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The Old Curiosity Shop

The legacy of Charles Dickens: Restoring one of the oldest surviving shops in Great Britain


    LSE Estates Ltd


    London, UK


    September 2021-June 2023

    Contract Value







    Nestled amidst the London School for Economics (LSE), one of the city's most respected universities, stands a quaint, wood-beamed storefront, named the Old Curiosity Shop. This unique building is built from repurposed ship timber and has withstood the Great Fire of London in 1666 and the ravages of the World War II Blitz. The Old Curiosity Shop, located at 13-14 Portsmouth Street, has a rich historical legacy worthy of preserving. Originating from the 16th century, its tilted roof, protruding upper level, and distinctive Tudor gables make it look like a building straight out of a "Harry Potter" film set, highlighting its status as one of London's oldest shops.

    Originally, the building formed part of the Duchess of Portsmouth's estate and underwent many incarnations from dairy to residential to commercial use; in fact, King Charles II presented it as a gift to his mistress. The most legendary association occurred in 1882 when the shop was named after the serialized pamphlet "The Old Curiosity Shop" by legendary writer Charles Dickens. Living in neighbouring Bloomsbury, many believe that Dickens visited this unique shop on many occasions. Although the name was subsequently added after Dickens wrote The Old Curiosity Shop, it is widely thought that the building was the inspiration behind his 1841 novel. In 2018, the London School of Economics, purchased the building as part of a site to redevelop the Marshall Building, a new addition to its campus. The LSE agreed to restore the much-loved heritage shop as part of this development. LSE Estates appointed Ayesa UK and Ireland to oversee, supervise, and monitor the important conservation and restoration of the 500-year-old Curiousity shop, working with the project team of Heritage England, The City of Westminister Conservation Officer and Timber repairs, Sykes & Co. and Dolmen Conservation.

    Our Role: Reviving the legacy 

     Ayesa UK and Ireland took on the vital task of restoring the Old Curiosity Shop, a Grade II Listed building. When the project commenced in 2021, the structure had fallen into considerable disrepair with water ingress, rotting timber, and heavily deteriorated roofs and tiles. 

    Our role included overseeing and monitoring comprehensive structural improvements, essential repairs, waterproofing, and carefully refurbishing its timber components, working with the City of Westminster Conservation Officer and Heritage England. We supervised structural carpentry repairs using Oak and Douglas Fir to match existing wall plates and rafters. The project team refurbished the sash windows, retaining viable sections, and repaired the shop front and facia timber. The pegged clay tiles were re-roofed - peg tiles were traditionally hung on battens by oak pegs about an inch (25mm) long, hanging on by their sheer self-weight and gravity rather than nailed on. These heavily deteriorated roof tiles were replaced with handmade Keymar tiles to match the existing ones, along with lead and slate supplementary roofs.  

    Collaborating closely with the timber and conservation repair specialists, our team worked diligently to retain the shop's historical authenticity while ensuring its structural integrity. The bulk of the work was structural, such as repairing damage and waterproofing, as well as repairs to the timbers were needed. The restoration process was carried out respectfully to the shop's historical context and place within London's rich tapestry. Traditional brick and render repairs will create a more resilient building over time and prevent water ingress. New gutters and cast-iron hoppers were replaced to support the water run-off. Following careful paint analysis, a late 19th-century scheme was selected, with intricately matched sign writing by Sykes' specialist decorators. The repainted front is more appropriate to the era that the building was likely created, with cream plater above a green shop front.

    Ayesa UK services include:

    • Structural Conservation Engineering;
    • Condition Surveys;
    • Temporary work advice;
    • Specifications of testing and investigations;
    • Monitoring/review of construction and repair works
    Innovation / Value Add

    Preserving Heritage, Bridging the Past and Present: The restoration of the Old Curiosity Shop has resulted in multiple positive outcomes. The careful attention to detail and commitment to preserving its historical character have breathed new life into this iconic landmark.  The restoration of this landmark has not only safeguarded its physical structure but has also revitalized its place within the city's cultural fabric. With its cream plaster upper section and era-appropriate green storefront, the renewed facade transports visitors to a bygone era.  Beyond the physical restoration, this project is a testament to the enduring power of literature and historical significance. The Old Curiosity Shop now stands as a tangible link between Charles Dickens' narratives and the tangible remnants of history, ready to welcome visitors and enthusiasts again.  Lastly, regarding their intended use of the Shop, LSE Estates expressed “We want to ensure it positively contributes to the life of the university quarter and we intend to bring it back into active use. We will be inviting expressions of interest for the space in 2024.”


    Project Team:
    Project Manager & client: LSE
    Main contractor: Sykes and Sons Limited
    Timberwork & repairs: Dolmen Conservation & Joinery
    Structural Engineers: Ayesa UK and Ireland
    Architect: LOM Architecture and Design
    Specialist Investigation Consultants: Hutton + Rostron


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