Last week I went to the Town House Spitalfields to photograph it for this week's Top Shop. On previous occasions, I had poked my head in, on the way to other destinations or while working close by. I was never giving it the full attention it deserves. So this time, not only was I lucky enough to linger, but I also had the bonus of Fiona Atkins, owner of Town House, showing me around.
Apart from all the truly wonderful pieces, Fiona finds, the shop itself is pretty exceptional. The front looks as if it could make the Hugenorts feel at home; the interior has been sympathetically maintained, with the cafe downstairs making you feel like you're having a cuppa in Dennis Severs' House. Cross the narrow courtyard to the exhibition space, and you will find one of the most charming galleries in London. I hope that you will also take the time to experience this unique shop. I can vouch that it will make your day!
When did you open Town House Spitalfields?
Town House Spitalfields opened in 2002 after I moved here from Columbia Road in search of more space. It was derelict but I fell in love with the little building that is now the gallery and all the period features that had survived.
What is your favourite piece in the shop at the moment?
I’m going to cheat slightly and mention something that has just gone, but it was special. It was a large model of a horse in wood and metal that had probably been used as a sign for a trade connected to horses, maybe a blacksmith. It was an amazing piece of folk art from around 1900 and one could sense the love that had gone into making it: the head, legs and tail were in pressed metal and the body in wood. It had a real sense of the spirit of a horse about it and I always really love things that start off their lives having one use, but then become something else that can be viewed differently, that becomes a work of art. To me that gives a real sense of connection to the person who made it….
Eleanor Crow: A Step Inside 20th November – 5th December in the gallery at Town House, no booking required.
What is the biggest joy of being a shopkeeper?
That one’s easy: the people. I realised in the first lockdown that what I really missed about the shop was the extraordinary range of people who come in and the way that they react to it, telling us stories of their past or current ideas and projects. There is something about these old buildings that people immediately engage with
The worst thing about being a shopkeeper?
All the paperwork and admin that’s necessary to run a shop! I’d much rather be out buying things or in the shop talking to people….
What do you love about Spitafields?
When I arrived in Spitalfields twenty years ago I was amazed at what a strong community there was there and despite all the changes to the area that community spirit survives.
Do you have any good local tips?
Well, this is not quite in Spitalfields, but it is in Shoreditch: Leila’s Shop on Calvert Avenue. Leila’s passion for food and cooking is evident when you visit her shop and her café was the one place to eat out that I really missed during the lockdowns. Leila was a real inspiration to me when I started the coffee shop here at Town House in 2012.
The Cafe Downstairs
Huge thanks to Fiona for taking the time to show me around & answer these questions, to follow them click here & to visit please see the address below!
Monday- Saturday 11am-6pm