The Past and Present of Croydon's London Road

36 London Road: Suave Living and Precision Barbers

18 April 2014

36 London Road is currently home to two businesses: a hairdressers called Suave Living at ground level and a barbers called Precision Barbers in the basement.

Suave Living and Precision Barbers, 36 London Road, December 2012.

1870s: Construction of the building, and the first occupant, Nathaniel Gifford

Numbers 28–42 London Road all look very similar architecturally, and indeed until the great renumbering of 1890 they were all addressed separately from the rest of London Road — initially as 1–8 Oakfield Terrace and then as 1–8 The Parade.[1] However, this terrace was actually constructed in two halves. Numbers 28–34 came first, and were in existence by 1872; by 1876, numbers 36–42 had been built to join them.[2]

The first occupant of number 36 was Nathaniel Gifford’s “general draper, upholsterer, and sewing machine agent” business. After starting up in the early 1870s with a single shopfront at number 32, by 1876 Nathaniel had expanded into numbers 34, 36, and 38 as well.[3]

1880s: The Universal Bedding Company

By 1880, however, Nathaniel Gifford had left London Road. His replacement at number 36 was The Universal, a furniture shop which also advertised itself as the “Universal Bedding Company” and “Universal Furnishing Company”. This remained in place until around 1885.[4]

Advertisement for The Universal from Ward’s 1885 Croydon directory, courtesy of the Croydon Local Studies Library and Archives Service.

1880s–1890s: Hampden H Wotton, oil and colour merchant; boots; ham & beef; Hansmann & Moore

Following a brief period of vacancy — and a renumbering to 5 The Parade — the premises were next occupied by an oil and colour merchant named Hampden H Wotton. Some explanation of this profession may be of interest here, as it’s one which no longer exists today. As described in my article on 5 London Road, an oil and colour merchant sold oils for cooking, heating, and lighting, as well as paints — however, these paints were not ready-made, but rather mixed to order from linseed oil and ground pigments. According to Kelly’s 1889 street directory, Hampden Wotton also sold “paperhangings, [...] varnish & glass” and offered the services of a “paper stainer & lead light glazier”. Around 1893, he moved his business from London Road to Poplar Walk, and changed the name to Wotton & Son.[5]

None of the next few occupants of 36 London Road stayed more than a year or so at the address: John Lawrence, bootmaker, around 1894, A B Thisleton’s “ham & beef warehouse” around 1895, and finally a short-lived expansion of Hansmann & Moore’s hosiery and hattery business from number 38 next door, around 1896–97.[6]

1890s–1980s: James Stewart Walker and Sidney Stewart Walker, hairdressers

In contrast to all this upheaval, the business that moved in during the final few years of the nineteenth century was to remain in place for nearly the whole of the twentieth. James Stewart Walker arrived on London Road as a young man in his mid-twenties, accompanied by his wife Agnes.[7] His hairdressing business was open by 1897, and by 1908 he was also offering chiropody services.[8]

After James Walker died in late 1935,[9] the hairdressing business was taken over by his son Sidney, who was in his early 30s at the time (and who had quite possibly been born in the residential part of the property).[10] The chiropody also seems to have been abandoned around this time.[11]

Sidney shared his father’s middle name, Stewart, and so the newly handed over business went under the name of S S Walker.[12] It kept this name for the next 50 years, until the late 1980s,[13] though Sidney Walker himself died in 1960[14].

Caravaire at 38 London Road and S S Walker at 36 London Road, 1989. Note that S S Walker’s shop is advertised to let, and the interior looks fairly stripped-out. Photo © Brian Gittings, used by permission.

c.1990: Conversion into two shops

As shown in the photo above, until S S Walker closed for good around 1987[15] the building was a fairly normal terraced one, little different from its neighbours. However, following the departure of the hairdressers, planning permission was sought to convert the basement into an independent shop, accessed via an external staircase from street level. The work also involved setting the ground floor back from the street and raising it a short distance.[16]

1990s: Video Magic, Reflections, and Spiders Gaff

Despite this optimistic conversion, the final decade of the twentieth century appears to been something of a slump in the fortunes of 36 London Road. The building was briefly home to a video shop named Video Magic around 1990, but by mid-1992 it was vacant again.[17] There’s evidence of a “household goods” shop around 1994, but according to the Goad plan for that year, this also went under the name of Video Magic — a rather unlikely name for a homewares shop, so I suspect what actually happened was that the owner of the new shop never got around to changing the old name on the frontage.[18]

A furniture shop called Reflections (or possibly Reflection) appeared around 1997, but was gone again by 1998. Something called “Spiders Gaff” also appeared around this time; I’m not entirely sure what this was, but the first edition of Shop ‘Til You Drop (which was likely published around 1998–99) lists it under the Motor Cars section. In any case, by June 1998 the premises were once again vacant.[19]

