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Shops and Shopping

It can be argued that for somewhere to be considered a 'place' in Britain it required four things; a pub (the social hub of the local world), a post office (where you communicate with the government and the wider world), a church (where people contemplate the next world) and at least one shop (required to justify the other three). The shop could be a single 'general stores' type of business selling a range of goods but usually there would be at least two or three shops forming the core of a village. A lot of recently built layouts have plenty of housing but too few shops, although shops offer a range of opportunities for establishing the location and date of a layout.

In the mid 1980s I lived on the outskirts of a small town called Edgley south of Manchester, I was about a mile from the adjacent market town of Stockport, with all its high street shops and a full market three times a week, but within a few hundred yards I had a butcher, bakery and confectioners, fruit and veg shop, two off-licence shops that also sold general groceries, a small family grocery shop, a chemists, newsagents, a shoe shop, two ladies outfitters and a gents tailors. There were also other shops, selling carpets, flowers, a photographers who also did picture framing and the like. The chip shop on the next street sold fresh wet fish twice a week and the adjoining laundrette did a 'service wash' (you dropped off the wash, they did the washing and folded it for collection) for 50p, and if she was not busy the lady would iron my shirts for free to pass the time. There was also a pub and a mini-supermarket run by the Co-Op, although I had to go nearly a quarter of a mile for electrical goods, a hardware shop or a cafe.

All of these, with the exception of the Co-Op, were small family run businesses, they were scattered about, some in small groups of up to five shops in a small parade, others singly, usually on a street corner. Conversation in the shops kept me abreast of developments and if I needed a plumber or electrician I could ask for recommendations for a local firm in the pub, as a result I got to know all my neighbours. The shop keepers got to know my tastes and would arrange to stock things I liked, they were all professionals who could offer useful advice. The range of goods on offer was greater than today, where chain stores limit their ranges to those offering the greatest mark up (given the lack of competition they face they can get away with this). Personally I feel the quality of much of the produce (fruit, veg and particularly the bakery goods) was better, much of it locally sourced and certainly it had more taste. Even in the more affluent areas facilities such as these are, in the early 21st century, becoming very rare. Sadly I did not realise this at the time and took no photographs.
For information on police stations and fire stations see under Public and emergency services, for information on Garages and Petrol Stations see under Roads and road traffic, for telephone and letter boxes see under Postal Services and Telephone Networks.


Shops, for those too young to remember, were small establishments, usually run by a family, the better off owned the building, others rented or leased their premises. The shops on the town and city streets changed a great deal during the nineteenth century, moving away from selling goods they had produced themselves to selling ready made stock produced from the factories. By the 1850s shops had proliferated as had the goods they had to offer and by 1900 virtually every street in Britain had at least one retail shop. By 1900 builders yards and blacksmiths were getting rare on a town high street, replaced by tobacconists and newsagents. In densely populated areas of terraced housing there would usually be a shop or two on the corner of almost every street (with a pub on the remaining corners). Shops could survive, and sustain a family, on a remarkably narrow range of goods and services, so small shops were everywhere.

The 'corner shop' was an institution from the time the railways were built, when rows of houses were built it was almost standard practice to build the end of the row as a shop. A characteristic feature was the door on the corner, rather than on either of the two road sides, even where the shop has since been converted into a house the corner remains distinctive. The pictures top right and top left below show buildings with a cut-corner, the lower pictures below show buildings with a conventional corner on the upper floor but a recessed doorway set at an angle to the corner.

Fig ___ Corner Shops
Photographs of corner shops

With the growth of the suburbs there was a move away from providing a shop as part of a housing development but an arcade of shops would soon appear to provide goods and services for the local residents. In some places houses were converted into shops, where the house had a front garden it was common practice to extend the shop over this area to provide larger premises. The examples shown below are houses with a ground floor extension covering the former garden, the example on the top left below had about half the former garden occupied, allowing for a large pavement area outside, the example on the top right has been built out to the edge of the existing pavement. The roofing on these extensions was usually rolled lead but in some cases the pitch of the new roof was steep enough to allow slates or tiles to be used. The example shown in the lower left as a double-fronted house with the full garden occupied, note how an additional separate shop building has been squeezed in to the remaining space. The example on the lower right has a brick built extension with a single pitch to the roof presenting as tall a frontage as possible.

Fig ___ Shops built onto houses
Shops built onto houses

Shops tended to form small clusters, essentially forming the core of a small village within a larger town. Where there were more than about ten shops it was common to have a small cafe or 'tea room' where shoppers could take a break, these supplementing the many pubs found in any area of dense housing and in the streets of towns and villages across the land. One chain in particular, that run by Joseph Lyons, became synonymous with the business. Lyons operate a large chain of tea rooms across the country and also a number of more up market 'corner houses', offering improved service with better china from waitresses in black dresses with white hats who were known as 'nippys'. Curiously Lyons were amongst the first to operate a computer as part of the business, it operated throughout the 1950s, they called it Leo and rented out time on the machine to other companies. At this time data was entered on punched cards and the system was incredibly slow by modern standards, but still many times faster than rooms full of clerks with pens and ledgers.

Even in smaller towns and suburbs the cafe or tea room was commonplace, providing a much needed respite and a place to sit down and have a cup of tea during a long shopping expedition.

Fig ___ Small 'hovis and teas' cafe
Small 'hovis and teas' cafe

There would usually be one or more anywhere tourists might be expected to visit and they sprang up along the country roads, catering for both the motorists and the lorry drivers. The latter developed into a specialist business known as the 'transport cafe' (one of which justifies the inclusion of several parked lorry models which can help to set the 'period' of a layout.

These small family run businesses survived the onslaught of the 'fast food' chains in the 1970s and 1980s, meanwhile however the supermarkets were killing off the smaller shops whilst rents increased and a new breed of 'designer' eatery appeared, charging a great deal more (usually for a lot less). Things came to a head in the later 1990s and in the last half of the 1990s we lost 80% of the small family cafe's in the UK. There are a few left, often favoured by the elderly as they offer good value for money with unpretentious food in generous portions. They are usually located close by the surviving high streets (often in a side street) and close by the surviving markets. I regularly use a 24 hour cafe in Manchester that offers (in 2007) a mug of fresh tea and a rather good scone for a pound and an all-day breakfast with tea and toast for less than three pounds (the neighbouring self-styled 'up market' coffee shops charge about two pounds for a paper cup of coffee).

Mention should also be made of the roadside caravan serving food and drinks, these appeared in areas where there would be few cafe's. The example shown below is the Matchbox model, perfectly acceptable for an OO scale layout. The idea of roadside food vendors is not a new one, men with hand carts selling cold food or hot food cooked in a small oven had been operating since before the railways were built (see also Appendix One - 'Street traders, hawkers and buskers'). The caravan cafe however really only developed in line with the use of motor vehicles, mainly the long haul commercial, so they began to appear in roadside 'lay-bys' catering to the lorry drivers. There was usually a small counter along the bottom of the serving window but the food sold was generally things such as sandwiches which can be eaten whilst standing. As industrial parks developed in the later 1930s, separating homes and industry, there were few cafe's in the parks and the caravan was one solution. They were common in inner cities where the cafes would all close in the early evening whereas the caravan would stay open much later, sometimes through the night (so a taxi parked close by would be a common sight).

Fig ___ Caravan cafe
Typical caravan cafe

The roadside caravans in lay by's developed into the larger 'transport cafe' which was usually a building (often more of a shed, some used old railway van bodies) and these usually had parking space for the lorries when in country areas, in towns (in the major trunk roads) the lorries had to park at the roadside.

At the time the railways were being built glass was expensive (see also Lineside Industries - Glass Works) and labour was (comparatively) cheap, so most shops had what are commonly called 'mullioned' windows, that is the window was divided up by a wooden grid into panes of about a foot (30cm) square. Often this frame was bowed outward by about a foot (30cm), offering a better view of the goods on display (actually a mullion is not this grid pattern it is any vertical bar dividing a window into sections). A good example of the design is the classic interpretation of 'The Old Curiosity Shop', illustrations of which usually feature this kind of window. From a modellers perspective building a three dimensional representation is difficult unless you can find a ready-made grid (in OO and larger scales you can use plastic 'kitchen drainer' sheets, some of which have small enough squares).

Fig ___ Victorian style shop windows
Victorian style shop windows

On the high street the plate glass window was the norm by 1900 although occasional examples of these 'mullioned' windows survived on smaller shops into the 1970s. The main reasons for change were the fall in the cost of sheet glass which offered an improved window display to entice customers into the shop, however changing the window cost a lot of money. As a result specialist shops, such as opticians who were not so dependent upon window displays, retained the older windows, so examples could still be seen on a high street. Small family shops on side streets often found it cheaper to have a small section of wooden frame replaced than fitting a complete new window. The last example I can remember was a shop run by a Mrs Ormerod, selling sweets and magazines (although not I believe newspapers), still trading in the early 1970s.

