The Past and Present of Croydon's London Road

57 London Road: Diva Hair and Beauty

10 October 2014

Diva Hair and Beauty is a hair and beauty retail shop situated at 57 London Road, just north of Mead Place. At the time of writing, the frontage still reads “Julia Knows Beauty” — the name of the previous occupant — but a new shopfront is in preparation as part of the Connected Croydon public realm improvements.[1]

Julia Knows Beauty signage at 57 London Road, September 2014. Photo: author’s own.

1850s–1860s: Construction of the building, and use as a private residence

Built in the mid-1850s as part of a small terrace with numbers 51–53 and 55, 57 London Road spent the first 15 or so years of its existence as a private residence.[2] The first occupant was Mrs Louisa Grant, a widow in her 60s who originally came from the market town of Waltham Abbey in Essex.[3] Possessor of an independent income, she rented the house from Sarah Wyatt, who owned the full run of seven houses from 31 to 57 (and herself lived at number 37).[4]

Around 1864, Louisa Grant gave way to Reverend Henry Mitchell. The documentary record is a little confused over the next few years, with various sources suggesting that Henry Mitchell was replaced first by a Mrs Campbell and then by Mrs Grant again.[5] However, the 1871 census makes it clear that by that point the premises were occupied by a bankruptcy court clerk named Thomas Willins, along with his wife and children.[6]

Thomas Willins in turn was swiftly replaced by Dr Walter H M Smith, in place by 1872. However, only a few years later, around 1876, Dr Smith moved up the road to a house on the site now occupied by numbers 7987; he also relocated his surgery to number 61.[7]

Advertisement for A J Sanders in the 29 September 1883 Croydon Guardian, reproduced courtesy of the Croydon Local Studies and Archives Service.

1880s–1890s: Albert John Sanders, picture dealer, frame maker, and artist’s colourman

Dr Smith’s immediate replacement was a pair of milliners named L and S A Allen, but by 1878 the property was unoccupied. The period of vacancy was brief, however, as by 1880 it was home to Albert John Sanders, a picture dealer, frame maker, and artist’s colourman who lived and worked on the premises. Born in Bletchingley in Surrey, Albert Sanders was around 40 when he arrived on London Road. His widowed mother Elizabeth lived with him, and continued to do so until he departed London Road around 1901.[8]

1900s: Frederick Joseph Richards, draper, auctioneer, and estate agent

Next to arrive at the property was Frederick Joseph Richards. Initially trading as a draper, by 1905 he had changed direction and become an auctioneer and estate agent. Around 1910 he moved up the road to number 61.[9]

Sanders Bros, 57 London Road, probably c.1914–1915. Note the number 43 on the frontage; this address was renumbered to 57 in 1927. Image provided by Colin Young (a descendant of Ernest Albert Young, manager at the store in 1914–1915) via Neil Tyler (whose book Sanders Bros: The Rise and Fall of a British Grocery Giant provides an interesting and well-researched history of the firm).

1910s–1930s: Sanders Bros, corn merchants and grocers

A significant chapter in the history of number 57 began around 1911 with the opening of a branch of Sanders Bros corn merchants.[10] Although broken up in the 1950s and little-known today, at its peak this company had more retail stores than either Sainsbury’s or Tesco, and when floated on the London Stock Exchange was valued around 30% higher than Marks & Spencer.[11]

The foundation of Sanders Bros was laid in 1887, when Thomas Sanders took over a corn merchant’s shop on Globe Road in Bethnal Green. Thomas was in his mid-20s at the time, and had previously worked in his father’s beer shop around the corner on Green Street (now Roman Road).[12] In 1891 he opened a second branch on James Street, also in Bethnal Green. A couple of years later he was declared bankrupt, but this proved no obstacle to the continuation of the business, which was transferred to two of his brothers, William and Joseph — and the name “Sanders Bros” was born.[13] Further expansion followed, and by 1900 the firm had 22 branches and had diversified from the usual items sold by a corn merchant — flour, rice, pulses, dried fruit, hay for horses, and birdseed — to more general grocery items such as vinegar.[14]

Page from a 1930s Sanders Bros biscuit catalogue, reproduced courtesy of Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives. This image also appears as Plate 7 of Neil Tyler’s Sanders Bros, where it’s described as showing one of the “large tins used for transporting biscuits to branches”.

