I was astounded (like many others) that this Christmas time, Noah had been given control of the weather. I don’t think anyone particularly expected the prospect of potentially building another Ark after their yuletide dinners had been eaten, yet up and down the country the Environment Agency issued flood warning after flood warning as the Jet Stream tracked lower than it usually does.
These miserable conditions have littered the streets with the corpses of many old friends who’ve done their best to shelter us from the wet and the damp: the extraordinary gales finishing off many of the weak or the elderly. Poignantly, they lie abandoned in the streets, many different generations left to decay amongst the slush of street life. I am of course speaking of the ‘bodies’ of umbrellas which have been left broken and contorted by their owners, unable to fulfil their function in conditions that they simply weren’t built to deal with. Suffering the indignity of no proper ‘burial’, swathes of twisted metal and fabric can be found all over the country’s public spaces.
A new year begins afresh and as my birthday fell within the festive period, I was gifted a brand new umbrella by Stephen Roberts. This was no ordinary umbrella, as it came from the legendary James Smith and Sons Umbrella makers on New Oxford Street, a company that’s been trading since 1830. Originally having premises down Fouberts Place, off Carnaby Street in Soho, James Smith’s son moved the company to its present location in 1857 and was part of a much larger business empire, which included a Hatters and Barbershop.
This Victorian shop is still in existence and thrives. I visited the other day and it was almost as if I’d stepped back in time: brown panelling lines the walls with antique prints adorning the carved woodwork, while the wares of the shop are on display being handled by tourists and enthusiasts. Influential figureheads such as William Gladstone and Bonar Law (often referred to as the ‘Unknown Prime Minister’ not only for his interment near the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Westminster Abbey but because he had the shortest tenure of any PM) purchased umbrellas and canes from here. Row upon row of different types of umbrella and stick frame the shop, as they did when Victoria was on the throne. These brollys were built to last, and any damage or wear incurred on the products can be repaired and mended for a nominal amount of money.
Although it’s still intact and just about dealt with the gale-force winds we’ve had recently, my trusty pointing Umbrella is to be retired. My new James Smith and Sons one (which I’ve christened ‘The Savage’, after Montague Fowler’s shotgun) is superior and more importantly, easier to brandish. As I mourn my old friend and reflect how its withdrawal from active service is nicer than being cruelly binned, I pause to think of all the old brollys that are quietly rusting away on pavements and alleyways, their crumpled spokes embodying the demise of usefulness.
Perhaps you’ve seen broken Umbrellas on your travels? Take a picture and share it with us on Twitter: username @CemeteryClub.