The old pet shop in Camden Town

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Every few weeks I meet a friend in Parkway,  Camden for a quick lunch and a catch up.  Parkway holds tons of memories for me as I worked at the pet shop which was called ‘Regent Pet Stores’ there in the seventies. I’d left school at 15 and went straight there to work full time as animals and reptiles were my thing.

Copy of laura ashley. white cat. Palmers 003It was the most amazing year of my life and an experience I wouldn’t have missed for the world. It was owned by John Palmer who was a sort of David Jason like character, firm but fair with a wicked sense of humour.  He opened it before the second world war and some of the staff had been there almost since the beginning.  It was like a dynasty and the customers came from far and wide. I  served Alex Harvey,  Jonathan Miller, Beryl Bainbridge, and Sir Ralph Richardson  as well as a whole host of interesting people a lot of whom were quite eccentric.

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We sold monkeys,  giant snakes, tarantulas,  scorpions, tree frogs, iguanas, rats, parrots,  as well as all the more usual types of animals. I remember so many things from my year there, I could write a book  and it gave me more than I could ever have hoped.

I loved Parkway and all the interesting shops there where I’d go at lunchtimes. I was sometimes wary  of the drunks and the shenanigans  between them, especially on the station platform,  but it wasn’t sinister and then like now you needed  your wits about you.

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On my Saturday lunch hour I’d go to Camden Market which was at that time a lovely antique market with second hand clothes stalls and I’d buy grand dad shirts for 50 p each. I loved working there, it was hard work, dirty, smelly and fantastic. A man called Guy Stocker was my boss, he was only about 24 but he exuded fun and enthusiasm and knowledge. I heard a couple of years ago that Pam who was literally larger than life and ran the whole place for most of her life had died. I felt so sad when I heard. She used to sit at the counter eating boxes of chocolates and ruled with a rod of iron but was lovely too.  I could go on and on, the memories are so strong and I sometimes dream about the shop too.

I remember that we got 20 hamsters delivered every Tuesday morning at 11am. (It was a busy shop) We lost a lot though because every night they’d pick on one and kill it and we’d find the skin in the morning. Horrific. I never liked hamsters after that. The rats on the other hand were lovely and would sit on our shoulders while we were working.

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It was sad when the shop closed though in latter years it wasn’t the same. We had a macaw called Jimmy who stood on a perch and guarded the reptile area. There was no ‘health and safety’ then ! He was stolen one night during a break in and we all hoped the blood on the floor was due to him attacking the robbers.

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Palmers thankfully now seems to be listed and has turned into a huge light and airy cafe. The raised floor in the window is where all the finches and canaries used to be. I walk past there on the way to my friend and remember how I used to wash that tiled floor every day. I’m so glad it’s still there.

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When I went in to take these photos the other week, I noticed that on one wall there was this wall paper with monkeys on it. I think these are either squirrel monkeys or capuchin monkeys, both of which we sold. It must surely be a coincidence.

Copy of laura ashley. white cat. Palmers 009 I’m feeling quite emotional and have been sitting on these pics for a while as I haven’t felt like sharing them I suppose. That place meant so much to me, more than I ever realised. It was a time gone, another world, another life, with the kind of people you don’t much get to meet these days, and I’m so very lucky to have experienced  a small part of it. It was easy for teenagers to get jobs in interesting shops in those days. I only wish my children could have the same grounding that being there gave me.

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This blog is supposed to be for my vintage fabrics business but I don’t seem to be able to just stick to that. It’s too tempting to veer into other areas and subjects. Like the  diary I never did.

29 Comments

Filed under London, UK

29 responses to “The old pet shop in Camden Town

  1. Nicky, I’m so pleased you shared that with us. It had a great resonance with me. When I first came to London you could walk from one nuts job to the next, meeting the most amazing characters along the way. I, too, wish it could be the same for our children. It’s amazing to think that not so long ago someone could walk into a shop in Camden and buy a monkey!
    That was a great post, thoroughly enjoyed reading it – and I’m looking forward to hearing more tales of old London.

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  2. What a beautiful post made me a bit weepy just reading it sniff.

