The Past and Present of Croydon's London Road

74 London Road: Finjan

31 July 2015

74 London Road is currently occupied by Finjan, a cafe and shisha bar that opened in April 2014.

Finjan, 74 London Road, April 2014. Photo: author’s own.
A black-and-white advertisement reading: “Real Fine Footcovers. Anglo American Shoe Store, 40, London Road, (One minute from West Croydon Station).  For Ladies and Little Ladies, For Gents. and Little Gents.  Every size, half size, fitting and shape.  For motor, walking, golf, dancing, shooting, dress.  Boot Trees to fit any Boot, 2/6½.”
Advertisement for the Anglo American Shoe Store in Ward’s 1905 street directory, courtesy of the Croydon Local Studies and Archives Service. Note that 40 London Road was renumbered to 74 in 1927.

1900s: Construction of the building, the Anglo-American Shoe Store, and the Criterion Café

The building was constructed around 1904, along with its neighbour at number 72.[1] Its first occupant was the Anglo-American Shoe Store, in place by 1905 and advertising “Real Fine Footcovers” for a variety of pursuits: motoring, walking, golfing, dancing, and shooting. However, these “footcovers” appear not to have been particularly popular among the people of West Croydon, as the company was gone again by 1907.[2]

The next occupant was also to have a very brief stay; the Criterion Café, run by a Mrs Vick, was in place by 1907 but gone again by 1908.[3]

1910s: The Wool Shop, The Blouse Shop, a registry office, a music shop, a photographer, and two milliners

Number 74 remained empty for a couple of years after Mrs Vick’s departure — rather an unpromising start for a building only around half a decade old.[4] The 1910s were to see quite a buzz of activity, however, with occupants coming and going every couple of years. Indeed, for much of this time there were two or even three separate businesses being conducted there simultaneously.

The Wool Shop was in place by 1910 and remained until around 1912, when it moved a couple of doors down to number 70. It was run by Florence Nicholson, initially in collaboration with a partner named Bushell. Originally from Ripon in Yorkshire, Florence was in her early 30s when she opened her shop on London Road. It remains unclear whether the shop sold knitting wool or clothes made from wool, but according to the 1911 census it definitely sold hosiery.[5]

Florence actually lived on the premises, as did a separate household consisting of Valentine and Rose Cousins and their daughter Veronica. Valentine was a watch and clock repairs assistant, while Rose appears to have been a full-time home-maker. Thus the second business occupying 74 London Road at this time — The Blouse Shop, run by E, C, and M King — must have been a separate establishment again. The Blouse Shop, like The Wool Shop, was in place by 1910 and gone again by 1913.[6]

Next to occupy number 74 was C H Humphris, milliner, arriving by 1913 but departing again by 1915. C H Humphris was replaced by three businesses: F Harris, Scott’s Registry Office (probably a type of employment bureau), and W Cottill’s music publishing and retail business. However, Scott and W Cottill were both gone again by 1916. F Harris lasted a year or so longer, but moved to number 51 by 1917, and remained there until moving again in the early 1930s to number 42. It’s not clear what type of business F Harris conducted in the early years on London Road, but by 1920 street directories had begun to specify the profession of “financier”.[7]

F Harris was replaced by a Mrs Villiers, of whom no further details survive; by 1919, she in turn had been replaced by a Mrs Manw. Parallel to this was H Baker, who began as a photographer but swiftly transformed into a milliner. All three were gone by 1921, when Reynolds & Stone, milliners, spent a brief time at the premises.[8]

A black-and-white advertisement reading: “Mdme. Blanche / Specialist in Exclusive Costumes Gowns and Millinery.  Latest French Designs.  40, London Road / West Croydon.”
Advertisement for Madame Blanche in the 1924 Croydon Times Xmas Shopping Guide, courtesy of Croydon Local Studies and Archives Service. Note that 40 London Road was renumbered to 74 in 1927.

