A Creek Road Shop Front

Regular readers will know that I’m a bit of a fan of that wonderful 60s curmudgeon and London lover Geoffrey Fletcher - if you don’t already own The London Nobody Knows – both the book and the film- a true curiosity where James Mason, perfectly portraying Fletcher’s own outrage, stomps around the dodgy underbelly of 1960s London witnessing poverty and filth, drunkenness and despair – the exact opposite of, say, Blow Up - then I urge you to rectify the issue.

Fletcher was one of the very few voices being raised in post-war London furious that modernism was throwing the architectural baby out with the bathwater, and the way he raised his particular voice was in writing about -and drawing – endangered buildings. Most are now distant memories, but a few were saved.

The catalyst for his talking about a double-fronted shop front in Creek Road worthy of Jermyn Street or Spitalfields was an 18th Century doorway from demolished King George Street that Fletcher noticed in one of the many antique shops that used to populate Greenwich. He knew that the wreckers’ ball dangled precariously over Creek Road, and he shouted loudly about the shop in hisPeterborough column in the Daily Telegraph, including a rather lovely drawing of it.

“The drawing shows,” he says, “the superbly proportioned cornice and delicate Adamesque detailing which make it one of the few of this quality left in London. The shop is occupied by a second hand dealer. If we cared enough about these things, steps would be taken at once to ensure the front’s preservation – either in Greenwich or, better still, the Victoria and Albert museum.”

I confess I disagree with him on that last point. If it couldn’t have stayed where it was in Creek Road, a museum in Greenwich should have been the perfect place for it. Greenwich didn’t have a Discover Greenwich centre then, but it does now.

As a collector of Fletcher books, I have the Daily Telegraph’s compilation of some of his best columns, from 1969, Changing London. The editor adds this intriguing postscript:

“This story, however, had a happy ending. The fine double bow window shop front was removed without so much as a single pane of glass being broken. Eventually it will be on display in the new London Museum to be built at London Wall.”

“Great,” I thought. “It must be one of the shops in the Victorian street display in the middle galleries.” Annoyingly for me, when I first read the paragraph above, that part of the museum had just been closed for a couple of years for refurbishment. So I patiently waited for the new galleries to open rather than posting about the shop front when I first read about it. It wasn’t easy.

As soon as the new (brilliant, btw) galleries open, I raced in to see the Victorian street. Thing was, I couldn’t actually see that any of the shops displayed looked like likely candidates for the Greenwich shop front that Geoffrey Fletcher sketched. There were a couple of Georgian examples, but they just didn’t look the same, and Fletcher wouldn’t have been that inaccurate.

So I wrote to the museum curator, Julia Hoffbrand. And I have just had a very nice reply from her. She says

“The shop front you’re enquiring about is in our collection, and was on display until a few years ago when our modern galleries were closed to make way for our new Galleries of Modern London which opened in May. Its museum number is 67.103. It is currently stored at London Wall but I believe that it will soon be moved to our store in Hackney. You will be welcome to visit it there once it’s safely stored. I don’t know when this will be as it depends on the other commitments of our collections care team.”

Cor – now there’s a thought. Sounds as though you can, if you’re interested, actually apply to see specific things in storage – I doubt the invitation extends to just me (I hope not – the sodding anonymity thing would step in yet again…) She goes on to say

“In the meantime, here is the information from our catalogue for the shop front:
67.103: “Twin bow-fronted shop front and door from 176 Creek Road, Greenwich.  The roof has zinc flushings, and the whole shop front is painted white.  The door knocker has been removed [in storage as 80.495/11] as have the door handle and plate [in storage as 83.649/2-3], latch [in storage as 83.649/1] and letter box.  Height of the windows and cornice and iron bar supports is 10 x 0”, the overall width is 14 x 0”.  Two stone steps, circa 1810-20.  Condition good.”

So there you have it. I leave you with one last thought.

I know the Discover Greenwich Centre has only just been ‘finished’ and they probably don’t want to revisit it for ages but just ponder on this:

A beautiful, rare-as-hen’s-teeth Greenwich shop front is to be put back in storage. The entrance to the shop part of the Discover Greenwich gift shop, within the museum, is very dull.

