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news, views and issues around Greenwich, Charlton, Blackheath and Woolwich, south-east London – what you won't read in Greenwich Time

What happened to Coomes the bookmakers?

with 8 comments


You know when you go away for a week or two, and upon your return something about your neighbourhood has changed? When I returned from my travels three weeks ago, the change was right in front of me as I struggled out of Charlton station with my bags.

Coomes the bookmakers had gone, replaced with a shiny new Jennings betting shop. It wasn’t just the Charlton Church Lane branch – the Blackheath Standard one had undergone the same transformation, and so has the one at Brockley Cross. Out are the little blue pens and the distant whiff of fags, in come smart staff suits and varnished wood floors. Same old punters, mind.

The slick, shiny new bookies are a culture shock to anyone who ever set foot in a Coomes, a fixture of south-east London’s shopping parades for decades. Not so long ago, if you put a bet on at The Valley, it was a Coomes bet.

Despite the liberalisation of the betting industry some years back, Charlton-based E Coomes Ltd (or E Coomes (South London) Ltd or whichever variant was on the front of your shop) was a defiantly old-school chain. The gambling inside was still obscured by navy blue sketches of jumping horses, racing greyhounds, and soccer action.

No Ray Winstone shouting about in-play betting from home from this firm – it never even had a website. Just shops, staff, and little blue pens. One day, we’ll tell our children we physically had to leave the pub during World Cup football matches to place lose a fiver on England winning 2-0. They’ll never believe us.

Over the years, Coomes’ star faded. While bigger chains moved aggressively into places like Deptford, the little blue shops started to close their doors for the last time. But now the name seems to be vanishing entirely. A little bit of south-east London will soon be history.

After literally minutes of journalistic investigation (a quid on tonight’s Wycombe v Charlton match*), it appears Jennings – which also trades as Joe Jennings and Betterbet – has bought 17 of Coomes’ best-performing shops. What about the others? “They’ll have gone by next year,” said my man with the odds. “Some of the smaller chains will pick those up.” If you know more, or different, please share it below.

There’s genuine and real worries about the unchecked spread of bookmakers at the moment, with brash chains descending on certain areas to fight it out in places where there really isn’t the cash to sustain them.

But it’s a shame to see a neighbourhood bookmaker like Coomes, where the punters never really changed, fade away. While I’m sure those shops witnessed some unhappy scenes over the years, at least your losses were funding a local business, and they wasn’t harassing you to lose even more on poker or some other game. If you want to see how our uncertain society’s changing – pop in at your local bookie.

(*Post-match update: Right score, wrong first goalscorer. Can’t complain, mind. I’ve added a photo of the old Coomes clock which remains at the Blackheath Standard shop – it was a clock, wasn’t it?)

Written by Darryl

25 October, 2011 at 3:37 pm

8 Responses

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  1. I have a vague memory of reading in the local news that E (Edith?) Coomes herself had died a few months, or more, ago.

    Neil

    25 October, 2011 at 3:47 pm

  2. I hadn’t heard that – I always wondered who the eponymous E Coomes was.

    Darryl

    25 October, 2011 at 4:00 pm

  3. There’s still one near Brockley station, but it will probably get taken over by Paddy Power soon enough.

    London Sound Survey

    25 October, 2011 at 5:57 pm

  4. Ah, but do you remember Coomes’ predecessor at the Standard? (David Rae in case you’re wondering).

    I always like the description of bookies as ‘turf accountants’ – it conjures up images of them counting every blade of grass.

    And for all the hard man bluster of Ray Winstone in those terrible adverts, to me he will always be Arnie, the dopey mechanic in Minder.

    ned

    25 October, 2011 at 6:44 pm

  5. I passed an E Coombes today in Eltham and it’s still E Coombes Turfmaker and open

    Gabriella Hudson

    31 October, 2011 at 9:36 pm

  6. [...] banks on that same 100-yard stretch, now there are none. The betting industry’s changing, and neighbourhood bookies like Coomes are going in favour of cluster of betting shops-cum-amusement arcades on high [...]

  7. Bit out of your neck of the woods, but Albany Park still has a Coomes. You’ve inspired me to drop in and place a bet, I’ll see if I can find anything out.

    Warren Valentine

    8 December, 2011 at 7:16 pm

  8. For those interested, the ‘E’ of E.Coomes was for Ernest who I believe originally established to company. His son, Wally took over and his wife, Vera, then took over when Wally died. It was Vera who died (there was never an Edith) :) I worked in the head office for 8 years after leaving school. I believe Graham Coomes is now the head, but I seem to recall that his passion was in sports car racing (driving himself in fact). There you go – hope that was useful to someone. :)

    Andy

    13 December, 2013 at 9:10 am


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