Established back in the early nineteenth century, James Smith & Sons Umbrellas is a West End institution in London and is certainly among the oldest, if not the oldest, surviving business established to sell umbrellas.
The original shop was founded by James Smith in Foubert’s Place, off Regent Street, in 1830 with the umbrellas made in a rear workshop and then sold at the front. The shop then moved to Saville Place but when this building had to be knocked down to make way for road widening, it moved to Burlington Street near Piccadilly Circus.
Business boomed following the invention of Samuel Fox’s lightweight steel frame umbrellas in 1851 and in 1867, a second shop was opened at 53 New Oxford Street (in Hazelwood House, where it remains today). The Burlington Street branch, meanwhile, continued to be operational until it was destroyed by a bomb in World War II, leaving just the shop in New Oxford Street.
The New Oxford Street shop still sells a plethora of types of umbrellas as well as made-to-measure walking sticks. Some of the umbrellas – which include antique and more contemporary models – are reportedly assembled on site.
In the shop you’ll also find a portrait of Jonas Hanway, said to be the first man who owned an umbrella in London. Being an early adopter of this imported fashion trend from France, he apparently attracted the ridicule of London society as well as that of coach drivers who saw the threat to their trade he represented. But history was on Hanway’s side and while the umbrella has survived the past couple of centuries, the coach as a means of transportation has not.