Prior to the development of 'float glass' by Pilkingtons in the 1950s there were two methods used to make large rectangular sheets of glass, blown cylinder and plate glass. The blown cylinder was a tube of glass blown then opened out onto an iron table and then polished, this method was used for the Crystal Palace in 1851. Plate glass had been introduced in the seventeenth century, it was made by pouring glass onto a polished iron table and rolling it out to the required thickness. Again this had to be polished to produce a clear glass sheet but by the late nineteenth century steam power was applied in the form of grinding and polishing machines. The London firm of Chance Brothers based in Smethwick were the market leaders in this technology (Chance Brothers was absorbed by Plkingtons in the mid 1940's). Plate glass was used for large panes such as shop windows but was much too expensive for domestic use. Prior to the development of cheap float glass most smaller shops had windows made up of many smaller panes only the more affluent high street establishments would have a plate glass window. Even on the high street shop windows were broken into smaller sections by vertical mullions to keep the costs down, two half size panes was much cheaper than a single large one. Even today some shops retain the divided windows, the examples shown below were photographed in 2006, these are actually rather simple examples, however they are easier to model than those with lots of carving on the verticals and curved sections at the top.

Fig ___ Early plate glass shop windows
Shop windows

Something that was common into the 1950s but rarely seen since was to have the name of the shop, often in ornate gold writing, painted on the windows (on the inside I believe). Larger firms such as Fry's chocolate would contribute toward having their name added to the main shop window, often arranged in a decorative curve. This lettering would be in a light colour and this makes it difficult to reproduce on a model as few people have the facility to print in white and sign writing lettering 0.5mm high is difficult. One option is to print the window display on paper, incorporating the sign writing, and glue this to the inside of a sheet of acetate. This works well if the shop is in the background but does not look as good as a three dimensional window display near the front of the layout.

Sign writing was also seen on upper storey windows of a few shops and was common where rooms were rented out as office space. Examples would include opticians, dentists, barbers, solicitors, and seamstresses. These windows (when rented as office space) were normally uncurtained and the writing was usually in white, cream or gold to show up against the dark interior.

Another feature of most shops from the 1850s to the 1960s was the awning, a sheet of canvas on a roll, mounted above the shop frontage. Technically this is a 'box lot awning' but these days they are usually called 'traditional shop awnings'. This has a timber bar supported at each end by metal rods which ran in guides on the shop front. When the bottom end of the rod was pushed up the guide the top end pushed outwards, pulling the sheet of canvas over the pavement. These served to protect the goods in the shop from direct sunlight (which rapidly faded the colours on the packages on display) and also offered the shoppers protection from the hot sun or (more commonly in Britain) the rain. In the 1980s a new rather smaller awning appeared, operating like a pram hood these fold down and do not have the complicated metal supporting struts, these are technically 'Dutch awnings'. Unfortunately they do not offer as much shade as the deeper traditional type and in the early twenty first century they appear to be falling from favour. The illustration shows an example of the older type on the left, on the right is the more modern folding type, both are butchers shops and both are traditional red and white striped awnings.

Fig ___Canvas awnings
Cloth iron awnings

As the main function of the awning was to protect the window from direct sunlight it was sometimes necessary, depending upon the angle of the window to the path of the sun, to add an end piece in the form of an inverted L to the side. The illustration below shows three examples, on the left is a striped awning from about 1940 (note that not all awnings are at the same angle, the angle depends on the height of the shop front), the centre picture is traced from a photograph taken in about 1910 and the photo on the right is a modern plastic version.

Fig ___Canvas awning end piece
Cloth awnings with end pieces

Where an external awning was not fitted, such as where the pavement was too narrow to allow it to shade the entire window, an internal roller blind was often used to protect the goods from strong sunlight. I am not sure what this was made of but it had a semi-gloss finish, possibly some form of oil cloth.

At the more up-market end the Victorians added fixed awnings of cast iron with glass panels as a roof. The glass in the roof panels was thick and usually sanded to make in translucent, the side panels, where fitted were sometimes 'acid etched', giving a pearl white background with the design left as clear glass (an option favored for the glass in front doors to allow light into the hallway whilst offering privacy). The awning shown below is typical of the type although this particular example is actually the shelter at a tram stop (the building it is attached to was the tram company parcels office). Usually such an awning would extend along the whole frontage of a parade of shops, offering protection to the shoppers, however this was generally confined to the more up market arcades on the high street.

Fig ___ Cast iron awning
Cast iron awning

In the 19th century town centre shops were often built with distinctive architectural features, usually with no immediately obvious practical reason for them. The example below left is on the end of a small row of shops in Stockport, the ground floor frontage is set back inside a series of arches. There is a paved gallery you can walk along the front of the shop inside the arches (possibly an alternative to having an awning). Adding a feature such as this to a model immediately suggests a prosperous town. I am told that the office with the bay window was originally a solicitors, the shop on the ground floor was for many years a toy shop, it is now a ladies hairdressers. The example below right has a tower on the corner with lead sheeting beaten down over a wooden former to give it a 'cast iron' look. This is in a fairly prosperous village close by a small market town.

Fig ___ Ornate shop detailing
Photos of Ornate shop detailing

A characteristic feature of almost every shop would be the till, the place where the money was kept, this machine was invented in 1879 by an American saloon owner who wanted a machine that would record transactions and store the money safely. At the bottom end was the simple locked drawer, usually these were spring loaded to pop open when a lever was pressed and a bell would be fitted that rang as it opened (so the shopkeeper would hear if someone tried to access the money when his back was turned). The counter staff had to add up the value of the goods in their heads (or with the aid of pencil and paper) and enter this into the machine. When the button releasing the cash draw was pushed a set of metal tags would appear in a window at the top of the machine, displaying the total value of the order, and the cash drawer would open with a loud 'ting'. The till was an expensive item and rather large, typically eighteen inches high and fifteen inches square.

The electro-mechanical till, which would add up the prices entered and display the result came in during the 1950s. The till also recorded a running total of the prices entered, displaying this as a series of numbers in a small window (by the 1960s there was a roll of paper inside on which the machine printed each transaction for record purposes, at the end of the day operating a lever would cause it to print the total). The shop keeper could then take the money out of the till, check that it matched the figure displayed and enter this in their accounts. The standard till was a large brass object, usually positioned toward the rear of the shop but in the case of greengrocers it was often near the front and would be visible on a model.

Shops tended to specialise in one area, the shop keeper required some expertise as he or she had to select the goods from the supplier and strike a bargain on price. Fresh produce in particular required a degree of knowledge and shoppers would try out different shops to find the best supplier, which often included being able to ask questions (most butchers were able to advise of the best way to cook an individual cut of meat for example). The range of shops was bewildering to modern eyes, and shopping was often a protracted exercise.

Not all shops proclaimed their wares on the front signage, prior to the 1960s most had only the owners name, the example below was photographed in 2007 but similar shops have existed for many years. When people did all their shopping locally the shop became an established part of the local community and everyone would know what it sold. This example, in a North Cheshire village, sells ladies underwear.

Fig ___ Ladies underwear shop in Cheadle village
Photo of a Ladies underwear shop in Cheadle village

There were traditional shop signs, dating back hundreds of years, which were still used into the 1960s, for example a cobblers would have a cut-out of a boot (often a riding boot, sometimes a workman's boot) and barbers had a red and white striped pole. Where I have any information on these signs I have included it under the relevant shop type in the lists below.

Trading Stamps

In 1958 a chap called Richard Tompkins set up the Green Shield trading stamp company, the idea was simple enough; the customers were offered a stamp, one stamp was issued for every so-many pence worth of goods sold and these could then be exchanged for a range of goods in a small catalogue, or for cash. The theory was that this would foster loyalty in that customers would return to a particular establishment to earn more of the stamps. The idea caught on rapidly in the early 1960s, the problem was that as everyone was offering the things the loyalty idea did not really work and the overhead was carried by the retailer. Smaller shops tended not to participate but many larger retailers adopted the idea. This was very much a retail business practice, as far as I am aware hotels never offered stamps, but virtually all petrol stations and early supermarkets would have signs up for one or other of the companies involved (see also Appendix One - Roads and road traffic - Garages and Petrol Stations).

Fig ___ 1960s supermarket offering Green Shield stamps
1960s supermarket offering Green Shield stamps

The stamps were pasted into books and could be redeemed by post or by visiting one of the Green Shield company stores in town centres, the latter proved popular and Mr Tompkins went on to make another fortune by setting up the Argos chain of catalogue shops.

Shop Types and Distinctive Features

A list of basic shop types might be of assistance here, they tended to have distinctive features and a parade of shops is a colourful addition to any layout set before the dreary repetition of the high street chains of the 1990s. Shops fall into two broad categories, the basic or essential selling goods most people would need more or less every day and the specialist selling either expensive one-off items or materials for pursuing hobbies and interests.

