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Top 5 Curious Old Shops in London

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The strangest, oldest shops that London has to offer

For foreigners London is known as one of the world’s biggest shopping destinations. The throngs of shoppers trawling Oxford Street and department stores at the weekend can be irritating, but London’s role as a centre of commerce is nothing new. While sparkling new stores spring up every other day, the capital still harbours a few traditional shops that have barely changed over the last four hundred years. This week we explore some of the city’s oldest, most interesting shopping destinations.

The Old Curiosity Shop, 1567

The Old Curiosity Shop just off Lincoln’s Inn Fields is London’s oldest shop premises, but this isn’t its only claim to fame. The building purports to be the inspiration for Charles Dickens’ novel of the same name, but it’s hard to know for sure - the shop assumed the title after the book was released. It is known, however, that Dickens lived in nearby Bloomsbury and had occasion to visit the shop. The half-timbered construction was made using the wood from old ships and miraculously survived the Great Fire of 1666 and the Blitz. These days it seems to just sell shoes, but the gorgeous building alone is more than enough reason to visit.

13 Portsmouth St, WC2A 2ES.

Open Mon - Sat, 11:00 - 19:00

Lock and Co Hatters, 1676

Lock’s is not just the oldest hat shop in London - it’s the oldest in the world. Over their impressive history the business, which is still run by the same family that started it, have served Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin and Admiral Lord Nelson - once as a man and once as a statue! They’re also credited with playing a crucial role in the invention of the bowler hat or ‘coke’, designed as a convenient alternative to the top hat.

6 St James's St, SW1A 1EF.

Open Mon - Sat 9:00 - 17:30.

For more about the shop and their fascinating history, see their website.

Ede & Ravenscroft, 1689

Another oldest here - this time the city’s oldest tailors. But Ede & Ravenscroft are not just known for sharp suits. In fact their most famous branch in Chancery Lane largely makes wigs and robes for the local lawyers at the Inns of Court. They also provide garments for the royal family, and have furnished the royals with robes for the last twelve coronations.

93 Chancery Lane, WC2A 1DU.

Open Mon - Fri 08.45 - 18:00, Sat 10:00 - 15:00.

For more information see their website.

Arthur Beale, 1843

Surely the most unusual shop on the list is Arthur Beale, a historic yacht-chandler on Shaftesbury Avenue. The wonderfully incongruous shop is packed with ropes, buoys and all manner of nautical equipment, and is a pleasure to explore, even for the uninitiated. While all the other ship suppliers have moved out of the capital, Arthur Beale has hung on without resorting to novelty value - business is still going strong and their products are as nautically relevant as ever.

194 Shaftesbury Ave, WC2H 8JP.

Open Mon - Fri 09:00 - 18:00, Weekends 11:00 - 17:00.

W Martyn, 1897

Most are drawn to W Martyn by the smell of roasting coffee which drifts out of the window onto the High Street. Entering the shop is like stepping a hundred years back in time, with groceries piled on the counter and in wooden shelves, while their special blend coffees are legendary.

135 Muswell Hill Broadway, N10 3RS.

Open Mon - Sat 09:30 - 17:30, Sun 12:00 - 16:00.

For more information see their website.