Spotting Historic Shopfronts: Hitchin

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27 Sun Street

Initial impressions suggest that Hitchin in Hertfordshire is rich in historic shopfronts. Closer inspection, however, reveals much renewal at street level, whilst more authentic evidence of Hitchin’s commercial past survives above its shops (for example, look up to spot Freeman Hardy & Willis and David Greig). Nevertheless, here are a few interesting shopfronts to look out for!

Paternoster & Hales, 27-28 Sun Street

The words ‘Printing Office’ are displayed boldly on the façade of this Georgian building, leaving its function in little doubt.

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27-28 Sun Street

This was Paternoster & Hales’ printing office. The roots of the business can be traced back to Thomas Paternoster (1708-1782), a bookseller and stationer in Hitchin in the 18th century. His son Thomas (1742-1830) was probably the first occupant of 27-28 Sun Street, and the fine double-fronted shopfront was undoubtedly installed for his shop. Its flattened bow windows have curved corners and slender glazing bars.

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27 Sun Street

Thomas’s son Charles (1802-1864) became a printer as well as a stationer and bookseller. He was succeeded at 27 Sun Street by his nephew, Charles Paternoster (1829-96), an ironmonger and engineer. Around 1873 Paternoster merged with Charles Hales, hitherto a stationer on Bucklersbury, creating Paternoster & Hales. The longevity of the business, well into the 20th century, ensured the survival of the shopfront.

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78 Tilehouse Street

House (formerly Cooper’s), 78 Tilehouse Street

Next to ‘The Coopers Arms’ on Tilehouse Street is a butcher’s shop which was run by the Cooper family (no connection!) for over half a century. James William Cooper (1850-1933) had begun trading from here by 1881, but in the early 1900s his son Frank (1874-1954) took over.

When Cooper’s shop was converted to form part of the house, the frontage was kept. In many ways, it is typical of late 19th-century butchers’ shops, with its sash windows, ventilation grilles and rather beautiful tiled pilasters. From a description of a theft, published in the local newspaper in 1900, we know that the entrance was closed by a half-door or gate: ‘One of them [the thieves] went over to the shop, and as he entered he put his hand over the little gate and took hold of the bell and opened it without the bell ringing’.

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78 Tilehouse Street

To the left of the shop is the original doorway to the house, while the vehicle entrance to the right may have led to the butcher’s outbuildings, perhaps including a slaughterhouse.

Allingham Bros., 22 Market Place

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22 Market Place

This is another traditional butcher’s shop, with an external rail for hanging meat, a ventilation grille, and a marble stallriser which displays the name ‘Allingham Bros’ in cursive lettering. The central panel of the broad door is filled with shutters and would once have been open – perhaps a bit like Cooper’s entrance (see above).

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22 Market Place

The history of this shop and business is well set out on Allingham’s website. In fact, Post Office directories pin down Allingham Bros’ arrival to 1926-29. The Allinghams – who farmed at Lilley – inherited an existing butcher’s shop and, apart from the new stallriser and fixed glazing, appear to have made few changes to the frontage.

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26 Market Place

Millets (formerly Lipton’s), 26 Market Place

Lipton’s, who took over from Melia & Co at this address in 1909, were probably responsible for installing this shopfront.

Since Lipton’s departure it’s had a rough time. Dark paintwork covers what promise to be interesting tiles, with egg and dart borders like those used by Lipton elsewhere. Old photographs show that the name ‘Lipton’ was displayed beneath the windows and on the pilaster to the left – it may still be there! In addition, some of the tiles are clearly patterned and seem to depict Lipton’s trademark shamrocks.  Oh, the frustration!

Vodaphone (formerly W. B. Moss & Sons), 13 High Street

Until the early 1960s, these were the premises of W. B. Moss & Sons, grocers, tea dealers and general merchants.

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Moss’s Corner, 13 High Street

W. B. Moss (1843-1927), the son of a Stevenage grocer and tea dealer, served his apprenticeship with the draper James Rose on Market Square, Hitchin, before setting up ‘The Bancroft Grocery and Drapery House’ in the late 1860s. The size of his household at 13 High Street in 1881 and 1891, including apprentices and assistants as well as family, is testament to his success.

