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11 November 2020

A bit of Holloway ghostsign sleuthing – Henry Dell, grocer

Last week I was contacted via Twitter about a ghostsign at the rear of a property in Hornsey Road. Archway Ramblings @UpArchway asked if I knew any more about an old painted sign visible from Bracey Street. Well, this was the first I knew about it, which is not surprising seeing as Bracey Street is a little back street that I have rarely ever used, and the sign fairly inaccessible.

H....ELL, TEA MERCHANT....... 408 Holloway Road. Photo: @UpArchway

A quick bit of sleuthing and it turns out this was Henry Dell who had a grocery shop here at 450 Hornsey Rd, a few doors up from Thorpedale Road, today a launderette.

647-665 Holloway Rd, 1882 
Henry Dell appears to have been established in the area for decades. In 1882 he is shown at No.408 Holloway Rd (today, Santander) with another shop further up the road at 5 Northampton Place which later became No.657 (today, the fish and chip shop). Prior to the later 1880s, the upper section of Holloway Road northwards of Tufnell Park Rd on the west side and Tollington Way (then Grove Rd) on the east side was still evolving and there were no Holloway Rd door numbers – the houses or business premises were simply part of a named terrace* and, very often, the pub at the corner of that stretch was echoed in the name, as in Marlborough Terrace, Crown Terrace etc., though not in this instance. Northampton is probably a reference to the Marquis who owns Canonbury Tower (I will park that tangent for another day!).

647-665 Holloway Rd, 1939
Therefore, regarding what's visible of the ghostsign, I think it's fair to assume, judging by the space available/covered, that the pipes might be hiding the door number of the store at the northern section of Holloway Road which was closer to this Hornsey Rd shop, as in "657 & 408".

Moving fast forward to 1939, I see Henry Dell [and/or his family] is still going strong. The Hornsey Rd shop is listed as "Dell's Store's" and the shop at 657 Holloway Rd is battling for custom with two similar grocery shops next door, namely Liptons, a well-known country-wide chain, and David Greig** the provisions company founded in Hornsey. As for the shop at 408 Holloway Rd, by 1939 it's listed as a restaurant with Mullholland's shoe shop also shown at the same address so I think we can assume that Dell's restaurant was on one of the upper floors. 

Some photographic ref would be nice, but I can't find any right now. The Dells might have been trading in the area earlier than 1882 and I don't know if they continued after WWII. So I'll have to leave it there – Henry Dell, a successful family business, established in Holloway for at least 60 years. Nice. 

Thanks again to Archway Ramblings for bringing this to my attention.

*I refer to this kind of thing on my Mr Pooter's Holloway guided walk about the book 'A Diary of a Nobody' where the characters of 1888 are living at a made-up place called Brickfield Terrace – I have some very good ideas where this could have been along this busy thoroughfare.

**DG shops are a bit of a 'thing' with me. Note to self; collate and post about the company here – any additional info you might have will be gratefully received, and credited.


  1. I've tweeted it too, but just so you have a link on your website, here's more of the Henry Dell story, and a photo of the man himself:

  2. Ah nice. Have you been in touch with Adam, Sam? I have just emailed him

  3. I have a label Henry Dell, 405, Holloway Road, N.7. My grandad used to work there, and I can remember the smell of new ground coffee in the shop, and the high counter there. Do you have anymore details please


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