London Food & Culture

Twenty Twenty One

Independent London: 4 of the capital’s best small shops

In this extract from author Imogen Lepere's Opinionated Guide to Independent London, four gems across north and east London

An independent shop is the physical embodiment of the owners’ passions. The proprietor has often chosen every item and can tell you the story behind each one. With such detailed knowledge, they are in a position to offer expert advice.

As buyers move away from the mass-produced and become aware of supporting their local community, independent shops have staged something of a comeback. They are also integral to the health of London’s creative scene. Without these commercial platforms, how could ceramicists keep their wheels turning or illustrators justify the cost of their link?

Of course, it would be impossible not to mention the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic. When beginning work on this collection of over fifty stores across the capital at the start of the UK lockdown in March, the Hoxton Mini Press team feared that some shops would not survive.

Owners spoke emotionally about the overwhelming support they received in the form of emails, donations and visits from regulars, despite the fact that many were facing financial uncertainty themselves.


Proof, if ever we heard it, that independent shops are so much more valuable than the sum of their stock. Here are four of the best in north and east London. We make no excuse for two being book-sellers.


New and used books on a 1920s Dutch barge

Word On Water
North London’s most charming bookseller. Photo: Lesley Lau

This barge’s motley crew comprises Cornishman Paddy Screech, artist and anarchist Jon Privett and a parrot called Jasper, who makes the noise of a police siren when feeling unappreciated. Bags of books arrive at the door almost daily, donations from Londoners who no doubt adore their stroll along the towpath to this Carrolian wonderland. Enjoy a particularly good selection of contemporary non-fiction and cult American classics (loitering for a moment by the log burning stove), before heading outside to catch live poetry performances on the roof. Regent’s Canal Towpath, N1C 4LW. Nearest station: King’s Cross St Pancras, @word_on_the_water


Pared-back modern design classics

Twenty Twenty One
Classic interiors. Photo: PR

A wander around Islington’s most lauded interiors shop is a lesson in contemporary design. Founders Tony Cunningham and Simon Alderson have been on the scene since 1996 and act as mentors for young designers, as well as collaborating with more established names like DK3, and furnishing large swathes of the Barbican. There’s plenty of representation from the Danish and Japanese schools, as well as light-hearted touches such as hand-carved crow sculptures from artist Mikael Nilsson. Anything bought here is sure to be in good taste and built to last. 274–275 Upper Street, N1 2UA Nearest station: Angel, other location: Clerkenwell, @twentytwentyone


An inviting spot for books and booze

It’s also a coffee shop and bar (lockdown permitting). Photo: Lesley Lau

After falling in love with the bar-bookshop hybrids of Le Marais while living in Paris, Aimee Madill was determined to create a similar feeling in Leyton. Unlike London’s many more rarified bookshops, Phlox is a true community space. Aimee’s three children run in and out throughout the day, while evenings see freelancers sipping Allpress coffee replaced by local literature-lovers perusing the shelves, glass of wine in hand. Titles veer towards the quirky and less-discovered rather than commercial bestsellers. With daily deliveries, there’s always a reason to come back. 159 Francis Road, E10 4BS. Nearest station: Leyton, @phloxbooks


Light-hearted collection of contemporary furniture and homewares

Cavernous and right by the tube. Photo: Lesley Lau

The only criteria for what’s featured in this eclectic shop is that owner Andrea Bates must personally love it. She honed her eye for detail during an early career buying for Heals and Paperchase and you can see her modern, relaxed taste in everything from £3 cacti to £3,000 Outline sofas. Join Tufnell Park’s locals in browsing furniture from mostly European brands such as Copenhague, HAY and Harto, or search for the perfect housewarming gift among her collection of kooky accessories. Pair of ceramic planters shaped like feet, anyone? 155–157 Fortress Road, NW5 2HR Nearest station: Tufnell Park, @insidestoreldn

This is an edit from An Opinionated Guide to Independent London: The Capital’s Best Small Shops by Imogen Lepere (Hoxton Mini Press, £9.99), which features 50+ shops across all corners of the city. Buy it here

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