The Past and Present of Croydon's London Road

32 London Road: Sun Travels

31 January 2014

32 London Road is the home of Sun Travels. Despite the name, this is actually a small supermarket stocking several types of fresh vegetable as well as household goods and groceries from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and Europe.

Sun Travels, 32 London Road, June 2013. Note that the fostering and Domino's adverts are on the bus stop in front of the shop, not on the shop itself. Photo: author's own.

1860s–1870s: Construction of the building, and Nathaniel Gifford, general draper

The block of shops comprising 28–34 London Road was built around 1868–1872, and the first occupant of number 32 was in place by 1874: Nathaniel Gifford, general draper. By 1876, numbers 36–42 had been built as well, and Nathaniel took swift advantage of this in expanding his business to a full four shopfronts across numbers 32–38, offering general drapery, upholstery, and sewing machines.[1]

1870s–1880s: William Minter

Around 1878, Nathaniel Gifford handed on the drapery side of his business at numbers 32–34 to a young man named William Minter.[2] An advertisement in the April 1880 Croydon Review describes William as a “silk mercer, draper, hosier, and glover”, and boasts of his “choice assortment of cretonnes, dimities, and other household goods, consisting of table linens, sheetings, quilts, toilet covers, embroidered, printed, tapestry, and Victoria covers.[3] Towels, towellings, dusters, glass clothes, tea clothes, &c.”[4]

William Minter advertisement in the April 1880 Croydon Review. Reproduced courtesy of the Croydon Local Studies Library and Archives Service.

1880s–1920s: Thomas and William French

William Minter moved his business from Croydon to Westgate-on-Sea in 1881 or 1882,[5] and was replaced at 32 London Road by two other drapers, a pair of brothers named Thomas and William French.[6] The French family was to have a significant tenure here, lasting over four decades.

Thomas and William initially only operated from this single shop, while number 34, which had formed part of William Minter’s business, fell vacant. However, by 1888 they had also taken over number 19 across the road. Around 1895 they expanded back into number 34, taking over (and continuing to run) the discount bookseller which had appeared there in the meantime; a year or so later they transferred the bookselling business over to number 19, and consolidated their drapery at numbers 32–34.[7]

Around 1906, William French branched out on his own, taking over an existing draper’s shop at 311 London Road.[8] From here onwards, Ward’s street directories list the original property solely in Thomas’ name until 1922, at which point his son evidently joined him in the business, now known as “T French & Son”.

1920s–1970: John Hawkins & Sons

Around 1927, however, Thomas and his son gave way to John Hawkins & Sons, a large firm of cotton spinners and manufacturers based in Preston, Lancashire.[9] When the company opened its branch at 32–34 London Road, it already had a dozen branches in London, and by the late 1950s it boasted 13 shops in London, 4 in Birmingham, 2 in Bristol, and 42 others around the country.[10] These shops sold all kinds of fabric-based products, including curtains in “cambrics, reversibles, brocades, thatchweaves”; “all cotton bleached fleecisheets, neatly hemmed with cross stitching”; “boxed printed linen tea towel sets”; “non-iron drip-dry” nylon shirts; and a “fully comprehensive range of ladies’ ‘Bri-Nylon’ nightwear”.[11]

The despatch department at John Hawkins’ Preston warehouse, from “The Story of Cotton”, a series of 30 cards produced by John Hawkins & Sons around 1905–1910. The back of this card reads (in part): “The cloth, having been bleached, dyed or printed, and made up into garments and other household goods, is stored in our warehouse at Preston. Here you see goods being made up and dispatched to our various shops throughout the country.” Image reproduced courtesy of Preston Digital Archive (which also provided the date of the cards).