Gas board and electricity board showrooms - The local Gas Board and Electricity Board (who took responsibility for supplies in the area) would often have a show room displaying the latest goods, these were often rather impressive buildings although all was not always as it seems. The example below is the former NORWEB showrooms and offices in Altrincham, from the front it looks like a very impressive building although the side view shown on the right reveals that the upper floors were only about a single room deep.

Fig ___ Former North West Electricity Board showrooms in Altrincham
Photo of Former North West Elecricity Board showrooms in Altrincham

Post Office - One of the essential shops in any area (although government policy is reducing their value and hence their numbers). As well as handling post and providing banking facilities for the less well off the post office was for may years the place where people interacted with the government, you could obtain licence's for your dog, radio or television, as well as obtaining forms, for example to apply for a passport. In towns post offices were purpose built and generally rather large establishments, in smaller towns and suburbs they were usually a dedicated establishment occupying shop premises. In villages or less well off areas a 'sub post office' was a cheaper option, consisting of a post office at the back of another shop, typically a general stores (a combined grocers and hardware shop). The photographs show a town centre post office dating from 1899 and a typical village post office.

Fig ___ Post office
Post offices

In the later 1990s the Government decided to switch the services of the Post Office to the private sector and began a rolling programme of reducing services (which cost a lot) to make the proposition more attractive to the supermarkets. The free-to-use post office savings account (which had been a mainstay of the less well off) was closed down, forcing people to pay banks for their services, the old age pension was switched to a bank based system (presumably having taken advice from the banks) and the provision of licences was wound down (TV licences were no longer sold by post offices by 2007). It may be expected that all the currently available advice and other services will be scrapped as these are expensive, allowing the supermarkets to 'cherry pick' the more profitable services.

Barbers and ladies hairdressers - People cutting men's hair, and usually offering a shave as well, were known as barbers. They have a long and complicated history as they were also surgeons for many years (their familiarity with very sharp tools was a factor in that). The traditional 'barbers pole', a distinctive red and white spiral painted pole, is a hold over from those days. A shop window for display was of little value in this trade and in towns a lot of barbers rented the rooms above other shops (built as accommodation for the shop keepers), hence a lot of barbers poles were beside an upstairs window.

General Stores - Smelled of paraffin, sold sweets and Granny Potters Pasties (home made once a week). Lyons tea enamelled shop sign under the window.

Bakers - These shops would have a substantial extension at the rear housing the ovens. As well as selling from the shop there would have been a delivery round (these were still operating in the 1960s but disappeared quite quickly in the later 1980s, by the first decade of the 21st century they were generally only available in rural areas).

Confectioner's (Cake shops) - Sold 'fancy cakes' and often also sold pies (meat and potatoes, steak and kidney as well as fruit pies such as apple). In the 1930s cakes were 1d each (the one on my Mum's street always offered a seventh free if you bought six).

Sweet shops - Made and sold boiled sweets and also sold goods such as chocolate (one often sees 'Fry's Chocolate' written in white on the windows).

Butcher - Sold meat such as beef and pork and also sold offal such as kidney, liver and tripe. Up to the 1930s they often had a metal rail at the front of the shop on which they hung 'sides' of meat (a pig cut down the middle for example). Some butchers had open fronted shops into the 1950s, although the meat was hung inside by then, but I have not seen one without a glazed window since then.

Fishmonger and Game - Selling fresh fish, usually from solid marble slabs and 'game' such as rabbit and pheasant (both of which were hung up on display). A lot of fishmongers sold only fish and often had open fronted premises, until the later 1980s there was a lovely Victorian example of a 'fish and game' shop in Altrincham (North Cheshire) completely covered in glazed tiles. This sold the once commonplace rabbits and 'game' birds such as grouse as well as fish. The rabbits and birds (with their feathers still on) were hung on a rail at the front of the shop. Open fronted shops still exist, the example shown was photographed in 2006.

Fig ___ Fishmonger's shop
Open fronted fish shop

Poulterer - A shop selling chickens, duck, turkey and occasionally game such as pheasant. These were all expensive prior to the introduction of battery farming in the 1960s so these shops are associated with built up areas, mainly in market towns (country folk could buy these from farmers, or breed or catch their own).

Green grocer - These establishments sold fresh foods such as fruit and (mainly) vegetables. They usually had a lot of produce stacked up outside on display and make a colourful addition to any street scene. The standard practice was for the owner to attend the early morning fruit and veg market in the local town to purchase his wares. This meant that prices would vary on a day by day basis and in the post war era (1950s and 1960s) it was common practice for greengrocers to write up the prices on the inside of the shop window using a brush and some whitewash. This required them to produce 'mirror writing' but the results were usually legible. The brush width was 1-2 inches (25-50mm) and of course at the time everything was weighed in lbs and priced in pounds shillings and pence. This practice seems to have died out in the mid 1970s.

The examples below were photographed in 2007, the display of these shops was traditionally piled up facing the street as shown on the left, by the time these photos were taken pilfering meant the owner of the example on the right had set up a separate bank of shelving facing the shop.

Fig ___ Greengrocer's shops (2007)
Greengrocers shop (2007)

Grocers - Sold food such as tea and sugar, tinned produce and the like. Larger shops also sold some general household items such as cleaning materials, candles and matches and perhaps some inexpensive crockery. These sometimes had goods stacked outside but tended to favour window displays, often featuring pyramids of tins. These shops would often be liberally covered in advertising supplied by the manufacturers.

The example shown below is a well to do establishment from about 1920, it would have a staff of perhaps five or six people, all wearing clean white ankle length aprons.

Fig ___ Grocer's shop (pre World War One)
Greengrocers shop (2007)

This was the area in which the supermarkets began, offering 'self service' to reduce staff costs and a 'pile it high and sell it cheap' approach to goods.

Chip shop - Opened lunch times and evenings, the shiny metal serving counter came in in the 1950s. In the mid 1930s chips were 1d a bag and fish was 2d (that would be about 0.3p and 0.7p in decimal currency), by the 1950s inflation had pushed up the price of chips to 3d a bag and by the mid 1960s they cost anything from 6d to a shilling. A typical chippy in the 1930s would have a Aga type range at the rear of the shop with three basins, on one side for fish on the other for chips and the centre one to hold the prepared fish and chips. You were handed the chips in grease proof paper wrapped in news paper, the news paper was considered safe as 'no one ever touches the inside, only the edges' (newspaper wrappings disappeared in about 1980 due to a change in the law, not least because of the health risks associated with the heavy metals used in news print).

Tea and coffee shops - Selling the leaf tea and ground or unground coffee beans, blended to the customers liking, when walking past they smelt of coffee. These largely died out in the 1950s, those in cities lasing into the 1970s. The last I know of was a coffee shop in London, walls lined with small wooden drawers in which the various types of bean were stored, these were then blended and ground to the customers requirements. This shop closed in about 2004 as the rents climbed out of the practical range for such a specialist establishment (ironically it was replaced by a 'coffee' shop, part of a chain selling a limited range of coffee sold in paper cups at inflated prices).

Milk bars and 'Coffee Shops' - Milk bars sold ice cream, coffee and biscuits, they came in the 1940s and were seen everywhere into the early 1950s. They had small 4-seat tables where people would meet before going out for the evening, most changed to being small cafe's in the early 1960s, some changed to 'coffee shops' (which were essentially unchanged from the Milk Bar but featured a large silver machine on the counter for making Italian style coffee). Young people frequented the coffee shops, by this time the Juke Box, introduced in the 1940s and initially associated with resort towns, was common.

The more recent 'coffee shop' is little more than a marketing exercise, women have never been terribly comfortable visiting pubs on their own so they would usually arrange to meet at a cafe, the type of cafe being an indicator of their social status. This was further reinforced in the later 1980s as the pubs changed to catering to adolescent alcoholics rather than the local community and the separation of the 'vault' (for working men) and the 'saloon bar' (which was usually carpeted and favoured by the middle classes) was done away with to provide an open plan more suited to the marketing of fizzy drinks to youngsters whilst piped music and TV sets were installed to discourage conversation. The new coffee shops stepped into this arena, offering rather expensive cups of coffee (the same price as a drink in a pub but without having to pay the tax on alcohol), as a result they could afford to set up in high streets increasingly dominated by the chain stores and most such shops were chain store establishments themselves. Examples include Starbucks (set up by a whaling company when whaling was banned) and Costa Coffee shops. These offered a slick environment similar to those depicted in American TV shows and proved popular with women as a meeting place although they were too expensive for the elderly and so made a poor substitute for the small family run cafe's they put out of business.

Cheese shops - These were usually small shops and would have a selection of cheese 'rounds' on display, there were typically about 18 inches (45cm) in diameter, some would have a wedge shape cut from them to display the inside. Those I remember always had small squares of paper stuck to the inside of the window quoting prices for particular cheeses. The last such shop I know off closed in about 1998.