early 1920s–early 1950s: Madame Blanche, costumier

This rapid turnover was brought to an end by the arrival of Madame Blanche, costumier, in place by 1922. Madame Blanche lost little time in establishing her business, and even opened a branch in Redhill the next year.[9] By late 1924, she was notable enough to be specifically mentioned as the designer of the “dresses and costumes” for a wedding that took place in Horley in December of that year.[10]

The 1924 Croydon Times Xmas Shopping Guide carried an advertorial describing Madame Blanche’s establishment as “that exclusive little shop where we may select our gown or costume, confident in the knowledge that we shall ‘not see another woman in one like it anywhere!’” The goods on offer included “Chic little evening gowns, elaborate dance frocks and beautiful clothes for all occasions” as well as hats and furs.[11]

Madame Blanche remained on London Road until the early 1950s — a stay of three decades. She appears to have lived on the premises, too, and had at least one child, a daughter born in late 1925.[12]

early 1950s–early 1970s: Susan “exclusive dress agency” and Steets gents’ dress hire

The theme of clothing was to continue over the next two decades. Susan, children’s outfitter, had arrived by April 1953, but by October 1955 had transformed into an “exclusive dress agency”, still under the name of Susan. This was to remain until the early 1970s, while other occupants of the building came and went.[13]

A painted metal projecting sign reading “Est 1850 / Royal Liver Friendly Society”.  Much of the (red) paint has worn off. A stylised “Liver bird” (a cormorant with a frond in its mouth) forms the top of the sign.
Royal Liver Friendly Society sign, Paisley, Renfrewshire, June 2008. Photo © Renee MacKenzie, used by permission.

Griffin Studios, a commercial art studio under the proprietorship of Donald Oubridge, arrived around the same time as Susan, and remained until around 1956.[14]

By 1964, Susan had been joined by a men’s dress hire company known as Steets, and by September 1968 Susan and Steets were joined by a branch of the Royal Liver Friendly Society, a co-operative financial services association founded in Liverpool in 1850. However, around 1970 Steets moved across the road to number 87 and the Royal Liver moved down the road to number 21.[15]

Susan itself remained until 1972, but the shop then fell vacant.[16] Carl Nielsen of Rockbottom (see below) recalled seeing the old shopfront here in the early 1970s; he described a wooden sign with gold engravings, and a central door with a bowed window on each side.[17]

1970s–1980s: Rockbottom

The next occupant was music shop Rockbottom, opened by Carl Nielsen in 1975. The business was a success, and ten years later Rockbottom moved to larger premises a couple of doors down, where it remains today. (For a fuller account of Rockbottom, see my article on 68–70 London Road.)

Inside Rockbottom, 74 London Road. Photo © Carl Nielsen, used by permission.

1980s–1990s: Restaurants and takeaways

The latter half of the 1980s saw a return to the function briefly fulfilled by Mrs Vick’s Criterion Café several decades before — the important business of feeding people. Supersave, a fast-food takeaway, was in place by April 1986, but by April 1987 had been replaced by a restaurant known as Bogart & Bacall (or possibly Bogart & Becall). However, within the next couple of years this in turn had been replaced by an establishment called Dinners [sic] Delight.[18]

A view of all three storeys of two adjoining terraced addresses.  The shopfronts at ground level show “Dinners Delight” with whitewashed windows on the left and “The Croydon Charcoal Grill” on the right.  The second-floor windows have Juliet balconies and ornate arched tops.  A similarly ornate cornice is above.
Dinners Delight, 74 London Road, and Croydon Charcoal Grill, 72 London Road, 1989. Note that Dinners Delight seems to have closed down by this point. Cropped by permission from a photo © Brian Gittings.