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  3. thebrisket

    I love that shop. It used to have a cat asleep in the window. Glad its been listed, as that signage is priceless. It reminds me of the Matthiae Cafe in Richmond which has fabulous art deco frontage. It was left empty for years, and unfortunately now has a Tesco Metro in it. http://www.greasy-spoon-cafes.zoomshare.com/21.html

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  4. I worked in Camden for a while. It was a deadly dull job in some bespoke software company and I longed for the lunchtimes when I could wander the markets which were relatively quiet in the week (tourists think Camden only operates at weekends). I remember the lampshade I bought from some funky design shop. It was pink and when assembled looked like a pringle.

    I’m so very glad they’ve preserved the pet shop: food and drink somehow tastes better when surrounded by a bit of history.

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  5. Good day! This post could not be written any better!
    Reading through this post reminds me of my previous
    room mate! He always kept chatting about this. I will forward this page to him.
    Pretty sure he will have a good read. Thanks for sharing!

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  6. Mark

    I really enjoyed this. I lived next door to John Palmer and his wife Joan in Arkley for the first 30 years of my life. They were lovely people and used to have a sign “Beware of the Boa” by their front door to warn off burglars. John lived a simple life style and drove a little honda van in his later years. I was however always told that despite his simple style he was very wealthy having purchased a lot of property in Camden during WWII. If it was true it could not have happened to a nicer man.

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    • Thanks Mark,
      Yes he did own property in Camden in the same road as the shop. I had a healthy respect for him and loved the twinkle in his eye. On Saturdays lots of people would come in to browse and look at all the exotic animals and he called them ‘messers’ because they got on his nerves. I still often think of that very fondly. Unfortunately I never met his wife Joan.

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  7. Thank you for this wonderful article and the lovely photos. I too feel nostalgic about Parkway and Camden Town having lived here for many years and remembering how it used to be. There used to be a lovely toy/interior shop near (maybe next to) Palmers, a great café across the road with photos on the wall, etc.

    I have added a link to this post from my blog and I hope many people get to read it and the rest of your posts.

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    • Thanks Camden Kid. There was a lovely French vintage shop next door on the left. I think that’s the shop you mean. It used to be the dog & cat shop years ago, owned by Palmers (pet shop).The great cafe over the road with photos on the wall is still there if it’s the same one I’m thinking of. It’s an Italian & I sometimes went there in my lunch hour. I love the photos of Camden on your blog. I took a friend to Camden Market the other day. I hadn’t been for ages & it’s unrecognisable now, especially the Stables. Thanks for adding my link to your blog.

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  8. Stuart Wilson

    This place was my mates Grandads shop, he has spoken of the shop but I’d never seen it until I walked past today and googled it.

    I will make sure I tell him and his dad how much people loved the shop & still do!!

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  9. John Baxter

    Always visited the shop when I came to London in the 60s what a great place it was, wish it was still there, great memories

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Michael Palmer

    My name is Michael Palmer and I am John Palmer”s son. I worked in the shop in the 60’s until forced to withdraw because of illness. I spent many hours in the middle of the night at Heathrow Airport collecting animals for the shop that we had flown in. And also taking animals to various TV and film studios..I would be pleased to hear from anyone who remembers the shop which was started by my Grandfather, George, in 1918. Nice to read you remembered it so well.

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    • Hi Michael, John was your dad ! I didn’t realise it was started as long ago as 1918, that’s amazing. There were so many characters there, staff and customers. It was a real education and I loved it. It was such a privilege to work in such a fantastic and interesting place. John was lovely. A wiley man with a great sense of humour. He didn’t much like Saturday customers who came just to look. His word for them was ‘messers’ because he said they were just messing about. I remember his so clearly, pulling up outside in his little white van. Wonderful times X

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    • Malcolm Peaker

      Amazing place! I am trying to remember the name of the man who was there around 1959-60. He had been there for years and always wore a brown coat. Clin Keeling told me his name but I have forgotten it although Old Frank comes to mind. Gruff as hell, he hated the sightseers. I can see him now by the tank which held the False Gavial which didn’t sell for years. John Palmer was more often around when he wasn’t.

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    • Malcolm Peaker

      I’m trying to remember the name of the gruff old man who was in the shop in 1959-60. He always wore a brown coat and hated the sightseers. I can see him now grumbling away standing next to the tank containing the false gavial that didn’t seel for years. Clin Keeling told me his name but I now cannot remember it, although Old Frank is lurking in the back of my mind. John Palmer was around more after he had gone.