Ironmongers or Hardware - Similar to grocers but not selling foods, these establishments sold goods such as fire irons, gardening equipment, hand tools, door handles, nuts, bolts and screws, pots and pans, tea strainers, mugs and cups, pottery jars &etc. Hardware shops usually had a fair quantity of the larger goods stacked on the pavement outside the shop, often just one example of the goods on offer such as a single wheelbarrow, a set of gardening spades, forks and rakes and perhaps a 'zinc bath' hanging on a hook by the door. My local hardware shop was on the end of a row and had a large sign painted on the gable end with the splendid slogan 'We sell the tools your neighbour likes to borrow!'

Haberdasher - This shop sold sewing goods such as needles and threads, as well as buttons and other accessories used by people making or mending their own clothes. They were fairly common up to the 1980s but when the government dropped 'domestic science' from the school curriculum to save money fewer people learned the basic skills required and these shops began to disappear.

Milliner - Making hats was a big business up to the later 1960s when fashion dictated people should go bare headed (not the best idea, something like seven tenths of body heat is lost through the top of the head, if your feet are cold you should really put a hat on).

Draper - Selling materials ranging from cheap cotton cloth to fine silk ribbons, this was where you purchased the materials for your curtains or to make a new dress.

Wool shop - Knitting was a common pastime for many up to the 1980s, most people owned at least one home-knitted garment. To supply the home knitters shops sold balls of wool (actually these were oval, about six inches long by three inches in diameter and in a wide range of thicknesses, wool blends and colour. They would also sell knitting needles (typically about a foot long in thicknesses ranging from a quarter inch 5mm to about an inch (25mm), light coloured either grey or pale yellow. The window display would also feature the booklets of knitting patterns (typically six inches (150mm) by four inches (100mm) with a picture of the finished garment on the cover) and occasionally free-standing cardboard cut-out adverts. They also sold a range of odds and ends associated with knitting. The example shown below has a small glass fronted display mounted to the left of the main window, these were quite common up to the 1960s but had gone by the mid 1980s as vandalism became commonplace. The name of the shop, simply 'the wool shop', suggests the sign dates from no earlier than the late 1960s, up to that point town streets were lined with shops, there was a lot of duplication of goods and services and it was quite likely there would be another similar shop not far away.

Typical wool shop for the 1970s-2000 era
Typical wool shop in Cheadle village

Toy shop -

Clock makers and watch repairs -

Typical clock makers shop with prominent exterior clock
Typical clock makers shop with prominent exterior clock

Bicycle shops - The photo below is Mr Meadows shop in Cheadle, he has been catering to my family's cycling needs for the last fifty years or more and to my eye, other than the brightly coloured children's bikes, the window display has remained fairly constant since at least 1960.

Mr Meadows bike shop
Mr Meadows bike shop in Cheadle village

Cycle shops would often have the names of the makes of bike on offer painted on the end wall (where there was such a thing), adverts in the windows tended to be for tyres, Dunlop and Michelin being two common makes.

The sign below is on the gable end of a building, high up and difficult to see from the road, however there was a railway bridge here up to the 1990s and the sign would have been at eye level and clearly visible to passengers on the line. The sign is now faded and has been retouched for the purposes of illustration.

Bike shop sign
Old bike shop sign

Motor cycle shops

News agents - These sold news papers and magazines, although only very small shops would be purely for the sale of this material, although this might be their main business. One common option was the sale of tobacco, although this would be limited to pre-packed materials such as cigarettes and branded pipe tobacco. As people made regular use of news agents they usually had a board in the window on which people could pay to display a notice, these might include furniture for sale or a cleaner required and a few commercial advertisements.

News agents shops
News agents shop

Tobacconists - The sale of tobacco was licenced, as well as specialist shops (tobacconists) some shops (usually local grocers) held a tobacco licence. Shops with a licence would often display a sign 'Licenced to sell Tobacco', sometimes as part of their main shop sign. The window display would include a selection of pipes and (in those I remember) rows of glass jars displaying the various grades of tobacco. The tobacconists I remember all favoured the use of dark wood for their shop interiors. The example below left is still trading in Cheadle village, South of Manchester, the end wall on the right is in Northwich and was uncovered by the removal of a poster hoarding, I believe the Bristol cigarette ad dates from the later 1950s (the wall was in a bad state, the picture has been cleaned up for clarity, although the name is a guess).

High street Tobacconists

Apothecaries and Chemists - An apothecary is a shop selling medicines, what is known today as a 'dispensing chemists'. The standard sign was a 'mortar and pestle' (a cup with a grinding tool in it), they were notable for having large ornate jars of coloured liquids in their window. There were a series of Pharmacy Acts enacted to control the dispensing side of the business, under the terms of which only an establishment with a qualified pharmacist could dispense drugs and only a shop with a pharmacist could call itself a 'chemists' (see also information on Boots the chemists under Chain Stores below).

In 2001 the supermarkets instructed the government to remove the existing price controls on medicines, enabling them to offer a lower cost product to the consumer (at least until the competition from chemists shops was disposed of). This hit the chemists hard, although I gather the supermarkets are not doing as well as they thought they would, apparently people feel more comfortable seeking advice from a trusted local chemist than some impersonal superstore person.

China shops

Carpet shops

Carpet shop in 2007
High street carpet and rug shop

Electrical goods shops - These proliferated from the late 1920s, initially in larger towns but spreading until by the 1950s a moderate sized village close by a residential area might well have such a shop.

Wireless (Radio) and TV shops - Wireless was the most common term for a radio up to the 1960s, derived from 'wireless telegraph', the word radio is interchangeable with wireless, it is an American term that crossed the Atlantic. Since about 2004 the term wireless has mainly been associated with computer networking, which can make searching the internet tedious. Prior to the late 1930s few people could afford a ready made wireless, most people would buy a kit and assemble the thing themselves. As few houses had electricity these sets required batteries, usually lead acid cells (the same basic type of battery as used in motor cars but rather smaller) which required recharging (a service offered by the shop) and replacement electrolyte (mild sulphuric acid, supplied to the shop in glass bottles or carboys). Prior to the 1960s all radios used 'valves', a glass tube with electrodes visible inside, these needed a very high voltage to operate which in turn required a substantial multi-cell battery. The shop would sell replacement valves and would often have advertisements for the makers (such as Mullard or Eko) displayed either on the wall outside or in the window. Normally they would offer a repair service and would usually have a ready made radio or two in the window. After the mid 1960s 'solid state' (ie transistorised equipment) became increasingly common. TV Repairs was a common sign on these shops from the later 1950s (when TV became commonplace) and repair shops continued into the 1980s, although diminishing in number from the mid 1970s as TVs became cheaper and solid state electronics made them more reliable and harder to service. Radios had been available for rent since the 1930s but this business had been rather small, in the 1960s however they started renting out TVs as well and business picked up (TVs were still expensive and liable to faults), by the 1980s they were offering TVs and video recorders (Dixons, a chain of high street electrical goods shops, sold their first domestic video recorder in 1978, at 800 pounds it was definitely a 'luxury' item at the time). Rental of radios had gone by the mid 1970s, shops renting TVs and videos survived into the 1990s but then rapidly disappeared (there were very few left in 2006). See also Chain Stores below for a Radio Rentals shop illustration

Cobblers and Shoe Repairs - Originally shoe makers these shops mainly repaired footwear by the later 1920s, one common job was adding 'irons' to the soles of clogs (wooden shoes worn by working people), the irons were a horseshoe shaped piece of metal attached to the wooden clog with nails. The cobbler faded from sight as cheap mass produced shoes became available in the early 20th century but many remained in business repairing shoes. The example below is in Broadheath, South of Manchester and is still offering this service (for people with proper leather shoes at least) in 2007. This shop has been a shoe repair shop for at least 100 years, note the lovely old wooden window frames (called I believe 'church windows'), a pleasant change from the plain rectangle of plate glass.

Shoe Repair shop in 2007
High street shoe repair shop

The photo below has been 'back dated' with reference to a photo taken some time between 1880 and 1910, I think the signage is correct, I could not make out any lettering on the left most pane of the main window in the old photo.

Cobblers and Shoe Repairs in the pre-grouping era
High street shoe repair shop in the pre-grouping era

The standard sign for a cobbler was a boot, either a tall riding boot or a simple working man's boot, not all shops could handle riding boots, which require a special machine to do the stitching, and this may explain why these two variants existed. These shops often have little clutter in the windows, natural light was an advantage for the people inside, allowing a clear view of the interior of a model. There are certain items of equipment required for this kind of work, the photos below show the sewing machines (left) and the polishing machine (right). Equipment of this kind has been in this kind of shop since at ;least the 1940s (possibly earlier) although treadle operated sewing machines are still used today (for one thing they are more likely to have the long base to allow sewing of riding boots and the like).

Cobblers and Shoe Repairs Equipment
High street shoe repair shop equipment

One common side-line for shoe repair shops is the cutting of keys, this requires only a small bench mounted machine and provides a useful additional income. The shop in Broadheath however does not offer this service any longer as he is too busy with the leather work. As well as repairs to shoes he also repairs leather bags and satchels, gun bags and the like.