John Hawkins & Sons continued to trade from its double-fronted London Road shop until 1970. By October of that year, however, the premises were vacant, and the shopfitting firm of Appleton, Bowen & Deeley Ltd had submitted a planning application for building work to divide numbers 32 and 34 back into two separate shops.[12]

1970s: Spaceline Veneers/Wardell Fitted Furniture

Once work was complete, number 32 became the home of Spaceline Veneers Ltd, a “built-in furniture” shop. By 1973, Spaceline was trading as Wardell Fitted Furniture Ltd, and advertising itself as having “the finest display of fitted bedroom furniture at 32 London Road, West Croydon”. Wardell remained at this address until the late 1970s.[13]

1980s–1990s: Blue Junction Valco, Jeans ‘N’ Things, Clique Pour Homme, and Low Gear II

Next to move in was a jeans shop known as either Valco or Blue Junction Valco, though this only remained for a couple of years before turning into Jeans ‘N’ Things, selling ladies’ and men’s jeans and tops.[14] By 1990 it had transformed again into Clique Pour Homme, a menswear shop that also had a branch at 81 Streatham High Road, and by April 1994 it had become Low Gear II, a “catalogue showroom” stocking “ladies fashion”.[15]

Clique Pour Homme, 32 London Road, 1989. Cropped by permission from a photo © Brian Gittings.

1990s–2000s: Typin, Pound Stop

At the end of the 1990s, the premises had a brief stint as a men’s clothes shop called Typin. It’s not entirely clear how long this period lasted, due to conflicting evidence. Typin is listed in the 1998, 1999, and 2001 Croydon phone books, but the 1999, 2000, and 2001 Goad plans instead show a “household goods” shop called Pound Stop. Pound Stop also appears at number 32 in the second edition of Shop ‘Til You Drop, which was likely published around 2002.[16]

2000s–present: M A Minimarket, Ashra, Sun Travels

By 2004, though, all sources agree that 32 London Road was a convenience store called M A Minimarket. A couple of years later, Goad plans begin to list it as Ashra rather than M A Minimarket, and by 2007 Croydon phone books have it under both Ashra and M A Minimarket.[17] I can confirm from personal experience that by August 2011 the name on the frontage was Ashra.

Ashra, 32 London Road, June 2012. Photo: author's own.

Around May/June 2013 the frontage changed to read “Sun Travels”, though little appeared to change inside the shop, and it continues to stock a wide range of groceries with very little overt evidence of travel agency.

Callaloo, Solomon Gundy, and a 4kg bag of onions from Sun Travels, 32 London Road, January 2014. Photo: author's own.

Thanks to: Brian Gittings; Henry Braun; the Preston Digital Archive; the Planning Technical Support Team at Croydon Council; all at the Croydon Local Studies Library; and my beta-readers Kat and Shuri. Census data consulted via

