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. 

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2 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

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