The firm of Timpsons, who made shoes (they may still do so but not I believe in this country), operated a string of shoe repair and key-cutting shops and these seem to have survived rather better than the independent shop keepers. Certainly since the 1980s most shoe repair shops I have seen have been run by this firm.

Timpsons Shoe Repairs
High street Timpsons shoe repair shop in 2007

Shoe Shops - The shoe-shop, selling ready made shoes in standard sizes, became the main competition for the cobbler in (I believe) the 1920s. The cobblers still existed however as they would deal with repairs. The larger shoe manufacturing firms were set up in the later 18th century and operated their own chain of shoe shops selling their wares. These are discussed in more detail in the section on chain stores below. The photo below is a small independent shoe shop, of which there are few these days.

Shoe Shop
High street shoe shop in 2007

Tailor - Tailors, often called Gents Outfitters, made clothes for men, after the invention of the sewing machine in the mid 19th century the actual production process speeded up considerably and people started owning more clothes, so the numbers of tailors actually increased. From about 1900 to the 1970s most men wore a 'suit', consisting of a jacket and trousers either matching or in an approved combination of materials. The gentry had their clothing 'made to measure', the tailor would take measurements and make the clothing to fit. The standard for the middle classes was the 'bespoke' suit, which means made to order (from the word bespeak which means to place an order or engage someone to do work), this was usually a ready made suit which was then altered to produce a better fit. The world was rather less well heated in those days and a more prosperous gent would have a three piece suit made, jacket, trousers and waistcoat, those will less money would opt for the two piece suit. Prior to the 1940s having a display in the tailors window with a dummy wearing a sample was not very common, particularly at the lower cost end of the market.

The signage shown below was painted on the gable end of a row of shops close by a market, the business offered ready-made clothing but also alterations to produce a better fit. The sign was in poor condition and I only had time for a quick photo, this has been cleaned up to produce the illustration however the writing in the bottom right was too faint to read (a return visit may resolve this, if it has not been painted over). The sign is about twelve feet (4m)tall and about fifteen feet (5m) wide.

Old end-wall sign on a tailors
Old sign still on the wall of a former high street tailors shop in 2007

Jewish people were for many years banned from 'having a trade', they were not accepted by the various guilds which administered the trades and had to make a living in areas such as money lending (or 'banking' as we now call it) or as wholesale traders. By the 19th century this prohibition had relaxed somewhat and Jewish people established small family businesses, notably dealing in jewelry and also in areas such as tailoring. Hence a lot of tailors shops had Jewish owners but many used anglicized forms of their name on the shop itself.

In 1900 a Lithuanian Jewish refugee by the name of Meshe Osinsky moved to Britain and set up as a draper (he was fleeing the persecution of Jewish people that was prevalent in Eastern Europe at the time). In 1904 he opened his first tailoring shop in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, adopting the name Montague Burton. He saw the potential for selling low cost, mass-produced, suits and developed that side of the business, the customer could, for a small additional fee, have the suit altered to provide a better fit, allowing it to be described as a bespoke suit. At the time buying a ready-made suit 'off the peg' was regarded as the poor man's option, however there were enough poor men to see the business thrive. By 1906 he had a small empire of six shops and in 1909 he married and moved into a comfortable home in Sheffield. It is widely believed that the expression 'the full monty' refers to buying a full (or 3 piece) suit from a Burton's shop.

The 'off the peg' suit business proved to be a winning idea and Burton's went on to become world's largest wholesale bespoke tailoring service. After the second world war the Government employed Burton's to produce civilian suits for men being released from military service (so called demobilisation or de-mob suits). By the time Mr Osinsky died in 1952 one in four men in Britain was wearing a Burton's suit. His empire by this time comprised 600 shops supported by 14 factories, with fleets of lorries bearing the company name. The company did well up to the later 1970s when a shift in fashion away from the formal suit undermined its customer base, by the later 1980s the company was in financial difficulties and the shops were becoming increasingly rare. Hence for a layout in a smaller town you might expect to see a tailors shop, often with a small frontage as there was little to display and the work was done upstairs, these shops were often located on a side street. From the 1930s on a Burton's shop with a frontage on the high street of a medium size town would be almost expected, the only snag from a modelling perspective being the rather ornate signage they employed.

Shirt maker - Shirt making was a separate business, although there seem to have been fewer shirt makers, possibly because so many women were able to make these garments, and 'off the peg' shirts were not considered 'down market'. In the later 1990s, as more and more shops opted for low cost imported goods of variable and often dubious quality, there was a resurgence of shirt makers, although a lot of their business was bespoke tailoring, adjusting shirts to produce a better fit.

Dress shops (also called Ladies Outfitters) - These shops sold clothing for women, often with a couple of dummies in the windows showing the fashions. Smaller shops would sell the basics (blouses, skirts and underwear), leaving the coats and more expensive items to the larger shops. Women's clothing has always been rather more elaborate than men's and fashion rather more capricious. As a result there was a market for women's clothing in which style was of rather greater importance. Shops selling women's clothing often had a window display showing the latest fashions and tended to have a larger frontage than men's clothing shops. Most women wore practical clothing for most of the time and 'off the peg' women's clothing was considered more up market than home made (although the latter could be of equal or better quality). In 1846 an English clothes designer called Charles Worth established his fashion house in Paris and used live models to show his new designs which he copyrighted. This was the origin of the Parisian dominance of the fashion market and the beginnings of haute couture.

Seamstress - The term means any woman who sews but this was a trade occupied by many women, either working alone or for a factory producing clothing. Hand sewing is a skilled occupation, done badly the seam where two pieces of material are joined shows, leading to the use of the word 'seamy' to mean 'of low quality'. In 1846 an American by the name of Elias Howe invented the lock-stitch sewing machine, this was taken up by Singer who exported models to Europe. The affordable and reliable sewing machine had a dramatic effect, allowing ordinary people to make their own clothes and tailors and seamstresses to greatly increase their output. The seamstress would often set up shop in the rooms above an existing shop (not necessarily a clothing shop), or in a small one-room shop in a side street, their bread and butter was alterations and repairs, with the occasional commission for a new dress to boost their income. By the 1990s these people seemed to mainly advertise the making of wedding dresses as well as alterations to off-the-peg clothing.

Junk shops - One shop usually worth browsing in was the 'junk shop', buying and selling old furniture and 'knick-knacks' (lamp standards, binoculars, clocks, framed pictures and China ornaments etc). Most towns would have a junk shop or two but they would be unlikely in a village as everyone knew everyone and things were simply passed around. These started to disappear in the later 1980s, many renaming themselves 'antique shops', selling the same merchandise but at greatly inflated prices. I understand this decline was in part due to the chain stores pushing up rents so that only 'value added' stores could afford them. Another factor was the shift to cheap mass produced furniture which has a very finite life (older furniture was made by skilled 'cabinet makers' and the customers would require their goods to be built to last). In practice the need for cheap second hand goods remained and the gap in the market was filled with the now commonplace 'charity shops' (discussed at the end of this section). Sadly one seldom finds well made solid furniture in such shops these days, and the genuinely curious curios are now sought after by professional 'dealers' and horded for eventual sale to 'a collector' at a suitably inflated price.

Pawn brokers - These establishments would take in goods in exchange for money, the goods could later be redeemed by paying the original loan plus a commission. There was however a time limit, once the time had passed the shop would sell the goods. In hard times almost anything could be pawned, including clothing or even kitchen utensils. In better times these shops concentrate mainly on jewelry, which they buy and sell as well as offering the pawn services. The traditional sign for a pawn brokers was three 'gold' (actually brass I believe) balls.

Fig___ Pawn brokers sign

Typical Pawn brokers sign

These establishments were usually associated with town centres (you would not find one in a village as the profit margin is small and the shop relies on volume). They tended to be on side streets as people often found it embarrassing to be seen entering them, these days they tend to favour more colourful advertising as being insolvent no longer carries any stigma.

Fig___ Pawn brokers shops in 2007

Pawn brokers shop in 2007

Gunsmiths - Prior to about 1980 Britain was a remarkably orderly country, during the Second World War George Orwell commented that it was probably the only country in the world where the government could hand out a million rifles, each with fifty rounds of ammunition, a manual and a cleaning kit, to ordinary civilians and expect them to be kept under the bed (this happened when there was the fear of an invasion). Virtually every town in or close to country areas would have at least one gun smiths, making or repairing firearms. The fashion for unrealistic life expectations which gained favour (with Governement support) in the 1980s, perhaps coupled with years of exposure to lead from motor exhausts, has seen a deterioration in that area and guns are (in the early 21st century) associated with immature 'gangstas' rather than with farmers. There are however a few gun shops left, the example below is in Manchester.

Fig___ Gunsmiths shop in 2005
Gunsmiths shop in 2007

Opticians - Little in the way of distinctive features however they often employed rather creative signage. In XXXX the rules were relaxed on this business and a large number of chain-store opticians offering cheap(er) spectacles appeared, the example below is an example of one such chain.