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    • Rachel Evans

      Hi Michael; I lived in Camden Town as a kid on Gloucester Crescent. My weekends were largely centered on Parkway and certainly on the pet shop with it’s lovely parrot in the window. My dad got me and my brother our first pets from you; two Mongolian gerbils named Fred and Ethel who shredded up all our toilet paper tubes. Great recyclers they were!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Kathy Allen

    Hi Nicky, my name is Kathy and ive just read your wonderful article about Palmers and wondered if you are the same Nicky whos job i got when you were leaving. I started there in May/June of 1979 and i worked with a girl called Nicky for about a week before she left. I remember Jimmy the beautiful Macaw, he used to count by banging his beak on his perch. He got stolen while i was there along with some other Macaws that were being boarded while their owner was on holiday. I hope you are the same girl, you showed me the ropes that first week and i was very grateful. I loved that job much but left as i was lured away by more money and a boring office job. Please email me if you are her.

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    • Hello and sorry for the 5 year late reply. I really don’t know if that was me but it’s possible. I remember so many details about being there, it was the most amazing experience.

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  12. John

    Really interesting read loved visiting the shop very unique. Who was the manager/owner who worked there in 19994 think his name was Andrew ??

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  13. Jon

    Lovely article, thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Viv Anderson

    I recently visited Camden and was a astounded to see the Palmers shop front still intact! I am 70 and lived in Kentish Town until I was 11. My father would take me most weekends to visit the shop. One outstanding memory was when my father caught an escaped budgerigar in mid flight and put it straight into his pocket! I was unaware as we took the bus home whilst he held it in his pocket. This little fellow survived many years and was much loved and extremely tame. My father passed away many years ago so I don’t think the police would be interested now! He must have been the first “budgie smuggler!

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  15. sonia

    WOW, while looking for a local pet shop I came across your blog. I too have many wonderful memories of Palmers as a youngster… I grew up in Camden. The time flies and I have now become an almost pensioner; I would be one if they hadn’t of raised the retirement age for women. So much has changed, and I do not believe it’s for the better. I quite often have a sadness for the loss of wonderful, friendly, respectful Camden people.

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  16. Hi. Interesting to hear all of this again. My name is Barrie Cutchie and along with Ursula ( Ushi) we rented the shop on the left which was empty at the time and used for storage on or around 1978. We literally knocked on Pam’s door ..she owned the shop apparently, and said “ Can we rent your shop please?” After a distinct NO from her and lots of please please over the next few days she finally relented with “It will be money in advance if you want it” I believe we paid a whole £3400 a year for the 4 floors!!!
    When painting the shop out in preparation for our aniques type business, we found a Boa Constrictor wrapped around the hot water tank, and had to get John to rescue it while we cowered outside. There were always a lot of mice around which were dealt with by Mr Palmers cat every few weeks.
    Having dealt in old traditional bathroom fittings and baths which were coming into vogue at the time, I started to reproduce them and started BC Sanitan who are now looked on as being the first in the traditional bathroom market which still counts for about 20% of the market now. In 1980, I had to move to bigger premises not far from the station and handed the lease to Ushi who continued with the same name- Homeline, selling old lace fabrics and memorabilia. She was there for many years after I left. I am not sure what happened to her in the end, I should have made more effort to keep in touch.
    As mentioned in previous postings, it was a time when it was so easy to get a job around the area, and getting the shop was so simple with a basic handshake to seal the deal. Mr Palmer was very good to us, and ended up pleased with what we did to the shop, which complimented the look of Palmers famous petshop who were reputed to have had a lion in the window for a few days to gee up some interest in the shop. He claimed he supplied Harrods on occasion, and reckoned he had supplied an elephant to a customer in a time when this sort of thing was not frowned upon.
    Great memories for a 69 year old as I am now.
    Nearly retired, but Palmers gave us the first base for companies which have now sold over £200 million of product.

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    • Hi Barry, it’s lovely to hear all that. You must have moved in soon after I left. Next door, where you were was ‘the dog and cat shop’ owned by John Palmer and run by a nice elderly lady called Elsie who I think lived upstairs.
      I can just hear Pam saying that ! It was a wonderful time in Camden with so many characters. John Palmer would stand around smoking small cigars with an eye on everything and a wry smile.
      I loved Homeline and I bought a gorgeous French vintage enamel splash back which I’ve still got at the back of my cooker. So many memories.

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