5 August 2015

Gone but not forgotten – G. Smith & Sons, tobacconist and purveyor of snuff

The first of a new series remembering shops and businesses I have known or used myself that have closed down or been demolished in the last few years.

In the middle of a long line of antiquarian bookshops, that used to run from Cambridge Circus down to Leicester Square Station, was G.F Smith & Sons at No.74, a beautiful old tobacconist's shop with a lovely old mirrored frontage and hand-painted gilt lettering showing they were purveyors of fine cigars and smoking paraphernalia. The shop was established in 1879 and was reputed to be one of the oldest/longest-trading shops in Soho. It was also the meeting place for the The London Snuff Club

I took these pics in 2008 when the shop was a garish orange (it was soonafter repainted royal blue – you can just make out the scaffolding in the mirror).
Sadly, the shop closed in 2012 or 2013. I can't seem to find a definitive date or what exactly caused the shop's demise but I suspect the revised smoking laws of 2006 had a huge effect on sales – see above for their adaption of My Way that was in the shops' window in August 2008 and with my pink highlights (grr!). And I suspect that the humidor at the rear of the shop fell foul of the regulations against indoor smoking within work premises.

As you can see by this screenshot, from Google Streetview (July 2015), the shop is still there with the same woodwork painted a soft beige, but I wonder what became of Smith's lovely painted glass, the stock and and all the advertising ephemera?
Charing Cross Road used to be lined with bookshops of all kinds and have been inspiration for novels and films etc. The larger shops were at the northern end (Foyles, Waterstones, Blackwells etc) and smaller independents specialising in certain fields especially, art, maps, second-hand and rare antique books could be found south of Cambridge Circus.
At the time of writing, the specific section of the road mentioned above has only about three bookshops left, the others having been replaced with cafés and coffee houses, souvenir and clothes shops; crushed under the wheels of high rent and homogenisation. It's called progress.
More antiquarian shops can be found a few minutes' walk away in St Giles Court and St Martin's Court, (both further down Charing Cross on the left just after Leicester Square station) where you will while away hours amongst books, prints, maps, coins, stamps, medals and more.

Hmmm... thinks... Smith the stationer, Smith the umbrella maker, Smith & Nephew the chemists and Smith the tobacconist and snuff seller... any more?  


  1. Smith Brothers, a department store in Tooting rebranded as a branch of Morleys in 2010.

  2. My Father died on Christmas Eve last at 92+YOA.
    I found two snuff boxes in his top dresser drawer. One is of silver, quite substantial in weight yet small. I'd describe it as solid with warmth and a nice feel. It is oval in shape and has been deeply imprinted with G. SMITH AND SONS, CARDINAL BLEND SNUFFS, 74 CHARRING CROSS ROAD, LONDON. W.C. , MADE IN ENGLAND, L144 S, P. I'll look into it's history a little further if time allows. He may have purchased it during the war when he was a Mosquito pilot 19 YOA. I suspect he may well have carried it during his night bombing sorties and also on the daylight sortie when he was wounded by German AA fire over Denmark. His name is Jack Phillips (DFC etc. etc.) and was one of "Those Few".
    From time to time I visit London. My father described London as his second home. The snuff in the box is old yet I have been enjoying it and it's fragrance is fresh. When I next visit London I will visit the shop which is no longer. Perhaps there will be a vendor close by with snuff to be had however the location, "74" is where I'll stand to remember him.
    I'm sorry to be made aware the shop is no longer, however all things must pass, as we all will.

  3. Oh what a lovely story. It's so good to get really good feedback on my posts. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Thanks Jane, for your reporting of this iconic old store's demise. I lived and worked in London in 1964-5. I loved photographing this pure old Victorian facade. What a shame it no longer forms part of the historic fabric of Charing Cross Rd and dear old London. This was a perfect example of a museum like the V&A stepping in to retrieve it a re assemble it in their historc archives before it became just chain another predictable shop on the High St. GMV ( Australia)

  5. You can see Smith's Snuff Shop on Charing Cross Road in this movie at 12:43

    If the film gets taken down I have a few screen shots.

    1. Thanks for that. I just love old films about London and have never seen The Floating Dutchman. I will watch the whole thing soon.


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