Discover London: Davenports Magic Shop

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Image credit: Omid Armin

London Calling talks to Bill Davenport from the world's oldest magic shop.

With the release of action-packed, magic movie ‘Now You See Me 2’ on Blu-Ray and DVD this month, we thought we would make a little magic of our own by visiting the world’s oldest continuously owned magic shop, right here in the heart of London. Located in a dusty, underground corner of Charing Cross, Davenports has been supplying Londoners with magical miscellanea and tremendous tricks since 1898. We sat down with Bill Davenport, the great-grandson of original owner Lewis Davenport, to find out more the secret of Davenports’ success - it’s a kind of magic.

London Calling: Tell us a little bit about your family and how Davenports magic shop began.

Bill Davenport: The business was started way back in 1898 by my great-grandfather Lewis Davenport. He was a performer for the music halls and he used to do a magic act. When he was only 16, he started a business from his house in the Mile End Road in East London. And then in the early part of the 20th Century, he opened up his first shop in the West End and we’ve been in the area ever since. We’ve moved around quite a lot - we’ve been here since 1984 but before that we used to be opposite the British Museum in Great Russell Street.

LC: And what makes the current shop different from the previous ones?

BD: This is the first time we’ve had an actual studio with the shop, so there’s a little more to us now. We do classes here and we have the magic clubs that meet here as well.

LC: Did you always want to take over the family business?

BD: It’s gone down in my family and I’ve been in the shop all my life, so I haven’t known much else. When I was a kid I used to come here on holidays and help out. It was never really forced on me but I just enjoyed doing it. After uni, I spent 10 years in IT and didn’t particularly like that. So I quit IT and came back here full time. And it’s great fun. It’s very different, but to me it’s just normal. It’s quite a niche profession, but there’s always something going on and magic’s always changing, so I really enjoy it.

LC: Davenports is the world’s oldest continuously owned magic shop and has even won a Guinness World Record for this achievement. What’s the secret to the shop’s success and longevity?

BD: I don’t think there’s any real secret; I think we all just muck in! Quite a few businesses have been lost to things being sold online now, and we obviously have an online presence, but I think there’s no substitute for an actual shop where people can come in and meet people. Often with magic, you need to tailor the trick to the person, so we try to suggest different ways of learning and if someone has a problem with a certain move then we try to help them. So I think it’s all about being proactive and being interested in people.

LC: How have you seen magic evolve over the years?

BD: I think magic goes through fashions. For example, in the 70s and 80s we had Paul Daniels who had a certain style, and then that moved on to other people like Darren Brown and Dynamo, so magic has always been evolving. We have customers who have been coming to the shop for literally 60 or 70 years and I think the core of magic hasn’t really changed very much. I quite like the whole creativity side of magic. Often a magician will pick up an old idea and think ok, how can I change this around re-jig it for today’s audience. I think each person who does magic has his or her own slightly different outlook on it.

LC: With current films like Now You See Me, Now You See Me 2 and The Prestige, have you seen magic increase in popularity? Has business increased because of it?

BD: I think these films spark people’s imaginations. We don’t see a massive deluge of people coming into the shop after a film like this has been released, but I think there’s more of a general awareness afterwards. We find there’s a slight increase in business and people phoning us up who are curious about magic, so they come along to us and we try to put them on the right road.

LC: Do you have a favourite trick?

BD: A long time ago I used to do a lot of competitions around the UK and around Europe, and I used to do a thing called cups and balls which is probably the world’s oldest trick. But I quite like the idea of reinventing things, so I thought of different ways of doing it, using colour changes for example. I also like card tricks but I think all magicians do card tricks.

LC: Where do you see Davenports in another 100 years?

BD: Well I’d like to still have a shop; I think that’s always been our core business and I think magic will always be an interactive art form. I’ve also been working on various courses on offer here, for children and adults, for beginners and intermediate people as well. I’m also developing a creativity course because I think magicians are very creative individuals and they have their own way of looking at things. So what I’m trying to do is put together a series of courses to help people who do not necessarily want to do magic but want to maybe expand their creativity. We’ll be using magic as a tool to explain how to boost your creativity and to see things in a slightly different way.

LC: What do you think the future of magic looks like?

BD: Magicians seem to always have a similar personality - they’re quite inquisitive people and they like to look at things in a slightly abstract way. I think that core bit of being a magician will stay the same. What we put around it will change though. I think I’d like to see a future where everyone is doing a bit of magic. Fifty years ago, magicians would try to keep things secret and not teach anybody else their tricks. I think it’s not a problem if everyone does a few tricks. You can still be fooled - I’m still fooled sometimes, which I love! I think magic’s going in lots of different directions and to a certain extent, it boils down to whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist.

LC: Any advice for budding magicians?

BD: Don’t give up! Keep going, don’t try anything too complicated at first, try to do things that are right for you and just simply be yourself and enjoy it. Learn and read books and talk to other people and get out and do it!

Davenports is located at 7 Charing Cross Underground Arcade, The Strand, London, WC2N 4HZ, A4, London WC2N 4HZ. It’s open Monday - Friday 9:30am-5:30 and Saturdays 9:30-4:30. Visit them online.

Now You See Me 2 will be available to download now and on Blu-ray, DVD, Double Pack DVD and DVD Bonus Disc Edition from 7 November 2016.