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  • Writer's pictureGregg Maflin

HIDDEN LONDON [5] “The Old Curiosity Shop”. Discover the oldest surviving shop in London.

Updated: Oct 19, 2020

A wonderfully ancient, small shop still survives just off Holborn Kingsway surround by high rise blocks of the LSE , bearing the date 1567. It is possibly the oldest surviving shop in London.

In the late C19th it became a popular attraction to overseas visitors and literary fans alike that much photographed it’s famous moniker painted artfully in gothic lettering on its upper storey announced.

“The Old Curiosity Shop, Immortalized by Charles Dickens “. Though whether this is the exact truth is more than open to question. Dickens did indeed write a tale of “Old London” and the orphaned Little Nell, whose demise even touched Queen Victoria, in the pathos and telling of the story, though Oscar Wilde thought “One would have to have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without dissolving into tears...of laughter."

But is it doubtful that this is the location of the shop that inspired him, though Dickens knew of it as he lived nearby. It seems after his death in 1870, the owner at the time who did indeed sell “Bric a Brac” rags and assorted detritus of unknown origin came upon the ruse of painting the name above the shop to increase his trade. And more to cash in on the authors death as a marketing opportunity, this proved so successful and it thus became a tourist attraction. So much that in the Pall Mall Gazette of January 1884 an article was written decrying it, and all who came from far and wide to photograph and hassle the owners for a piece of the building.

Today in July 2020 it sits there, surrounded by new building works and at present is a luxury shoe shop [ now closed] , but it’s survival to the present day is in itself amazing, being a little time portal into London’s past.

If only one could enter and on exiting find oneself back in 1841, one could ask the author himself of the Old Curiosity Shop’s exact location.

The Old Curiosity Shop can be found at 14 Portsmouth St, London, WC2A 2ES

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