Footnotes and references

  1. See my article on 28 London Road for construction dates. N Gifford is listed as a general draper at 3 Oakfield Terrace (later renumbered to 32 London Road) in Ward’s 1874 directory; as a general draper, upholsterer, and sewing machine agent at 3–6 Oakfield Terrace (later renumbered to 32–38 London Road) in Ward’s 1876 and 1878 directories and Atwood’s 1878 directory; as N Gifford, upholsterer (with no street number) in Wilkins’ 1876–7 directory; and as N Gifford, general draper, at 3–6 Oakfield Terrace in Worth’s 1878 directory. See footnote [2] for N Gifford’s full first name.
  2. The 1878 Post Office Directory of Surrey (available via the University of Leicester Special Collections Online [previously known as Historical Directories]; note that the preface of this directory is dated November 1878) lists William Minter, “silk mercer, draper, hosier &c.” at 3–4 Oakfield Terrace, and Nathaniel Gifford, upholsterer and sewing machine agent, at 5–6 Oakfield Terrace. Although this is not conclusive proof that Nathaniel gave up drapery to concentrate on the other side of his business, it seems likely enough to me. Regarding my description of William as a “young man”, the 1881 census gives his age as 26.
  3. On the subject of Victoria covers, Henry Braun tells me (online conversation, January 2014): “According to the Oxford English Dictionary, there seems to be a variety of 19th century fabrics called Victoria, with the word on its own usually (but maybe not here) meaning a sort of woollen dress fabric. There's also Victoria crape, Victoria lawn, Victoria frilling and Victoria velvet. Not all of them are described but Victoria crape is ‘a very successful imitation of real crape made in Manchester of cotton yarn’ and Victoria velvet (in the Great Exhibition catalogue) is a blended fabric. An advertisement on page 8 of the 22 September 1881 Sydney Morning Herald (viewed online courtesy of the National Library of Australia, fourth column from left, at the end of the section on ‘Palace Emporium’) gives a price list for table covers: ‘An EMBROIDERED COVER may be had for 5s 9d, and the “VICTORIA” COVER, from 2s 11d upwards. The REP COVERS range from 9s 11d upwards; the PRINTED CLOTHS, from 4s 11d upwards; while that summit of first class manufacture, the “RENOWNED VELVET PILE,” is only 24s.’ From this it looks as though Victoria was either a brand name for a particular type of tablecloth, or a low-end fabric suitable for tablecloths. It's notably the cheapest option, cheaper even than printed cloth. (The more expensive ‘Rep’, by the way, is ‘A plain-weave fabric (usually of wool, silk, or cotton) with a ribbed surface, used esp. for draperies and upholstery.’)”
  4. Croydon Review viewed on microfilm at the Croydon Local Studies Library. I’ve discussed this publication before, in my article on 18 London Road.
  5. Kelly’s 1882 Directory of Kent (viewed via the University of Leicester Special Collections Online) lists a William Minter, general draper, at 11 Station Road, Westgate-on-Sea. A comparison of the Croydon William Minter’s entry in the 1881 census with the Westgate-on-Sea William Minter’s entry in the 1891 census confirms that they’re the same man — the 1891 William Minter is 10 years older than the 1881 one and has the same birthplace, a wife with the same name and birthplace, and an 11-year-old daughter born in Croydon with the same name as the 1-year-old daughter in Croydon in 1881. More information on William Minter can be found at the Minter family history website (which is where I got the clue about him moving to Westgate-on-Sea, though I’ve checked the sources myself too).
  6. T & W French are listed at 3 Oakfield Terrace (later renumbered to 3 The Parade, then 14 London Road, then 32 London Road) in Ward’s directories from 1882 onwards. Ward’s 1882 doesn’t state their profession, but later editions describe them as “general drapers”. Regarding their siblinghood, the 1891 census lists Thomas A French, draper, at 14 London Road (i.e. the modern number 32), aged 40 and born in Stanstead, Suffolk; and William A French, draper, at 19 London Road, aged 32 and also born in Stanstead, Suffolk. The 1861 census lists Thomas Alston French, age 11, and William Alston French, age 2, both born in Stanstead, Suffolk, and both sons of Stephen French (a publican).
  7. All information in this paragraph is taken from Ward’s street directories.
  8. Around 1916 he moved again, to 251–253 London Road, taking over a drapery that had previously been run by William Owen Little. Numbers given here are modern ones; before 1927, numbers 311 and 251–253 London Road were numbered 183 and 145–147 respectively. (Information from Ward’s street directories.)
