Secret London: the Victorian herbalist

This piece originally appeared in Completely London magazine. 

You don’t expect to find a shop as beautiful as Baldwin’s on the Walworth Road, the grimy but charismatic street that connects Elephant & Castle with Camberwell and is otherwise punctuated by pound shops and bookmakers. ‘We have the greatest range of herbal products in the UK,’ says owner Steve Dagnell proudly, and that is easy to believe. Baldwin’s is lined with aged apothecary drawers stuffed with herbs, gleaming wooden shelves holding big bottles of wood curls, lavender and liquorice and ancient signs that advertise pills ‘for piles, pains in the back, pimples and dizziness’ and tonic mixture ‘for lowness of spirits’.

Baldwin’s has been on this road for 150 years, selling herbs, tinctures, oils, beauty remedies and sarsaparilla to customers – among them celebrities such as Terence Stamp, Michael Caine and Max Bygraves, who came here for his throat sweets – since 1844. It started at No.77, but moved to 173 in 1969, taking many of the original fittings with it. The store is currently run by Dagnell, 57, whose grandfather started work at Baldwin’s in 1918. ‘At that time there were six shops in London, but the others were closing,’ says Dadnell. ‘His first job was to go round all the other shops with a handcart buying back the old stock.’

Dadnell himself began working there in 1981. The store stocks a mind-boggling variety of herbs – everything from agnus castus to yerba santa, including helonias root at £322 per 500g – as well as essential oils, shampoos, body washes and handmade soup. ‘We do an enormous range of essential oils and have developed a cosmetics range based on these,’ says Dadnell. ‘A lot of people use them to make their own shampoo, massage oil and soap.’ It’s a beautiful shop selling beautiful products, the hidden jewel of the Walworth Road.

Baldwin and Co, 171-173 Walworth Road, SE17. 

3 responses to “Secret London: the Victorian herbalist

  1. On first reading I thought you wrote that Max Bygraves first went there in 1844 – but that is a Morecambe and Wise gag.

  2. absolute gem, people travel from all round London to shop here including me. well done dagnell and co! not only great produce but i also love the original fittings and the ‘sprouting’ logo says it all. keep growing

  3. Lorraine allen

    If you think the shops beautiful now you should have seen it before some idiot decided to refurb it. This must of happened in the 1990s. I don’t know how they got away with it as the interior was totally authentic despite it being moved in the 60s. It was like stepping back in time I went there a couple of years ago and was heartbroken to see how it is now it has the atmosphere of a noisy busy street market stuff all over the floor none of the big glass cabinets and the beautiful smell that used to permeate it was gone. It’s nothing like it was. I was told by one rather rude assistant that ‘ that was how it was back in my time and things move on ‘ as if I was dead now. This is still my time and if we let everything ‘move on’ we’d have lost most of the beauty and history in the world. God save us from the ignorant the uncultured and those who have no respect for the history culture and sensitivity of those who were there first ! I shall never go there again or buy from there as to me it’s no longer Baldwin’s .

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