Bakhan Restaurant at 72 London Road has been serving up Kurdish food since 2009, including soups, kebabs, stews, stuffed vegetables, and plenty more.
1900s: Construction of the building, and Bell & Shayler, billiard table makers
The first occupant was a company known as Bell & Shayler, in place by November 1904. The company specialised in billiard table and cue manufacture, and was owned by Sidney Ernest Bell and Frederick Thomas Shayler. Sidney had previously worked for the manufacturer Burroughes & Watts, while Frederick was a professional player who also had a background in billiard table fabrication.
According to billiards cue historian Andy Hunter, Sidney ran the company on his own for about six months before bringing Frederick in as his partner. The partnership was to be relatively short-lived, however, and was officially dissolved in May 1906.
Sidney continued to trade alone under the name of Bell & Shayler for a couple of years, and even expanded the business to Southend-on-Sea, before being declared bankrupt in early 1908. After his bankruptcy was discharged in April 1909, he briefly reappeared at 72 London Road as “Bell & Co”, but by 1911 had once more departed, this time for good.
1910s: Osborn’s Agency; John Joyce, North Park Dairy; and the Scottish Legal Life Assurance Society
Next to arrive were Osborn’s Agency and John Joyce’s North Park Dairy, both in place by 1911. Very little information survives about the first of these, aside from the fact that it was run by a Miss Osborn and its purpose may have been to provide employment for women.
North Park Dairy had been in business since at least 1887, and had a presence at 542 London Road in Thornton Heath by 1890. It opened its West Croydon branch at 72 London Road around 1910; this remained here until around 1919, when it moved down the road to number 28.
John Joyce and Miss Osborn were soon joined by the Scottish Legal Life Assurance Company, in place by 1912. This company was in fact to outstay them both; they were gone by 1921, but Scottish Legal Life held on until around 1924.
It’s unclear how these three companies shared the building, but it seems most likely that the dairy, as a retail shop, had the street frontage on the ground floor. The building has three storeys in total, so Miss Osborn and Scottish Legal Life were probably on the upper floors.
1920s: Chemists, builders, advertising agents, and turf accountants
Number 72 continued to have multiple commercial occupants throughout the 1920s, generally two or three at a time. These included J Morriss’s “commercial agency”; Palmer, Wright & Co, builders; and Hicks & Crosskey, turf accountants (i.e. bookmakers), all of which were most likely on the upper floors, or perhaps at the back of the ground floor.
Elite Advertising Services arrived around 1924 — again probably on one of the upper floors — and remained until around 1929 before moving across the road to number 69. It remained there until around 1937, albeit with a rename to C S Howes & Co along the way. The company then moved to 167 Handcroft Road, and finally went into voluntary liquidation in 1955.
The most long-standing of the 1920s occupants — and most likely the one with the street frontage on the ground floor — was a chemists shop run by Abraham Moss. Born in North Wales in the early 1860s, by 1881 Abraham had moved to Yorkshire and found employment as a chemist’s assistant. He qualified as a chemist in his own right in 1886. By 1891, he had married and moved to Deptford, where he worked as a chemist and druggist, and by 1894 he was running a chemists shop on South Norwood High Street. He opened his London Road shop around 1920, and it remained at number 72 until his death in 1931.
1930s–1960s: The persistence of chemists
Abraham Moss’s death did not, however, mean the end of the chemists shop; this was to continue for another three or four decades, first in the hands of one B Crompton and later in the hands of Leonard H White.
In the initial years of B Crompton’s ownership, the shop also went by the name of “The People’s Pharmacy”. This may have been connected to the People’s Pharmacy in Portsmouth, which specialised in providing generic (and hence cheaper) versions of various “patent medicines”.
By early 1950, B Crompton had given way to Leonard H White, who continued to run the shop until the mid-1960s. By 1966, he was trading as Burgess Dow Ltd; however, in September of that year, the company went into liquidation and the chemists shop at 72 London Road finally closed for good.
Other occupants of the building during this time — simultaneously with the chemists shop, and hence likely on the upper floors — included the West Croydon Typewriting Agency (Jones & Tidy) and two firms of chartered accountants, Frederick E Mark and Norman C Warner & Co. Norman C Warner & Co was in fact the appointed liquidator for Leonard White’s chemists business.
