In an age of buy-outs and corporate takeovers, it may come as a surprise that some major London businesses are still family-owned. These companies are still run by descendants of their original founder, their most valuable heirloom passed down through multiple generations. Here are London’s seven oldest:
In 1760 James Henry Creed’s delivered a pair of scented gloves to the new monarch, King George III. The gloves came from Creed, the company that he had just founded. It started as a tailoring company but the focus quickly shifted to perfume. Creed’s headquarters have now moved to Paris, but there’s still a store in Mayfair and several other London stockists, and Creed’s descendants still run the now-global business.
Juan Famenias Floris and his wife began selling perfume, combs and shaving products on 89 Jermyn Street, where their store — manned by their descendants — remains to this day. Floris has had more than a few notable customers in its history; Mary Shelley, Florence Nightingale and even James Bond, who always wore Floris No. 89.
Berry Bros & Rudd had humble beginnings, starting as a grocer’s by a widow. Only the woman’s last name is known; Bourne. Her descendants shifted from a simple grocer’s to focusing exclusively on wine, becoming one of the world’s premiere wine merchants. It also can lay a claim to fame as the first wine merchant to start an online shop, all the way back in 1995. It was also the first major UK wine retailer to stock Chinese wines.
St James’s Street is home to the world’s oldest hatters, Lock & Co. Robert Davis opened a hat store to cater to the fashionable upper classes during Charles II’s reign. Davis’s granddaughter, Mary, married the store’s apprentice James Lock, from whom the store takes its name. Prime ministers, lords and even the Royal family have made Lock & Co their hatter of choice since then, and it’s been responsible for many iconic headpieces. Admiral Nelson ordered a “cocked hat and cockade 7 1/8th full” at the store, and Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter was apparently inspired by an eccentric member of the Lock family. Plus, the company lays claim to inventing the bowler hat.
Founded in 1672 by Richard Hoare, the bank C. Hoare & Co is the oldest bank in the UK. Today it’s managed by the 11th generation of Hoare’s direct descendants. Despite most independent banks being absorbed by larger conglomerates, it remains family owned. Most importantly, its name lends itself to the pun, “my bankers are Hoares”. The family also owned a brewery in the 19th century (see ghost sign above).
And finally, an honourable mention to the now-defunct Whitechapel Bell Foundry. Before its closure in 2017, this was London’s oldest family business. So old, in fact, that its exact age is a matter of dispute. It definitely reaches back to 1570, but some historians have traced the line of bell founders all the way back to 1420.
The foundry is best known for providing London with Big Ben, and the last bell to be cast here now belongs to the Museum of London. Whether it’s the last bell it will ever produce remains to be seen — there’s currently a campaign to revive Whitechapel Bell Foundry and prevent it from being turned into a boutique hotel.