  9. John Hawkins is listed at 32–34 London Road (14–16 London Road in 1927 numbering) in Ward’s directories from 1927 to 1939 (the final edition) inclusive, in Kent’s 1955 and 1956 directories. It’s listed at 32 London Road in the 1971 Croydon Classified Directory and in Croydon phone books up to and including the August 1970 edition. However, a planning application dated 29 October 1970 (viewed at Croydon Council offices, ref 70-20-2084) confirms that the shop remained a double one up to that date; this application states that “The existing shop is being divided into two shops [sic] units, for retail selling use.”
  10. The October 1926 London phone book lists 12 branches of John Hawkins, and the Croydon one doesn’t appear among them. The April 1927 London phone book lists 14 branches including the Croydon one. A planning application from 1958 (viewed at Croydon Council offices, ref A1652 but filed under A2584) includes a letter dated 22 April 1958 on headed John Hawkins & Sons Ltd paper; the heading includes the text “John Hawkins & Sons Ltd. A member of the Hawkins Group of Cotton Spinner, Manufacturers & Retailers. Controlling 15 mills in Preston, Blackburn, etc.” and has a list of branches running down the side: “London (13 branches)”, “Birmingham (4 branches)”, Barrow, Blackburn, Blackpool, Bolton, Bradford, “Bristol (2 branches)”, Burnley, Cardiff, Carlisle, Chatham, Chester, Coventry, Croydon, Dudley, Exeter, Glasgow, Gloucester, Grimsby, Halifax, Hanley, Huddersfield, Hull, Ipswich, Kendal, Lancaster, Leicester, Leigh, Liverpool, Luton, Middlesbrough, Oldham, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Preston, Rochdale, St Helens, Southampton, Stockport, Swansea, Taunton, Walsall, West Bromwich, Wigan, Wolverhampton, and “soon also at Edinburgh”. (Note that my count of 42 outside-London branches excludes Croydon.) More information about the company (and a photo of one of their “ghost signs” in Stoke Newington) can be found on the Painted Signs and Mosaics blog.
  11. Product lists taken from adverts in the Croydon Advertiser, 2 October 1959 and 30 November 1962. By this point the firm was advertising itself as “Hawkins of Preston”.
  12. John Hawkins & Sons Ltd is listed in Croydon phone books up to and including August 1970 (and doesn’t appear in the August 1971 edition under either H or J; see also footnote [8]). The planning application mentioned in the text (viewed at Croydon Council offices, ref 70-2180-B) was deposited on 29 October 1970 and concerns “Revisions to one half of existing shopfront and conversion of properties into two retail outlets”; it states that the “Existing shop is no longer in use”. A letter included in this application, from Appleton, Bowen & Deeley Ltd (shopfitters), dated 2 November 1970, states that “Spaceline Veneers Ltd are now the tenants of the property under consideration and are obviously very anxious to commence trading as soon as possible.”
  13. “Spaceline Veneers Ltd, Built in Furniture” is listed in the 1971 and 1972 Croydon phone books. “Wardell Fitted Furniture Ltd” is listed in the 1973, 1974, 1976, and 1977 Croydon phone books. The August 1974 Goad plan shows “Wardell Ltd (Spaceline) furn”. The 1979 and 1981 Croydon phone books omit both Spaceline and Wardell. The quoted portion about bedroom furniture is taken from an advert on p129 of the 1973 Croydon Official Guide (published by Home Publishing Co Ltd, Carshalton, and “issued by authority of the London Borough of Croydon”; this is available under shelfmark S70 CRO at Croydon Local Studies Library, but note that at the time of writing, two of the three copies held are incomplete, as the adverts at the back have been removed, including the one cited here).
  14. Brian Gittings’ 1980 journal of central Croydon retail lists “Blue Junction Valco — jeans”. The 1981 and 1982 Croydon phone books list “Valco Garments Ltd, Jeans, Tops Rtlrs”. The 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, and 1987 Goad plans list “Jeans & Things l&m/wr”, while the March 1990 Goad plan lists “Jeans & Things m/wr”. The 1984, 1985, 1987, and 1988 Croydon phone books list “Jeans ‘N’ Things, Jeans, Tops Rtlrs”. The 1984–85, 1986–87, and 1988–89 London Shop Surveys list “Jeans n’ Things”.
  15. The 1990 and February 1992 Croydon phone books list “Clique, menswear rtlr” at 32 London Road and 81 Streatham High Road (the July 1993 edition lists only the Streatham branch). The June 1991, June 1992, and April 1993 Goad plans list “Clique Pour Homme menswear”. The 1995 and 1996 Croydon phone books list “Low Gear II, Ladies Fashion”, and the April 1994, June 1995, May 1996, May 1997, and June 1998 Goad plans list “Low Gear II catalogue shwrm”.
  16. Sources as stated in text. Note however that the phone books don’t state the nature of Typin’s business — this comes from Shop ‘Til You Drop.
  17. The May 2004 and June 2005 Goad plans list “M A Minimarket convenience store”; the May 2006, July 2007, August 2008, and August 2009 Goad plans list “Ashra convenience store”; and the May 2011 Goad plan lists “Ashra grocer”. Croydon phone books from 2004–05 to 2009–10 inclusive list “M A Minimarket (Supermarket), but the 2007–08 and 2008–09 editions also list “Ashra Supermarket” at the same address.
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