The Past and Present of Croydon's London Road

34 London Road: Flair Afro Cosmetics

7 March 2014

34 London Road is the home of Flair Afro Cosmetics, a well-stocked hair and beauty shop of over a quarter-century’s standing.

Flair Afro Cosmetics, 34 London Road, June 2012. Photo: author’s own.

1860s–1870s: Construction of the building, boots and shoes, and various drapers

34 London Road was built around 1868–1872 as a block with numbers 28–32. Taller and more uniform than their neighbours to the south, these buildings were given the addresses of 1–4 Oakfield Terrace.[1]

The first occupant of number 34 (i.e. 4 Oakfield Terrace) was John Church’s boot and shoe warehouse.[2] However, by 1876 John Church had given way to the sideways expansion of Nathaniel Gifford’s drapery, upholstery, and sewing machine business, which had been established next door at number 32 shortly after John Church himself opened up shop. Nathaniel passed on the drapery side of his business at numbers 32–34 to William Minter around 1878 — but when William left Croydon a few years later, number 34 fell vacant as the new proprietors, Thomas and William French, traded from number 32 only.[3]

1880s–1890s: J T Carter and Pelling & Co

After a short period of vacancy, number 34 was occupied again, this time by J T Carter, printer and stationer, along with H G Pelling & Co, auctioneers and estate agents. Pelling & Co may have been based on one or both of the upper floors of the building, as Ward’s directories give its address as 4a Oakfield Terrace, while J T Carter is listed at 4 Oakfield Terrace.[4]

By 1886, J T Carter had departed, and Pelling & Co was trading as estate agents and stationers. By 1889 the estate agency had vanished completely — 34 London Road was now a discount bookshop, though still under the name of Pelling & Co.[5]

1890s-1920s: Return of the drapers; amalgamation with number 32

Pelling & Co continued to sell books at the premises until around 1894–5, when the business was taken over by its neighbours at number 32: Thomas and William French, a pair of brothers trading as general drapers. One suspects that the French brothers coveted the property more than the activity of bookselling, as a year or so later they transferred the bookshop across the road to their other property at number 19, and brought number 34 back into the drapery business.[6]

18–36 London Road in the late 1940s and in 2013. John Hawkins & Sons is at the left edge of the older photo, stretching over two shopfronts, and a slice of Flair Afro Cosmetics is visible behind it. Photo: author’s own, taken using an archive photograph courtesy of Croydon Local Studies Library and Archives Service.

1920s-1970: John Hawkins & Sons

This acquisition by Thomas and William French settled the interlinked destinies of numbers 32 and 34 London Road for the next 75 years. The French family were replaced around 1927 by a branch of John Hawkins & Sons, but this large firm of drapers continued to trade at the double-fronted shop premises until 1970.[7]

1930s–1950s: Mrs Sanders

An interesting interlude here is the story of Mrs Sanders, who ran a mailshot business from her flat above number 34 from the mid-1930s until at least the late 1950s.[8] Jenny Walker, who lived just down the road above number 28, remembers addressing envelopes for Mrs Sanders in the late 1950s:

“She used to do all the mailshots for a men's outfitters, a very well-known men's outfitters in London. [...] And because I couldn't go out and leave the children, at night, I used to address envelopes by hand, for her, from a list. And I could do 300 a night for half a crown a hundred, which was a lot of money then. [...] And all of them were in Plymouth. All the addresses were Plimpton, Plymouth. And if I ever saw that name again, or wrote it again, I think my hand'd seize up! [...] Her flat was piles and piles of papers, everywhere, and there was just a little path from the door of each room to her chair or to something else, and she had this absolutely massive spider's web in the corner of her kitchen. I mean it was about three foot across.”[9]

Elegance, 34 London Road, 1989. Photo © Brian Gittings, used by permission.

1970s: Separation from number 32; the Sherrick Trading Co

When the ground floor properties were finally split again into two shops, this was at the behest of the new tenant of number 32: Spaceline Veneers Ltd, a “built-in furniture” shop.[10] Spaceline was open by 1971, but I’ve found no evidence of occupancy at number 34 until 1974, at which point it was home to the Sherrick Trading Co Ltd, specialising in men’s and boys’ clothes (and possibly also trading as R J Ellison and Co).[11]

1980s: Elegance ladieswear

By 1983, the premises were catering to a different section of the clothing market, as the men and boys who shopped at Sherrick Trading Co gave way to the ladies and girls who patronised Elegance ladieswear. Elegance remained at 34 London Road until the late 1980s, but the property’s long history as a clothier then came to an end.[12]

1989–present: Flair Afro Cosmetics

Flair Afro Cosmetics opened in 1989 and has now spent over a quarter of a century on London Road.[13] A 1995 advertising feature in the Croydon Advertiser describes it as “a major distributor in south London of Afro ethnic hair care and beauty products”, stocking “an extensive range of hair extensions and wigs in a wide range of colours”.[14] Its reputation extends to the present day; according to another Croydon Advertiser article from April 2012, the shop sees regular visits from customers living as far away as Brighton.[15]

Acetone and glycerine from Flair Afro Cosmetics, December 2013. Photo: author’s own.

Thanks to: Bhupen Patel; Brian Gittings; Jenny Walker; the Planning Technical Support Team at Croydon Council; all at the Croydon Local Studies Library; and my beta-readers Alice, Flash, Henry, Kat, and Shuri.

