Paint the town: an illustrated celebration of London shopfronts


A lot of it was based on appearance,” says Eleanor Crow on choosing the food shops and cafes to draw for her new book, Shopfronts of London. To meet her criteria, an establishment would need to have “great typography and signage, striking colours, nice tiles, lots of good architectural detail. It would catch my eye as I cycled past and make me want to go back for a proper look.”

Crow started drawing shopfronts 10 years ago, building on a love of small retailers going back to her childhood in rural Cornwall and Gloucestershire. It wasn’t merely the eye-catching exteriors that interested her: “I’d go in, buy things and talk to the owners. A lot of it became about admiring skill.”

Sadly, many of the establishments captured by Crow over the past decade have since closed, sunk by rising rents and business rates, competition from supermarkets and parking restrictions. The threat to independent food retailers is worth fighting, says Crow, “because they are something everyone benefits from. They help create the community, they give it a visual presence. People still appreciate that – they don’t want to buy everything online.”

Lina Stores (above)

“More delicatessen than greengrocer, this Soho establishment was opened in 1944 by Lina, a woman from Genova. Since then, it has established a formidable reputation for quality imported Italian produce sold alongside freshly made pasta and sandwiches. A recent refurbishment retained the historic detailing, while refitting the interior in a complementary modern design. By virtue of its distinctive mint green paintwork, glazed tiles and natty typography, Lina Stores declares its presence with panache in the narrow streets of Soho.”

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E Pellicci

The E Pellicci cafe in Bethnal Green



The E Pellicci cafe in Bethnal Green. Photograph: Eleanor Crow

“This small cafe in Bethnal Green has been owned by the Pellicci family since 1900. With its facade of chrome-lined primrose Vitrolite panels, three-dimensional typography and fine decorative detailing, it is a testament to the enduring qualities of thoughtful shop design. The interior features art deco marquetry by cabinetmaker Achille Capocci from 1946 and the premises are Grade II listed. Most importantly, the business thrives because the family knows how to keep their customers happy – whether locals, celebrities or tourists – with a combination of wholesome food, exemplary service and banter.”

RE Robertson

RE Robertson in Walthamstow, London.



RE Robertson in Walthamstow. Illustration: Eleanor Crow

“Ron E Robertson opened his Walthamstow bakery in 1947 and it was run by his son Clive until it closed in 2013. I painted the whole building because I love every detail: the bold typography with its red three-dimensional capital letters on cream glazed panels, the historic Hovis signs in vivid green and gold, the cheerful mid-blue of all the painted window frames and pipework, the intricate mosaic of turquoise and yellow tiles under the shop windows through which could be seen heaped shelves of bread and cakes, and the traditional black and white floor tiles. This busy shop was on a main road, visible to all who passed. The “no entry” sign strikes a poignant note, since its introduction by the council meant that loyal customers who commuted this way could no longer turn into the side street and park to buy a loaf or pastries on their journey between London and Essex.”

Syd’s

“London’s oldest coffee stall, in Shoreditch, has been open for a century and is still run by Sydney Tothill’s granddaughter, Jane. This mahogany refreshment stall is one of my favourite London landmarks. It has only moved from its pitch once, to feature in Ebb Tide starring Chili Bouchier in 1932. The stall opened 24 hours a day during the second world war, when the War Office brought Syd’s son (also called Syd) back from a secret mission to ensure the supply of tea to the ambulance and fire brigades during the London blitz, after Syd senior was traumatised by a bomb that exploded nearby.”

Syd’s coffee stall in Shoreditch, London.



Syd’s coffee stall in Shoreditch. Illustration: Eleanor Crow

Andersons

“From 1975, this was a thriving, lively bakery in Hoxton market. I was attracted by the graphic quality of the tiled frontage, the chunky lettering and the image of the little baker wielding his wooden peel on the fascia. The Anderson family sold their business after 160 years of baking on Hoxton Street and Monty’s Deli then traded here till very recently, championing a fashionable revival in salt beef and pastrami.”

Andersons in Hoxton, London.



Andersons in Hoxton. Illustration: Eleanor Crow

Arthur’s Cafe

“Arthur Woodham opened his own cafe in Dalston in 1948, having previously worked in his father’s cafe of the same name just down the road. Woodham ran his for 70 years until the age of 90. Serving up home-cooked breakfasts followed by traditional lunches with hand-cut chips, this celebrated destination was frequented by loyal customers until its recent closure. I painted the cafe early one morning before it opened. I admired the shaped wooden door handle and the wire grilles in bronze above the windows. I returned later to paint the cafe when it was open, although I cheated and included myself standing at the counter, ordering a well-earned lunch.”

Arthur’s cafe in Dalston, London.



Arthur’s cafe in Dalston. Illustration: Eleanor Crow

Extracted from Shopfronts of London: In Praise of Small Neighbourhood Shops by Eleanor Crow (Batsford/Spitalfields Life, £14.99). To pre-order a copy for £13.19 go to guardianbookshop.com



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