London has always been a rapidly changing city. In the eighteenth-century, London was the first European city to reach one million inhabitants, dwarfing the others as it enveloped the small villages within its grasp. Without defensive city walls, London could expand almost without restriction. Many areas of London however, did not form a homogenous supercity, but retained their distinct character. Soho in the very centre of London, still clings on to its character, even if it’s harder and harder to find.
One business in Soho has truly seen it all. Founded in 1776, W Sitch & Co started on Hollen St and moved only a few steps to Berwick St in 1903, where they have remained ever since. They are a lighting company, and have been ever since their conception, passing from father to son, to daughter throughout their long history. They have been manufacturing lights and restoring antique lighting throughout their history, and not only is there an expansive shop but also a series of workshops. I cannot emphasise how rare this is in London, not only to have such a long history, but to keep almost exactly the same business model in exactly the same (prime) location for centuries.
Never have I visited a shop imbued with such a tangible sense of history. The shop is unlike any other place I have visited, and are likely to visit. Crammed to the rafters with lights of every description, the shop is a Georgian townhouse sprawling over five floors, all of which have been filled with the tangling mass of chandeliers and various other fittings. The owners Laurence and his sister Jenny were incredibly modest about the company’s illustrious history. This is a shop that has supplied and repaired lighting for the National Trust, Clarence House, 10 Downing St, not to mention numerous films…even The Titanic!
The workshops have remained almost unchanged over the centuries. There is a central forge which glows unseen to the visitors of Soho, and some worn bellows which invigorate the embers.
Laurence still uses many of the traditional tools and apparatus that have been in the family for for over a hundred years, and the techniques used to make their lighting have hardly changed at all.
I was strictly speaking on a buying trip for work, in which I spent around 12 hours bent double looking for treasure. I did also manage to find myself something, rather more modest than the new stock for my company. A pair of Dutch style brass wall sconces for our dining room. Small in scale so perfect for our low ceilings.
Even with my new lights, I couldn’t help but feel immensely sad that this wonderful company is being wound down after so many years at the top of their game. This is a company that has survived on word of mouth and reputation, and many people will be saddened to see them go.