220 Railton Road

This shop is currently home to Sharp Works.

It was built by 1870 as part of Commercial Terrace – like the other eight houses in the terrace it was not used initially as a shop but solely as a residence.

But by 1900 it had become a shop, the first shopkeeper being Alfred J. Furness, born in 1872 in Rotherhithe, who ran a sort of furniture shop. Advertisements show him selling “second-hand furniture, pianos, pictures, antiques, etc”. In 1901 Alfred was living above the shop with his wife, Agatha. She was 16 years older than him and had four daughters by an earlier marriage which had left her widowed. Three daughters lived with them, as well as their own son and daughter, Alphonsus and Veronica, aged two and few months, and both born in Herne Hill.

The business cannot have had great success, because by 1911 Alfred was working as a Prudential insurance salesman and living at 83 Bedford Road (Clapham North, redeveloped c.1970). The house and shop seems to have remained empty until the First World War, when a builders’ merchants, John Knowles & Co. (London ) Ltd, were there. They had depots across London, including on Norwood and Rosendale Roads.

From around 1925 until 1941 it was an Italian dining and refreshment room run and lived in by the Bizannelli family, though not owned by them. John Evans, a builder who owned many properties in the area, had left everything to his housekeeper for her lifetime. After her, the estate went to Belgrave Hospital for Children, Kennington.

Andrea Giovanni Bizzanelli, known as Giovanni, was born in Italy, probably in around 1890. Like many Italians living in Herne Hill, Giovanni came from Como. By 1901 he was working as a waiter in an Italian restaurant in Clerkenwell. He married Angela Maffioli, also from Como, in 1910 and they started married life above an Italian restaurant on Camberwell Green before moving to No. 220 in 1925. The Bizzanellis lived and worked there for about 16 years before moving a stone’s throw away to another café at 101 Dulwich Road (now Kaya) where they lived until 1979, so making 55 years living and working in the restaurants of Herne Hill.

Giovanni and Angela had five children: Primo married Eva Mazzucchi and ran a café in Walworth; Emilda married a local boy and lived in Jessop Road; Natalina, who married and moved to Wales; Angela, born in the flat above No. 220 and who lived there and at 101 Dulwich Road until she married in 1968; and Lucrezia, also born at No. 220, who didn’t move out when she married Reginald Rowden but continued to live above the shop with her own family until at least 1964. In the 1939 Register, Emilda is a waitress in the family business and Angela is still at school. Primo was interned as an enemy alien during the war but soon released as a special case.

The records are missing for what happened at No. 220 after the Bizzanellis left until the 1960s, when it became an Indian restaurant, at first called the Raja with Anyat and Rajah Ali living upstairs, and later known as Vindaloo Vaccasion, which in 1998 took part in a Daily Mirror 2-for-1 dinner promotion.

This article forms part of the “History of Shops” project, created and researched by the Herne Hill Society.

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