Monday, February 22, 2016

This is what you could shop for in Green Lanes in 1948

This is an extract from a 1948 directory of businesses on Green Lanes in Haringey, north London.

It's a reminder of a world that was starting to slip away when I was a kid, a world where most people worked for small firms and most of those small firms were specialists in one very particular area. They sold yeast or knitting wool. They loaned money or fried fish. They manufactured shoe trimmings or fireplaces. They advertised trades like mantle maker-up and hem stitcher that are entirely mysterious to us now.

If you drive down Green Lanes now the shops are overwhelmingly owned by members of immigrant groups who arrived after 1948 and seem to offer food, phone cards or hairdressing. Presumably in another twenty years it will have changed out of recognition all over again. Makes you wonder why anybody talks about "planning".


  1. I have a battered second-hand anthology of H V Morton's London newspaper columns, dating from the early part of the 20th century. It's one of my favourite books, loved enough to be a permanent resident in the top drawer of my bedside table.

    Reading these columns many decades out of context, one is offered a glimpse into a world that seems increasingly estranged from the way that things are done now, where the surviving common ground are those buildings that have endured and the names of the streets.

    There is an article titled 'Treasure Trove' that recalls a visit to Caledonian Market, where Morton enviously reports a friend was sold an Egyptian mummy for 10 shillings, and where he is offered a human skeleton for seven and sixpence. Later he looks on sadly as a slim second-hand wedding dress, with faded orange blossom still sewn to it, is pawed by "big coarse hands".

    "What a pity it could not melt away and save itself from this supreme insult," he remarks.

    In my time London was the home of three gigantic record stores, all within walking distance of each other. Their era has come and gone.

  2. Sadly I can't spot Disney's furniture store on that list who are perhaps the longest lasting business on Green Lanes, having been there for 102 years now:

    Sadly, they're closing down next month (although I doubt it's really parking charges that is the root cause):

  3. Disney's isn't on there because it's the other side of Green Lanes. Friend of mine was in there the other day and was told the reason they were closing is they didn't own the building and couldn't afford to renew the lease.

  4. Fancy drapers, marble etcher, ladies under garments; occupations that still have the whiff of Dickensian London about them. This list brings to mind 1960's documentary - if that is what it is - The London Nobody Knows: all the elderly people shown were essentially Victorians and would have been very familiar with the Green Lane evoked in that directory. In Britain, I'm glad to say,the past really does hang on by it's bony fingertips long enough to become our history. If it is obliterated by the present then it is lost forever.

  5. It makes me think of Barcelona today, where in very diverse neighbourhoods you can still find a smattering of unlikely small specialist businesses that recall another era but where alongside them a constant stream of new small businesses open each trying to find it's specialist niche in the present and future - organic doughnut makers, EDM and belgian chips, catalan independence clothing - as one person said to me " In Barcelona if you have a vice, someone will open a shop to cater for it".

  6. brilliant reminder of my early life in North London. Thank you