Foxes Discovered in the City

The creatures are well-known in London suburbs, rummaging in dustbins and making a special contribution to the destabilisation of garden sheds through burying under them to make a home.

But as the picture shows, they are also in the City. Indeed, they are not recent arrivals, and the photo shows that they have been there since 1868.

OK – they are not real foxes, and although the shop bears the name Fox, it doesn’t sell fox fur or indeed any other component of a fox’s body. The Fox brand sells umbrellas.

Words chosen carefully, as you are struggling to see any umbrellas in the window. What you can see is shoes, and to the left is a placard saying “Author”. So maybe a famous author about shoes is coming for a book-signing?

No. Author is a brand of shoes (Jimmy Choo fans please do not sigh – there is an ordinary world out there that has not ascended yet to the stratospheric heights of high shoe fashion).

And the business has taken over from the Fox umbrella sales business, and is now the 118 London Wall branch of the chain, as can be seen by the closer photo.

Having said that, a detailed look at the first photo shows that Author are happy to make the Fox connection – take a squint again at the placard.

In fact, the new product line has only a minimal impact on the shop front. For a moment, and from a distance, you might even think that a charity shop had come to land, although that statement, if put seriously, would be a disservice to Author and may belie some clever thinking of linking the two brands to produce an appearance that the eye will not dismiss in the way it dismisses another bland city centre chain outlet.

A further angle is that there may be planning restrictions protecting the Fox signage. I have not yet investigated this.

Research indicates that the business did indeed start in 1868 when Thomas Fox opened a shop in nearby Fore Street, that location continuing to trade until World War II bombing saw it relocate to London Wall.

Incidentally, Fore Street was the site of the first bomb dropped on the City of London in World War II, and it remains a strange bywater of a City of London street, although there are redevelopment plans for the area.

The Fox business proclaims proudly that its customers include Hackett, Harrods and Turnbull & Asser in the UK, Mitsukoshi, Segan and Togo in Japan, and Paul Stuart, Rain and Shine and Barneys in New York.  There are also entertainment connections – the John Steed umbrellas in the Avengers TV series and the gadget umbrellas in the James Bond films

However, the direct retail sales business now seems to be carried on online, with manufacturing done in Croydon, South London. promises a new e-commerce site, to open in spring 2012.

In the City of London edition of The Buildings of England, Pevsner  (p565) describes the “excellent Modern front of 1937” and praises the black Vitrolite, the stainless steel [foxes] and the neon [sign]. If the dark Vitrolite glass seems familiar to Londoners, it is the same material used in, for example, the cladding of the old Daily Express building in Fleet Street.

But it is the umbrellas that are the champions – solid, stylish.......and a real pain if you lose one.

The author is a City of London, City of Westminster and National Trust Guide, who runs walking tours in the City and in Westminster. For further information see tabs.