The Most Interesting Underpants in London

In Bowes Park a pair of underpants are gently decaying in public. They have a fascinating and genuinely moving story to tell; now how many pairs of old pants can you say that about?

The pants occupy pride of place in the window display of George Moore Menswear at 99, Myddleton Road, in Bowes Park. The shop is no longer open for business but the owner still lives above it.

The owner is Brian Moore, son of the founder George. George Moore established the firm in 1942 and despite the problems associated with starting a business during a war he made a great success of it. When Mr Moore senior died in 1969 his widow and son, Brian, continued to run the shop. When Mr Moore junior decided to retire, around 13 years ago, he simply stopped trading, he didn’t clear the window display but left it just as it was on the last day of business.

And so today we can enjoy this “museum piece” and all of its wonderful little exhibits.

A smart new shirt and tie, perfectly co-ordinated.

A handy multi-purpose wallet featuring an under-arm security strap.

There is plenty for the ladies too.

The hand-written tags warn that the item on the left is the “LAST ONE” but reassure us that the item on the right is available “IN OTHER COLOURS”.

This was one of those rare places where it was once possible to stock up on bowties and Max Bygraves cassette tapes all at the same time. I can’t think of any other current example in London.

An iconic image of Susan Hampshire nestles kitten-like amongst the warm and cosy gloves.

So is this the work of an eccentric? Are there echoes of Dirty Dick, the 18th Century pub owner who famously stopped washing, or otherwise looking after himself, from the moment his fiancée died on their wedding day? Has wrack and ruin come to this shop in an unplanned, yet picturesque, fashion; like a retail version of Highgate Cemetery?

The answer is none of the above. Mr Moore simply stopped trading and left time to run its course. You can hear Mr Moore speak about his life and work in a recent short interview on the excellent Bowes & Bounds Connected website (it’s  the very model and epitome of a genuine community website). Mr Moore is articulate, clearly fully compos mentis, engaging and fascinating. He is a man who has lived in the same road since he was three, an engaged resident, a force for good, a real local hero.

His retirement has created a really beautiful piece of genuine community art. His “exhibition” is free and acessible to all, open 365 days a year, and although it is tiny, it has more than enough interest to merit multiple visits. At each glance one’s eyes are drawn to some fresh detail.

It serves as a memorial to the family firm but also encourages us all to pause and reflect on all the previous lives that have been lived in this street. With none of the technological gadgetry, so beloved by modern museums and galleries, Mr Moore has produced an exhibit that is far more engaging than many of the big budget ones to be found in the great national collections.

Sunlight is bleaching the display, mildew is taking hold. The contents are slowly disintegrating. So there is movement here, albeit imperceptibly slow movement; this is a delicate ballet of decay. Dust is being allowed to return to dust in its own good time.

The first time I saw Mr Moore’s shop I was delighted, surprised and amazed. An instinct for preservation immediately kicked in. Is this display under any kind of threat? Are there plans for redevelopment? Has a bloody coffee chain already started eyeing up the property? Has Mr Moore spoken to anyone at the National Trust about any long-term wishes he may have? How best can this gem be preserved and enjoyed?

Then, as I thought about it more, I realised that any potential preservation and conservation of the display would run absolutely counter to the reason why it is so engaging.

How could one begin to conserve such a variety of objects that are all softly decomposing? Well I think even the most able conservator would have their work cut out here  but even if every object was made stable, all the moulds neutralised, all bugs banished and the effects of temperature, humidity and sunlight controlled and mitigated against, that would  miss the point entirely.

One can conserve an object or objects but one cannot “preserve” a process without ending it.

The thought-provoking charm of this unique window display is that it is a living process. It lives, as we all do, by taking small incremental steps towards our own inevitable departures.

But there is no sadness for me in the display, quite the opposite I find in it a celebration of life and a call to enjoy all that we can in the here and now. Fashion is transitory, businesses are transitory, we are all individually transitory – so let’s make the most of the moment whilst we can.

And thanks to Mr Moore we can imagine ourselves doing so in some very reasonably priced short socks!

I would encourage anyone to go and go and enjoy these “must-see” underpants and the rest of Mr Moore’s wonderful window display as they gently dissolve before your eyes. If you can’t make it then I have put some more pictures of the shop’s display on my Flickr Photostream and I’ll add to these over time.

Nearest Tube: Bounds Green.

Overground: Bowes Park.

In putting together this post I am indebted to Serge & Tweed for their feature on George Moore earlier this year and to the previously mentioned Bowes & Bounds community website.

The author of this blog is a qualified and insured  City of Westminster Tour Guide who runs unique walking tours and private tours in London, please see tabs for details.

19 Responses to The Most Interesting Underpants in London
  1. London Remembers
    February 28, 2012 | 2:20 pm

    Synchronicity spotted – is there something in the air? You post about seat-covering pants on display; I post about bottoms on displayed seats! Albeit, at the other end of London and centuries apart. http://www.londonremembers.com/memorials/wherrymen-seat

  2. London Remembers
    February 28, 2012 | 2:25 pm

    I’ve now read the post to the end and, in all seriousness, beautifully observed, Peter. Thanks.