The London Road branch was the first one that Sanders Bros opened in Croydon; it was followed by branches on Church Street, the High Street, Addington Road (Selsdon), and Whitehorse Road, as well as others further up London Road at numbers 334 and 1497.[15] Evidence for its closing date is scarce. It certainly lasted until at least 1938, as it continued to be listed in Ward’s street directories up until the final edition in 1939. A photo at Croydon Local Studies Library, labelled “Late 1940’s”, shows the shop with half of the sign broken off, suggesting it had already closed.[16]

Even if the sign breakage actually preceded the closure, it was definitely closed by 1954. In 1950, the firm of Sanders Bros was taken over by an investment syndicate known as Cromwell Industrial Securities Ltd.[17] Cromwell’s intentions for the firm are made clear in ...Signifying Nothing, the memoirs of Julius Silman, one of the members of the syndicate: “[...] the Sanders chain of grocery shops [...] were worth more for their property values than as small trading units.”[18] By 1954, all but two of the branches had been sold off, with the only remaining shops being on Portobello Road and Battersea Park Road.[19]

1950s–1970s: Shoes and fashion

The closure of Sanders Bros marked the end of 57 London Road’s time as a food retailer.[20] By the mid-1950s, it was in the hands of Shoe Rebuilders, a shoe repair company that already had a branch at 17 Church Street.[21] It’s unclear how long this company remained on London Road, but by 1974 the shop had again changed hands and become a branch of Curtess shoe shop.[22]

By 1977, Curtess had become Malbro Fashions — but by 1980 this had closed down and the premises fell vacant.[23]

Ex-Malbro Fashions, 57 London Road, c.1981 — note the whitewashed windows. Cropped by permission from a photo © Brian Gittings.

1980s–1990s: Super Savers

By 1982, the premises were home to Super Savers, a shop listed in various sources as selling gifts, household goods, and fancy goods.[24] The name and stock suggest that this was a discount store selling low-quality goods — and the fact that it remained here for over a decade is something of a testament to the social changes that had occurred along London Road since the days of the Reverend Henry Mitchell and Dr Walter Smith.

late 1990s: Blades

Super Savers closed around 1995, and the premises fell vacant. There was a period of occupancy by a hair salon called Blades around 1998–1999, but this was not long-lasting.[25]

2000s: Nubian Jack Trading Company

In 1999, the Nubian Jack Trading Company opened its second branch at 57 London Road. This company, originally based in Streatham, was a family-owned retailer of Black hair and beauty products. By 2002, it was also selling its wares online, billing itself as “specialist e-tailers to people of colour”.[26]

The Nubian Jack Trading Company remained on London Road until around 2008 or 2009;[27] an image of it in July 2008 can be seen on Google Street View.

c.2008–2012: Julia Knows Beauty

Following the departure of Nubian Jack, the shop was taken over by Julia Knows Beauty, a chain of hair and beauty shops with around 20 branches in places in and outside London including Romford, Upton Park, Walworth, and Manchester.[28]

2012–present: Diva Hair and Beauty

In May 2012, Julia Knows Beauty became Diva Hair and Beauty[29] (though, as mentioned above, over two years later the Julia Knows Beauty signage remains on the frontage). Today, it specialises in hairpieces and wigs, though it also sells a few nail accessories and some makeup.

Nail file/buffer bought from Diva Hair and Beauty, 57 London Road, August 2014. Note the shop name on the receipt. (Note also that the item name on the receipt doesn’t match the item bought, though the price is correct). Photo: author’s own.

Thanks to: Zahoor Ahmed of Diva Hair and Beauty; Brian Gittings; Neil Tyler; Colin Young; the Planning Technical Support Team at Croydon Council; all at the Croydon Local Studies Library; and my beta-readers Alice and bob. Census data and London phone books consulted via

Footnotes and references

  1. See the Connected Croydon blog for more information on the London Road shopfront project.
  2. See my articles on numbers 31 and 37 for evidence on building dates and original purposes.
  3. Mrs Louisa Grant is listed in Gray and Warren’s 1855 directory (with the explicit notation “private resident”), the October 1858 Poor Rate Book (as Mrs L Grant), Gray and Warren’s 1859 directory (as Mrs L Grant, again with the explicit notation “private resident”), the 1861 census, Gray and Warren’s 1861–62 directory (as Mrs Grant), the November 1862 and June 1864 Poor Rate Books (as Mrs L Grant). The 1861 census lists her as Louisa Grant, widow, aged 69, “fund holder”, born in Waltham Abbey, Essex. See footnote 4 in my article on 37 London Road for more information on what “fund holder” would have meant.
  4. See my article on 37 London Road for more on Sarah Wyatt, and my article on London Road renumbering for an explanation of why there are only seven properties between 31 and 55 (and note that 51–53 is a single property).
  5. Mrs L Grant is listed in the Poor Rate Books up to and including June 1864. Rev Hy [Henry] Mitchell is listed in Simpson’s 1864 directory (with the notation “private resident”); in the December 1864, July 1865, and November 1865 Poor Rate Books (as Hy Mitchell); and in Warren’s 1865–66 directory (as Rev Henry Michelle [sic], M.A.). The June 1866 Poor Rate Book lists Mrs Campbell, and the October 1866 Poor Rate Book has Hy Mitchell crossed out and substituted with Mrs Grant. It’s worth remembering that the Poor Rate Books did not give street numbers, though names were usually (but not always) listed in the order they came along the street. Warren’s 1869 directory includes the address but the space for the occupant is blank.
  6. I’m not entirely sure that the name is actually “Willins” — it’s hard to make it out from this handwritten record.
  7. Dr Smith is listed at this property in Wilkins’ 1872–3 directory (as W H M Smith, M.D.), the December 1873 Poor Rate book (as Dr Walter Smith), Ward’s 1874 directory (as W H Smith, M.D., surgeon), and Ward’s 1876 directory (as W H M Smith, M.D., surgeon). Wilkins’ 1876–7 directory lists L & S A Allen, milliners.

