Feeling somewhat inspired by the down pour currently covering the majority of the UK, I started to think about umbrellas.
In London there is a landmark of a store that I must have been past a thousand times but have never yet been in. The store sells umbrellas, fancy umbrellas, not the kind that blow inside out during a mild breeze and then are firmly dumped in the nearest rubbish bin.
These umbrellas have history and sophistication. The shop in question is James Smith & Sons which has been established since 1830. Incredible credentials. The business success has had a lot to do with the British weather but also due to the craftsmanship and respected reputation. I imagine once you have shopped here for your umbrella you are unlikely to then shop anywhere else for a replacement.
How it all begun;
The First James Smith started our tradition 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. The workshops are situated in the basement and it is there that we still make some umbrellas and walking sticks,
In 1830 James Smith founded the famous firm of James Smith and Sons at Foubert Place in London’s West End. His son moved the business to New Oxford Street in 1857; he also opened six other businesses including a hatter’s 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 Mesger (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 other 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 destroyed in the Second World War. For a long time the company specialised in making ceremonial umbrellas, 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 male’s attire. During World War I many hundreds of thousands of military ‘swagger sticks’ were sold to soldiers, but today the cane or stick is used mostly as an aid to walking.
I am determined to go inside one day and if I’m lucky enough to make a purchase it may well be a design from the animals head collection.