This rapid turnover continued into the 1990s. Papa Mio, a pizza and pasta restaurant, was in place by March 1990, but around August of that year gave way to Italian restaurant La Rosa.[19]

La Rosa put rather more effort than its predecessors into marketing itself. The Croydon Advertiser published at least two articles about it, describing it as “a cosy Italian restaurant” with a 42-seater “wood-panelled dining-room with Tiffany lampshades, pink table cloths and glass lamps”. An upstairs room provided additional seating for a further 50 people.[20]

Three months after opening, La Rosa was advertising a New Year’s Eve “Mask Party”, with the ticket price of £25 (corresponding to £50 in 2014 prices) including a four-course meal, coffee, port or brandy, a “glass of bubbly”, and even the mask.[21] Live music on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings was provided by the “international duo” of Cengizhan and Ali Ummak, singing in Italian, Turkish, Greek, Spanish, and English.[22]

Despite all this effort, by February 1992 La Rosa was no more. Its successor, a Turkish and Greek restaurant called Pamukkale, was similarly short-lived, and by April 1994 had itself been replaced by the Athaenian Gardens Taverna. By June 1995 this too had gone. A fried fish restaurant known as the Croydon Seafood Restaurant was in place by May 1996, but closed again some time between June 1998 and July 1999.[23]

2000s: Udon Noodle Bar

By July 1999, a rather longer-lived restaurant had begun its stint on London Road — Udon Noodle Bar, which was to remain in place until around 2008.[24] It offered both Chinese and Japanese food: starters such as crispy duck with pancakes, sesame prawn toast, and salt and chilli tofu; noodle dishes including ho fun, Singapore vermicelli, yaki soba, and ramen; bento boxes; and other dishes such as lemon chicken, mussels in black bean sauce, and sea-spiced king prawns.[25]

Stephen Jolly, who lived in Croydon at the time and ate at Udon Noodle Bar on occasion, told me:[26]

It was just one of a few noodle places we went to — the branch of Miso on George Street was much more convenient, given that most of us commuted via East Croydon station, and of course a branch of Wagamama opened at some point too. I don’t really recall the food at Udon — other than that they served the eponymous noodle.

Susannah Fleming, who accompanied Stephen on several of these outings, was more enthusiastic:[27]

[...] Udon [...] was also the one that was a bit more expensive [than Miso] but had nicer food. Although I may be swayed by my devotion to their crispy noodles, which were the food of the gods. Especially the seafood one. I don’t think I ordered much else there after I discovered them.

Susannah’s seafood crispy noodles appear as “Seafood Hong Mein” on a menu archived from the Udon website in 2003: thin crispy egg noodles with scallops, prawns, squid, straw mushrooms, carrots, and seasonal vegetables, all for £5.50 (£7.76 in 2014 prices).[28]

Following the departure of Udon, the premises remained vacant for a while. A barber shop opened up, but was very short-lived, and had gone again even before it managed to put a sign up on the frontage.[29]

2010–2012: Nash Unisex Salon

The next occupant was more diligent in making the premises its own. Nash Unisex Salon was open by November 2010, following a refurbishment which involved clearing out all the detritus left by previous occupants, and putting new tiling in. However, despite doing all this work to tidy the place up, the owners of Nash experienced some difficulties in dealing with the landlord, and when number 61 across the road became available on better terms, they moved the business there.[30] By May 2012, number 74 was vacant and stripped out.[31]

Nash Unisex Salon, 74 London Road, March 2012 (shortly after the move across the road to number 61). Photo: author’s own.

2013: Language Friendship & Co

By March 2013, an interpreting and translation service called Language Friendship & Co had moved in, but this closed some time between May 2013 and January 2014, and the premises again fell vacant.[32]

Language Friendship & Co, 74 London Road, March 2013. Photo: author’s own.

2014–present: Finjan

Finjan opened in April 2014, with a rather more upmarket feel than one might have expected on London Road at the time. The owner’s intention was to create a “trendy cafe” aimed at the same market segment as chains such as Costa Coffee. Indeed, manager Sami Kader explained to me that some of his staff used to work at Costa.

