Meridian Writers’ Group
LONDON – The
world’s oldest family-owned magic shop is nearly as hard to find as Diagon
Davenports Magic Shop is
in a dead-end passage of the Charing Cross Shopping Arcade, a grimy
subterranean mall that funnels people to the Charing Cross tube and rail
stations. The shop shares its cul-de-sac with Davys of London Wine Merchants
and a sleeping street person.
An unpromising location, but
Davenports has built its reputation to the point where even its move here (in
1984) couldn’t hurt it.
“We don’t rely on passing
trade,” says Betty Davenport. “Magicians find out where we are. We could be up
a tree in Hyde Park and they’d still find us.”
Betty is the
granddaughter of Lewis Davenport, who started the shop in 1898. “He earned his
living performing magic acts,” says Betty. “At the turn of the century it was
possible to work 52 weeks a year, a different hall every week.”
Betty’s father George
took over the business in 1926, then Betty became its proprietor in 1960. Like
her father, she was a magician, but stopped doing shows the year she began to
run the store. “If you don’t keep it up, you lose confidence,” she says. And
when you have children, the time to practice magic goes poof.
Betty’s two sons tend the
shop now. Bill sees to the day-to-day operation. Both he and his younger
brother, Roy, are magicians — the fourth generation. Bill had just done a
lunchtime show the day I visited. Roy was performing in Norfolk.
If Harry Potter were to
wander into Davenports he could buy a wand, just like in Diagon Alley, but it’s
not what most people come for. The big sellers here have to do with
sleight-of-hand or “manipulation” as it’s known in the trade.
Manipulation, says Betty,
“is the branch of magic which takes the most practice and is the most difficult
to do.” If you come into her shop as a novice, asking where to begin, she’ll
start you out with “something easy,” either the Svengali Deck (£6) or the
Floating Credit Card (£12.50).
The next step would be
the Cut and Restore Rope Trick (£5.50, including 10 metres of rope) and the
Rising Card Trick (£15).