1970s: N B Patel and the West Croydon Post Office
By 1971 the premises were in use as the West Croydon Post Office, run by N B Patel. However, around 1976 this moved down the road to number 25; it remains there today, though under different management.
1980s–2000s: Croydon Charcoal Grill, Croydon Flaming Grill, and Safeen Charcoal Grill
Following the departure of the Post Office, the use of number 72 changed again; this time, to a line of business that would persist to the present day. Croydon Charcoal Grill was open by the early 1980s, advertising the “best kebabs in town”, and continued to trade until the mid-1990s.
Around 1996, Croydon Charcoal Grill was replaced by Croydon Flaming Grill, which advertised itself as a “steak & kebab house” and also offered burgers and pizzas. This in turn was replaced around 2003 by Safeen Charcoal Grill, which also went by the name of Safeen Mountain. Safeen’s menu included pizzas, kebabs, and burgers, but also more unusual dishes such as pacha — “Lamb stomach skin, stuffed with rice, spicy mince meat, & lamb tongue served with soup, nan bread & pickles” — and tapsi — “Deep fried aubergine in Safeen special tomato sauce served with rice, nan & salad”. Although these dishes were advertised as “Mediterranean food”, the name of the restaurant suggests that the chef was actually Kurdish.
2009–present: Bakhan Restaurant
Around 2009, Safeen closed and was replaced by Bakhan Restaurant, which still remains there today. In contrast to Safeen, Bakhan’s Kurdishness is explicitly proclaimed, with menus offering “Kurdish & Middle Eastern Cuisine”. Pacha is still on offer, though today it includes lamb’s head — perhaps this was considered too daring for Croydon a decade ago.
Ali Mohammed, the current owner of the restaurant, took over in December 2014. He told me that, along with pacha, the most typically Kurdish dishes on the menu include stuffed chicken (a whole chicken stuffed with rice and sultanas before being baked in the oven), kefta (large rice balls stuffed with lamb mince), sheikh mahshi (oven-baked aubergines and courgettes stuffed with lamb or chicken mince), and quzi (a complete meal consisting of meat, rice, and a couple of vegetable stews). Although this is the first restaurant he’s run in Croydon, he has previous restaurant experience both in Bristol and in Kurdistan itself — in fact, although he’s now lived in Croydon for seven years, he’s still involved with his restaurant in Kurdistan.
Thanks to: Ali Mohammed of Bakhan Restaurant; Andy Hunter and Gordon Radford of The Cue Collector; Brian Gittings; Hessie, for language assistance; the LiveJournal Linguaphiles; the Planning Technical Support Team at Croydon Council; all at the Croydon Local Studies Library; and my beta-readers Flash and Henry. Census data consulted via Ancestry.co.uk.
Footnotes and references
The first appearance of 72 and 74 London Road is in Ward’s 1905 directory (where they are numbered as 38 and 40). The data for this directory would have been gathered late the previous year. Ward’s directories of this period generally showed “Unoccupied” for buildings that existed but were vacant, and something along the lines of “Two shops building” for things under construction; so the fact that these numbers were omitted from editions prior to 1905 strongly suggests that late 1903 was the very earliest that construction could have started. The 1896 Town Plans show a full run of buildings on the east side of the road from West Croydon Station up to the present number 78, with the exception of these two buildings. The 1901 census also skips straight from number 36 (modern 70) to number 42 (modern 76).
They’re still among the newest buildings on this part of the road today; of those south of the old General Hospital site, the only ones more modern are numbers 12–14 (rebuilt in the 1920s), the station itself (rebuilt in the 1930s), numbers 73–77 and 89 (rebuilt in the 1960s), and number 82 (built around 2008).
- See the Surrey Mirror advert reproduced here for evidence that Bell & Shayler was at 72 London Road by November 1904 (38 London Road was renumbered to 72 in 1927) and on Bell’s previous employment with Burroughes & Watts (a company which is still going today). Bell and Shayler’s full names are taken from the notice of dissolution of partnership on page 3264 of the 11 May 1906 London Gazette. Information on Frederick Shayler’s background provided by billiards historian Gordon Radford (via email, 11 May 2015). Gordon also notes that he has been unable to find any adverts for Bell & Shayler that predate 4 November 1904.