Sami also mentioned that around 15 of his regulars were previously Costa customers, but now came to Finjan instead because of the quality of the espressos, made with Guglielmo coffee. Espresso isn’t the only coffee drink on offer here, though; Turkish coffee is also available to those willing to wait during its lengthy preparation. Teas including Moroccan tea and iced teas (peach and raspberry flavours) are served too.

Food choices include Kurdish breakfast: slices of yellow cheese and creamy white cheese, mixed leaf salad, sliced tomatoes, sliced onions, salty green olives, natural yoghurt, and honey, served with Kurdish tea (black tea spiced with cardamom) and samoon (a leaf-shaped Iraqi bread). All the food is halal, and the meat is bought across the road at the Croydon Food Centre. Almost all of it is made fresh on the premises, with the only exceptions being items such as prepackaged muffins.

As well as serving the office workers of West Croydon during the day, Finjan is open late into the evening too. A shisha garden was opened out the back in late 2014, and “mocktails” are served for those wanting a non-alcoholic night out.[33]

Kurdish breakfast at Finjan, 74 London Road, July 2015. Photo: author’s own.

Thanks to: Brian Gittings; Carl Nielsen; Renee MacKenzie; Sami Kader; Stephen Jolly; Susannah Fleming; the Planning Technical Support Team at Croydon Council; all at the Croydon Local Studies Library; and my beta-readers Alice, bob, and Henry. Census data and London phone books consulted via Ancestry.co.uk.

Footnotes and references

  1. See my article on number 72 for evidence of construction date and lack of previous building on the site.
  2. The Anglo-American Shoe Store is listed in Ward’s directories for 1905 and 1906; the 1907 edition lists a different occupant, the Criterion Café. Other details are taken from an advertisement in Ward’s 1905 directory, reproduced here.
  3. Ward’s directories list Mrs Vick, Criterion Café, in 1907, and “Unoccupied” in 1908 and 1909.
  4. Ward’s directories for 1908 and 1909 list the property as unoccupied.
  5. Ward’s directories list Nicholson & Bushell, The Wool Shop, in 1910; F Nicholson, The Wool Shop, in 1911; and Miss F Nicholson, The Wool Shop, in 1912. Miss Nicholson’s full name, age, and birthplace are taken from the 1911 census, which lists her profession as “Wool & Hosiery Stores”.
  6. Information about Florence’s residence on the premises, and details of the Cousins family, are taken from the 1911 census. Rose’s profession here is left blank. The Blouse Shop, E, C, and M King, is listed in Ward’s directories for 1910, 1911, and 1912; specifically, it’s at 40a, whereas The Wool Shop is at number 40 (number 40 was renumbered to 74 in 1927).
  7. Ward’s directories list C H Humphris [sic], “Milliner, &c.” in 1913 and 1914; F Harris, Scott’s Registry Office, and W Cottill music publishers and dealers in 1915; and F Harris alone in 1916.
  8. Ward’s directories list Mrs Villiers in 1917; Mrs Villiers and H Baker, photographer, in 1918; Mrs Manw [sic] and H Baker, milliner, in 1919; and Reynolds & Stone, milliners, in 1921.
  9. Ward’s directories list Madame Blanche, costumier, from 1922 to 1939 inclusive; note that 1939 was the final edition of these directories. An advert on page 9 of the 9 March 1923 Surrey Mirror (viewed online at the British Newspaper Archive; requires subscription) states that “Madame Blanche of 40 London Road, Croydon / Wishes to inform her numerous customers in this district that she is opening a Branch within the next few days at 9 London Road, Redhill (nearly opposite G.P.O.) and will specialize in Costumes, Millinery and Gowns”. Another advert on page 2 of the 17 August 1923 Surrey Mirror (viewed online at the British Newspaper Archive; requires subscription) provides further evidence of this branch: “Smart experienced alteration hand, with knowledge of Sales, for Madame Blanche, London-road, Redhill.—Apply, 40, London-road, Croydon.”
  10. A report on page 12 of the 2 January 1925 Surrey Mirror (viewed online at the British Newspaper Archive; requires subscription), describing a wedding that took place the previous Saturday, notes that the “dresses and costumes were designed by Madam Blanche, of Redhill and Croydon.”
  11. Quotations are taken from the 1924 Croydon Times Xmas Shopping Guide (shelfmark qS70 [658.8] CRO) at Croydon Local Studies and Archives Service); I have corrected one obvious typographical error, specifically “evenin ggowns” for “evening gowns”. Information on hats and furs is from the same source.
  12. Madame Blanche is listed in London phone books from February 1939 to July 1952 inclusive, but absent from later editions. The 1953 editions (S–Z April and E–K September, respectively) list Susan, children’s outfitter, and Griffin Studios, commercial artists, at the address. Madame Blanche’s daughter is mentioned in an advert on page 4 of the 3 March 1928 Essex Newsman: “Mother’s Help; light household duties, and attend to girl 2½; state wages, experience, etc. Blanche, 74 London Road, Croydon.” (viewed online at The British Newspaper Archive; requires subscription).

