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June Sampson shopwatch: Bentall Centre looks to the future
Good news and bad on Kingston’s shopping front: The good news is a Bentall Centre extension that will not only enhance Clarence Street, but provide an interesting new restaurant.
The bad is the imminent closure of Kingston Tools – the last local shop of its kind – after more than a century in Eden Street.
Work on the Bentall project, due to start next month and finish in October, has been planned with particular care.
For much of the centre’s exterior is grade 2 listed because, to quote the official designation, it is architecturally valuable as “a restrained exercise in the English Baroque by an important architectural firm”; historically important as “a very unusual instance of a department store on truly metropolitan scale built in an outer-urban location”; and of special artistic interest bcause of its carved embellishments by one of the greatest British sculptors of his time, Eric Gill.
Extra footage on the first floor will be achieved by taking out the dome which currently rises over the main entrance in Clarence Street, extending the resulting space out to the official demarcation line between the centre and Clarence Street, and enclosing it behind dramatically large windows.
Robert Ritchie, director of the Bentall Centre, said the designers had been careful to ensure that the changes would blend sympathetically with the street scene without detracting from the adjacent listed facade.
He said, somewhat poetically: “This fresh new retail space will give a unique opportunity for a restaurant operator to create an exciting new vista for diners looking over Kingston’s busiest street towards the tranquillity of All Saints Church and the bustling Market Place beyond.”
The picture is far more sombre at 58 Eden Street, where Peter Champion and his sister are preparing to close the shop that has been in their family since at least 1913.
Its founder was their grandfather, Benjamin Mayzes who, shortly before World War I, converted a dairy which, at that time, occupied the rear part of the present shop. From here he went out each day with his wheelbarrow to collect used tools to sell in his shop.
It was a canny move at a time when new tools were virtually unobtainable because of the war effort, and Benjamin was later able to buy the rest of the premises, and so gain a frontage to Eden Street that survives to this day.
Benjamin was active in the shop until his death 15 years ago at the age of 84.
In the meantime he had been joined by his 20-year-old son-in-law, Peter Champion, who retired after his 65th birthday three years ago. Since then the shop has been run by his son, Andrew, and daughter Karen.
Now, to their great sadness, they feel forced to close.
Peter explained the three main reasons why: “One is punitive rates, which now cost us £1,000 a month.
"Another is that our kind of specialised knowledge and expertise is no longer needed because people can check everything online.
"The third is that Amazon and others can sell for prices we can’t match."
He says countless people have come into the shop to say how saddened they are by the shop’s demise, to which he replies: “Why didn’t you buy from us then? Why have we never seen you in here before?”
Peter recalls the day the shop stocked some 5,000 items, and old craftsmen’s tools, such as wooden hand planes, were the order of the day.
Tradesmen came in to buy their tools for their apprentices, who in turn came back when trained to buy for their apprentices.
“We served several generations that way. Now everything’s gone from manual to electrical, and we can’t cope.”
Peter recalls many celebrity customers over the years, including Norman Wisdom, Stirling Moss and – unexpectedly – Howard Keel, the American actor famed as “the Errol Flynn and Cark Gable of the movie musical”. What drew them to 58 Eden Street?
Peter said: “The fact that we’d become an old man’s toyshop.
“Many elderly men delight in collecting fine tools for their own sake, and I even heard of one who had so many his floor was in danger of collapse beneath their weight.”
There will never be another shop like this in Kingston. Visit it while you can.
q It has already had one failed chapter as an ice-cream venue.
Now 10 High Street, which adjoins Clattern Bridge, is about to try again. It has been taken by Afters Original, which plans to open its seventh London branch there in April.
The company claims to produce "the ultimate range of sundaes, smoothies, juices and desserts” and to stay open so late that “this is the place to go if you have a sweet tooth or feel peckish in the middle of the night."