3 April 2020

Holloway memories – shopping in the 1990s

In January 1988 I moved from Romford/HaroldWood into a flat in Marlborough Rd, N19, keen to be living in area that ticked all my boxes – easy transport connections for work and socialising, lots of local shops and within a £5 cab ride home from Central London (really!).
Sometimes I'd do my food shopping up at Archway as I exited the tube but mostly I'd take the bus to  the Nags Head area as the options were better. I have always said "if you can't find it in Holloway, then you don't need it". So often have I trawled the West End shops only to find a better, cheaper product just around the corner in N7. This same idea popped into my head recently and it got me thinking about all the shops I used to use in the 1990s that are now gone.

Gibbers greengrocer – next door to The Eaglet pub at 116-120 Seven Sisters Rd (at the time of writing = a Post Office and Mr Panini's** cafe).
Gibbers was a proper old-style fruit and veg greengrocers with boxes of produce all over the show. You queued to be served with a pound of this, two pounds of that, eight of those and six of them. It was a delight. Wholesale deliveries large and small coming and going constantly. John the manager was such a lovely man. I recall one Saturday when he asked where I'd been recently and I told him I had hurt my back and then as one of the others was serving me John nipped into the chemist next door and bought me some pain relief tablets that he said had worked for him. How nice.
Gibbers suffered tremendously when the parking restrictions came into force meaning companies couldn't even park outside their own premises. I had many chats with John about this as it was really affecting trade. What happened to John? I am not sure he was a Holloway local. Tho I did find this written by someone who used to work there.
The Gibbers site became an EDA food centre – see here

Green's home furnishings – a few doors up from Gibbers covering three, possibly four shops. Green's walk-through windows contained blinds, curtains, cushions and all sorts for the home. I bought lots of bits from there in the late 80s and early 90s when I was setting up home.

Shelley's shoes – 89 Seven Sisters Rd, opposite Gibbers. 
I loved Shelly's shoes. The company had been going since the 1940s and was the go-to shop for big fashion trends such as crepe soles, winkle-pickers, Chelsea boots, platforms and DMs. They always had a really good alternative selection and really well-made. They had a few shops across London including Carnaby Street, Deptford, Chelsea and Kilburn High Rd with larger stores at Oxford Circus and Neal Street.
I still have a carrier bag!
As regards the Holloway shop, I remember being so pleased that I had a local branch. I recall the marvellous Victorian walk-in windows full of their fabulous footwear. But I now cannot place when the shop closed. Today, all the shops along that stretch are flat-fronted UPVC blandness and I am now annoyed with myself that I never thought back then to take a photo. Tho I wasn't running around snapping the details on our streets until well into 2006.
A bit of sleuthing shows me that Shelly's 'died' in 2003. I can find no ref of the Holloway shop online. But I do have a couple of Shelley's carrier bags. The bag shown here shows the shop's address with an 071 telephone code. I also have another duffle-bag one with 0171/0181 codes on it but the Holloway shop is not listed. Hence this branch must've closed pre-1999.

Safeway's – opposite Gibber's and Green's at the eastern corner of what was once a huge Victorian store created by Fred Crisp* who had become so successful that he had manged to purchase not only all the shops in that terrace but also houses in Devonshire Rd (now Axminster Rd) and Sussex Rd (now Sussex Way). This later became The North London Drapery Store and then B.B.Evans before being split again into the various units we see today.
67-83 Seven Sisters Rd, 2005
I have memories of carrying heavy bags shopping from Safeway up to Marlborough Rd past the house I live in today. Argos was also in this stretch before they moved to the site on Holloway Rd which back in 1988 was Sainsbury's (or was it KwikSave by then?). 

Holloway Arcade – junction of Holloway Road and Parkhurst Avenue on the site of the old Parkhurst Theatre. Today it's CarpetRight. This had seen better days by the time I got here. Most of the units within were already boarded up and only a few businesses remained. One, I think was a shoe mender or similar(?).

Manolis' Cafe, Hercules Street – the best breakfasts in Holloway, if not North London. 
The absolute best bubble and squeak ever. It was my go-to cafe. I'd take all my visiting friends there. I always enjoyed listening in on Manolis and his Greek friends as they philosphised and assessed world politics.
Manolis' goodbye
By September 2006 the cafe had closed. A typed letter was attached to the boarded up windows. It was so sad. He'd been feeding me for 15 years.
I hope he kept the huge marvellous potted money trees that used to be in the windows. For a short time Manolis worked at a cafe near Finsbury Park station but soon after due to ill health he retired to this home in Southgate. I bumped into him a few times. We kept in touch for a while. I went to have dinner with him and his wife at a restaurant in Southgate one evening in 2008. I should have kept in touch.