Wouldn’t it be great for the Greenwich Foundation to borrow the old shop front from the Museum of London (they would surely be happy not to have to store it if they knew it would be on display somewhere), and erect it in the opening between the main museum and the shop, and thus use it as a shop front again?

People would be able to walk through the door to a real shop, complete with display of goods in the window, it would stay in good nick as it would be indoors and everyone could enjoy it instead of it being stuck in a store in Hackney with a number on it. I know it would cost a bit, but wouldn’t it be worth it?

the attachments to this post:

Greenwich shop front low
Greenwich shop front low

14 Comments to “A Creek Road Shop Front”

  1. Fascinating article and good to see a couple more of Geoffrey Fletcher’s drawings. I was a relatively late discoverer of his work but now own a dvd copy of ‘The London Nobody Knows’ as well as an original copy of ‘Offbeat in London’ published by the Daily Telegraph in May 1966 for the princely sum of 2/6! Unfortunately, the nearest he gets to Greenwich in this book is Southwark but well worth looking out for because of the drawings if nothing else.

  2. Actually, he does cover Greenwich in successive books – there are some very sad drawings of Greenwich Theatre before it died.

  3. Ah yes, found it. It’s a chapter in London’s River by Fletcher, entitled “Turner’s Greenwich.” It includes a drawing of Greenwich Theatre’s interior. He was under the (sadly false) impression that part of it was to be retained.

  4. Dear Phantom
    What a great read.The drawing of the double fronted shop is very like the shop at the Piccadilly end of the Haymarket.
    What a brill ideal to install it in the Discover Greenwich.Lets get a campaign going!!Elgin marbles?

  5. OldChina says:

    I originally watched The London Nobody Knows on youTube, I expect it’s still there. I did then go on to buy it on DVD so don’t feel too guilty. As you rightly say, it’s an amazing watch and makes you realise how much of olde London has been purposely and systematically destroyed since the sixties.

    I’d love to see the old shop front in Discover Greenwich. I expect the curator of DG is the best person to make that happen, if anyone has contact details…

  6. Greenwichite says:

    What a good suggestion. Not just a pretty phantom eh?

  7. I shall contact the marketing guy who occasionally sends me interesting stuff. I’m sure he’ll know who to put the idea in front of. I only wish I’d known about this while they were still putting the museum together, but I don’t see why it shouldn’t be a relatively simple retro-fit if enough people think it’s a good idea…

  8. Pedro says:

    Good idea to have it in Greenwich. Even better than having it sitting in a museum would be to build a shop around the shop-front, and use it for its original purpose! We already have a forlorn 17C shopfront sitting in the maritime museum, don’t we?

  9. Really? Where? I didn’t see it the other day – but it might be part of the bit that’s closed for the refit just now.

  10. Pedro says:

    Now you mention I haven’t seen it recently. It used to be on the right of the main entrance; it was, I think, the frontage of Lloyd’s coffeehouse from Lombard St, which eventually became Lloyd’s maritime Insurance.

  11. Cor – I must have walked right past it. But how? Hopefully something as important as that won’t languish in storage when the new wing’s done.

  12. Alan says:

    hmmm….If you take a closer look at the Discover Greenwich exhibition you’ll find that it isn’t about Greenwich as a whole, only the Old Royal Naval College site.

    Naming it Discover Greenwich was, I think, a slightly misleading marketing ploy designed to fool visitors and residents into believing that Greenwich had its own little museum. Which seems to have worked. There’s nothing much wrong with the place, but it’s a welcome centre for the College. That’s it. But you never know, they may still be interested in an old door from halfway to Deptford…

  13. You’re quite right, a closer inspection of ‘Offbeat in London’ does reveal a walk through the Greenwich Foot Tunnel and visits to two pubs – The Trafalgar Tavern and The Cutty Sark, although sadly there are no drawings of these. It’s been a while since I read this book, so thanks for reminding me. I’ll keep a look out for his other books as I’d like to complete the collection.