Shop Review: Clerkenwell Screws

If you’re looking for black japanned, round-headed two-and-a-half inch 14 screws, why go anywhere else? By Sam Blunden

I don't know if they were related but the shop next door to Clerkenwell Screws used to be Clerkenwell Locks. Zammo from Grange Hill used to work in the lock shop, I saw him in there, which felt significant because my dad used to teach him when he was the Head at Moorfields primary school - it was a part of family lore that he'd given him his big break as The Artful Dodger in a school production of “Oliver”. Having dined out on that for the first years of secondary school, I distanced myself from him after the heroin episode. Anyway, the lock shop's gone, but the screws remain.
My dad's not entirely incidental part to why I'm talking about Clerkenwell Screws. It was his request which had me going down there. Clerkenwell Screws mainly sell screws. They do sell other things, and these are largely screw-related – screwdriver sets, tool belts, spirit levels – but screws are the main event. Everything else in the shop feel less serious, a bit flighty - like a very practical chorus line.
Clerkenwell Screws feels like a cross between a shop and a surgery, a kind of consultation. By the time you're up, you need to know what you're asking for. I had a definite request, but this was accompanied by the anxiety of ordering something you don't really understand. Your parameters are too narrow for compromise, and you're in danger of being exposed as a fraud.
Behind the counter there are three similarly-built, middle-aged Asian men. They're quite intense looking, like they want to get you what you want as quickly as possible. The whole place is lined with cardboard boxes holding screws - floor to ceiling around the walls with an additional four-sided island behind the counter. All the boxes have the same kind of labels - the frame is a sticker with the brand name, logos plus the length, size, material, and whether they take a Phillips or a flathead screwdriver. This is often accompanied by an illustration of the screw in question.
The length (2 1/2 inches) and round-headedness I understood. I knew that 14 is the size - but I don't know what the unit of measurement is. Black I got, but black japanned?
My order had the man climbing a step ladder and mounting the solar plexus-height counter. The reassuring part was that he seemed to know exactly where he was heading. Moving inevitably dusty cardboard boxes out of the way, he produced a box of one and a half inch 12s. I had to stick to my guns and he went back in, this time coming out with two-inch 14s.
I took four. I only needed 2, but I took 4.

Clerkenwell Screws, 107-109 Clerkenwell Road, London EC1R 5BY. Tel: 020 7405 6504