    It’s perhaps worth noting that “Madame Blanche” may not in fact have been her original name. There were certainly at least two other women — Kate Green and Elizabeth Penwill — trading as costumiers, milliners, and drapers under this name in the 1930s, in Kent and Chester respectively (see their bankruptcy reports on page 5378 of the 14 August 1931 London Gazette and on page 4701 of the 11 July 1933 London Gazette, respectively.

  13. The April 1953 London phone book lists Susan, children’s outfitter. Later phone books, from the October 1955 Outer London: Kent/Surrey edition to the February 1972 Croydon edition, list Susan, exclusive dress agency.
  14. Griffin Studios, “Commercial Artists, Agnts” is listed in the September 1953 London phone book, the October 1955 Outer London Kent/Surrey phone book, and the January 1956 Croydon phone book, but is absent thereafter. It also appears in Kent’s 1955 and 1956 directories as “Griffen [sic] Studio [sic]” with Donald Oubridge listed as proprietor.

    Kent’s 1955 and 1956 directories also list “Betterwear [sic] Products Ltd—Brush Manufacturers”, but I haven’t been able to find this in contemporary phone directories. It possibly refers to Betterware, which did indeed begin as a brush manufacturer and sales company, but the modus operandi of Betterware is door-to-door sales, which doesn’t really fit with being listed in a street directory.

  15. Steets, gents dress hire, is listed at number 74 in Croydon phone books from March 1964 to August 1969 inclusive, and at number 87 from August 1970 onwards. The Royal Liver Friendly Society is listed at 8 George Street in the August 1967 edition, 74a London Road in the September 1968 and August 1969 editions, and at 21 London Road thereafter. More information about this Society can be found on the Royal Liver Superannuitants Association website.
  16. Susan is listed in Croydon phone books up to and including the February 1972 edition.
  17. In-person interview at Rockbottom, 68–70 London Road, 2 May 2015.

    Carl also told me that when he took over the lease of number 74, the shop at the front was vacant but there was an office in the back accessed via a door to the side, then occupied by a company called Excel, which dealt with telegraph information coming in from race courses. Excel continued to use this office for at least part of the time that Rockbottom was in the front shop.

