Got an unusual hobby? It’s odds on that if you do, you’ll find a shop in London devoted to it.
Love fast cars? You can’t buy a full size racing car – but St Martin’s Models, in Cecil Court, has thousands of diecast replicas of supercars, F1 and rally racers. The slowly revolving glass shelves in the window are mesmerising and inside, there are some interesting memorabilia including an old Shell petrol pump with an illuminated shell motif on top.
Or if you fancy yourself as George Formby (or possibly Jake Shimabukuro, the Jimi Hendrix of the Uke), you’ll be happy as a sandboy at Duke of Uke in Cheshire Street (near Shoreditch High Street station). This shop does also have a good stock of banjos, guitars and basses, but it’s really focused on ukes – from a £35 learner model to a several hundred pound handmade baritone ukulele in precious woods. It even offers lessons and courses, and you can buy tutorial DVDs and sheet music, too.
Fabric and jewellery lovers are spoilt for choice. The London Bead Co, opposite Kentish Town station, is a mine of beads and sequins for jewellery makers, and ‘findings’ too – little earring clips, fastenings and catches. Not only that, it’s twinned with an embroidery shop, Delicate Stitches, which sells all kinds of supplies from pure silk thread and darning mushrooms to quilting squares and cross stitch kits and magazines. And tons and tons of ribbons, which are a lovely way to add a little luxury to almost any present or package.
London Bead Co is a shop that impresses by the sheer variety of its contents. The Button Queen in Marylebone on the other hand is completely monomaniac – just one thing, and one alone, and you guessed it; buttons. Mother of pearl buttons. Black jet buttons. Rare early Victorian buttons at a tenner each. Cards of funky 1960s bright plastic buttons for a pound or so a strip. Buttons sparkly, spangly, or restrained and refined. Mind you, you’ll need an idea of what you want; since most of the buttons are behind the counter, it’s not so easy to browse. But they have got buttons.
Writers, calligraphers, and lovers of books should get to know Shepherds Falkiners in Gillingham Street, Victoria. Here you can buy bookbinding tools and materials, from a simple bone folder for creasing paper to a ‘plough’ (for cutting the edges of pages) or a book press. I’m always tempted by the papers – marbled paper, hand stencilled Japanese paper, paper made from mulberry leaves. And then there are photograph albums, notebooks, and paper-covered boxes – lovely little gifts, for someone else or just for yourself.
Just round the corner from the British Museum, Cornelissen‘s business is described in delightful archaic fashion as “artists’ colourmen”, and the shop feels ancient, with its creaking floorboards and old display cases – it’s been here since 1855 and hardly seems to have changed. You can buy pure pigments, in powder form, to mix your own paint, as well as a huge range of inks, paints, and printing materials. Dip pens and calligraphy supplies are available, and it’s the only place I know where you can buy gold leaf in booklets of 25 leaves for your medieval-style illuminations.
A more contemporary store for art materials is the London Graphics Centre in Shelton Street, Covent Garden. It’s a huge space with exposed brick walls and a huge staircase running up the centre, and it’s full of good stuff; paper, cardboard, notebooks and sketchbooks, pens, inks, technical drawing supplies, oils and watercolour paints, fabric paints and dyes, airbrushing kit, and even modelmaking supplies (if you want miniature trees this is the place to come). And the staff really know their stuff.
If London Graphics Centre doesn’t have exactly what you need for a model, drop in to the 4D Modelshop in the railway arches at Leman Street, Spitalfields. It has materials for all kinds of models, from dolls houses to cake decoration, and; balsa wood to paper kits. This isn’t just a hobby shop – architects’ practices use it to create their models, I’ve been told – but if you fancy getting started in an easy way, it has paper kits to build your own Tower of London, Big Ben, Tower Bridge, or if you feel more exotically inclined, Taj Mahal. My favourite object in the shop, though, is the tiny, perfectly made little office swivel chair that stands about an inch and a half high. What could be cuter?
Finally, Blade Rubber Stamps, back just round the corner from Cornelissen in Bury Place, has glitter, stickers and buttons, and a massive variety of rubber stamps, crafts books and magazines. You can get your initials in rubber stamps, or have a stamp made up for you specially. Perfect for a personalised gift.
Concierge Tip: Take advantage of our bespoke family package and let your little (and big) ones enjoy the delights of London’s many specialist hobby shops – there really is something for everyone.