street, go to the Tottenham Court Road crossroads, carry on across the lights, and the road becomes New Oxford Street.

James Smith Umbrellas Shopfront