Next, Clarks, Ravel – all in the stretch of Holloway between Nags Head pub and M&S (now also closed down, and relocated to new premises behind Archway station). Woolworths were also here in Holloway (an L-shape shop at the site of Iceland with another entrance opposite the Halifax) but I am not sure I recall the shop personally. They had other branches at Angel and Archway so possibly this one had already closed by 1988...?

Selby's – in 1988 it was dreadful and really out of date. Certainly not keeping up with the times. Or even attempting to rival nearby Jones Bros. I remember wondering how they were even managing to stay open. It was a complete mish-mash and looked to be on the brink of closure. But when Jones Bros closed two years later Selby's pulled up their socks and now I think the store rivals John Lewis.

I think that'll do for now... I'll save the rest for another day

*I am compiling a history of Mr Crisp and his store – all additional info welcome.
**A sign within the window reads "Panini's" - ah but Panini is already plural. The inclusion of an apostrophe intimates that either a letter is missing or ownership – the place must therefore be owned by someone called Panini, tho I have yet to meet him. (Paninis with an s added would make it doubly plural and that would be daft)


  1. Yes I remember as a boy Mum taking me to Santa's grotto in the basement at North London Drapery stores and the lift with brass levers operated by a 'lift attendant'.I think we arrived by trolleybus.It was a 2-way street still. The gas board was on the corner of Hornsey Road there, by 'your' Hornsey Baths. Alan

    1. Isn't it such a sahme that there are no photos of that lift and the Christmas displays etc.
      i hear that the street outside the shop was really busy and the junction with Axminster Rd was particularly bad for accidents

  2. Hi Jane,

    Thanks for referencing my blog. I worked at Gibbers in the late 1970s and John was a senior worker there, didn't realise he owned it later. At the time I worked there Mr Gibber owned it, he was a Jewish guy who liked everyone to refer to him as 'guv', and he had three sons who worked there now and again. On occasion Mrs. Gibber used to show up. We had a ritual of having tea breaks mid morning and mid afternoon and the gov used to make tea for us. If Mrs. G was there we'd get biscuits. I started on 40p an hour, after I while I asked Mr. G if I could have a pay rise. 'Do you think you're worth it?' he asked, naturally there could only be one possible answer to such a question and I got raised to 65p an hour. Our wages were supplemented by the tips we earned carrying out sacks of potatoes etc. for the wholesale customers. One Christmas I got so much my pockets were bulging with the weight. For some reason they didn't call me by my name and instead called me 'Jack'. Discounts were given to my mum when she visited and naturally, when I served her I did the same.

    1. Thanks so much for all this. A 65p payrise in 1970 is about a £15 now, so well done!
      I wonder if the stall in Holloway Rd, outside Selbys, has anything to do with Gibbers – it's called Gibby's I think.

    2. I remember pay rises at Gibbers, was always so exciting to get one. Clock out in the Kitchen, and line up on a Saturday after closing to go in and see the Gov for him to calculate your pay on the back of the time card. Gosh I really do have fond memories of that time. I had forgotten about how The Gov would prep the morning and afternoon tea. Up there in the wee kitchen watching out over the shop...Mrs Gee continued to pay her visits to the shop and morning teas with plenty of biscuits was awesome.Christmas Tips were huge eh. That place was mental busy at Christmas times, as well as other seasonal times. I'm curious...when I worked there in the 90's there was an old man who worked out the back with the Gov on bagging duties, his name was Phil. A lovely old Greek man. Was he there when you worked in the 70's? There was also an old boy called Len, who sadly passed away when I was there...had he also been there since there 70's? So sad to see it gone when I come home to London.

    3. I don’t recall any older fellas in the shop. Just John and younger lads milling about carrying boxes and sacks of produce. I remember people, probably from restaurants, shouting from the doorway asking for five crates of satsumas or whatever. Trolleys going back and forth. Things constantly being shifted about. It was so lively. The last proper greengrocer where you got everything weighed for you and all chucked into one bag. Marvellous. I shopped there almost every Saturday from 1988 until it closed.