Fig___ Opticians shop in 2007
Opticians shop in 2007

Photographers and 'One Hour' photo processing shops -

Fig___ Quick photo processing and digital image printing shop in 2007
Opticians shop in 2007

Video Rental Shops - These appeared in the early 1980s, as the cost of video recorders fell and ownership boomed. They rented out video cassette tapes of films and some material produced by the TV companies and although the rules required a long delay before material could be released for hire on video they proved popular (not least because of the more racy material many shops offered, there being no censorship on video cassettes at the time). In the early years there was a split in the market between the Phillips VHS and the (rather better) Sony Betamax system, this was settled when the pornography industry favoured the VHS format and Betamax faded from use in the later 1980s. By the end of the 1990s the smaller family owned shops virtually had all gone, leaving a couple of nation wide chains such as Global Video and Blockbuster.

Mobile Phone Shops -The first cellular telephone networks were set up in the early 1980s, one of the first firms to set up was Vodophone (part of Racal Electronics) and I believe they opened their first shop in 1985.

Shopkeepers clothing
Shopkeepers and tradesmen did not in the main wear a uniform although there were traditional clothes adapted to the work in hand. Up to the mid 1950s washing laundry was a major exercise, undertaken only once per week even in wealthy middle class homes. As a result the apron was a very common piece of kit, worn to protect their clothing by all sorts of tradesmen and shopkeepers. Most were a plain light coloured material, carpenters, warehousemen and furniture removers favoured 'fawn' (light brown), fishmonger's and butchers often wore white and blue striped design whilst 'muffin men' (discussed below) favoured white. Coal traders and their specialised working clothing are discussed more fully in the section on Railway Company Goods Facilities - Coal and Heating Oil.

The examples shown below are a tea merchant on the left, photographed standing outside his shop in about 1890, note the length of the apron and the light cotton jacket worn over the top. The man with the hand cart is a butcher, the illustration is based on a tracing of a photo from the early 1920s in a railway goods yard, presumably he was collecting sides of meat from a frozen meat van. The next two gents are sketched from a photo showing the staff at a co-op grocers around the time of the First World War. The lady holding the cat is a shopkeeper photographed in about 1920.

Fig___ Typical shopkeepers attire

Typical shopkeepers attire

Department Stores and Chain Stores

The department store is a single establishment selling a wide range of goods, the chain store is a company operating a series of shops all selling the same thing. Chain stores existed in China several hundred years ago, and operations such as the Hudson's Bay Trading Co in Canada functioned in this way, however they were unheard of in Britain until,the 19th century.

Department stores came first, in the late eighteenth century larger shops began offering additional goods to their established lines, drapers (who required expansive premises anyway) were amongst for first, selling high value items such as tea and coffee as well as the cloth and linens for the original firm. Some of these enterprises prospered and by the 1920s most larger towns had at least one department store, usually catering to the higher end of the market. A typical and well known example is Harrods in Knightsbridge in London. Henry Harrod opened a grocery store in 1849, he moved into the department store business in the 1890s (although even in 2006 Harrods still has an excellent grocery section). The range of service expanded and included a lending library, travel agents, funeral directors and even sold theatre tickets. Harrods was (I believe) the first store to position cash desks in the retail areas in the mid 1880s, when most large stores used pneumatic or gravity-operated systems to take the customers money to a central cash desk (a practice that continued into the 1940s in some smaller department stores). Harrods was also one of the first such stores to offer credit facilities for selected customers, again in the 1880s, a move which proved popular mainly due to the 'snob value' of being approved by Harrods. Prior to this change in perceived value Harrods advertised the store as offering 'Co-Op prices'. Department stores grew in size, the present Harrods building was erected in 1905 and by the time of the First World War most towns would have a large and often highly ornate department store on their high street with big plate glass windows showing off their wares, these typically included home furnishings and household goods, as well as clothing, and some stores have departments catering to food as well (there is always a cafe or restaurant in such a store).

The first 'multiple retailer' or 'chain store' was W. H. Smiths the book and newspaper vendor, who secured the contract for providing book stalls on railway stations in the late 1840s and went on to establish a virtual monopoly of railway book stalls and news stands. The end of the 'stamp duty' tax on newspapers in the 1840's brought a surge of interest from the public and the railways became involved in newspaper distribution. A Mr. W. H. Smith was already a successful newspaper wholesaler and his son, who bore the same initials, concluded arrangements with each of the new lines to carry the papers to stations along the route. He also acquired the concession for setting up newspaper and book kiosks on the stations and the first W. H. Smith book stall opened on LNWR's Euston station in November 1848. Mr. Smith then purchased the re-print rights to 'respectable' literature which he commissioned a publisher to print cheaply. Demand for reading material on long journeys proved greater than expected and, aided by the redoubtable Mr. Huish of the London &North Western Railway, Mr. Smith had the competing vendors of 'penny dreadfuls' cleared from the great railway concourses. W.H.Smith's book stalls became a feature of British railway stations for over a hundred years, it is not recorded whether Mr. Smith employed in these the crippled railway workers or their widows who had hitherto sold reading material to travelers.

Other chain stores followed in the late 19th century, examples include 'Boots Chemists' selling medicines and the machine made shoe retailers Stead & Simpson and Freeman, Hardy & Willis selling footwear in standard sizes. These establishments favoured the larger towns, often opening several branches in a city, they were never a feature of the smaller towns and villages.

What is now The Boots Company Ltd started with the chemist's shop in Nottingham in 1877, the Boot family made and sold herbal remedies, their son Jessie took this business and moved it into pharmaceuticals, he opened additional branches and founded a new company called Boot and Co Ltd, based in Nottingham, which manufactured drugs. The company name changed twice in 1888 first to Midland Drug Company Ltd and then to Boots Pure Drug Co Ltd, by 1908 they were trading as 'Boots Cash Chemists'. Jessie Boot was a religious man and this lead him to see his duty as to make medicines available to the poor at reasonable cost. This philosophy endeared him and his company to the nation and also proved a winning formula in business. The illustration below is based on a photo of a Boots chemist taken in 1910. Note the window displays reach almost to the full height of the window, it must have been a tad dark inside.

Fig ___ Boots shop in 1910
Boots shop in 1910

At some point Boots adopted a specific logo of the name in script, I am not sure when this was but it was in use by 1913, the example below is sketched from various sources and seems to have remained fairly standard for many years. At some point, possibly in the 1970s, the words 'the' and 'chemist' were deleted from the logo and at some point the blue background became an oval.

Fig ___ Boots logos used as standard shop signs
Boots logo

In about 1900 Florence Boot, the wife of the owner of Boots the Chemists, introduced a subscription lending library service, the Boots Booklovers' Library. You could have either an A or a B subscription, with an A you could order a specific book, the B entitled you to borrow a book on the shelf. Subscription libraries were a great boon to the more rural areas where no public lending library was provided by the council, the Boots libraries continued operating until 1966 (W.H.Smiths operated a similar service, this was sold to Boots in 1961).

The sign below was used to indicate that the branch operated a library service and shows the logo, as I remember it the Booklovers Library logo appeared with red, green or blue backgrounds on the spines of the books themselves.

Fig ___ Boots library sign
Boots library sign

By the outbreak of World War One there were over five hundred Boots Chemists, selling products of the pharmaceutical industry alongside their own products. The Pharmaceutical Society, who's members had made a very good living preparing and selling drugs to doctors prescriptions, did not take kindly to Mr Boots shops and in the early 20th century they brought several (unsuccessful) actions against the firm, demanding that the word 'chemists' should not be used in the name, in the even the courts decided that providing a qualified pharmacist was on the board all would be well. In the event Boots began employing qualified pharmacists, licenced to dispense medicines. Boots shops would be associated with towns, as far as I am aware they had few branches in more rural areas, although they do have a company policy of maintaining loss-making stores in deprived areas as a social service.

In August 1968 Boots acquired the whole of the share capital of Timothy Whites and Taylors Limited, another well known chain of chemists (operating over 600 shops) which also sold other household goods. Under Boots ownership the chemists were all renamed Boots, the remaining Timothy Whites stores sold the house wares.

The mechanisation of the boot and shoe industry really began in the mid nineteenth century, the real breakthrough was the ‘Blake Sewing machine’, the first successful attempt at mechanised shoe leather sewing, in the 1850s. Much of the industry settled in Northampton, although much of the machinery was developed by firms in Leicester and several of the major mass produced shoe companies were based there (including the main players in the industry - Freeman, Hardy &Willis, Stead &Simpson, Timpson’s and Equity). Timpsons shoes started as a small shop in Manchester in the 1860s, the chain was steadily expanded in the early twentieth century offering both new shoes and shoe repairs. Several manufacturing factories were set up but the company remained associated with the North of England. In the 1960s Charles Clore was building up the British Shoe Corporation through the acquisition of Saxone, Lilly &Skinner, Curtess, Trueform, Manfield and Freeman Hardy Willis. The shift away from shoes to 'trainers' and the sale of cheaply made imported shoes hit all the major British shoe manufacturers and shops from the later 1970s but all the above named retained high street stores into the 1990s.

