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?  

18 comments:

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

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  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.
    J.B.P.

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

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  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)

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  5. You can see Smith's Snuff Shop on Charing Cross Road in this movie at 12:43
    https://youtu.be/9-Zw-TfGO1s

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

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    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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    2. Check out reelstreets.com for more film locations

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  6. Thanks so much for the information about G. Smith. I just purchased an old snuff jar of theirs at the Waterlooplein flea market in Amsterdam (filled with brass, wooden, and ivory café curtain rings?...or for some other unkown use). The 'flavour' of the snuff is Cock of the North, which further research has shown was made by Illingworth of Kendal (maybe Smith's bought it in bulk and dispensed it smaller quantities in their own little jars.) Before I get too nostalgic about the whole bygone days vibe, we must remember the number of people who must have died, and suffered from their lifelong tobacco habit. I must have walked by Smith's many times while in London and while I'm a fan of old shops and architecture I never noticed it.

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  7. I have loads of unopened jars from here dating back 50 years worth anything?

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    1. wow... do share some pics if you still have them

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  8. According to an original flyer that I have had for over 35 years, the coat of arms informs that the Snuff Blenders and Cigar Importer was established in 1869.

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  9. Sincere apologies for the non-response on these later posts – technology glitch – Thanks so much for sharing and contributing. If you have returned to the shop since writing this you'll see that barely anything from the marvellous old shop front remaains. It saddens me every time I walk past it. I just remembered that approx 2002-ish I met someone who worked there. Can't now remember his name.
    Another cigar sign was ruined a while back see here: http://www.janeslondon.com/2010/07/no-segars-or-cigars.html?showComment=1604234112796#c3917399763214638271

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  10. My father was Vivian Rose and he owned Smiths. I have photos and mementos and if anyone would like to see, let me know
    If anyone can reciprocate that would be great

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    1. Hi Tony: My husband worked with your Dad from 1950 to 1959 at Smith's. His name is Dennis Bartlett. We live in Canada & he'll turn 93 in March. He left to pursue a full time career in music. What a coincidence this is because we were watching some Snuff videos on YouTube today and saw a video of Vivian. Please get in touch, Dennis would love to hear from you.
      Vanda King-Bartlett.

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  11. Thanks for getting back to me Tony. Did you work there yourself? if so, perhaps you were the fella I met! I believe I was in a car/cab/bus heeaded north when he told me he worked there.
    I have no photos myself except the ones I posted already here. I'd love to see what you have though – is there a way tolink to them somehow?

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  12. I just found this link to a conversation thread you joined – it's full of marvellous info: https://www.snuffhouse.com/discussion/10505/memories-of-g-smith-sons

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  13. Vanda
    I sorry I dont remember your father. I was born in 1950 so that might be the reason. If the video is the one I know of, toward the end Dad is sitting with a lady in red. That was my mother.
    I still own a number of items that he left me from the shop and I think of him quite a lot.
    I hope your Dad is well what a wonderful life he must have led
    If you have any pictures, I would love to see them

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Thanks, Jane