    Ward’s 1878 directory shows Dr Smith living at 28 London Road (in the numbering of the time), which was renumbered to 55 in 1890 and demolished along with its neighbour to the north around 1897; five new shops were built to replace them, initially numbered 55–63 and renumbered to 7987 in 1927. The same directory shows him practicing at number 61 (in present-day numbering). He almost certainly practiced at the current number 57, as well as living there; Ward’s 1874 directory lists him at this address under “Surgeons”, and doesn’t give any other address for him

  8. L and S A Allen, milliners, are listed in Wilkins’ 1876–7 directory. Ward’s 1878 and Atwood’s 1878 directories list the property as unoccupied (Worth’s 1878 directory lists the property number but the space for the occupant is blank). Albert Sanders is listed in Ward’s directories from 1880 to 1901 inclusive under various forms of his name (A J Saunders [sic], Albert J Sanders, and A J Sanders) and profession (picture dealer; picture dealer and frame maker; frame maker; artist’s colourman “&c”; and frame maker and art[ist’s] clrmn [colourman]). His full name is given as Albert John Sanders in Kelly’s 1891 directory. He and his mother are listed in the 1881, 1891, and 1901 censuses; in the last of these, he is 61 years old and Elizabeth is a venerable 84. Ward’s 1902 directory lists the property as unoccupied.
  9. Ward’s directories list F J Richards, draper, at this address in 1903 and 1904; F J Richards, auctioneer and estate agent, at this address in 1905; Joe Richards, auctioneer and estate agent, at this address in 1906–1910; F J Richards, auctioneer and estate agent, at number 61 in 1911–1912, and Richards & Page, auctioneers and estate agents, at number 61 in 1913–1914. The 1911 census lists Frederick Joseph Richards, estate agent, at number 61 (number 47 in the numbering of that time). I think it’s pretty clear that F J Richards and Joe Richards were the same person.
  10. Ward’s 1911 directory lists the property as unoccupied; the data for this directory would have been gathered in late 1910. Ward’s directories from 1912 onwards list Sanders Bros, corn and seed merchants. The 1911 census, covering the night of 2 April 1911, lists Joseph H Wiley, “Manager of Cornchandlers”, working “At Home”, so the Sanders Bros store must have opened between late 1910 and some time around April 1911 (as it’s possible that at the time of the census Joseph was still preparing the store for its grand opening).
  11. Information about breakup, size, and stock market valuation of Sanders Bros is taken from Neil Tyler’s Sanders Bros: The Rise and Fall of a British Grocery Giant, first edition, pp 11–12. As far as I’m aware, there’s no connection between Sanders Bros and the earlier occupant of the same name, Albert John Sanders.
  12. Neil Tyler, Sanders Bros, pp 15–16. Thomas’s father’s beer shop was called Old Friends, and was at the premises which today has the address of 129 Roman Road, E2 (see the Pubs History website for more details). Although this remained a pub until relatively recently, it seems to have become a Chinese restaurant some time between July 2008 and June 2012, according to Google Street View (July 2008 view, June 2012 view).
  13. Neil Tyler, Sanders Bros, pp 18–20.
  14. Neil Tyler, Sanders Bros, pp 22–23 and 29.
  15. Some sources, including Neil Tyler’s Sanders Bros, also list a branch at 13 The Pavement, London Road, Norbury; but this is the same as the branch at 1497 London Road, the former address being renumbered to the latter in 1927.
  16. Photo ref PH/96 2416. The window of Sanders Bros is shuttered over, but so are those of most of the other shops in the photo, suggesting it was taken on a Sunday when they were all closed anyway.
  17. Neil Tyler, Sanders Bros, pp 142–143.
  18. Quoted in Neil Tyler, Sanders Bros, pp 148–149
  19. Neil Tyler, Sanders Bros, pp 160–161.
  20. Neil Tyler notes in Sanders Bros (pp 160–161) that the same thing happened to most of the branches sold off by Cromwell in the early 1950s: “the space sought by food retailers had changed so much, and Tesco and others were choosing larger stores fit for a supermarket and self-service era.” (See my article on 9–11 London Road for more information about the 1950s move to self-service.)