  3. I worked at Gibbers for 5 years, between approx 94-99. An after school job, that would become so much more. Set me up well for life. I grew up that, school education by day, life education by evening/Saturdays. I started at 14 and was 19 when I left. John was one of the senior managers, he was hilarious. He lived out in Enfield. It was actually owned by Albert Gibber (better known as The Gov). His family had owned it for years. One of his sons Michael, also worked there as a manager. The Gov worked out back, bagging up all those bags of fruit and veg that were sold out front. I remember laughing so much in that job, they were the full time staff interacted and joked with the regulars/shoppers. I would learn to do this to as I got a few years under my belt. They gave so many employment opportunities to school kids and the elderly. The parking changes really did kick start the beginning of the end...so many of our customers were bars/restaruants etc. Many would pull up in their vans/lorries and we'd load them up and off they'd go. It all stopped once the restrictions hit. So sad...that whole end of Holloway bustled on a Saturday morning, between the various green grocers, butchers, and other shops. Happy days indeed.

    1. Lovely happy memories – thanks for sharing – it was always so friendly in Gibbers. I loved the organised mess of it. I recall discussing the imminent parking charges with John – the beginning of the end of an era.

  4. ...Oh my god, Manolis Cafe. You've really taken me down a rabbits warren of memories. I'm born/bred Hercules Street (from 1979...although I live in Auckland, NZ now, have done for last 14 years) but mum/brother still live right across the road from where Manolis use to be. It's flats now I think, from my last trip home in October. There were two cafes on that street for years and years, as well as a Greek Taverna called the Wild Track. both excellent for a fry up...especially after a big night, or for a big breakfast before work. I am procrastinating from work, and feeling a little homesick, which is how I stumbled upon your site. Excellent indeed.

    1. Manolis was the best, but OMG the Wild Track – what was his name? He was Greek too i think and always very dapper with his marvellous head of white hair. He sold that place about ten years ago.
      Also, there was the Hercules Cafe which closed down to became a chicken restaurant and has changed again this past year – now the only food place in the street.

    2. Ahhh the Wild Track. Many a late night Keos enjoyed there. They would sometimes be open all night long, its where folk went after closing hours if there was no lock in to be had at The Grafton/Hercules. You're thinking of Jimmy. He was also an actor and occasionally appeared in TV shows, think he had a run on Londons Burning. Jimmy and his sister Anna were always there. All housing now. He still has a fine white mane last time I saw him not too long ago.

    3. I used to bloody love Manolis. My friend and I had a flat on Hercules Street in 2001 and used to go in every Saturday, waiting for his cheery 'Hello boys!' What a cafe.

    4. Marc – we were proabbly in there at the same time some Saturdays. Happy days. His bacon was marvellous, his mushrooms were perfect and, as I mentioned above, his bubble+squeak the best ever. A few times i would charge round there and he'd say as I walked in "sorry, Jane, no bubble today" and my heart would sink as I'd been looking forward to it for days!

    5. Ah! Such a glorious time. I remember our second choice cafe (for when Manolis was full) was the Titanic on Holloway Rd. And our local was Clancy's down on Queensland Rd. The best pub in the world, which got demolished as part of the new Arsenal stadium development.

    6. I loved Wild Track. Am I right in remembering that it had a wooden wheel type window? It felt like I was on holiday in a Greek taverna when I went there.

    7. Emma, yes, that's the place!

  5. ...sorry, last comment. I note The Swimmer is your local! As I said previously, I'm from Hercules Street (actually lived at 26 Eburne road until I was 10, and we moved across the rd to Hercules Street where my family still reside). The Grafton was a huge part of growing up, parents are Irish and The Grafton was a huge hub for the Irish community, tunnel tigers, laborers etc. It was Dads second home. It was owned/run by a man called Morris.It then became the Swimmer. I love the Swimmer, I'm there every night when I come home each year, for my month of london, sit in the corner, read the papers and enjoy the cosy comfort and great service from Layla and the team.I rate The Swimmer at The Grafton as one of the best pubs from London to New Zealand! A hidden gem.

    1. Tunnel tigers? that's a new one on me. I assume you mean men who dug the tube lines? Navvies made the roads and canals (from 'navigators').
      The Swimmer is still trading through this pandemic. They seem to be doing Ok as it is still one of the best pubs in the area and I am lucky that it's my local. Though I am not keen on the table service thing that all pubs have to do these days – I am a mingler!
      Send my love to beautiful and varied NZ – I have been there a few times – where are you?