Marks &Spencer was started by Michael Marks, a Jewish refugee from Poland, who operated a stall in a Leeds open market called Marks' Penny Bazaar in 1884. He ran the equivalent of a mini-department store, selling household goods, haberdashery and (oddly) sheet music. Every retailer benefits from a gimmick and his sign bore the slogan “Don't ask the price—it's a penny.” The name changed to Marks and Spencer in the 1890s when Marks took on a Mr Spencer as a partner and the company expanded to various markets in the North of England. Simon Marks, Michael's son, developed the business and introduced the St Michael brand name, he changed from market trading to operating shops as such in the years before the First World War and the business prospered. By shifting the emphasis to quality Marks and Spencer became a byword for clothing and by the 1930s there were stores in most major cities and many smaller towns. Marks and Spencers were for many years the savior of the British clothing industry, but in the 1990s they changed to selling the much cheaper foreign produced goods, loosing their reputation for consistent quality and damaging their reputation and market share. In the early years of the twenty first century they concentrated on foods and regained some of their former reputation for quality but the British clothing industry had by then disappeared so they could not return to the earlier practice of sourcing clothing in Britain.

Fig ___ Marks and Spencers in 2007
Photographs of Marks and Spencers shop 2006

Home and Colonial Stores were started in London in the 1880s and had spread across the country establishing branches in the larger towns by the time of the First World War.

F. W. Woolworths arrived from America in 1909 when they opened their first store in Liverpool. They aimed themselves at the less well off, everything in the store was either 3 pence or 6 pence (1.25p or 2.5p in decimal currency) and proved a great success. By the 1920s they were widely established with several hundred stores across the country and still growing rapidly.

Fig ___ Woolworths shop 1930s
Sketch of Woolworths shop 1930s

During the Second World War the 6d maximum price could no longer be maintained and signs proclaiming 3d and 6d Stores disappeared. The style of lettering remained unaltered and the type of sign, yellow raised lettering screwed to a dark red background, remained the same as the pre-war signage.

Fig ___ Woolworths shop sign 1950s-70s
Sketch of Woolworths shop sign 1950s

Woolworths were slow to adopt the 'self service' model, each section of the store had its own till and an assistant to had the customer the goods. They changed to the self service model in the late 1960s, but the nature of high street shopping had changed and they were loosing a lot of ground to their competitors.

Fig ___ Woolworths shop 2006
Photographs of Woolworths shop 2006

Mothercare was founded in 1961 and operated branches throughout the country selling items for baby care. I believe the logo, used as the shop name on their stores, has remained constant throughout their history

Fig ___ Mothercare shop name
Mothercare shop name

In the 1960s there was a tendency to do away with windows, relying instead on artificial lighting, this was particularly marked for larger stores, which tended to have large rooms.

Fig ___ Debenhams 1960s department store
Debenhams shop in 2007

In the field of renting out radios, then TVs and eventually video tape recorders I believe the market leader was Radio Rentals, formed in 1932 in Brighton to rent out radio sets. By the 1960s they were renting TVs and by the late 1970s they were renting out video tape machines as well (the radio side of the business seems to have died out in the early 1970s). Video tape machines were temperamental and expensive, in 1980 only about one in twenty households owned a machine. In 1968 Radio Rentals was merged with Thorn EMI's DER chain (founded in 1938) but shops with either name were still seen on the high street. Remember that prior to 1967 the pictures on the TV sets in the window would all be black and white.

Radio Rentals shop in the 1960s
High street shoe repair shop in the pre-grouping era

I understand that Radio Rentals ceased trading in about 2000, by which time electronic equipment had become so cheap and reliable that renting no longer made much sense.

The Tandy chain of electronics shops opened up across the UK in the early 1970s, these sold American 'Radio Shack' products but were generally considered expensive and apparently had problems recruiting technically proficient staff at many branches so they never gained the reputation enjoyed by the American parent company. In 1999 the British Tandy chain was sold to Carphone Warehouse and over the next few years the Tandy shops were all rebranded or closed down.

Tandy shop in the 1970s
High street Tandy electronics shop

As well as the national companies there were many chain stores that had a regional bias. In 1859 a dairy products based company called Medova set up shop in Birmingham, the firm prospered and opened additional branches. The Maypole Dairy Company set up their first shop in Wolverhampton in 1887, selling dairy produce and margarine. The two firms entered close co-operation in the late 1890s, specialising in butter and margarine (not milk, that came from the local dairy companies and had a different distribution chain). By the time of the First World War Maypole was a common sight in the North and the Midlands whilst Medova opened shops mainly in the south and east.

Larger concerns operating chains of shops are usually limited companies rather than family businesses, hence they sell shares on which they pay dividends. Co-Operative Societies first flourished in the later 19th Century, most towns would have at least one. They function as non-profit making companies, any profits are distributed to their customers in the form of a 'dividend'. There has always been a lot of opposition to the Co-Op, especially when it was doing rather well. There was some concern that it was 'Bolshevist' and there are recorded instances where a firm would fire people who had a family member involved with the Co-Op. In the 1930s The Grocer magazine managed to get a BBC radio programme about the Co-Op banned. They argued that the Co-Op was adversely affecting family businesses, as well as objecting to the political associations of 'mutuality'. During the First World War there was a lot of profiteering as private traders increased prices on scarce goods and the Government introduced 'retail price maintenance' (setting the price for certain categories of goods), at the same time the Co-Op was keeping prices as low as possible to help their members during difficult times. Curiously men working for the Co-Op were more likely to be called up for service than those working for shareholder owned companies. Between the wars the Co-Operative societies did well, offering an increasing range of services to their members, but from the 1940s, as the state began to provide increasing support for social welfare there was less to suggest that the Co-Op was any different from common commercial concerns. By the 1950s the Co-Op was facing a reduced market share that was undermining its effectiveness, in the later 1950s there were nearly a thousand separate Co-Op retail societies and a commission (chaired by the MP Hugh Gaitskill) advised that these should be amalgamated into perhaps 300 more powerful societies, however this was not taken up with any enthusiasm. By 2000 the number of Co-Op shops had reduced dramatically and a second commission was appointed, making rather similar recommendations to the first. The Co-Op is hampered in competing with the American style commercialism of the supermarkets principally because of its ethical stand. Commercialism is not immoral, it is however amoral, it has no view on morality at all and will tolerate a high level of immorality if it can be 'got away with', for a long time in the 1960s the Co-Op was reluctant to make full use of advertising as it was felt this was likely to mislead the members as to the real value of goods and hence was unethical. The example shown below was a Co-Op until about 2000, when it was sold off to become a 'convenience store', after which the former ornate windows on the upper floor were reduced in size as they were re-glazed with double glazing.

Fig ___ Former Co-Op shop 2006
Photographs of Former Co-Op shop 2006

Regarding the co-op 'house style' Kim, a regular on the uk.rec.models.rail newsgroup was able to advise -
Almost any building can be a Co-Op, they didn't have a particular house-style. Most were victorian terraced shops with the name of the local co-op society painted above the door. The later purpose-built central Co-Ops were often paladian in style with mock bell-towers on the corner. Many of these were destroyed in WW2 and replaced with single-storey temporary wooden structures of which few if any pictures survive. The post-war Coventry Co-Op was built in so-called "Festival of Britain" style with an ornamental concrete frontage to match the civic theatre opposite. This was later remodelled in a less distinctive style. An extension to the same building is Georgian to blend with a side street which no longer exists.
Kim also supplied a number of photographs with captions -

Photographs of Former Co-Op shops 1911 and 1967, the photo on the right dates from 1911, that on the left from 1967, note the elaborate sign writing on both. Both were operated by the same society, the sign on the example on the left reads COVENTRY &DISTRICT Co-operative SOCIETY LIMITED. An earlier picture shows it as being all handwritten with the words Coventry Perseverance Co-Op Society but that is copyright of a local author.
Photographs of Former Co-Op shops in the 1930s

The photographs below show a town centre co-op of the kind typically built in the inter-war period. it was totally destroyed in WW2. The photo is deceptive as maps of the period show it extending a considerable distance in both directions.
Photographs of Former Co-Op shops 1911 and 1967

The photograph below shows a temporary co-op in about 1950, set up to replace one destroyed by wartime bombing. This was in turn replaced by a much larger building.
Photograph of a post war temporary Co-Op shop

The photo below is a modern co-op store, opened in about 2005.
Photograph of a 2005 Co-Op shop

The Army & Navy Stores were formed by a group of former army and naval officers in 1871 as the "Army and Navy Co-operative Society Ltd", opening a shop in central London. They did not initially sell military surplus material, although by the mid 1870s there were selling firearms. The company did well and branches appeared in many towns around the land. By 1900 they had a telephone ordering service backed by a large illustrated catalogue. Following the First World War there was a proliferation of stores selling war surplus material, many of which called themselves 'army and navy stores', often adding the town name at the beginning to avoid legal action. In 1934 the company changed its name to Army and Navy Stores Ltd and in 1973 Army and Navy Stores was taken over by House of Fraser. By the later 1980s the name seems to have disappeared from the high street although many shops selling military surplus equipment remain trading in the early 21st century.

