In 1830, a Mr Smith founded the now famous firm of James Smith and Sons (Umbrellas) at Foubert’s Place, just off Regent Street in London’s West End. The umbrellas were made in a small workshop in the back of the shop and then sold to customers at the front.
In 1851, Samuel Fox invented the lightweight steel frame, and umbrellas, now easily available, grew in popularity. James Smith II was one of the first umbrella makers to use Fox Frames & his business grew to the point where he had to move to a larger premises in 53 New Oxford Street, where the shop, almost unchanged, remains to this day.
The shop was so narrow that to open an umbrella you had to go outside. From this shop umbrellas were sold to many dignitaries such as Gladstone, Lord Curzon and Bonar Law. When the shop in Saville Place was knocked down to make way for a new road another shop was opened in Burlington Street, near Piccadilly Circus.
In 1930 the great grandson of the founder arrived from Tasmania to run the business. The shop in Burlington Street was destroyed in a bombing raid during the Second World War leaving only the New Oxford Street shop.
The shop at 53 New Oxford Street is largely unaltered and is a perfect example of Victorian shop front design. It remains as one of the landmarks of Central London and is commonly referred to as ‘The Umbrella Shop’ by black cab drivers and locals alike.