2000s–present: Suave hairdressers and Precision Barbers

At this point, something of a mystery emerges. According to Goad plans and phone books, there was a business called Suave Hair 2000 at 36 London Road by July 1999. However, the proprietor of Suave Living, the hairdressers which currently occupies the ground floor of the address, tells me that his business only moved there in about 2011; before that it was on Wellesley Road.[20] Coincidences do happen, though, and “Suave” is a reasonable enough name for anyone to pick as the name of a hairdressers![21]

The picture for the basement is clearer though; Goad plans from May 2002 onwards list “Precision Barbers m/hair under” at number 36 — i.e. in the basement — and a member of staff at Precision Barbers told me in April 2014 that it had been there for over 10 years, which fits together quite nicely.[22]

Precision Barbers, 36 London Road, April 2014. Photo: author’s own.

An administrative note

Regular readers of this series may be wondering why this article doesn’t conclude with a photo of goods or services bought from the current occupant(s) of the premises. The reason for this is that I couldn’t fit a haircut into my budget, due to my purchase from number 37 being somewhat more expensive than usual — more details next time!

Thanks to: Derrick Mullings at Suave Living; the staff at Precision Barbers; Brian Gittings; the Planning Technical Support Team at Croydon Council; all at the Croydon Local Studies Library; and my beta-reader bob.