  3. […] Tomorrow I will share another of N22′s hidden gems – The Underpants that Time Forgot. […]

  4. Auld Punts « Scunnert!
    February 28, 2012 | 7:26 pm

    […] Link Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

  5. jenny
    February 29, 2012 | 12:26 am

    what a delightful story. I’m so glad to read the history on this store, too. i love it!

  6. LoveLondonMuseums
    February 29, 2012 | 11:40 am

    This is a great story and I agree, It’s a real museum without all the bells and whistles of many modern museums.

    I remember these sorts of shops from my childhood, they were cozy and friendly and always situated right in the neighborhoods, next door to the butchers and the bakers.

    We have lots so much of this sort of community shop these days. It lovely to see this remain. I am really amazed that there are no broken windows though.

    Long may it stay.

  7. Moira Jenkins
    March 1, 2012 | 8:56 am

    This made lovely and nostalgic reading, thank you. I used to live just round the corner from this street and would always bring any visitors to have a look at George Moose’s wonderful display. So glad to know it’s still there!

  8. […] love this: ‘The Most Interesting Underpants in London‘ – a really interesting read which will have you reconsidering all you thought about […]

  9. ann kroon
    March 5, 2012 | 1:05 pm

    wonderful post! i will definitely try to go here on my next visit to london.

  10. Eric Whelan
    March 5, 2012 | 5:30 pm

    I worked on a multimedia community project about a year ago focusing on capturing the stories of residents of the Bowes Park area with a special interest on Myddleton Road.

    Brian Moore was one of the locals that we interviewed and he’s a fascinating man. We set up a mini site for the project where you can listen to the interviews, see a couple of photos and watch an audio slideshow.

    http://flavors.me/mybowespark

    • katrina
      March 9, 2012 | 12:06 pm

      “Sunlight is bleaching the display, mildew is taking hold. The contents are slowly disintegrating. So there is movement here, albeit imperceptibly slow movement; this is a delicate ballet of decay. Dust is being allowed to return to dust in its own good time.” – beautiful. lovely lovely read. thanks! :)

  11. Roger Ellman
    March 9, 2012 | 6:11 pm

    Very touching and funny!

    So good to hear of interesting yet quirky instances…this also speaks of trends, changes, fashion, moods, inflation and the likes and lives of others. Good luck to the Moore family and thanks Peter. Much enjoyed.
    Roger and Thankly.

  12. […] “The most interesting underpants in London”: Vor 13 Jahren hat Brian Moore seinen kleinen Kleiderladen an der Londoner Myddleton Road zugemacht – und nichts weiter. Er hat alles so gelassen wie es war, wohnt weiter in der Wohnung darüber und überlässt alles andere dem vielbesungenen Zahn der Zeit. Ich musst sehr an Peter Greenaways A Zed & Two Noughts denken: Brian Moores verfallendes Schaufenster bringt die Idee auf neue Ebenen. […]

  13. […] “When Mr. Moore Junior decided to retire, around 13 years ago, he simply stopped trading. He didn’t clear the window display, but left it just as it was on the last day of business.” Peter Berthoud tells the story of a store and its contents left to rot, but in the most artistic way possible: “The Most Interesting Underpants in London.” […]

    • Gloria Arthur
      August 18, 2012 | 3:23 pm

      I know this shop well and have observed the changes since 1975 when I lived in Bounds Green, and was a regular shopper in Myddleton Road,N22. There was a baker, with the best ‘Hot Cross Buns’ in the area, a wonderful greengrocer, a lovely family run hardware store, and a pet shop and poodle parlour. All now gone in the mists of time. I sat outside Moores only two weeks ago.

  14. Alfred Skaarvold
    March 13, 2012 | 4:12 pm

    A very interesting story but one that doesn’t perhaps tell the whole story. Whilst George Moore Menswear does immediately come across as charming with plenty of novelty value, but did the writer cross the road and look at the roof of the property? It’s falling inwards and outwards, several times a year slates fall from the roof on to the street below. Last year one of the windows and it’s frame also fell on to the street. The building is decaying, with trees and weeds growing from the structure. It is clearly suffering serious subsidence as the whole display is leaning sideways. In short, a beautiful Edwardian building is rotting away. Look at the beautiful and ornate facade and do you not feel a hint of sadness that it is being left to rot rather than being preserved? Is Brian really a charming eccentric who is preserving his fathers pride and joy as a museum? Or is he just a beligerant man who doesn’t care about the area that he lives in? Myddleton Road has the potential to be so much more and a real hub of a lively and close community. Sadly, most people who live in Bowes Park leave the area to do their socialising as the street continues to go down hill. I don’t think a mouldy pair of underpants is that great in comparison, at least not for locals who are proud of where they come from.

    Alfred Skaarvold
    Bowes Park Resident

  15. Arca
    March 15, 2012 | 4:12 am

    Muito bom. Recomendo também: http://arcanewsbrasil.blogspot.com

    É muito legal!

  16. Ian
    May 15, 2012 | 4:13 pm

    I agree, it’s definitely a plus that this display has been left intact. You could say it is a ‘window’ into the past – pardon the expression.

  17. […] Popping back to London, for a second, the headline here is an understatement: surely these are the most interesting underpants in the world? […]

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