Mr Humbug and Mr Simms

It wasn’t so very long ago that we didn’t have an old fashioned sweetie shop at all in Greenwich. I remember fantasising on this blog about having a proper place that weighed out your rhubarb and custards or your gobstoppers from big glass jars into little stripy paper bags. My dream-store was actually the teeny little store halfway up Steep Hill in Lincoln – all dark and cosy, decorated with love – and the kind of sweet tins that cram Robert Opie’s museum . Playing jolly songs from the 1940s, it remains the only place that I’ve ever been able to buy summer creams. 

So I was delighted when Mr Humbug arrived in Greenwich Market. It wasn’t quite my fantasy embodied but hey – it was close enough. I have spent far more than my waistline would like in that shop and it’s always jam-packed full of people at the weekends. 

But, as we are always being told, we should be careful about what we ask for, and my magic-wish  fairy is clearly actually the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. I guess it was back in the summer that a second old fashioned sweetie shop emerged, this time on Church Street and the battle for Greenwich’s sweet tooth began. 

They are both franchises – though Mr Humbug is by far the smaller of the two – there’s just the one other store, in Norfolk, though they’re actively seeking new franchisees. Mr Simms is now getting to be on pretty much every high street in Britain – hell – there’s even one in Bluewater these days – and despite the cod ‘old fashionedness’ of the place, it is the one that feels most ‘corporate’ – there’s a certain plasticness to the whole place from the fake leaded lights to the dark cubicles containing the sweet jars. Curiously, when I was looking for a website for the place,  I couldn’t find any address for the parent company or any actual numbers of stores, though there must be dozens of ‘em.

Both sell almost identical goods at pretty much identical prices. They both have minimum purchase weights – which I riled at at first, but then I do vaguely recall a minimum weight back in my primary school days – which wouldn’t have been an issue except that being a kid I wanted to have as many different sweeties as I could and minimum weights made me choose (that’s just one of the reasons I still mourn the passing of Woolworths.) But the minimum weight thing is differently couched in each shop. Mr Humbug only tells us there’s a minimum if we threaten to go under it, whereas it’s the first thing they tell you in Mr Simms, which immediately puts my back up. The days are gone where I go in with 2p and I’m not leaving until I’ve spent it all – I AM almost certainly going to buy more than 100g of something – I don’t want my greeting to consist of being told I have to spend a certain amount. 

But then neither of these shops are actually aiming at children. They know that most kids these days would rather have a nice safe packet of something. Both of these stores are appealing to the child in adults and Phantoms, and play on received memories, however real they actually might be. 

To be honest, I think that there’s probably room for both stores. They both enjoy prime locations - one in the market, the other catching tourists as they come out of the DLR. I’ve tried ‘em both (several times – research, obviously…)  and apart from the fact that I find Mr Humbug a bit friendlier (the girl in there chats to me as though I’m an old friend, despite the fact that I’m not) and with better bags (pink and stripy, and thick enough not to disintegrate, even if you buy a lot – Mr Simms’s bags are brown, small and thin – I discovered about 150g-worth of licorice torpedos rolling around in the bottom of my shopping and an empty, torn paper bag last time I went there) there really isn’t that much to choose between the actual goods and prices. 

In fact thinking about it I reckon we could have even more sweet shops. Bring ‘em on – I promise to try ‘em all.


the attachments to this post:

mr simms
mr simms

mr humbug
mr humbug


12 Comments to “Mr Humbug and Mr Simms”

  1. OldChina says:

    You can have my share GP, I don’t like sweets. Give me a Rhodes brownie any day!

    Greenwich town center is looking rather nostalgic these days, what with these olde fashioned sweet shops and two or three shops with 1940′s themes(like Home Front). I quite like it.

  2. Funnily enough, Old China, Rhodes brownies are FAR too sweet for my taste. I bought just the one, once and it set my teeth on edge.

    Maybe I have some kind of selective sweet tooth? Or maybe Rhodes had accidentally tipped in too much sugar that day…

  3. Tim says:

    Isn’t there a Mr Humbug at Waterloo Station as well?

  4. Blimey – so there is. And at Euston, too. So frankly they’re both as chainy as each other…

  5. OldChina says:

    To be honest, for preferance I’ll usually go to the ladies who sell brownies in the market for my pastries. I guess it’ll be all change soon enough for the market – I have no idea if the brownie ladies will be staying or not.

    I think I killed my chilhood love for sweets back in my teens – I used to work in a cinema and had constant free access to the pick n’ mix there. I can never look a cola cube in the face again!

  6. Pedro says:

    How sad, in both cases. Sweet shops that don’t cater for kids. In the case of Mr Humbug, early on they’d oblige a polite kid by mixing two items of the same price, without demanding a 100g minimum of each. Now they insist on it, with a degree of snootiness. Short sighted, rather unfriendly and really the opposite of what you’d expect from a sweet shop that sells by weight.

    For a decent, retro sweet-shop, there’s nowhere better than the delightful Suck And Chew on Columbia Road. Since going there, we’ve rarely beaten a path to its Greenwich rivals.

  7. cerletone says:

    I spotted Ye Olde Sweete Shoppe for the first time last weekend – it looks rather impressive. I’m afraid I have gone all corporate these days and am addicted to Haribo, but I am prepared to give these up for the good old fashioned sweets of my youth.
    I did discover a rather delightful sweet shop during the summer in Faversham. One of those massive shops that has around 10 lonely jars and a louche youth draped bored over the counter playing with his iPhone. I bought 10 Black Jacks for 2p each and as I munched them in the high street thought “I bet that lovely little treasure won’t be there next time I visit (the shop I meant, not the youth)” I look forward to more sweeties from Greenwich next time I’m down there.

  8. we anchor in hope says:

    I was forced to work in my school hols back in the mid 70′s in a sweet factory called Dickson Orde which was horribly Dickensian in all senses. Long hours for pitiful wages, evil moustachio twirling overseer,sundry unknown flying insects divebombing the sugar paste which was rammed into what looked and probably was Victorian contraptions to produce the nastiest of “assorted candy” I have nightnarish memories of working alongside legions of wasps drilling into gobstoppers.

    Predictably, I’ll be giving both the sweetie emporiums a wide berth!

  9. Chris says:

    I think the Greenwich, Waterloo and Euston Mr Humbugs are all run by the same chap – I bet the franchises offered on the website are merely another enterprising idea at this stage whereas Ye Olde Shoppe clearly is of the corporate high street variety.

  10. David Burns says:

    Hi.

    I run Mr Simms in Worthing and we don’t have a minimum weight – you’re the customer and you choose. Although Mr Simms is a franchise, each owner is very much left to run the shop in their own individual style. My wife and I have 4 children so we’re geared up to create a lovely experience for families.

    I dress up in a waitecoat and bowler hat for fun and I do hope you can visit us some time. We even give free samples – we’d rather people bought what they like than be dissappointed.

    Kind regards,

    David & Sarah

  11. interesting reading, I own a sweet shop in Sandbach Cheshire, you can still buy a sweet for a penny or a 20p mix what ever price you want to spend.
    Maybe these other shops should be classed as corporate and not individual or tradtional sweet shops.

  12. Claire Hastings says:

    It is a shame that that particular Mr. Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe has not portrayed our traditional concept and old fashioned customer service that we adhere to give all customers both young and old. I must clarify that Mr. Simms do not have a minimum purchase amount in any of the shops, you can have a penny sweet from the Pick n Mix counters too and we adore children coming in to choose exactly what they would like, after all we were all kids once and that is where we gain our memories from … our childhood. Mr Simms all the way!