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Published on : Friday, January 1, 2016
Whether you’re looking for limited edition teddy bears, goods made from recycled or reclaimed materials or even an umbrella with a carved hardwood handle in the shape of a crystal parrot, Britain’s specialist shops ensure you’ll find a unique shopping experience.
Labour and Wait, London
A homeware haven for east London hipsters, Labour and Wait carries a selection of stylish and timeless utilitarian domestic goods. The range of household, kitchen, bathroom and gardening items include hurricane lamps, tea cosies, enamelware, leather tool bags, robust cotton aprons, flowerpot brushes and horsehair brooms. The stock is carefully selected and beautifully presented, so even something as mundane as a ball of string becomes a must-have item.
Where is it? In Shoreditch, east London. Nearest tube: Shoreditch High Street.
Mr Wood’s Fossils, Edinburgh
Devoted to fossils in all forms, shapes, sizes and prices, Mr Wood’s Fossils has been trading in Edinburgh’s historic Grassmarket district since 1987. Its vast range of geologic goodies has been sourced from all over the world. As well as substantial museum-quality pieces, the shop carries plenty of affordable little souvenirs costing just a few pounds, such as dinosaur teeth, fossil fish, ammonites from the Jurassic coast of Yorkshire, and mammoth bones from Britain’s North Sea. Out-of-this-world rock lovers are catered for with pieces of Mars, the Moon, and various meteorites that have fallen to earth. There’s also fantastic fossil jewellery including shark tooth necklaces, amber beads, and fossils set in silver as pendants.
Where is it? Edinburgh is 4.5 hours by train from London.
James Smith & Sons, London
Established in 1830, James Smith & Sons is a renowned umbrella shop in London’s West End neighbourhood. This historic shop still has its original Victorian fittings, so it’s a wonderful example of bygone-era retail. Having supplied umbrellas, walking sticks and canes to ladies and gentlemen for 185 years, today it’s still owned and run as a family business and their range and knowledge is as unbeatable as ever. For something extra-special, choose an umbrella with a carved hardwood handle in the shape of a hound or a duck for gentlemen, or a spaniel or crystal parrot for ladies. They also carry handmade cotton parasols for providing shade on sunny days.
Where is it? In central London. Nearest tube: Tottenham Court Road.
Bombay Stores, Bradford, north England
A south Asian shopping experience in the north of England, Bombay Stores is Britain’s largest Asian department store. Established in Bradford in 1967, they have a long-established and unrivalled understanding of the Asian fashion market in modern, multicultural Britain. There’s something for all occasions within this Aladdin’s cave, including reputed fashion brands from Bombay and Pakistan, specialist cosmetics, Halal sweets, Indian handicrafts, beautiful embroidered fabrics, and other exotic merchandise.
Where is it? Bradford is in the north of England, three hours north of London by train.
Asquiths Teddy Bear Shop, Henley-on-Thames, south England
Said to be the world’s first teddy bear shop, Asquiths was established more than 30 years ago in Henley-on-Thames. This cuddly bear boutique stocks hundreds of teddies in all shapes, sizes and styles. There are teddies by renowned British manufacturer Merrythought, plus major international bear brands such as Steiff, Hermann and Gund. The shop also carries its own line of delightful, individually numbered Asquiths bears, each one handcrafted in England. Other bear-themed goodies available for purchase include shopping bags, art and accessories, while serious collectors will find rare and antique teddies here too.
Where is it? Henley-on-Thames is in south England, one hour from London by train.
Junkshop, Manchester, north-west England
One of Britain’s most radical shops, Junk is entirely furnished using recycled or reclaimed materials. There’s a counter remoulded from Fairy Liquid washing-up detergent bottles, the changing rooms are old walk-in wardrobes, and the stock of reinvented vintage clothes are the result of collaborations with young, up-and-coming designers. The result is an ethical and inventive shopping environment where everything is unique and bespoke yet doesn’t cost the earth.
Where is it? Manchester is in north-west England, two hours from London by train.
Merrythought, Ironbridge, central England
Bear aficionados can also buy handmade Merrythought teddies direct from the Merrythought Teddy Bear Shop & Museum in the historic industrial town of Ironbridge, close to England’s border with Wales. As well as stocking their range of traditional and limited edition bears, other Merrythought soft toys – including hobby-horses and hippos are available – all made in Ironbridge. For a bit of teddy history, the small onsite museum displays Merrythought bears dating back as far as 1909.
Where is it? Ironbridge is in central England, under three hours north west of London
Duke of Uke, London
Enter the world of the ukulele at London’s one and only ukulele and banjo emporium. Established in 2005, this little shop off Brick Lane in hip east London carries a big range of new and vintage ukuleles in all shapes and sizes, as well as other instruments including banjos, guitars and mandolins. The ukulele is, however, king, and the knowledgeable team welcome everyone from accomplished players to absolute beginners. After hours, the shop floor becomes a place of learning: a hub for the ukulele community with group courses and private lessons available. Gigs and other events are also organised.
Where is it? In east London. Nearest tube: Whitechapel or Shoreditch High Street.
Claire Grove Buttons, Cardiff, south Wales
One of Cardiff’s best-known independent shopkeepers, Claire Grove, has been selling buttons from a shop in the historic Castle Arcade since the 1980s. This treasure trove offers buttons in all shapes and sizes; with many thousands to choose from, it’s button heaven! There are also loose beads for jewellery making, ready-made necklaces and earrings, plus greetings cards, handmade diaries, gift bags and prints all designed by Claire Grove herself.
Where is it? Cardiff is in south Wales, two hours from London by train.
No Alibis, Belfast, Northern Ireland
No Alibis is home to all sorts of extraordinary stories, including tales of murder and mayhem from the past and present – because this independent bookstore in Belfast specialises in crime. More than a shop, it’s a community of likeminded crime book lovers. The well-read staff can recommend titles from a huge range of thrillers, whodunnits and detective stories, plus there’s a host of regular events including readings, Q&A sessions and book signings by visiting authors. So if you’re wondering where is the best place in Britain to buy a killer book… that mystery is solved!
Where is it? Belfast is in Northern Ireland, 75 minutes by air from London.
Butlers Emporium, Hastings, south England
The English seaside town of Hastings boasts many quirky shops. One of the most remarkable is Butlers Emporium in the heart of Hastings Old Town. Dating from 1832, much of its interior is intact and unchanged from the days when it was a traditional hardware store. Original tall display cabinets show off an array of wares, and the sales assistants wear aprons just as they would have done a century ago. The main evidence of the modern world is the fact that credit cards are accepted. This is not however a living museum – the stock of household goods, haberdashery, crockery, and vintage collectables is stylish, cool and desirable.
Where is it? Hastings is on the south coast of England, 90 minutes from London by train.