    2. Not just train tunnels, but the many tunnels of London. Service tunnels, drainage, cabling tunnels, road tunnels etc. Its a term very much like Navi man, for the Irish who labored in tunnel work. I'm based in Auckland, the North Shore.

    3. I know about the navvies. As you prob know they named the piazza up at Archway ‘Navigator Square’ tho barely anyone seems to have clue why or what it means. Even the council refers to is as Archway Central. The navigations were the canals first, then other conduits. I just hadn’t heard the term “tunnel tigers” before.

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    1. kepp that bag! Look after it! I also have other good quality old branded carrier bags from decades ago – comes form saving the good ones to use for doing the shopping before the supermarkets started mass-producing their own flimsy ones. I recall my mum saying back in the 1970s that she foresaw a problem when Sainsbury's started that. She was ahead of her time. Sadly missed.

  7. Thank you all for this marvellous feedback. Sorry to take so long getting back to you but for some inexplicable reason the email alerts for all my blogs was deactivated.

  8. I am so emotional, that I have actually found other people who have had the same experience growing up as myself. It was a magical time growing up in this area. I was born and raised in Axminster Road and relate to all that has been said. I also worked across the road from Gibbers in Rumbelows next to Shellys. All the Cypriots used to know Gibbers as oh (Malyaros) meaning the long haired guy. Such a buzzing area. Also remember as a very young lad, mum taking me to BB Evans to visit Santa in his Grotto. They had a train where you stepped in,was shaken to imitate the journey, then step out and there was Santa. Also remember the cash tubes they used to send and receive your receipts. Please let me know if anyone remembers these or is my mind playing tricks on me?

  9. Hi Jane. I worked at Gibbers from 1982-83. Just a short period but it was my first job after leaving St Aloysius college, Highgate at 17. I literally finished school on the Friday and started on Saturday.
    I remember the staff well, Albert the owner or Guv as he was known, John the overall shop manager with strawberry blond curly hair, Len who was the wholesale section supervisor, Sean the mad Irishman as Albert called him, who was the retail section supervisor and the one who interviewed me for my job. Tracey worked in the wholesale section, there was also Gloria, Marie and her sister who's name I can't recall, John-boy the young blonde cockney bloke who worked in the wholesale section, Simon, who sadly committed suicide a few years later and who was my friend. Also little Andy, and many others who came and went even in my short time there.
    And there were 3 Gibber boys working there, Michael the oldest, then Tony and Robbie the youngest. Tony went on to have a successful career as a music producer working for Top of the Pops. His name is in the credits sometimes. Last time I visited there was in the nineties. I'm sorry I never went back again. I liked my job there but the pay wasn't great. I was getting £1 an hour in 1982. Albert later increased it to £1.05 an hour. I left to work with my brother in his own business, but the job taught me a lot about dealing with people.
    I remember the shop being broken into via the garden at the back, in 1883. They broke in on a Friday expecting the safe to be full, but payday was Saturday and there was nothing in the safe on Friday night. Albert would take the cash home on Friday night, count it all, then bring the wages cash in on Saturday morning. He'd spend all morning filling the wage packets.
    I was sad to hear Albert died. And I never realised Len had also died, but he was in his late forties in 1982 so it's inevitable I guess.
    I looked it up on Google Street View recently and was surprised to see the post office there. Last time I checked about ten years ago there was a Polish shop there, with the same layout, two sections.
    I lived in Tufnell Park Road from 1978—90. My dad owned the big house with the high wall around it, at the Holloway end. I remember Shelleys, my favourite shoe shop. Also Rumbelows, Woolworths, Safeway, the Nags Head before it closed as a pub, Selbys, Jones Brothers, etc.
    My girlfriend worked in Woolworths, as did many of my school friends on Saturday jobs. Great days, but you don't realise until you're older.
    Thanks for the interesting info on the area.

    1. Dear Cormac,
      thanks so much for taking the time to share your memories.
      The pay does sound a bit low, especially for a full-time job – when friends and I had Saturday jobs in Romford in the mid-70s we got approx £1 p/hr. Tho I don't know how much the lads who helped out on the market stalls got.
      It's true that old adage of '"you never know what you've got til it's gone" – I am often recalling places I have worked etc – see my latest post (July 2021) about Fitzroy Square.
      I'd love to hear your girlfriend's stories about working in Woolworths...


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Thanks, Jane