The great British high street is an institution and every weekend up and down the country hundreds of people pound the pavements shopping in the same high street stores over and over without giving thought to any alternatives. Best LDN Walks are here with a guide on how to shop British in London with these heritage luxury alternatives to the high street.
Most of these gorgeous little gems can be found in the Royal village of St James, centered around St James Square. These muddy tennis fields were reinvented in the 1700s by Henry Jermyn in an effort to tempt the rich aristocracy to spend more time in what was considered to be ‘plaguey London town”. In addition to the construction of a series beautiful townhouses, the square was filled with musk soaked, prize-winning pigs to give the illusion of the countryside without all the smells! With a new class of wealth flocking to be near The Palace of St James a sea of shops and suppliers set up shop and thankfully, a lot of these original heritage British brands are still in operation.
Perfume and Fragrance.
It’s about time we step away from the muddle of overwhelming smells of the department store and experience a real perfumery. The dark wood and cut glass interior of Floris hasn’t changed since the Great Exhibition in 1851 and you really do feel you’re like stepping inside the set of Downtown Abbey. You can sample the strong musky scents Winston Churchill, the sweet floral bath essence of Marilyn Monroe or the fragrance of 007 author Ian Fleming. From candles, scented powders, shaving soaps and bespoke perfume, Floris is gorgeous welcome to the nose assaults of other fragrance stores.
Cheese and Deli.
Paxton and Whitfield’s.
Anyone who likes cheese should visit Paxton’s. That is a short but important sentence for Paxton and Whitfield is not just your average run-of-the-mill cheese counter. Among their customers and patrons you’ll find Royalty, members of the aristocracy and other hungry elites. The oldest cheese shop in London will tease you with over 400 different varieties to sample, nibble and sniff. It’s a cheesy paradise and conveniently close to the most famous wine shop in London; it’s like they planned it!
Lock and Co.
The oldest hat shop in the world is, as you would imagine a wonderful and almost magical place to be. To visit the original makers of the iconic British bowler hat and to swap fur stoles for Sherlockian style deerstalker hats and straw boating hats is a rare treat. Laurel and Hardy, Lord Nelson, Charlie Chaplin and David Beckham are among previous customers so you know you’ll be in good hands.
Truefit and Hill.
Truefit and Hill is a gentleman club/shaving parlor and salon and is a truly a unique specimen in London. This tiny little parlor is the owner of a Royal warrant as well as the title of the world’s oldest male grooming salon. Pop in side to see the array of delicate glass bottles and inhale all that lovely man-smell.
Wine, Champagne and Alcohol.
What would you expect from the longest continuously running alcohol store in England? Undulating wooden floors, a cute tinkle of the bell by the door, old-fashion till registers and 16th century features? Well you’re in luck; Berry Brothers has all of this spanning several acres of sprawling rooms, tasting salons and warehouses. Sketches of past royal patrons and signatures from the likes of Lord Byron adorn the walls along with a staggering range of worldwide wines, champagnes and liquors. As a bonus point, grab a taster of the Kings Ginger, made by the store to keep King Edward 7th warm during his winter hunting trips. Our Royal Scandals London walking tour pays particular attention to the stories of Kind Edward the caresser as we sip our Kings Ginger.
Shoes and Footwear.
Does anyone pay attention to where their clothes, shoes and bags come from these days? My guess is, no, not really. Step inside Lobb and you’re in the middle of a shoemaker’s workshop worthy of the fairy tale. There’s a strong smell of leather, sawdust and Victorian glass cases full of famous wood shoe molds and mini museum of handcrafted shoes. Granted, a pair will set you back several thousands of pounds but you can be guaranteed that your pair will be a one off.
Our love of Hatchards is already very widely documented as one of London’s best bookshops and why wouldn’t you want to shop in London’s oldest bookshop? Since the late 1700s Royal patrons have been flocking to Hatchards for their extensive collection of history, photography, travel and royal themed books.
For more information on these British Heritage shops, St James and the strange and wonderful history of our Royal family, hop on board of our Best LDN Walks uniquely strange London walking tours.
Happy shopping, and take our tip about the Kings Ginger, it’s delish!
Charlotte tour guide and manager for Best LDN Walks