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13 High Street

By 1899 Moss had moved his family to ‘Westbourne’ on Bedford Road, now a care home. His sons had joined the business as partners and opened numerous branch shops – including a cluster in Yorkshire as well as shops throughout Hertfordshire – all supplied from a warehouse, tea blending department, and bacon curing factory on Portmill Lane.

The old timber-framed building at Moss’s Corner was rebuilt by the firm in the late 1890s. Although the display windows have been replaced, the very lovely buff-coloured terracotta pilasters, with mosaic panels depicting lilies, are worth an admiring glance.

Sainsbury’s Mural, Paynes Park

Hitchin possesses one of Henry and Joyce Collins’ cast-concrete murals, commissioned by Sainsbury’s for the frontage of their supermarket on Brand Street in 1972. Like other Collins’ murals – for example on Sainsbury’s in Gloucester (1970) – it illustrates themes and episodes from the history of the town, establishing a sense of place. Typically, the Hitchin panels include bright orange and blue mosaic work.

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Cast concrete mural from Sainsbury’s, Brand Street (now relocated to Hitchin Library)

Henry and Joyce Collins, who met at art school, were based in Colchester. From the late 1960s to the early 1980s they created murals for both Sainsbury’s and BHS. While the Sainsbury’s murals included a wheel pattern, those for BHS incorporated a basket of food.

The Hitchin panels were relocated from Sainsbury’s due to redevelopment in 2003 and moved to their present location on the façade of Hitchin Library.

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Spotting Historic Shopfronts: Saffron Walden

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Market Hill

Not surprisingly, the Essex market town of Saffron Walden is rich in historic shopfronts. Here is a motley selection to enjoy!

No. 1 Myddleton Place

An unrestored example of a late medieval shop can be seen on the corner of Bridge Street, tucked under the jetty of 1 Myddleton Place. The timber frames of two arched windows with decoratively carved spandrels are still legible, although both have been subjected to a complicated sequence of alteration and blocking. To the right of the windows, the narrow shop doorway has also been infilled, but can be identified by its moulded surround.

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Blocked medieval shopfront, 1 Myddleton Place (Bridge Street frontage).

Although this corner shop formed part of a substantial merchant’s house – perhaps built in the early 1500s by Thomas Myddleton, who was buried in the splendid parish church – it was probably let as a lock-up shop, with the shopkeeper selling goods through the open windows.

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Restored medieval shopfront, Cross Keys Hotel.

Two similar, but restored, medieval shops can be seen closer to the town centre. One occupies the corner of the Cross Keys Hotel, at the junction of King Street and High Street. The other, now ‘The Corner Cupboard’ at 17 King Street, occupies the ground-floor cross-wing of a hall house dating from c.1500. Hints of other late medieval shops can be detected elsewhere in the town.

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Restored medieval shopfront, 17 King Street.

Talents, 13 King Street

This is a well-proportioned late Georgian shopfront: double-fronted with flattened bow windows, narrow glazing bars, and a deep fascia. It might date from the 1820s or 30s.

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Late Georgian shopfront, 13 King Street.

A photograph in the Historic England Archive, dated 1942, shows cigarette dispensers to either side of the shuttered right-hand window of the shop, which belonged to the tobacconist Simeon Aquilla Chilton. In the photograph, the name ‘Smith’ is faintly legible, though overpainted, on the fascia over the left-hand window. Census records (1881, 1891, 1901 and 1911) confirm that this was Eliza Smith’s hairdresser’s shop for many years. However, the identity of the occupant who put up this fine shopfront around 50 years earlier is not known.

Holland & Barrett (formerly John Emson’s), with Seasalt and Costa, 6 Market Square

The shop at 6 Market Square in Saffron Walden belonged, in the early 19th century, to the grocer and draper John Emson (1781-1849). Emson was ensconced here by 1810, when he advertised for a man of ‘unexceptional character’ to assist in the shop. The business occupied the entire north side of the Market Place, with a delivery entrance and wholesale department in a former malthouse to the right of the shop. A weighbridge installed in the street by Emson in 1812 was removed at the request of the Corporation in 1928 and has left no trace.

