While I know not everyday it rains in Britain, it is inevitable that the English Isles, surrounded by water and at the mercy of the Gulf Stream that is one of the ocean currents that transports relatively warm water from the Gulf of Mexico to the British Isles, and (I had to remind myself this of this one) warm water evaporates faster than cool water, a multitude of rain nearly year-round is a very good possibility. This characteristic is one of the many reasons I have a deep fondness for the country, and why when I began searching for a quality umbrella, I knew I wanted to shop in Britain.
James Smith & Sons Umbrellas began business in 1830 when James 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.” Step forward a couple of decades, and it was in 1851 when Samuel Fox invented the lightweight steel frame for umbrellas that upon becoming easily available grew in popularity. Noting its quality structure and popularity, it was James Smith II, one of the first umbrella makers to use Fox Frames at John Smith & Sons, the business “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”.
While it doesn’t rain profusely in Bend, Oregon, (for goodness sake, geographically, we are considered high desert), I was determined to find a well-made umbrella, and in 2020 I discovered James Smith & Sons, and purchased my first handmade, solid stick umbrella. Now, every time, especially in the spring, that it rains in Bend, if I am able to, I pull on my wellies, leash up the pups and grab my umbrella to go for a neighborhood walk. In fact, this umbrella (navy with a maple stick) has had pride of place for three years in my Boot & Basket room, until I realized a far more functional place for the umbrella is near the front door, through which I leave and enter the home for walks, so you will see it in the foyer in the forthcoming tour of this space later in June.
(tour the entire room and see all Before and After pics here)
But back to James Smith & Sons.
A bit more history: By the turn of the 20th century, the company had two shops in London, but during World War II, the shop on Burlington Street was destroyed in a bombing raid, leaving the 53 New Oxford Street (corner spot) the only shop, and its doors are still open, in this exactly location, today. In fact, it exhibits perfect example of a Victorian shop front design and it is a cultural landmark in Central London, often referred to as The Umbrella Shop.
Since when I purchased my first umbrella, it was through ordering online (which is still possible, but few designs are available via this method now), I became most eager to visit the storied shop in person, and thankfully, during my trip to England last spring, I was able to.
Seeking a travel umbrella, once we settled ourselves into our last night of our trip at The Savoy, I took the short walk over to New Oxford Street (maybe a 10 minute walk at the most) and popped inside, chatted with the staff who were truly a delight to converse with and of course, they were also pluviophiles (lovers of rain) as we discussed how beautiful the cities such as London and Paris look after freshly fallen rain, and then I selected my very own travel umbrella made my the company.
Here is a look at my two umbrellas, a solid stick and a travel/foldable umbrella (ideal for travel and packing).
The Solid Stick, navy
~The Travel/Collapsible Umbrella, also in navy~
It is important to note, that not all of the umbrellas they sell are made by James Smith & Sons and this is shared on each umbrella, so do be sure to confirm you are looking at one of their umbrellas. One of the primary reasons I wanted to purchase their brand of umbrellas is that they will repair them for you at no cost should something break. This is not possible with the other brands they sell.
It had been my hope last year to offer one of their umbrellas as a giveaway prize as I absolutely love my umbrellas, but they ship far fewer of the available options, and I want you to choose (and design – you can select the metal finish as well as add a monogram if you want) an umbrella that is exactly what you want. Which is to say, I strongly encourage you, if you too are looking for a highly quality umbrella, to stop inside their shop the next time you are in London and invest in a both function and beautiful umbrella that will be with you for a lifetime.
Below are photos I captured in the shop as well as a video.
Visit James Smith & Sons Umbrellas:
53 New Oxford Street, London, England
Explore their website here
Take a video tour of James Smith & Sons Umbrellas in London
Explore all Previous British Week 2023 posts