- Andy Hunter has a video on YouTube in which he discusses four rare cues, including one made by Bell & Shayler: “Bell started the company, before him and Shayler went into partnership, apparently Bell worked, I think, at Burroughes & Watts, and Shayler was a player. Bell ran it for about six months before him and Shayler became partners. It only ran ’til about 1908, and then went bankrupt. Really rare cue to have. One I did have before this was a Bell, just called the Bell’s, from the same address.” (1:55–2:20).
- See notice of dissolution of partnership on page 3264 of the 11 May 1906 London Gazette.
- Bell & Shayler is listed on London Road in Ward’s directories from 1905 to 1908 inclusive; note that the information for the last of these would have been gathered in late 1907. Sidney’s bankruptcy and prior expansion to Southend-on-sea are reported on page 594 of the 29 May 1908 Edinburgh Gazette (under the heading “Bankrupts. From the London Gazette.” — I haven’t been able to find the original London Gazette announcement). Here, he is described as “Sidney Ernest Bell (trading as Bell & Shayler), 38 London Road, Croydon, Surrey, 71 Queen’s Road, Southend-on-Sea, and 10 Cliff Town Road, Southend-on-Sea, Essex, billiard table manufacturer.”
- Information on Sidney’s discharge from bankruptcy supplied by Gordon Radford (via email, 11 May 2015). Ward’s 1909 directory lists the London Road property as “Unoccupied”, while the 1910 edition lists both “Shop Unoccupied” and “Bell & Co., Billiard Table Makers”. The 1911 edition lists other occupants entirely.
- Ward’s directories list Osborn’s Universal Agency in 1911, Osborn’s Agency in 1912, Miss Osborn in 1913 to 1916 inclusive, and Osborn’s Agency again from 1917 to 1919 inclusive. Alongside this, they list a “Ladies’ High-class Employment Bureau”, which may have been part of Miss Osborn’s business.
- An advertisement on page 4 of the 24 September 1887 Croydon Advertiser offers “A fine Alderney heifer and calf for sale.—J. Joyce, North Park Dairy, Croydon.” (viewed at the British Newspaper Archive — requires subscription).
- Ward’s 1890 directory lists John Joyce, dairyman, at 296 London Road, which was renumbered to 542 in 1927. According to the 1891 census, John and his family lived on the premises too. This building no longer exists, having been swallowed up by Croydon University Hospital.
- Ward’s directories list John Joyce’s dairy at 38 London Road (modern number 72) from 1911 to 1919 inclusive, and at 10 London Road (modern number 28) thereafter. Note that information for each edition of these directories was generally gathered late the previous year. See my article on 28 London Road for what happened after that.
- Scottish Legal Life is listed in Ward’s directories from 1912 to 1924 inclusive, initially as “Scottish Legal Life Insurance Company” and from 1913 onwards as “Scottish Legal Life Assurance Company”. It was in existence as a company by 1855, according to a catalogue record at the National Archives, which states that the board and committee minutes and legal records from 1855 to 1971 are available at the Glasgow City Archives. The company continued trading for several decades after departing from London Road, before merging with Scottish Friendly in 2007.
- Ward’s directories list J Morriss in 1921 and 1922; Palmer, Wright & Co in 1923 and 1924; and Hicks & Crosskey from 1929 up to the final edition in 1939. I have been unable to find out any other information about any of these three companies. As noted in a previous footnote, Ward’s directories also list Scottish Legal Life up to and including 1924. The reason I think these companies were probably on one of the upper floors of number 72 is that the ground floor was most likely taken up by Abraham Moss’s chemists shop (see later in article). A Mrs Kent is listed from 1925 to 1929 inclusive, but with no business details, so likely a private resident.
- Ward’s directories list the Elite Sales Letter Co, advertising agents, at number 72 in 1925 and 1926, and Elite Advertising Services (presumably the same company) at the same address in 1927, 1928, and 1929. Kelly’s 1927 directory lists “C S Howes, advertising agent” rather than the company name. Ward’s directories then list Elite Advertising Services at number 69 in 1930, and C S Howes & Co, advertising agents, at number 69 in 1932, 1934, and 1937 (but not 1939, which was the final edition of these directories). It’s clear from the entry in Kelly’s 1927 that Elite Advertising and C S Howes & Co were basically the same company.