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6 Market Square.

The shopfront was updated, probably in the 1840s, with the present classical detailing. The original small squares of glazing were replaced with large panes of plate glass (which were themselves replaced in the late 20th century).

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6 Market Square

Emson served as mayor of Saffron Walden in 1834 and 1842, and the wrought-iron balcony with its tented canopy must have offered a perfect setting for delivering speeches. In 1832, the Whig politician Mr Western is known to have addressed the townspeople from Mr Emson’s balcony, over the shop windows. 

After John Emson’s death, his sons John Green (1813-1900) and Frederick (1818-93) ran the business in partnership. John Green’s son, Frank Everitt Emson (1851-1933), was the author of Our Town, or Life at Slowborough (1886), based on local characters in Saffron Walden.

The shop passed through several hands in the 20th century: Emson, Tanner & Sons; Stebbing Leverett & Son (an established Saffron Walden draper); W. Eaden Lilley (a Cambridge department store), and Beales.  After Beales closed, the shop – which had spread into the former warehouse – was subdivided into three separate retail units.

Hart & Son, printer & stationer, 18-20 King Street

Henry Hart (1801-83) set up in business in Saffron Walden in 1836 as a printer and stationer. His printing press has been preserved in Saffron Walden Museum.

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Carriage arch next to 26 King Street.

By 1851 Hart had moved his shop from Market Street to 18 King Street. The carriage arch beside the present-day Hart’s Book Shop, at 26 King Street, gave access to the printing works to the rear of Hart’s shop, and still bears their signage.

No. 18 King Street is a listed building, thought to have been built in 1633. During alterations in 1870 workmen: ‘came upon an old “Witch Bottle,” embedded about 18 inches below the floor of the shop, and about 12 inches from the fireplace.  It contained some water, about 40 horsenails, and 20 thorns. It is supposed to be 200 years old.’ A photograph of 1876 shows the large plate-glass shopfront – probably installed during the works of 1870 – occupying the entire width of the frontage. It is now divided between Clintons and Card Factory.

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18-20 King Street.

The business was retained by the Hart family until 1934, when it was sold to Edwin Turnbull. Turnbull continued to trade under the Hart name, currently Hart Business Solutions.

 Woolworth’s (now QD), 26-28 High Street

This branch of F. W. Woolworth & Co. Ltd. opened on Saffron Walden High Street on 29 June 1934, on the site of J. Wright’s garage. Woolworth’s had been building stores in medium-sized British towns for the previous 20 years, steadily colonising the country. The Saffron Walden branch was designated Store 548.

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26-28 High Street in the 1980s. (c. Historic England Archive)

In deference to its setting in such an historic town, Store 548 was designed in a tasteful Georgian style, with two-tone brickwork and sash windows. It avoided the modish art deco detailing favoured at this time by Woolies’ architects.

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26-28 High Street.

Today the building retains its original 1930s bronze shopfront, with neatly curved corners, of a type which was standardised across Woolworth’s estate between the wars. It has been painted bright red by the present occupant, QD. Like 1 Myddleton Place (above) it is that rare thing: an historic shopfront contemporary with the building which hosts it!

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The Poland Street Garage

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Advertisement by entrance, Poland Street Garage, now Soho Car Park. (©Historic England, 2009)

A much-altered and rather unprepossessing NCP car park at 49-53 Poland Street, just behind Oxford Street in central London, opened in March 1925 as the country’s very first staggered-floor parking garage.

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From The Motor 24 July 1922

The invention of the staggered-floor (or split-level) car park – patented in the USA as the d’Humy Motoramp – was ground-breaking. Ingeniously, it comprises a building divided vertically into two blocks, the floors set at alternating levels and linked by short ramps of low gradient. After 1925 this system became hugely successful, even ubiquitous. So much so that it remains drearily familiar to 21st-century motorists – most of whom, no doubt, take it for granted and never pause to wonder how or where such a design originated.