The example below was a small family run independent establishment which unfortunately closed recently, having been operating from these premises since about 1918. These shops always had a lot of clutter, bags and military paraphernalia hanging outside as well as in the windows (I bought a gas mask in one once, no idea why, there again I was about ten at the time).

Photograph of an 'army navy' shop

Another variation on the chain store is the franchise, in these the central company takes no financial risk, the person operating the store pays them for the use of the name and is supplied with equipment and goods by the franchise operator, if however the store looses money it is the franchise holder who suffers rather than the owning company. Understandably this practice, popular in America for many years, has gained acceptance in Britain, although only since the 1960s has it become a major aspect of British retailing. For the system to work the 'brand' has to be distinctive and trusted, and the prices generally have to be quite high although this is off-set to some degree by the buying power of the parent organisation. For example a major restaurant chain can buy meat in bulk that is very close to its sell-by date, knowing that it will be consumed in the time available. Examples include a number of 'fast food restaurants' such as MacDonald's and The Canadian Charcoal Pit but in the 1980s a number of British based operations were established. Following the Governments decision to privatise the railways the Red Star Parcels service was changed to a franchise operation, only to be killed off in the botched privatisation that fragmented the railway system so badly in the 1990s and that included no provision for inter-station parcels traffic. In that case the people who had found the thousands of pounds needed to buy the franchise were simply left out of pocket (and the country lost a rather good rapid transit same-day delivery national parcels service).

Supermarkets in Britain were mainly a post war phenomena however the idea dates back to the early 1930s in the USA when a chain of specialty stores called King Kullen began offering groceries sold cheaply to offer a high turnover, recouping profit on a very tight margin of about 1%. A key factor in the post war development of the trade was the idea of 'self service', in which the customer selected the goods to buy from open shelving, taking this to a 'check out' to pay. This reduced the staff costs dramatically and allowed a much faster throughput of customers. In Britain the early supermarkets were converted shops, often surprisingly small, they were known as 'self service' shops because you had to pick the goods yourself from the shelves and they offered low cost grocery shopping with a bias toward tinned rather than fresh produce. The first fully 'self service' shop was actually opened by the Co-Op at Southsea in 1948 but they did not catch on until the 1960s.

The supermarkets filled a comfortable niche, given a suitably canny buyer and creative management they earned their owners a tidy profit. In the 1961 a Mr Cohen, the then owner of the Tesco chain, persuaded the prime minister (Edward Heath) to abandon the 'retail price maintenance' scheme, in which there was a standard price for goods and manufacturers could dictate the price of their wares. Mr Cohen felt that he should be able to negotiate a better price by using his bulk buying power and Mr Heath agreed. This may have been a 'vote winning initiative' but it was not debated properly and no one seems to have wondered what the longer term effects would be. In the event the effect on the British retail industry was little short of catastrophic, all the advantages passed to the larger concerns, some of which prospered whilst the independent traders were unable to compete. The supermarkets gained an ever increasing share of the market and eventually became more powerful than the government. This was not the first 'vote winning initiative' from Westminster to go horribly wrong, in the 1830s the Duke of Wellington was the prime minister and in an attempt to reduce the cost of unemployment he passed a law allowing poor people (in receipt of poor relief) to sell beer and spirits with little restriction. Within a year unemployment was down, within two years half the country was sozzled, alcohol fueled disorder was rife and laws had to be passed to restrict the sale of alcohol. In politics of course there are no Great Blunders, only 'unforeseen consequences'.

Supermarkets without the constraints of retail price maintenance have several down-sides, for one thing people who do not own a four wheel drive shopping vehicle find it difficult to get to and from them, however as these tend to be the elderly and the poor, who do not spend much money anyway, the supermarkets have no interest in providing for them. On a social level supermarkets siphon wealth out of an area, where before the wealthy shopkeepers provided a measure of social support to the community in exchange for status the supermarket is only interested in gaining market share from its competitors and so will focus on newsworthy 'charitable acts'. Where people would mix and talk during the shopping the supermarkets are very isolated places where life is hurried and harassed. Many of the shops had a chair or two so the elderly could take a sit down break whilst their order was put together, supermarkets offer only the over priced concession coffee stall, itself a chain store operation and again siphoning wealth from the community. By the 1990s supermarkets, originally selling groceries, were offering everything from hardware to financial services, and the former high street shopping areas were increasingly becoming derelict. Supermarkets have little interest in selling fresh produce such as fruit and vegetables, the profit margin on those goods is too small, if however they can sell people 'ready made meals' they get a return of several hundred percent. Naturally the 'ready meal' or 'convenience food' is a major part of the supermarkets advertising although these often contain less nutrition and more unwanted additives, however when the government decided to introduce more comprehensive food labels the supermarkets simply ignored them. Other countries seem to have coped rather better with this, Britain consumes over half of all the 'ready meals' sold in Europe. From the governments perspective this move toward a soviet style food distribution system is not such a bad thing, setting aside the fact that they themselves are now condemned to eat three year old supermarket meat, as instead of collecting taxes from thousands of independent shopkeepers they can send one man round to the various supermarkets to collect a single massive cheque from each.

When doing the research for this section I came across repeated assurances that supermarkets have 'done much to reduce prices and improve consumer choice', I tried to find any evidence to support this but was unable to do so. The factors that have reduce costs and widened the choice of goods (where this has happened) have no connection I can find with supermarkets. Containerisation, the continuing fall in the price of oil in real terms, improvements in industrial production methods, computerisation and the other changes I was able to identify were not instigated, funded or supported by large scale retailing. On digging further most of the claims made for supermarkets were made by representatives of organisations funded by those same supermarkets.

By the 1990s people were starting to notice the lack of shops as the supermarkets opened large 'out of town' shopping facilities, equipped with extensive parking facilities (these were free whilst those in the towns had to be paid for via the parking meter). Public pressure lead to the government introducing a law requiring the supermarkets to show there was an actual need for a new out of town store. This was not all it seemed however as this law did not apply to those stores already applied for and seems to have been more to do with preventing competition from foreign chains (notably the German firm Aldi). British superstores still manage to charge 40 per cent more to their customers than stores on the Continent but there are no laws protecting their suppliers who are faced with a virtual monopoly for distribution of their goods. Ten years later the supermarkets lobbied hard for a change in the law, having built the establishments they had in play when the law was introduced. In 2007 the Government then produced a series of reports, echoing with surprising accuracy the statements in the supermarket lobby documents, and the Government then decided that the law was 'counter productive' and abolished it.

By the early 21st century the supermarkets were no longer employing lobbyists to persuade the government to pass legislation favouring their trade as they were in effect dictating government policy. Terms such as 'fresh meat' are now rather less meaningful, thanks to changes in the law 'fresh meat' at the supermarket can be up to three years old, having been stored in giant freezer warehouses. Representatives of the supermarkets either sit on or in some cases chair various government organisations intended to deal with fair trade and competition. A report published by the National Retail Planning Forum showed that on average the opening of a 'superstore' produced a net loss of nearly three hundred jobs in retailing, and with manufacturing continuing its decline this should perhaps be a matter of some concern, however it would seem that money talks. By this time the supermarkets were routinely ignoring government directives on matters such as Sunday trading, opening hours, food labeling and planning permission and the political parties were showing signs of concern at the loss of power they had. However with the political industry in financial crisis and emasculated by careerism it seems unlikely that Westminster will have the strength to impose their will whist dependent to a large extent on donations from the Supermarket owners.

Charity Shops

These have proliferated since the 1970s, although they have been in existence since the Second Word War (see Oxfam below). They take in goods donated by the public and sell these, the money raised going to support the charity, they have replaced the junk shop as the main supplier of odds and ends for people on a tight budget. The windows of these shops are always interesting, one of my local Oxfam shops in the 1970s was famous for having a single ski for sale (I understand they did eventually manage to sell it).

Oxfam (The Oxford Committee for Famine Relief) was established in 1942 during World War Two, following the famine in Greece caused by the Allied blockade. In 1943 they were registered as a charity and their first appeal ('Greek Week') raised £12,700 for the Greek Red Cross. In 1948 they opened a shop in Oxford, selling donated goods, this was (I believe) the first permanent charity shop in the UK, that shop is still open in 2006. In 1951 they raised money to assist with a famine in India and have continued to support such causes ever since. By the 1960s there were Oxfam shops in most major towns in the country.

The Spastics Society (name changed to Scope in XXXX) opened its first charity shop in XXXX.

Help The Aged

People shopping

The sturdy wicker shopping basket was a standard bit of household kit right up into the early 1970s when the arrival of the plastic carrier bag quite rapidly killed it off, however many shops would deliver to your home, in the days before car ownership had mushroomed this was considered quite a normal part of their business. This is one reason you do not see people burdened with shopping in old photographs.

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