96 Curtain Road EC1

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96 Curtain Road (the former Slate cafe) stands well out onto the pavement (Source: Google)

Number 96 Curtain Road is certainly an unusual building. I first became aware of 96 when I began work at Oakden’s nearby. This was 1987 and the year I still got to work at Oakdens despite the Great Storm causing so much damage in this part of London.

Curtain Road, a part of Shoreditch, has long been known as a place for ironmongery, wood turners, merchants, and upholstery. It’s a very old thoroughfare several centuries old, and was on a slightly different alignment in order to accommodate the Holywell Mount. This was a small hillock which began life as a burial ground. The Mount unfortunately was a place of ill-repute where murders, robberies and rapes regularly occurred. It was flattened in the late 18th Century, thus giving Curtain Road a more direct south – north alignment.

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Map showing the original alignment of buildings (in blue) between 96 and 104 Curtain Road

What is striking about Number 96 Curtain Road is how it stands out. It was the first of an entire line of buildings (including almshouses) along a particular alignment running through to Old Street. During the late 19th and early 20th Century, the section from 98 to 102 Curtain Road was rebuilt. This includes the former Poulton & Nicholson warehouse and the old Curtain Road school. From 104 Curtain Road northwards the former street alignment is retained.

Usually premises set further back from the road denoted companies or owners with more wealth. Whether this was the case with the block north of number 96, I do not know, as the rebuilding included a school.

There was an access road into a small yard at the rear until about the 1980s. This was closed off and a complete shop front was built and thus explains how 96a came into existence. It’s currently occupied by Butler & Stag.

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Curtain Road in the early years of the 20th Century. Number 96 (Barnett’s) is on the right.

(For an easy read of the text in the picture above click here.)

96 began life in the mid 19th Century and was soon the premises for both Phillip Barnett and Josifon & Company. They were what I would describe as wood turners. Their staff was featured in a picture that has been reproduced in books and as postcards, as shown below.

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Barnett’s works, probably 1890’s.

It’s clear from the photograph showing the Barnett staff outside number 96 the unusual upper section had been partially built. It appears it was originally a fascia advertising Barnett’s business with a sheeted roof added later to provide extra storage space.

Barnett’s are listed on page 96 of the Commercial Directory of the Jews of the United Kingdom as a ‘General turner and carver, square and oval turning, fret-cutting and cornice pole manufacturer.’

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Commercial Directory of the Jews of the United Kingdom (1894)

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Number 96 Curtain Road, November 2016

Long after Barnett’s had closed, the unusual roof atop the premises became a proper accommodation block, with windows and a larger roof, the very structure recognisable today.

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Pretty flower mural at the side of no. 96

96 was until recently occupied by the Slate Cafe. This popular cafe had closed by May 2016. In September 2016 Parlour, a tattoo studio, took over the premises.

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Shakespeare and The Theatre: Plaques on the walls of Oakdens (now Foxtons) 86-90 Curtain Road

The immediate area behind 96 Curtain Road, New Inn Broadway, is the site of one of the earliest Shakespearean theatres. That was The Theatre which closed in 1598. (It was actually taken down and rebuilt as The Globe in Southwark.) The rear yard formerly belonged to Oakdens, and when that closed it enabled excavation work to take place. Remains of The Theatre were found during 2008. The area is now preserved pending further exploration and historical enhancement, including a new theatre to celebrate the old one.

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  1. Hello, I have just discovered your fantastic blog, and even better your post about No. 96 Curtain Rd, Shoreditch. My g g grandfather was Jacob (known as John) Joseph, a cabinet maker and chair maker whose address (business address I believe) was 96a Curtain Road! He died in 1916 and in his will it lists him at this address still (although my belief was he lived mostly in Sandringham Rd Hackney). I am really thrilled with the photographs you have posted, but especially the photo of P Barnett’s business with workers outside the shop. It states was probably taken late 1890’s. I am wondering (as you briefly mention No. 96a Curtain Rd) if that is included in the photograph. Do you happen to have any further information about 96a??? I live in Australia so am unable to go to the National Archives or visit the area, so the photographs and information are really important, especially as I don’t have any photographs of my East End Jewish Ancestors. Once again thanks s much, and if you do happen to know anymore or could point me in the right direction I would be thrilled. I will subscribe to your blog now that I have found it, as I love anything to do with the East End of London. Cheers from Vicki

    1. Author

      Hi thank you for the kind comments! I thought 96a Curtain Road was a recent numbering, but maybe there was a 96a through the passage that was once next to 96 Curtain Road. The maps dont seem to show a 96a however so I am not sure of the situation here. If there was indeed a 96a it would not be in any photographs as it would be down the passageway I have just mentioned. The present 96a is recent and was built on the site of this old passageway so that 96a is clearly not the one you are referring to. Despite working almost next door to 96 Curtain Road my knowledge of the road’s history is not sufficient to know fully what the situation was previously and the information on 96 Curtain Road was hard to find.

      The area was noted for upholstery, furniture, cobblers etc, and there are still traces of furniture makers in the area. Perhaps more information on John Joseph will be found in street directories covering the different companies in the area during the 1900s?

  2. Really interesting, Amos Oakden who founded the business was my great great grandfather and my great uncle Frank was a director until he died in the early 80s. Amos set up the business by being the first person to sell nuts and bolts in boxes, I believe he used match boxes to start out. Before that they were all sold loose. He wheeled them around the furniture factories in the area. For a time they were the second biggest hardware factors in the country. In the late 80s I worked in the city and would walk up curtain road to oakdens. In those days the area seemed dusty and a little forgotten, past it’s best days. Now the transformation is amazing – Shoreditch is back on the map as a destination and great place to visit and work – a mix of the very new and very old.

  3. Author

    Thanks for your message. Fantastic to know Amos Oakden was your great great grandfather! Some of the family lived in Amersham, including one of the directors, Peter Oakden (if I remember the name right.)

    Shoreditch is so different these days compared to the eighties!

    Yes Oakdens were at the top in terms of hardware supplies, most of the country’s shops relied on Oakdens to supply their wares.

    The company’s directors were very happy to employ disabled people and that is how I got a job there.

  4. I used to live at 96. Happy memories. Very curious building in the back with a lovely courtyard. And right on top of the remains of Shakespeare’s Theatre

  5. Great granddaughter of Philip Barnett here! He had 16 children but none of them took over the business, indeed not all of them survived. We heard that the premises had a fire which ended the business, I wonder if there are any visible signs of this remaining?

    1. Author

      Nice to hear from you and glad you found my post in 96 Curtain Road interesting and thanks for the information on Philip Barnett. I had not heard about a fire there in the past, you know more than I do! I wouldnt think there would be any sign of this at all on the building now. Someone else might know. Thanks again.

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