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Possible remnants of Saint James’s Westminster Workhouse inside the Poland Street Garage (2009)

The d’Humy Motoramp was devised by the engineer Fernand Emile d’Humy (1873-1955) in 1918. Two years later, Ramp Buildings Corporation was established to issue licenses for the d’Humy Motoramp and examples were erected throughout America. The idea was adapted for the Poland Street site – previously occupied by the Saint James’s Westminster Workhouse – by the architect Walter White Gibbings (1882-1963). The builder was Sir Leslie Parkinson & Co.

The entrepreneurs behind the scheme, presumably licensed by Ramp Buildings Corporation, were the brothers and business partners Willie and George du Cros. ‘W and G’, as they were generally known, were sons of the wealthy motoring pioneer Harvey du Cros, founder of the Dunlop Rubber Company and proprietor of a major Panhard dealership in central London.

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Panhard Repair Works, Acton Vale (2009)

Walter White Gibbings had trained as an architect and surveyor under Edward G. Warren of Exeter. His commissions for the du Cros family can be explained by the marriage of his sister Florence to the much older, widowed, Harvey du Cros around 1903.

Amongst Gibbings’ early projects for his new relatives was a vast Panhard Repair Works, built on the corner of Warple Road in Acton Vale in 1906-07. The single-storey repair sheds lay behind offices and a showroom. Gibbings was also responsible, with Philip Sidney Stott, for extending Dunlop’s vast manufacturing base, Fort Dunlop, at Erdington to the north-east of Birmingham, in the early 1920s, and for an extension to a parking garage on Mercer Street in central London in 1924. At Poland Street, Gibbings was probably advised by the engineers of Ramp Buildings Corporation. He didn’t need to worry about resolving the front elevation of such an unfamiliar structure since the garage was hidden in a light well behind buildings occupying the street frontage (since rebuilt).

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Poland Street Garage, now Soho Car Park. (©Historic England, 2009)

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From The Motor Trader 25 March 1925

The Poland Street Garage attracted some press mentions when it opened – it was a novelty at a time when multi-storey car parks relied on expensive and space-consuming vehicle lifts.  Its six parking floors could hold 500 cars.

The motorist could choose to enter at either basement or ground level, and then follow a circular route up through the building, travelling from floor to floor via the ramps which had slightly curved ends until he or she came upon a parking space. The ramps could be closed by fire shutters and did not, therefore, need to be compartmentalised. As with other London garages of the 1920s, the Poland Street Garage provided waiting rooms and other ‘club’ facilities for chauffeurs, car washing bays, repair benches and petrol pumps. Owner-drivers could avail themselves of dressing rooms to prepare for an evening on the town.

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Poland Street Garage, now Soho Car Park. (©Historic England, 2009)

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Advertisement by entrance, Poland Street Garage, now Soho Car Park. (2009)

In 1935 four extra floors – probably anticipated at the outset – were built, with exposed rooftop parking. Improvements to paint finishes were making it feasible to expose vehicles to the elements for the first time. Rooftop parking, nevertheless, came at a discounted rate. Around 2009 these upper floors were redeveloped.

Unlike its American counterparts in the 1920s, the Poland Street Garage did not have a façade that reflected its purpose. By the end of the 1930s, however, London could boast several confident examples of staggered-floor car parks with strong architectural presence, such as the Cumberland Garage and the Olympia Garage. It was only in the very late 1950s that glazing was dispensed with for new car parks, giving these structures a truly modern appearance.

Source: K. Morrison and J, Minnis, Carscapes, Yale University Press, 2012
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The Story of Frederick Sage & Co.

Horsham

Wakefield’s, 59 West Street, Horsham

Frederick Sage & Co. was one of Britain’s top shopfitters. The company manufactured fashionable shopfronts, fixtures and fittings from high-quality materials such as hardwood, bronze and curved glass. In addition, Sage designed and made airtight showcases for exhibitions and museums, fitted out the interiors of liners, and participated in the post-war refitting of the House of Commons.

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67 High Street, Grantham

The business was founded in 1860 by a carpenter and builder from Suffolk, Frederick Sage (1831-98), in partnership with another builder, Peter Panter. They specialised in fitting speaking tubes, but a spell of bankruptcy in winter 1860-61 appears to have severed the connection between the two men. Sage eventually formed a highly successful partnership with his son, Frederick George Sage (1856-1920), and three nephews, including Jesse Hawes (1849-1927) who spearheaded the company’s expansion across the globe. A limited liability company was formed in 1905.

