A family-run market stall that recently celebrated 100 years in business has served its final customer – but will live on as part of the capital’s heritage after it was acquired by the Museum of London.
Syd’s coffee stand sat on Calvert Avenue, just off Shoreditch High Street, from 1919 until it shut for the last time on 20 December.
It was first opened by Sydney Tothill before being passed down through three generations of the family.
Syd’s granddaughter Jane Tothill has been running it for the past three decades.
She said: “Celebrating 100 years of service this past March was an incredible milestone and one that I know Granddad would have been proud to have reached.
“These celebrations led to my decision that it was time for the stall to move on to tell a new story at the Museum of London.
“I feel it is the best way for Syd’s to continue as part of London’s heritage and a great way to celebrate the place where you could get the best tea in London for over 100 years.”
The stall began when First World War veteran Syd used £117 of his invalidity pension to commission it.
It was made by a coachbuilder on nearby Hackney Road and custom-built out of mahogany with etched glass and brass fittings.
Like most coffee stalls of its time, it did not actually sell coffee, but instead served ‘camp coffee’ – a brown liquid made of essence of coffee beans, chicory, sugar, tea, cocoa and Bovex, also known as the “poor man’s Bovril”.
The stand’s most popular snack was “a sav’ and a slice”, a Saveloy sausage supplied by a German butcher in Hoxton alongside a slice of bread and English mustard.
During the Second World War, Syd and his wife May were given a special licence to ignore the blackouts during the Blitz and open the stall at night to cater for the air raid precaution (ARP) wardens.
So invaluable was the stall that when May was injured by shrapnel from a nearby explosion, the Mayor of Shoreditch successfully appealed to the War Office to have Syd Junior brought home from a secret RAF mission to keep it running.
After the war, Syd Junior and his wife Iris expanded the business into catering for weddings and events.
The spin-off was named Hillary Caterers – a tribute to Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to conquer Everest.
Its success led to Syd Junior became the youngest ever president of the Hotel & Caterer’s Federation, a Freeman of the City of London and the only caterer ever to trade on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral.
The stall is currently being stored by the Museum of London, which will put it on display in its new home in Smithfields when it opens in 2024.
Vyki Sparkes, the museum’s curator of social and working history, said: “Syd’s is an invaluable piece of our shared history as Londoners, a quiet witness to the challenges and changes in the heart of the East End over the last 100 years.
“We look forward to sharing its fascinating story with our visitors in the new Museum.”