  18. Goad plans list Supersave, fast fd t/a [fast food takeaway], in April 1986, and Bogart & Becall [sic], rest [restaurant], in April 1987. The latter of these is obviously named after Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall; I haven’t found any other documentation of it, so I can’t say whether the typo in the name was made by the restaurant owner or the compiler of the Goad plan. Dinners Delight appears in a 1989 photo by Brian Gittings, a crop of which is reproduced here.
  19. Papa Mio appears on the March 1990 Goad plan and (as “Papa Mia”) in the 1990 Croydon phone book. The Goad plan simply describes it as a restaurant, but the phone book specifies a “Pizza & Pasta Rstnt”. An article about La Rosa on page 13 of the 8 February 1991 Croydon Advertiser (found in the firms files at Croydon Local Studies Library) states that at that point it had “only been open six months”.
  20. Quotations are taken from an article on page 13 of the 8 February 1991 Croydon Advertiser. The other article mentioned was on page 12 of the 30 August 1991 Croydon Advertiser. Information on the upstairs room seating 50 people is taken from an advertisement in the 30 November 1990 Croydon Advertiser. Both articles and advertisement were found in the firms files at Croydon Local Studies Library.
  21. Information on New Year’s mask party taken from an advertisement in the 30 November 1990 Croydon Advertiser, found in the firms files at Croydon Local Studies Library. According to the Bank of England inflation calculator, “goods and services” costing £25 in 1990 would cost £50.75 in 2014.
  22. Days of live music and names of performers taken from an advertisement on page 13 of the 16 August 1991 Croydon Advertiser. Quotation and languages taken from an article on page 12 of the 30 August 1991 Croydon Advertiser. Article and advertisement both found in the firms files at Croydon Local Studies Library.
  23. Pamukkale is listed in the February 1992 Croydon phone book (“Restaurant, Turkish & Greek Cuisine”) and the June 1992 Goad plan (as “Pumakkale”). The Athaenian Gardens Taverna is shown on the April 1993 and April 1994 Goad plans. The June 1995 Goad plan lists the property as vacant. The Croydon Seafood Restaurant (as “Croydon Seafood Rest”) appears on the May 1996, May 1997, and June 1998 Goad plans, which also specify that it was a “fried fish restaurant”. The July 1999 Croydon phone book lists “Udon Bar”.
  24. Udon Noodle Bar is listed in Croydon phone books from 1999 to 2008–2009 inclusive (as “Udon Bar” in 1999 and “Udon Noodle Bar” thereafter), and shown on Goad plans from September 1999 to August 2008 inclusive. It also appears in the second edition of Shop ’Til You Drop (possibly published in 2002), and can be seen in Google Street View imagery from July 2008. Stephen Jolly tells me that that the last time he knows he definitely went there was in November 2007 (via email, 17 February 2013).
  25. Examples of dishes taken from a downloadable menu archived from the Udon website on 14 September 2003, viewed at the Internet Archive (PDF).
  26. Via email, 17 February 2013.
  27. Via email, 18 February 2013.
  28. Details of crispy noodles taken from the archived downloadable menu mentioned in an earlier footnote. According to the Bank of England inflation calculator, “goods and services” costing £5.50 in 2003 would cost £7.76 in 2014.
  29. Information about vacancy and short-lived barber shop supplied by Nash Unisex Salon (conversation with the author, 28 November 2014). In addition, the August 2009 Goad plan shows the property as a “vacant outlet”.
  30. Google Street View from November 2010 indicates that Nash was open by then. All other information in this paragraph supplied by Nash Unisex Salon (conversation with the author, 28 November 2014).
  31. May 2012 date from personal observation; see photo taken at the time.
  32. Information on Language Friendship & Co comes from personal observation. This name never actually appeared on the frontage, but it did appear on posters in the windows. By January 2014 the windows were covered in newspaper.
  33. The comment on “a rather more upmarket feel than one might have expected on London Road at the time” is my own assessment. Information on Kurdish tea and samoon supplied by a member of staff when I ordered the breakfast in July 2015 (other information on breakfast is from personal observation — see photo). All other information about Finjan, and the “trendy cafe” quotation, was supplied by Sami Kader (interviewed at Finjan, 23 June 2015).
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Built in the 1960s, 73–77 London Road is currently home to a branch of the Turkish Food Centre. The building it replaced was constructed around 1850 as a private home, then extended and split into multiple shops in the 1890s.
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