From traditional cheesemongers to timeless tailors, these are the oldest shops London still open for business.
The historic city of London is home to some of the best-preserved Victorian storefronts and building facades, but some passersby would be surprised to find that the contents within–from fine, handmade bonbons to rare books–hasn’t changed all that much either. These are the enduring retailers of London who have stood the test of time and are still in business today.
Berry Bros. & Rudd
Founded in 1698 as an upscale grocer by a mysterious woman with the last name of Bourne, this family store eventually whittled down its focus to fine spirits and rare wines. Thought of as Britain’s original wine and spirit merchant, Berry Bros. & Rudd has been the supplier of the royal family since the reign of King George III in 1760.
INSIDER TIPThe old-world vaulted cellar at 3 St. James’s Street is named after Napoleon, as he used the location as a secret meetings place while he was exiled in London.
Lock & Co. Hatters
Called the world’s oldest hat shop, Lock & Co. Hatters (established 1676) is still selling the most sensational silk top hats, tweed caps, jaunty fedoras, authentic bowlers, and occasion millinery (should you need a little something for the upcoming royal wedding).
INSIDER TIPLewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter character is said to have been inspired by an ancestor of the Lock family, Mr. James Benning.
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Fortnum & Mason
An old-world heritage department store with a royal pedigree, Fortnum & Mason (established 1707) is a far cry from the soulless, big-box stores of suburbia. The ground floor of this palatial Mayfair shop peddles old-fashioned sweets and timeless teas against a grand background of Eau de Nil, Fortnum & Mason’s signature blue-green color.
INSIDER TIPAs the inventors of the travel-friendly Scotch Egg (a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage and breadcrumbs), Fortnum & Mason’s still sells these handy and filling snacks in the food hall on the lower level.
The upscale perfumery, Penhaligon’s was founded in 1870 by the creative Cornish barber, William Penhaligon. Inspired by the perfumed steam of the Turkish bathhouses on Jermyn Street, Penhaligon’s first fragrance is called Hammam Bouquet. Though the original formula has been slightly tweaked, the fragrance is still sold today in a charmingly Victorian glass bottle and can be bought at the oldest store in Covent Garden (as well as from the other locations around London and the world).
James Smith & Sons Umbrellas
What’s more quintessentially British than the umbrella? It should be no big surprise then that James Smith & Sons, a Victorian umbrella shop founded in 1830, is still in business today (after all—London still maintains a dreary reputation for rain). But these beautifully handcrafted “brollies,” housed in an antique New Oxford Street storefront with unchanged interiors, will give you an excuse to delight in even the worst of the British weather.
Paxton & Whitfield
Cheese is always in fashion. Paxton & Whitfield is an artisan cheesemonger that first started as a humble market stall in 1742. Stop by the 93 Jermyn Street store, which has been there since 1896, and try some Stilton—after all, Paxton & Whitfield does get credit for being one of the first cheesemongers to introduce this pungent cheese to polite London society.
INSIDER TIPChurchill was a fan and once said: “A gentleman only buys his cheese at Paxton & Whitfield.”
Henry Poole & Co
Called the “founders of Savile Row,” Henry Poole & Co (established 1806) was one of the first bespoke tailors in this now famous stretch of Mayfair. Still to this day, every custom suit is constructed in the workshops below the immaculate storefront at 15 Savile Row.
INSIDER TIPHenry Poole’s “short celestial blue evening coat,” first made in 1865 by Poole for King Edward VII, was the prototype for the tuxedo.
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L. Cornelissen & Son
L. Cornelissen & Son’s magical, color-filled shop in Bloomsbury is an artist’s dream. Since 1855, founder Louis Cornelissen (a Belgian lithographer) has been providing art-supplies to artists like Rex Whistler, George Clausen, and Francis Bacon.
Since 1797, Hatchards—London’s oldest bookshop located in the heart of Piccadilly—has become a British institution. This sprawling, multi-floor bookshop still plays host to literary events, rare book collections, and royal warrants.
INSIDER TIPThroughout the store, you’ll find framed historical tributes lining the walls including an old Hatchards catalog and hand-printed sales receipts.
James J. Fox
Boasting customers like Sir Winston Churchill and Oscar Wilde, James J. Fox on St. James’s Street is a seemingly ageless tobacco shop where traces of historical charm linger in the air like smoke. With one of the only smoking licenses in the city, this store hosts events like champagne-and-cigar pairing evenings in honor of Churchill’s birthday.
Charbonnel et Walker
Housed in the elegant Royal Arcade on Old Bond Street, Charbonnel et Walker is a Parisian-style chocolatier founded by Frenchwoman Eugenie Charbonnel and Englishwoman Minnie Walker. The delightful chocolates are made from handed-down recipes and original molds dating back to its founding in 1875.
INSIDER TIPUsing classic British flavors, the Rose & Violet Creams make a perfect souvenir to bring home from the city of London.
Since 1902, the eel, pie, and mash shop M.Manze has been dishing out antiquated Victorian street food that was once ubiquitous throughout the Big Smoke. M.Manze’s Tower Bridge shop sticks to standard recipes: Meat pies are cooked in stone ovens and served with a generous smear of mash potatoes and a pool of “liquor,” a thin, green gravy traditionally made from eel stock and parsley.
INSIDER TIPEel were once plentiful in the Thames River—and thus cheap. At M.Manze you can try them stewed or jellied. Yum!
When visiting the capital, you’ll find that the British adoration for tea is very, very real. Twinings flagship store located at 216 Strand is one part 300-year-old teashop (the oldest in London); one part tasting room and tea bar; and one part museum. Any tea lover will feel right at home.
INSIDER TIPTwinings claims that Earl Grey tea—named after British Prime Minister Charles Grey—was invented here.
Should you find yourself in desperate need of a yacht chandler or nautical supplies, look no further than Shaftesbury Avenue where you’ll find the 400-year-old marine equipment store Arthur Beale. Selling barometers, enamel cups, globe lamps, ropes, and rigging, you can almost picture Captain Ahab stopping here to stock up on supplies before venturing out to hunt Moby Dick.
W Martyn is a quaint artisan grocer in Muswell Hill outfitted with weighing scales, antique mahogany cabinets, and shelves lined with glass storage jars and English delicacies. Dating back to 1987, the store smells wonderfully of roasting coffee beans and dried fruit for which they’re now famous.