For a long time, the Amwell Street area has had all the bijou badges of a “London village”. Why not head to its indie shops for your Christmas shopping this year? Kate O’Donnell goes on a recce.
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼Freddie Grubb, 63 Amwell Street
Now two years old, the Freddie Grubb shop sells its own line of sleek bikes, all handmade to order in Deptford Creek. It also offers elegant contemporary furniture, Flos lighting, Instrmnt watches and designer tech accessories such as wireless speakers covered in Kvadrat fabrics. Why Amwell Street? “We were keen to be on a quintessential London high street,” says co-owner Malcolm Harding. “Giving customers the opportunity to test ride our bicycles in gorgeous surroundings was also a draw.”
Quill London, 37 Amwell Street
“I was very lucky to secure a place on lovely Amwell Street,” says Quill’s owner, Lucy Edmonds, who loves Clerkenwell so much she got married here. Edmonds is the queen of modern calligraphy; that romantic method of communication that uses pen, ink and paper (even actual quills). She runs regular workshops and goes on scouting trips, bringing back rare treasures – the shop recently displayed some exquisite Japanese stationery. It’s almost impossible to leave empty-handed, even if all you’ve bought is a box of Blackwing’s cult pencils or a spool of gold-flecked ribbon.
Alexandra Harper Millinery, 25 Arlington Way
Window displays here are like art installations: the one just before we went to press featured five hats in various shades of yellow, from a wheat-coloured boater to a head- hugging number in cadmium yellow (boaters and feathers are in for spring, by the way). As well as making hats to order (prices start from £100), Aussie-trained milliner Alexandra Harper has a small diffusion line of ready-to-wear headpieces and headbands. The teeny boutique on the Grade II- Listed site harks back to Dickensian London. “There’s so much history,” she says. “My husband and I moved to Angel shortly after so we’re very happy locals now.”
Turner & George, 399 St John Street
Food gifts at Christmas can be hit and miss but everything at meat merchant Turner & George is a sure- fire winner. Launched by butcher James George and ex-Hawksmoor chef Richard Turner, the pair know everything there is to know about meat (they supply burgers to Honest Burgers, incidentally). For a festive feast, choose from air-dried Cumbrian ham (£38 for 3kg), Cumberland smoked back bacon (from £9 for 2 x 250g) and Oxbridge sausages (£5 for 6). Even a gift voucher from here would be devoured, so to speak. They also offer butchery and wine-pairing classes, with inspiring, doable recipes.
Wallace Sewell, 24 Lloyd Baker Street
The top textile label is celebrating its 25th anniversary and pretty much all of those years have been spent in Clerkenwell, from Harriet Wallace-Jones’s and Emma Sewell’s early days designing from a cramped studio in Clerkenwell Workshops to their current cosy shop/showroom off Amwell Street. The design duo’s commercial work includes moquettes for the Bakerloo, Central, Northern and Jubilee lines, plus London Overground and the new Crossrail. Their retail work now incorporates more pieces for the home, including a divine new rug range plus luxe lambswool cushions in their confident colour combinations.
Present & Correct, 23 Arlington Way
Long-time Clerkenwell fans Neal Whittington and his co-founder Mark Smith are stationery obsessives. You can see that from the briefest browse of their shop, where everything is lined up just so in the pegboard interior. Their USP is stationery that goes beyond the norm: sticky notes come in different shapes as well as colours; date-stamped sticky tape turns any lined notebook into a diary; colour- coded ‘signal clips’ make filing a pleasure… There’s even bubble wrap with bubbles in the shape of hearts. The aesthetics are wonderful but the practicalities work too.
Dar Leone, 1 Chadwell Street
Sierra Leone native Isatu Funna was a lawyer before she decided to start selling African interior- design accessories (plus selected goodies from Turkey and Mexico). The products – textiles, spectacular wallpapers, swirly glassware vases, woven basketware from Rwanda and Ghana – were at first available only online but in 2015 she opened up her jewel-box of a boutique. What’s so clever is that Funna tweaks styles, motifs and colours to suit a European audience without losing the essential African identity and traditional craft skills of her designer-makers’ work. New for winter is a line of gold-plated jewellery.
Pennies Vintage, 41a Amwell Street
Penelope Ross cannily moved to Amwell Street in 2011. “Here, I am my own landlord,” she explains, “as I bought the house alongside. Commercial rents are unaffordable!” Her vintage treasures are immaculate. Expect silk Victorian ruffles, exquisite Edwardian cotton lawns, beaded and sequinned Twenties and Thirties dance frocks, plus the occasional original gem from Christian Dior, Balenciaga, Schiaparelli or Courrèges. The embellished wedding dresses are to die for and prices rarely top the £350 mark. Fairly priced vintage home accessories, handbags, hair pieces and paste jewellery add to the eclectic fun.