- Ward’s 1939 directory lists C S Howes & Co at 167 Handcroft Road. Information on the 1955 liquidation of C S Howes & Co can be found in the London Gazette of 11 February 1955, page 864 and page 866; according to the liquidation notice, the company was still at 167 Handcroft Road at this point.
Date of Abraham Moss’s qualification taken from his death notice in the Chemist and Druggist, referenced below. Regarding his time in South Norwood, Ward’s directories from 1894 to 1911 inclusive list Baldock & Co, chemists, and A Moss, private resident, at 3 South Norwood High Street. The 1901 census lists him as living at 3 South Norwood High Street and as an “Employer” working “At Home”; that is, he was the owner or manager of the shop rather than simply an employee, and he and his family lived on the shop premises. Ward’s directories prior to 1894 simply list Baldock & Co, suggesting that when Abraham took over the shop he continued running it under the existing name. Ward’s 1912 directory lists a different chemists shop, H W Beale, and a different private resident, A Tudor, at 3 South Norwood High Street. I have no information on where Abraham was working between 1912 and 1920. The 1911 census has him living at 37 Holmewood Road in South Norwood, but there’s no entry in the “At Home” column which would have been filled in if he’d been “carrying on Trade or Industry at home”; and he is absent from the trades and professions sections of Ward’s directories for these years.
Other information is taken from the 1881, 1891, 1901, and 1911 censuses, in which Abraham’s age is given as 19, 27, 37, and 47 respectively. His birthplace is given as Adwy’r Clawdd, Denbighshire, which according to Wikipedia is a hamlet which became integrated into the village of Coedpoeth, now part of Wrexham County Borough. The 1891 census is the first to list a wife — 26-year-old Eva. By the time of the 1901 census, Abraham and Eva had six children aged between 1 and 9.
- Abraham Moss’s chemists shop is listed in Ward’s directories from 1921 to 1930 inclusive (there is no 1931 edition of these directories, and the 1920 edition lists only the Scottish Legal Life Assurance Society). His death is reported on page 483 of the 17 October 1931 Chemist and Druggist: “At Guy’s Hospital, London, S.E.1, on October 5, Mr. Abraham Moss, chemist and druggist, 72 London Road, West Croydon. Mr. Moss qualified in 1886. He passed away suddenly after many months of failing health.” Viewed online via the Internet Archive, contributed by the Wellcome Library. The GOV.UK “Find a will” search reports that at this date he was living at 44 Parchmore Road, Thornton Heath; it also states “Administration Winchester to 27 November to Eric Moss civil servant and Lily Moss spinster” — Eric and Lily are listed as Abraham’s children in the 1901 and 1911 censuses.
Ward’s directories list B Crompton, The People’s Pharmacy, in 1932 and 1934; and B Crompton, “Drug Strs” [stores], in 1937 and 1939.
Information about the People’s Pharmacy in Portsmouth is taken from a booklet entitled “The Truth About Patent Medicines”, viewed at the Wellcome Library and tentatively dated by them to 1910 (shelfmark QV4 1910S36t). This gives the address of 534a Commercial Road, Portsmouth. The introduction notes that “some [patent medicines] are a good specific for the particular malady they profess to cure, but all, without exception, are extortionate in price”. The main part of the booklet consists of lists of ingredients of patent medicines (“What Analysis showed”). Each medicine is given a number, and the People’s Pharmacy version of a prescription using those ingredients can be ordered by number. Specific instructions are given not to mention the name of the medicine when ordering, presumably for legal reasons.
