Lens of Sutton - a recollection


Where did that hole in floor go to? ....

Our Carshalton Running Day in 2007 provided the opportunity for a tribute to that one-time mecca of the transport enthusiast, Lens of Sutton.


If you arrive in Sutton from the east, glance left at B&Q just before your bus swings into the one-way system and you will be looking at the site of this late-lamented ‘transport literature specialist’, as the sign above the window said.  Despite possessing two street numbers (50/52 Carshalton Road), Lens wasn’t quite as big as B&Q - there was scarcely room for two people to squeeze past between the counter and the packed shelves.  There was a lower level, accessible only by a hatch, but that was strictly the preserve of the proprietor, John L Smith.  He would emerge with a fresh cup of tea, preceded by his ever-present beret (Alan Cross recalls it was from his army service), to resume a well-informed conversation with a client usually on railway matters.


The rear of the terrace incorporating Lens - the shop is on the left of the picture.

Photograph by permission of Sutton and East Surrey Water.


As regular, if low-spending, schoolboy visitors in the mid-sixties, we browsed the treasure trove of books, magazines, models and especially photographs for hours, yet never felt under any pressure to make way for more profitable customers.  John Smith was himself a prolific photographer of railway subjects - less so of buses - but he also accumulated negatives from many other photographers to build the huge ‘Lens of Sutton’ collection.


By some accounts, the ‘Lens’ name alluded to the lens of a camera.  But the truth is that the business was established around 1927 by T. Lens and the shop was taken over by John Smith in 1948.  The front of the shop gave no clue to its seemingly precarious position clinging to the edge of a deep pit known, somewhat ambitiously, as Langley Park Lagoon (see top photograph).  There were glimpses of a chalky landscape from a rear window - the pit having long been used by the Sutton District Water Company as a depositary for chalk extracted in the water softening process.


Inevitable redevelopment forced Lens to relocate to 4 Westmead Road, Carshalton, east of the old LT depot.  John Smith died in 1999 but the Lens name lives on in his photographic collection now dispersed to other caretakers. 


Lloyd Rich went from being a young customer to a friend of John L Smith, and describes him as 'a wonderful character and a very interesting and generous man'.  His Flickr set of photos, Lloyd's tribute to John, are here.