Cubitts zooms in on the origins of optometry in London exhibition

‘Retrospective: London, Spectacles and Half a Millenia’ installation view. Images courtesy of Cubitts
(Image credit: Cubitts)

While we’re used to exhibitions tracing the topography and architecture of London’s streets, or shows tracing the city’s sociopolitical or photographic heritage, Cubitts has us seeing clearly with its latest exhibition – one which zooms in on London’s history in the field of optometry.

‘Retrospective: London, Spectacles and Half a Millenia’ – an outdoors exhibition located a stone’s throw from the optical brand’s Jermyn Street boutique in St James’s – is made up of a tessellation of glass and timber vitrines showcasing glasses, materials and memorabilia that document London’s optometrical history.

Ever pondered when the first pair of glasses with temples was made? (by Edward Scarlett in 1730). What the first pair of sunglasses looked like? (horse-shoe shaped, gold-rimmed and made by James Ayscough in 1752). Or if opticals were say prescribed as a cure to sexually transmitted diseases? (blue tinted lenses were believed to cure syphilis). Now you have the optometrical answer.

pince nez

12-ct rolled gold pince-nez, by Aitchison, UK, 1880s

(Image credit: Cubitts)

The exhibition documents the earliest age of optometry, tracing the invention of sunglasses to counter what James Ayscough termed as ‘offensive glaring light’, the evolution of fashion-focused frames (cat-eyes were the first sartorial shape), the array of now extremely stylish NHS frames available during the 1970s, and the possibilities of creating glasses in a variety of sustainable materials, like a natural fibre glass made from wool.

The oldest pair of glasses were found in London’s Trig Lane and are nearly 600 years old. In celebration of six centuries of spectacles, Cubitts has also created a new pair made from materials found mudlarked from the banks of the River Thames. A Frame for London features a bullet from the Second World War, clay smoking pipes, a Victorian marble, and like the earliest pair picked up in the city, animal bones.

‘People really don’t know a huge amount about the history of optometry,’ muses Cubitts' founder Tom Broughton. This is the perfect pitstop for sharpening your focus.

Cubitts exhibition artifact

Exhibition artefacts

(Image credit: Cubitts)

Cubitts exhibition artifact - A Frame for London

A Frame for London, by Cubitts

(Image credit: Cubitts)

Cubitts exhibition artifact - Original spectacle box by Dollond & Co, London

Original spectacle box by Dollond & Co, London

(Image credit: Cubitts)

Cubitts exhibition artifact - Sun Spectacles glare guards, (1940s), by Cleevis, London

Sun Spectacles glare guards, (1940s), by Cleevis, London

(Image credit: Cubitts)

‘Retrospective: London, Spectacles and Half a Millenia’ is on view until 15 February. For more information, visit the Cubitts website


St James’s Market Pavilion
11 St Alban’s Street
St James’s