Londei’s London shops. Photos & text: John Londei (1/3)

Kim’s Dogs Beauty Parlour, 4 Bristol Gardens, Notting Hill, 1984. © John Londei.

John Londei writes:

To her customers Freeda Lizetta Regina Sophia Carson was simply known as ‘Kim’.

Freeda was German and married an Englishman who worked in Hanover. They moved to England and her husband, who was often away on business, bought her a dog for company. “It was a poodle. That’s how it started.”

As the dog’s coat grew it became progressively shabbier. “I had no idea what to do. Eventually he had such long hair I taught myself to clip him.” And so began a lifelong career. Freeda got a job at Bellmead Kennels in Windsor and in 1955 she opened her salon in Maida Vale. Ironically it used to be a butcher’s shop.

In her heyday Freeda employed several assistants, and was able to handle ten dogs a day. “It was a very chic place. A lot of my customers came in chauffeur driven cars. They came because of my work.”

Freeda poses in the picture with ‘Kim’, a fifth generation dog stretching back to her original poodle. All were called ‘Kim’. She’d had the present ‘Kim’ since he was a puppy. “He has to be on a lead at the shop. Well, I must be frank. He’s very sexy. You see all dogs are different. My other dogs could be left and did nothing. But this one’s a bugger!”

The fashion for poodles began to wane in the early 1960s. “At that time everyone had poodles! Poodles only. Now it’s terriers and spaniels.”

Freeda was over eighty; the years had taken had their toll. “I’m much too old. My hands are not strong anymore. It takes about two and a half hours of hard work to do a dog.”

The shop now stood on a desirable site; the surrounding area was being developed. However, Freeda had an old lease and couldn’t be evicted. The landlord, eager to sell the property, was forced to sit it out. Freeda stubbornly stood firm until she received a good offer from the landlord. He in turn refused to carry out repairs to the building in the hope she would leave. But Freeda would not let herself be bullied. “I’m free from debts and everything. I earn just enough. I live from day to day. Be happy, don’t worry. No stress… Besides, I love dogs.”

 © John Londei 2011

John Londei’s book  Shutting Up Shop: the decline of the traditional small shop is published by Dewi Lewis.