Travel Story 

Betty Davenport and her son Bill continue to operate the world’s oldest family-owned magic shop, opened by Betty’s grandfather in 1898.

Meridian Writers’ Group

LONDON – The world’s oldest family-owned magic shop is nearly as hard to find as Diagon Alley.

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).

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