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Isobel, 223 Regent Street, London (1923)

Sage was involved in many important retail commissions in Britain, such as the great London department stores of Harrods, Dickins & Jones and D. H. Evans. When Regent Street was redeveloped in the 1920s, Sage fitted out no fewer than 28 individual shops, including Manfield’s shoe shop. The company’s branches in South Africa, Germany, France and South America were engaged in equally prestigious projects, such as Galeries Lafayette in Paris, Harrods in Buenos Aires and John Orr & Co. in Johannesburg. Over and above this, as the illustrations here show, Sage produced shopfronts and fittings for small high street shops throughout the British Isles.

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Galeries Lafayette, Regent Street (1921)

Sage’s first premises were in Hatton Garden, explaining why jewellers’ shops became such a specialism of the company. In the 1870s the firm moved to Gray’s Inn Road, building new showrooms and a factory there around 1880. One of Sage’s employees was the father of David Greig, who went on to establish a successful chain of provision shops. Although Sage acquired or built additional factories over the years, the Gray’s Inn Road site remained the heart of the enterprise until it was bombed in April 1941. Sadly for shop historians, the firm’s records were entirely lost.

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Advertisement, 1913

During both world wars Sage turned its factories to war work. In 1939-45, parts were made for Lancaster, Lincoln, Mosquito, Sunderland and Albemarle aircraft. Getting re-established as shopfitters after 1945 proved difficult due to shortages and the licencing of buildings and materials. The commission for refitting the House of Commons, including the Speaker’s Chair and Table, must have been welcomed.

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Baird’s, 11 Regent Street, Great Yarmouth (1903)

Sage & Co. reached the end of the road in the 1990s, following a series of takeovers: with British Electric Traction in 1968, with Brent Metal in 1989 and, finally, with Courtney Pope Holdings which was wound up in 1992. Sage was reinvented in 1996 as the Fredereck Sage Co. Ltd.

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McClures (previously Batsford’s), 14-15 High Street, Shrewsbury, photographed in 2000

Sage shopfronts – several of them listed for their historic and architectural significance – can still be spotted on high streets up and down the country. Some – as can be seen from the photographs here – proudly display the manufacturer’s name.

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Walker’s, 10 High Street, Stamford

 

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McClures, Shrewsbury

Main Sources:
Derryck Abel, The House of Sage 1860-1960. A Century of Achievement, 1960

William Henry Beable, Romance of Great Businesses, 1926, vol II, 249-259

Regent Street 1825-1925 (souvenir album published by F. Sage & Co.)

British Newspaper Archive

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Spotting Historic Shopfronts: Great Yarmouth

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Baird’s, 11 Regent Street

Baird’s / Dunn’s, 10a-11 Regent Street

The Irishman James Baird (1839-1917) set up as a boot and shoe dealer in Great Yarmouth in 1862. He specialised in footwear with waterproof soles made of ‘gutta percha’ (gum harvested from tropical trees), supplied by the Scottish manufacturers R. & J. Dick. By developing a network of retail agencies throughout the country in the 1860s, Dick’s could claim to be one of the earliest multiples in this field. Baird was part of this retail revolution.

Baird’s first shop at 5 Market Row – a narrow lane leading off the Market Place – was struck by tragedy on the night of Friday 24 January 1868. The next-door property, belonging to a clothier and boot and shoe dealer named Frederick Pigg, caught fire. Not only was Pigg’s property destroyed, but his wife and two of their young children were killed. Baird’s shop was beyond repair.

Baird relocated to larger premises at 11 Regent Street, where he lived and worked until his retirement. His son James took over the business, expanding into 10a Regent Street in the 1920s, and opening branches in Norwich and Lowestoft. He was an agent for Lotus and Delta.

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Baird’s and Dunn’s, 11-10a Regent Street

The shopfronts of 10a-11 Regent Street are different from one another but are of equal historical interest. Together they form The Bizarre Bizarre Trading Company.

