Tobacconist Roll, New Cross Road

Tobacconist & Walpole Arms (bing)_800x500

Above: The attractive Walpole Arms pub and the shop next door (seen in Bing maps) with the tobacconist’s roll hanging at first floor level.

Would you know what a tobacconist’s roll is ? More, importantly, would you know one if you saw one on the streets of London ?

Well, you won’t have to worry about finding one in London any more because the very last one on any street has been removed within the last year. A tobacconist’s roll is a throw-back to Victorian times when many shops had a large visual sign hanging outside, to make people aware of a particular shop. Many people are familiar with ‘the three gold balls’ that was the sign of a pawnbroker and, even today, lending shops often have the same sign on display.

In Victorian times many tobacconists had a sign hanging on the wall above the front of the shop, looking like a cylinder made up of hoops. It represented a roll of tobacco. The very last sign of its type used to hang outside a shop at 4-5 New Cross Road, almost opposite the junction with Amersham Road — or opposite the pub called the Amersham Arms. It had been many decades since the shop had last sold tobacco, in fact its last use was as a tattooist’s studio.

Tobacco roll_800x500

Above: Close-up of the shop at 405 New Cross Road and an enlargement of its tobacconist’s roll hanging outside.

The shop stood on the west side of a very attractive Georgian pub called the Walpole Arms. Around 2013 the pub and two adjacent shops from the terrace beside it were all demolished. The properties on the site had been purchased to built a hotel — to accommodate the wealthy people visiting Deptford !

It goes without saying that the design of the proposed hotel is banal in the extreme. Its facade should blend in well with all the other boring modern buildings now standing beside New Cross Road. The site of the shop and the pub were carefully examined during demolition by an archaeological team. Planning permission was granted by the London Borough of Lewisham but with strict conditions attached. In the first place the tobacconist’s roll must be displayed inside the completed building. In the second place the beautiful Victorian tiles that were inside the pub must also be displayed inside the restaurant area of the proposed hotel. Let’s hope the developers abide by the rules.


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