What happened to Coomes the bookmakers?

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?)


  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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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. 🙂

  5. Thought I would watch a few episodes of ‘Minder’ on YouTube…very first episode s01e01 about three minutes in I saw a Coomes betting shop. Having only been to London once, and being a nerd I looked it up to see if it was still there, and ended up here. I often go onto google street view while watching old tv or movies to see how it has changed..Easily amused I guess…….

  6. I knew Wally and Vera Coomes well, my dad worked for them for many years and was a good friend. Their son Graham was a year or two younger than me. Lost touch many years ago but Vera who ran the company after Wally died was a lovely lady. Happy memories.

  7. Still one hidden away at Albany park train station for those who know where this is. Like walking in to the 1970s! Must be last one?

  8. I worked for them for ten years, they are 2 shops left in London, Albany park and loampit Vale Lewisham. one half went to better/jennings and the other half went to ladbrokes. I went to ladbrokes all four shops that are left can’t be sold because they was in wally and Vera’s will to keep the original shops trading.

  9. My husband Ron worked for Coomes between 94 and 2011 then his Charlton church lane shop got taken over by jenningsbet. He is still in the shop with his cashier Dawn and although he says many of the old faces have disappeared, he still sees some of them – especially those dropping in before a Charlton game. Some Coomes staff are still with Jennings so please pop in for a chat about how it used to be:-) Julie Hearn

Comments are closed.