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