James Smith & Sons Ltd

London, United Kingdom | C.1830

Photo Credit: Sarah Millman

This historic storefront is consistently saving itself for a rainy day. Boasting fox frames, gold and silver mounts, and tropical sun shades, this is the oldest umbrella shop in Europe. 

Like the many unique walking sticks and handles that grace the store’s umbrella bins, James Smith & Sons’s long success is owed to not one personality, but to many. There’s even more than one James Smith (and multiple generations of sons) to thank in its storied history. The first James Smith founded the shop in 1830, housing a small workshop and front room in London’s West End. Taking over for his father, James Smith II would see the business grow spectacularly when he employed lightweight steel frames to his umbrellas—a new invention from fellow Londoner Samuel Fox in 1851. As umbrella usage grew in popularity, so too did the Smith & Sons empire, boasting multiple locations by the time its present day location on New Oxford St was built in 1857.

Catering to the sensibilities of London’s Victorian elite, the umbrella shop had clients ranging from Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone to the Viceroy of India, George Curzon. Along with fine umbrellas, Smith & Sons produced multiple varieties of canes and walking sticks for their clientele—including some that had a hidden surprise. Known as “dagger canes” or “sword sticks,” it was fashionable to have a small sword concealed in one’s cane. These types of walking sticks were sold all the way up to 1988 when they were banned in Britain, though the Smith & Son’s storefront still cheekily advertises them with current products for sale.   

Amongst the plethora of ‘brellas and well-crafted handles in the shop lie unique souvenirs of history. Each piece is connected to generations of umbrella-users and makers, with an umbrella from James Smith & Sons being something one’s grandparents could have purchased, items that continue to be in vogue. We’re okay, however, with sword sticks falling out of fashion. 

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