Home Cameras/Lenses Leica London Leica Stores: R.G.Lewis premises still on the market

London Leica Stores: R.G.Lewis premises still on the market

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  Abandoned and unloved after three years (Image Mike Evans)
Abandoned and unloved after three years (Image Mike Evans)

Today I happened to pass the old R.G.Lewis camera store in Southampton Row, Holborn which closed in June 2015. Today I was surprised to see it still empty and waiting for a new direction. At least it represents a free advertisement for Leica on a busy street. Southampton Row and the general Holborn area was once a thriving photographic Mecca. It was there that Norman Lewis, son of an Enfield chemist, R.G.Lewis, set up shop in the late twenties. He had previously run a photographic business above his father’s pharmacy.

  Bargains: Early June 2015 as R.G.Lewis prepared for closure (Image Mike Evans)
Bargains: Early June 2015 as R.G.Lewis prepared for closure (Image Mike Evans)

Until three years ago the old-established store (not the original premises which had been around the corner) was one of the foremost Leica watering holes in the capital. Len Lyons, who owned the company, has now teamed up with another London Leica dealer, Richard Caplan and is still happily selling cameras and equipment. 

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13 COMMENTS

  1. When I worked on ‘Practical Photography’ magazine, we had all the lenses which we (I) assessed first checked on R G Lewis’ MTF test-bench (..round the corner on High Holborn).

    It was there that I’d seen in the window, a few years before, an Olympus 50mm f1.4 which they’d labelled as the highest resolution lens they’d ever checked. I bought the lens, and then saved till I could buy an OM camera to put it on.

    The OM2 was my favourite (film) camera ever ..designed by Mr Maitani to be no bigger – except for the pentaprism hump – than the pocket Leica which he’d used as a boy, or young man. I measured every camera which we tested at ‘PP’ against the OM2 ..weight, viewfinder, shutter accuracy, range of lenses, ease and rapidity of use, quality of lenses ..and so on, and on..

    I was invited to Wetzlar to see what they were going to reveal with the R4 – after having gone to Ferranti’s near Oldham, to discover the electronics which the firm had created for the R4 – and then went to Luton (England) to the Leitz importers to spend three days (..three days!?..) learning about the capabilities of, and how to use, the R4. (..Three days?!!!)

    The R4 got a very poor review from me (..slow, heavy, cumbersome, complex..) and the UK agents threatened to – and did – pull all their advertising. We-ell, for six months, anyway: how could they let anyone know about the camera if they didn’t advertise it?

    I had a good relationship with Leitz ..but my reviews were honest, and we were in no-one’s pocket. It was way past its sell-by date when the R9 was finally put out of its misery..

    Any more writing about "..one of the foremost … watering holes in the capital.." and I’ll look forward to reading about Brunning’s of High Holborn, and David Brunning of blessed memory!

    • I seem to remember that at one time R.G.Lewis had another branch near the corner of The Strand and Waterloo Bridge approach — what was until recently Maplins or, maybe, the Sainsbury next door. And I can also remember Westminster Photographic nearer to the Savoy — about where London Camera Exchange is now. I’m not sure if it is the same store or not. But I bought my first camera there — an Agfa Silette for £25. It took me months to save up for that.

  2. David B., … The R G Lewis employee who was responsible for MTF testing R G Lewis’ lenses way back in the late 1970s was Paul Kay BSc HSE pt4 FRPS … the now well known marine wildlife photographer and author http://marinewildlife.co.uk who I met up with a few weeks ago at Photographica … and who is also a friend of William Fagan. Paul is also active on The Leica Forum. You likely knew the late Malcolm Burkitt the former PP Magazine Editor? who judged the very first club photographic competition I entered in 1983 with a still life composition … and whose encouraging comments helped me to tackle more complex mini-studio set-ups. Being a professional photographer, Malcolm’s comments were from a very different perspective to those of the usually invited PAGB approved judges.

  3. Yes Dunk, I knew Malcolm well. He took over from Richard Hopkins as editor of ..what was it called?.. "Camera", I think. The attitude – we-ell, David Arculus’ attitude – at East Midland Allied Press (..the publishers of ‘PP’..) was "split the sector" ..or something similar: that is, if you’ve one successful (photo, or whatever) magazine, start – or buy – a second in the same genre or niche, so that advertisers then have to buy pages in a second mag ..and you generate twice the revenue!

    (Richard had been Technical Ed of ‘PP’, so he moved to "Camera" and I took on Richard’s job. Then I think, Richard became publisher of "Camera", and Malcolm became its editor.)

    I remember borrowing a big electric razor from Malcolm for a photo shoot on a Peterborough to Huntingdon express: I had new Polaroid film to write about, and… ..some other day, perhaps..

    Malcolm was great at his job because – as you say – he was a professional photographer, not just a wordsmith. He knew how to shoot and deliver paid-for commissions (..he’d been shooting for British Rail just before taking the job at "Camera"..) and so he wrote from professional experience, not just make-believe, or as a hobbyist.

  4. I never dealt with R.G. Lewis, but, if I was a resident of London, I would most certainly have made the shop a place to drop by. I was in London a lot during the 1990s visiting my British opposite numbers at the Office of Fair Trading at Breams Buildings off Chancery Lane. There was a shop on High Holborn near to Holborn Tube Station which sold Leicas. I was usually rushing for a train to go to my hotel or to Heathrow, but I often gave the windows a cursory glance or two. At the time I was a Nikon user and
    as I was extremely busy with work and also raising my family, I just decided that Leicas might be something that lay in my future. Thankfully the spark that ignited from looking in that window did not go out. I have no idea whose store it was, but I owe the owner some kind of debt.

    William

  5. "..There was a shop on High Holborn near to Holborn Tube Station which sold Leicas.." ..yes, that would probably have been R G Lewis, if it was on the south side of High Holborn ..or it would have been in the 1980s, but in the ’90s they may have already moved around the corner to Southampton Row.

    But on the north side of HH, opposite RGL, was a London Camera Exchange shop, and they also sold Leicas.

    • The shop was on the south side of High Holborn and I would have passed it during in the period 1991 to 1998, but I cannot say if it was closed at any stage. I just recall the shop and its location, but not the name or any other detail other than they had a lot of Leicas in the windows.

      William

  6. As we’re talking (..writing..) about camera shops, I see that it’s exactly forty years – to the day! – since I was working (..we-ell, I s’pose you could call it working..) at Vines Cameras in Kingston-upon-Thames, and around lunchtime I was desperate to sell <i>some</i>thing, and a man walked in, and I managed to sell him the cheapest thing in the shop; a £1.50 lens cap ..so that the print-out on the till receipt showed 12:34 5.6.78 ..only once in every hundred years.. ha!

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