The People’s Pharmacy certainly had at least one branch outside Portsmouth; an advertisement on page 2 of the 13 February 1932 Hastings and St Leonards Observer states: “The Truth About Patent Medicines BOOK FREE from the PEOPLE’S PHARMACY who have now opened a branch to meet the requirements of their many customers. A full range of their prescription numbers can be obtained at their only address in Hastings — 9, George St.” (viewed online at the British Newspaper Archive; requires subscription). The reference to the abovementioned booklet makes it clear that this was connected to the Portsmouth People’s Pharmacy. It thus doesn’t seem unreasonable for the company to have also opened a branch in Croydon. Note however that this advertisement makes no mention of a Croydon branch even though it post-dates the opening of the Croydon People’s Pharmacy (which is listed in Ward’s 1932 directory and hence must have been in place by the end of 1931).
- L H White, chemist, is listed at 72 London Road in Croydon phone books from April 1950 to June 1966 inclusive. His full first name is given in Kent’s 1955 and 1956 directories, where he appears as Leonard H White, dispensing chemist. He is absent from post-1966 phone books. He does appear in the 1968 Croydon & District Green Guide, but it’s likely that information for this publication was gathered some time in advance of its stated date. Information on the company name of Burgess Dow and the September 1966 liquidation is taken from an announcement on page 11021 of the 11 October 1966 London Gazette.
- “W Croydon Typewriting Agency — Jones & Tidy” and “Frederick E Mark — Chartered Accountants” are listed in Kent’s 1955 and 1956 directories; the former at number 72 and the latter at 72a. “Fedrick [sic] E. Mark, Chtrd Acctnt” also appears at 72a in the 1957 Croydon phone book. Norman C Warner & Co is listed at 72a London Road and 3 Georgia Road, Thornton Heath, in the June 1965, June 1966, and August 1967 Croydon phone books. Pre-1965 it appears only at 3 Georgia Road, and post-1967 it appears at 3 Georgia Road and at 64 Thornton Road, Thornton Heath.
- See the London Gazette announcement referenced earlier.
- Croydon phone books from August 1971 to January 1976 inclusive list N B Patel, and the August 1974 Goad plan shows N Patel, West Croydon PO, “stat & sub PO” [stationers and sub Post Office]. N B Patel appears at 25 London Road in phone books from July 1977 onwards. When I spoke to the owner of the Post Office business at number 25 in September 2013, he told me that he’d only had it for three years.
- A restaurant and takeaway of some kind was in place by early 1980; a planning application relating to numbers 68–70 (ref 80/20/648), deposited on 13 March 1980 and approved on 29 April 1980, includes a report of a site visit which states that number 72 at that point was in use as “Restaurant Take away Hot food”. However no information was provided on the name of the business at this point. Croydon Charcoal Grill appears on Goad plans from March 1983 to May 1996 inclusive (I have no access to any pre-1983 Goad plans aside from August 1974). The phrase “best kebabs in town” is taken from wording on the frontage in a 1989 photo by Brian Gittings, a cropped version of which is reproduced here.
- Croydon Flaming Grill appears on Goad plans from May 1997 to May 2002 inclusive. A photograph of the building during this time shows the wording “Croydon Flaming Grill / Steak & Kebab House / [something unreadable, possibly ‘Shawarma’ ] Kebab Burger Pizza” on the frontage. This photograph used to appear on the Croydon Council locally listed buildings page, which has sadly vanished from the internet (a list of the buildings is still available, but without the photos). The restaurant is also mentioned in a front-page 31 October 2003 Croydon Advertiser article, which describes an axe attack “outside the Croydon Flaming Grill Kebab House, 200 yards from West Croydon Station” earlier that week.
- Safeen Charcoal Grill appears on Goad plans from May 2004 to August 2008 inclusive. It can also be seen on a Google Street View image from July 2008. The name of Safeen Mountain and details of the dishes offered by the restaurant come from an undated takeaway menu found in the firms files at Croydon Local Studies and Archives Service. Regarding the Kurdish connection, note that Safeen Mountain is in Kurdistan.
- Bakhan is shown on the August 2009 and May 2011 Goad plans, and Google Street View imagery from November 2010. Safeen Charcoal Grill Ltd was dissolved as a company in October 2009, according to (now-deleted) information on the Companies House website. Phrase on current menus is from personal observation. Ali Mohammed of Bakhan Restaurant described pacha to me as “lamb head and leg” (conversation at restaurant, 11 May 2015).
- All information in this paragraph provided by Ali Mohammed (conversation at restaurant, 11 May 2015).