Footnotes and references

  1. Ward’s street directories list Oakfield Terrace addresses from 1874 to 1885 inclusive, and The Parade addresses from 1886 to 1889 inclusive.
  2. Ward’s 1874 directory lists businesses at 1–4 Oakfield Terrace but omits numbers 5–8. The inhabitants of 1 and 4 Oakfield Terrace (an ironmonger named Newton and a bootmaker named J Church) also appear in Wilkins’ 1872–3 directory, without numbers, but in places clearly corresponding to these addresses. Ward’s 1876 directory lists occupants at numbers 1, 3–6, and 7 Oakfield Terrace, with numbers 2 and 8 marked as unoccupied. It could be argued that Ward’s 1874 omits numbers 5–8 because they were vacant, not because they didn't exist yet, but in my experience the general policy of Ward’s directories was to list vacant properties and explicitly state that they were vacant, even going so far as to list properties that were still in the process of being built. See my article on 28 London Road for a discussion of the minor architectural differences between the two halves of the terrace.
  3. See my article on 32 London Road for sources of information on Nathaniel Gifford.
  4. Nathaniel Gifford is listed in Ward’s street directories up to and including 1878. The Universal Bedding Company is listed in Ward’s directories from 1880 to 1885 inclusive, and the Universal Furnishing Company is listed in Purnell’s 1882 directory. Ward’s 1884 adds the name “T Marshall” in parentheses, and Ward’s 1885 expands this to “Thomas Marshall” — presumably this is the proprietor.
  5. Ward’s directories list H H Wotton, oil and colour merchant, on London Road up to and including 1892, and Wotton & Son, oil merchants, on Poplar Walk from 1893. I haven’t checked all the post-1893 Ward’s directories, but the final (1939) edition of still lists Wotton & Son on Poplar Walk, albeit now as wallpaper merchants. Ward’s 1939 also has businesses named Wotton & Son at 4a St Michael’s Road (steel casement makers) and 48 Station Road (metal workers), though I can’t confirm these were definitely related.
  6. All information taken from Ward’s street directories.
  7. Ward’s street directories (and the 1901 census) list “James S Walker”, but the 1911 census gives his full middle name as “Stewart”. The 1901 census lists James (aged 28) and Agnes (aged 27) at 18 London Road (which was renumbered to 36 in 1927) along with a four-year-old son (the name is unclear, but starts with “R”) and a three-month-old daugher (Irene). I’m not sure whether this son was born before or after James and Agnes moved to London Road. His birthplace is listed as Croydon, and this census was taken on the night of 31 March/1 April, so he was born on or before 31 March 1897.
  8. James’s hairdressing business appears in Ward’s 1898 directory (the preface of which states it is correct as of the last week of November 1897) but not in the 1897 edition (which is stated as being correct as of the first week of December 1896). These directories list him as a hairdresser from 1898 to 1907 inclusive, and a hairdresser and chiropodist from 1908 onwards. The 1901 census lists him as a hairdresser, and the 1911 census as a hairdresser and chiropodist.
  9. The England & Wales Death Index 1916-2007 (viewed online at lists the death of a James S Walker, aged 63, in Croydon in the last quarter of 1935. This is quite consistent with our James S Walker, who was aged 28 at the time of the 1901 census, giving him an age of 63 or 64 in late 1935.
  10. The FreeBMD Birth Index for England & Wales 1837–1915 (viewed online at lists a Sidney Stewart Walker born in Croydon in the last quarter of 1903 — almost certainly our Sidney. He’s also listed as being 7 years old in the 1911 census. By 1903, James and Agnes had been living on London Road for around 5 years.
  11. James S Walker is listed as a hairdresser and chiropodist in Ward’s directories up to and including 1932, and as a hairdresser only in 1934. Ward’s 1937 and 1939 directories list S S Walker, hairdresser.
  12. As noted in footnote [10], Sidney’s full name is given in the FreeBMD Birth Index. It’s also given in the 1911 census.
  13. The business is listed in Ward’s 1934 and 1937 directories (as S S Walker, hairdresser); Kent’s 1955 and 1956 directories (as Sidney S Walker, ladies & gents hairdresser); the 1971 Croydon Classified Directory (as S S Walker, men’s hairdressers — note that this is the only source that claims it was a men-only salon); the 1974, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, and 1987 Goad plans (as S S Walker, “l&m hair” up to and including 1985 and S S Walker, “hair” in 1986 and 1987); and the 1984–85, 1986–87, and 1988–89 London Shop Surveys (as S S Walker, “L & G Hairdr” in 1984–85 and S S Walker, “Haird” in the other two editions).
  14. The England & Wales National Probate Caldendar 1858–1966 (viewed online at states: “WALKER Sidney Stewart of 36 London Road West Croydon Surrey died 25 June 1960 at St. Helier Hospital Carshalton Surrey Probate London 4 January to Mabel Rose Illsley spinster. Effects £4439 13s. 5d.” I’m not sure what relation Mabel Rose Illsley was to Sidney Walker (if any). I also don’t know who took over the business after Sidney Walker died, though Brian Gittings’ 1980 survey of central Croydon shopfronts lists a Mrs R L Walker, “M + F hairdressers” at 36 London Road; presumably some relative of Sidney’s.
  15. The most likely closing date is around 1987, going by the sources in a footnote above (noting that the data for the London Shop Surveys would have been gathered some time in advance) and the statement in a 1989 planning application (ref 89/1116/P, viewed on microfiche at Croydon Council offices) that the last previous use of the premises was “Hairdressers — 1987”.
  16. The planning application, for “alterations and conversion to form two shops at basement and ground floor levels and two flats on first and second floors; installation of shopfront”, was granted on 27 July 1989 (ref 89/1116/P, viewed on microfiche at Croydon Council offices).
  17. Goad plans list “Video Magic — vid” in March 1990 (or possibly “Videomagic” — it isn’t entirely clear), and “vac” [vacant] in June 1991. The 1990 Croydon phone book lists Video Magic Plc, but by the next edition (February 1992) this is no longer listed. A planning application deposited in May 1992 (ref 92/0994/P, viewed on microfiche at Croydon Council offices) states that the last previous use was “retail shop. Ceased trading Feb 1992.” — I don’t know if this “retail shop” was Video Magic (in which case either the June 1991 Goad plan or the person who wrote this application was mistaken) or whether it was some other very short-lived shop that opened up in between Video Magic closing and May 1992. Said planning application was for use of the ground floor and basement for purposes within class A3 (food and drink for consumption on or off the premises), and it was granted, but I’ve found no evidence that it was ever actually taken up.
  18. Goad plans list “vacant (Bernard Thorpe)” in June 1992, “Vacant (DTZ Debenham Thorpe)” in April 1993, and “Video Magic” (or possibly Videomagic — see previous footnote) “household goods” in April 1994. (Note that Bernard Thorpe and DTZ Debenham Thorpe were most likely the estate agents advertising the shop to let.) Goad plans also list “Low Gear II catalogue showroom” in June 1995 and May 1996, but I suspect this is a printing error; Low Gear II was actually at 32 London Road. It is of course possible that it briefly expanded into number 36, but the 1995 and 1996 Croydon phone books list it only at number 32.
  19. The May 1997 Goad plan lists Reflections [sic] furniture, while the January 1998 Croydon phone book lists Reflection [sic]. Shop ‘Til You Drop is the only place I’ve seen Spiders Gaff mentioned — I haven’t been able to find it in contemporary phone books. It is of course possible that there was a misprint, and Spiders Gaff was actually at a different number. The June 1998 Goad plan lists the premises as vacant.
  20. Conversation with Derrick Mullings, owner of Suave Living, 9 April 2014. Derrick also told me that the business was founded in 1995, and that he moved to London Road because he got the chance to buy the freehold, whereas he’d only been leasing his previous property.
  21. A web search reveals several out-of-date online directories that place “Suave Artistes At Work” at 16 Norfolk House, Wellesley Road. However, a photo I took in 2007 shows Northern Rock at that address. I feel I may have misunderstood something here, but I wasn’t able to clear it up in time for publication.
  22. Very brief conversation with member of staff at Precision Barbers, 9 April 2014; he was busy with a customer at the time, and I didn’t get his name.
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Built in the 1850s as a private residence, number 35 later became one of three shops that John James Sainsbury opened on London Road. For a while, it was also home to the Kerr family optician business that still continues today at number 37 next door. However, the current occupants are among the newest on London Road, having arrived around the start of March 2014.
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