Monday 11 October 2010


Once upon a time, 180 years ago, a shop was built in Belgravia, on Motcomb Street. It was a shop like no other, because it was going to sell everything. It displayed goods manufactured by all conceivable kinds of craftsmen: carpenters, potters, painters, sculptors, glassblowers, silversmiths, goldsmiths, blacksmiths and (I assume) whitesmiths.

Then, as now (as ever shall be) a shop in Belgravia needed a fancy, filigreed, highfalutin name. So the Seth Smith brothers who had built it called it The Pantechnicon, which is Greek for Pertaining To All Of The Crafts, or Universally Crafty.

The shop did not do well. After a while they converted it into a storage place for people who had nowhere to put their furniture. All over Victorian London the great horse-drawn wagons would trundle, taking beds, divans, sofas and seats to and from the Pantechnicon. As with modern moving vans they had the name of the company- Pantechnicon - painted on the side.

The furniture storage business did very well until February 1874 when the Pantechnicon burnt to the ground. However, it had been around for long enough for the vast removal wagons to become universally known as pantechnicons. They were massive, twelve foot long and seven foot wide.

Nothing is left of the Pantechnicon today but the facade, and a nearby pub of the same name. But it still survives in the language as the name for a large vehicle that is just outside my window.

Not if you're American, though. I don't think Americans call them pantechnicons.


  1. We, Americans, call them "moving trucks" or "Semi trucks". It really depends on the size.

  2. The Antipodean, having done extensive research on both sides of the country, well, one side and a bit at the bottom towards the east,12 October 2010 at 12:15

    We don't call them that either. I've never heard that term before - I wish I'd known it before I moved so I could have confused the blokes who came to move my stuff even more. If my stuff makes it across the Nullabor I'll try it on their Batmanian counterparts.

    That pub has hamburgers, and pictures to prove it.

  3. That's some fancified city talkin'.

  4. I still prefer the Spanish word 'furgon'.

  5. Come to think of it, I think that Greek movers are called metaphors.

  6. Hi I am a great great great grandchild of Seth Smith. He built it and ran it...passing it on to his sons to run as part of the wider property development/management group they had at the time. Actually the Waitrose building on the other side of the road was part of the warehouse as well and can be found in the original architectural drawings. So part of it still survives in addition to the façade.