  21. In November 1952, “Messrs. Shoe Rebuilders (London) Ltd.” of 17 Church Street, Croydon, were informed by a letter from the Borough Council that “The installation of electrical machinery at No. 57, London Road, Croydon, for the business of boot repairing” was considered to be development within the meaning of the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act as it involved “a change of use from that of a shop to general industry” (planning record viewed on microfiche at Croydon Council offices, ref 52/861). A planning application for “alterations” followed in September 1953, and the alterations were completed by December of that year (information from planning record as above, ref 53/866; this application uses the company name “Fortes Shoe Co”, but in my experience it’s fairly common in these planning records to see multiple names used for the same business).
  22. Curtess Shoes ft/wr [footwear] is shown on the August 1974 Goad plan. I’ve not been able to find it in contemporary phone books, though.
  23. Malbro Fashions appears in the July 1977 and January 1979 Croydon phone books (in the former, as “Malbro Fashion” [sic]). Brian Gittings’ 1980 journal of central Croydon retail lists the shop simply as “closed down”.
  24. Super Savers is listed in Croydon phone books from 1982 to 1995 inclusive, Goad plans from March 1983 to June 1995 inclusive, and the London Shop Surveys of 1984–85, 1986–87, and 1988–89. It appears as “Supersaver, Gifts” in phone books, as “Supersavers [sic] — ho/hold general” in Goad plans up to and including 1991, as “Supersaver [sic] — ho/hold general” in the 1992 Goad plan, as “Supersavers [sic] — household goods” in subsequent Goad plans, and as “Super Savers (H'Hold Fancy Gds)” in the London Shop Surveys. This does imply some confusion over the actual spelling of the shop’s name! However, a planning application from the early 1980s relating to the upper floors of the building (ref 82-2181-A) includes a photograph clearly showing that the name on the frontage was the all-capitals “SUPER SAVERS”.
  25. The May 1996 and May 1997 Goad plans show the premises as vacant. The June 1998 Goad plan lists “Blades Hair”, the July 1999 Croydon phone book lists “Blades Hair & Beauty Salon”, and the September 1999 Goad plan lists “Blades Hairdressing”.
  26. Information on Nubian Jack taken from archived versions of its website at the Internet Archive: front page in February 2002 and About Us page in December 2002. The About Us page doesn’t specifically state that the Croydon store opened in 1999, but it does say that the first store opened in 1997 and the second in 1999. The Croydon store couldn’t have been the first store, as Blades was there in 1998. The About Us page makes no mention of a third store, and includes photos of the Streatham and Croydon branches (in that order). The Croydon branch was definitely in existence by May 2000, as it’s shown on the Goad plan for that year.
  27. Nubian Jack appears in Goad plans from June 2001 to August 2009 inclusive, and Croydon phone books from January 2001 to 2009–10 inclusive. Zahoor Ahmed of Diva Hair and Beauty told me in September 2014 that he thought Nubian Jack was there from 2002 to 2008, after which it became Julia Knows Beauty (in-person conversation, 29 September 2014). According to the Google Street View image linked above, the Nubian Jack signage was definitely there until at least July 2008. According to another Google Street View image from November 2010, by that point the shop had signage for Julia Knows Beauty.
  28. Zahoor Ahmed of Diva Hair and Beauty told me in September 2014 that Julia Knows Beauty had around 22–25 branches (in-person conversation, 29 September 2014). I have personally seen branches in Romford (photo) and Upton Park (photo), and a Flickr search reveals evidence of others in Walworth (photo) and Manchester (photo).
  29. Information on date of opening as Diva Hair and Beauty provided by Zahoor Ahmed (in-person conversation, 29 September 2014).
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« 55 London Road
Home to Sisley’s confectioners for over 70 years, 55 London Road has also seen service as a private residence, an Indian restaurant, and a succession of chicken shops.
59 London Road: Croydon Food Centre »
Built between 1844 and 1851, 59 London Road is one of the oldest buildings on this part of London Road. Originally home to one of Croydon’s first commuters, it later became a drapers, a fancy goods shop, an oyster bar, a photographic studio, and a wine bar. Today it sells halal meat and African groceries.