Footnotes and references

  1. See my article on 28 London Road for construction dates and addressing as Oakfield Terrace.
  2. Wilkins’ 1872–3 directory lists J Church, bootmaker, between Newton the ironmonger (who was at the modern number 28) and J E Hastings, pawnbroker (who was at the modern number 60–62). Ward’s 1874 directory lists John Church, boot and shoe warehouse, at 4 Oakfield Terrace. Wilkins’ directory doesn’t give addresses on this part of the street, so it’s possible that John Church started out in a different Oakfield Terrace property and then moved to this one by 1874. However, I consider this unlikely, since the buildings would have been quite uniform so shortly after having been built, so there would be no reason to move from one to another.
  3. More information on Nathaniel Gifford, William Minter, and the French brothers is given in my article on 32 London Road.
  4. Ward’s 1882 and Purnell’s 1882 street directories list 4 Oakfield Terrace as unoccupied. Ward’s 1884 and 1885 directories list J T Carter, printer and stationer, at 4 Oakfield Terrace and H G Pelling & Co, auctioneers and estate agents, at 4a Oakfield Terrace.
  5. Ward’s 1886 lists Pelling & Co, estate agents and stationers, at 4 The Parade (the new name for Oakfield Terrace). Ward’s 1887 shows a subtle shift of emphasis, with Pelling & Co now listed as stationers and house agents. Ward’s 1888 has Pelling & Co, The Library, and Ward’s 1889 to 1893 inclusive (as well as Kelly’s 1889, 1890, and 1891) have Pelling & Co, discount booksellers.
  6. As noted in footnote [5], street directories list Pelling & Co, discount booksellers, at the modern number 32 up to and including 1893 (under a variety of addresses including 4 Oakfield Terrace, 4 The Parade, and 16 London Road; this property didn’t get its modern number until 1927). Ward’s 1894 simply lists “bookseller’s shop”, Ward’s 1895 lists T & W French, discount booksellers, and Ward’s 1896 onwards list T & W French, general drapers at number 32 and T & W French, booksellers, at number 19. See my article on 32 London Road for more on the French brothers.
  7. See my article on 32 London Road for more on John Hawkins & Sons.
  8. Ward’s 1934 directory lists Saunders [sic] Registry, while the 1937 edition lists Sanders [sic] Registry. Jenny Walker (see footnote [9]) couldn’t remember whether the name was “Sanders” or “Saunders”. However, the November 1938 (London) and April 1958 (Outer London: Kent/Surrey) phone books list M L Sanders at 34a London Road, so I think this is the most likely spelling.
  9. Audio-recorded conversation between Jenny Walker and the author, 25 February 2013. I’ve swapped the order of the passages about Plymouth and the piles of paper, for ease of reading — in our conversation, Jenny mentioned the piles of paper before coming back to the addresses. Jenny moved in to the top floor flat at 28 London Road in December 1956, and moved out at Easter 1963. She told me it was “probably ’58” when she started working for Mrs Sanders.
  10. See my article on 32 London Road for more on Spaceline.
  11. Sherrick Trading Co Ltd is listed in the 1974, 1976, 1977, 1979, and 1981 Croydon phone books, but doesn’t appear in the 1971, 1972, 1973, or 1982 editions. It’s shown as Sherricks [sic] m/wr [menswear] on the August 1974 Goad plan. Brian Gittings’ 1980 survey of central Croydon retail lists R J Ellison & Son Co Ltd, menswear. I haven’t been able to find any Ellisons on London Road in contemporary phone books. During and after the Sherrick Trading Co’s time on London Road, Croydon phone books also list a Sherrick Outfitters at 190 High Street, SE20, but I don’t know if this was a related business or simply a coincidence.
  12. Elegance ladieswear is listed in the 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, and 1987 Goad plans; the 1984–85, 1986–87, and 1988–89 London Shop Surveys; and the 1987 and 1988 Croydon phone books. The only “Elegance” in the 1990 phone book is a hair stylist in South Croydon. I think it likely that Elegance actually opened in 1982; the Sherrick Trading Co is absent from the 1982 Croydon phone book, and a planning application for “installation of new shopfront” at 34 London Road was granted in February 1982 (planning application viewed on microfiche at Croydon Council offices, ref 82-86-P).
  13. Bhupen Patel, owner of Flair Afro Cosmetics, tells me that he opened the shop in 1989 under the name it carries today (in-person conversation, March 2014). The March 1990 Goad plan lists it as Flair — Afro cos [cosmetics], and the 1990 Croydon phone book has it as Flair Cosmetics. Subsequent Goad plans list it as Flair Cosmetics until 2001, when it becomes Flair Afro Cosmetics. It also appears in Croydon phone books throughout this period under one name or the other. According to the 1995 Croydon Advertiser feature cited in footnote [14], though, the business was clearly self-describing as “Flair Afro Cosmetics” by 1995.
  14. Croydon Advertiser, 3 March 1995, page 8, viewed on microfilm at Croydon Local Studies Library.
  15. The Croydon Advertiser article is available at the Internet Archive, dated 4 April 2012. Local resident Palma Black tells me that part of the reason for people travelling so far to shop on London Road is that “there are practically no Black hair shops south of West Croydon! I know women from across the south east that make regular journeys to West Croydon for the sole purpose of buying these products.” (via email, October 2012).
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