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Baird’s, 11 Regent Street

The deeply stylish No. 11 (on the left), with its slender mullions, art nouveau style glazing and (look up!) mirrored soffit, fronts Baird’s original shop. Installed in 1903 by the London shopfitter Frederick Sage & Co, it was praised in the local newspaper. It resembles Boots the Chemist’s early 20th-century house style, introduced at the flagship outlet on Pelham Street in Nottingham in 1903-05.

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Dunn’s / Baird’s, 10a Regent Street

The shopfront of No. 10a was installed by Dunn & Co., a national chain of hatters who became Baird’s neighbours shortly before the Great War. The half-timbered ‘look’ is typical of Dunn’s house style. When Baird took over he tweaked it by inserting his own initial ‘B’ into Dunn’s window spandrels – and thus bamboozling shopfront spotters of the future.

Sayers, 28 King Street

The loveliness of this ornate shopfront is disguised by its contemporary colour scheme, modern lettering, and a framework for security shutters. Nevertheless, it seems to survive in all its essential elements and must be counted amongst the best in town.

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Sayers, 28 King Street

This was the photographic studio – ‘St George’s Studio’ – of the artist and photographer Frank H. Sayers (1871-1952), who specialised in child photography. Perhaps Sayers had a hand in the artistic design of the shopfront, with its bravura display of cartouches, scrolls and flowing foliage ribbons in an art nouveau style. It must have been created around 1900.

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Sayers, 28 King Street, in 1999

Unfortunately, Sayers doesn’t seem to have been an astute businessman. He was a two-times bankrupt. He experienced his first failure in 1895, as a young man in Lowestoft, where he had built a new studio on London Road but depended too heavily on his father – an ice merchant – for finance. Then his business collapsed again in 1923, following two decades at 28 King Street in his home town of Great Yarmouth. He quit Yarmouth for Stratford-on-Avon in the 1930s.

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Sayers, 28 King Street

Until relatively recently Sayers’ shopfront had been treated sensitively by his successors, with the original lettering remaining visible on the fascia. Doubtless this lies safe beneath the modern signboard, waiting for its next reveal.

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Sayers, 28 King Street

Aldred & Son, 10 (formerly 56) George Street

‘Aldred’ is the most visible name in Great Yarmouth. It is emblazoned throughout the town centre on ‘for sale’ or ‘to let’ signs. The modern-day estate agency probably descends from Samuel Aldred’s auction house, established in 1857.

Many years earlier, in 1795, Samuel’s grandfather Samuel Higham Aldred (1774-1858) – whose family had been involved in the manufacture of Lowestoft china – founded a jeweller’s shop on George Street. This business was inherited by Edward R. Aldred (1809-76), who remodelled the interior of the shop in 1858. Next in line was Edward’s son Duncan A. Aldred (1841-1913), whose brothers were Samuel, the well-known auctioneer, and Charles, a five-times mayor of Great Yarmouth. Duncan’s sons Ernest and Stanley followed him into the business.

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Aldred & Son, 10 George Street

Around 1903 Stanley set up a branch of Aldred & Son at 172 King Street. When this site was redeveloped for the Central Arcade in 1925, he retained the unit to the left of the King Street entrance. Shortly after Stanley’s death in 1932, the venerable George Street shop shut and all business transferred to King Street.

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Victoria Arcade, King Street, in 1999

Aldred’s was much more than a typical high-street retail jeweller. Its successive owners were goldsmiths, silversmiths, watchmakers, clockmakers and opticians. The company made high-profile civic, commemorative and presentation pieces, including the Town Hall clock.

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Aldred & Son, 10 George Street

The old building on George Street has been transformed since the firm’s centenary in 1895, when it was described as a ‘charming old house [which] . . . still presents outwardly the beautiful work of the days when Elizabeth was Queen’. The shopfront and interior had been remodelled in 1888: the arrangement of Doric columns, and perhaps also the mosaic floor – the only outward evidence of Aldred & Son’s 140 years on the site – probably dates from that time.

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Spotting Historic Shopfronts: Baldock

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Baldock High Street

A plum spot on the Great North Road meant that the small market town of Baldock in Hertfordshire became an ideal staging post for people journeying north from London. From the 17th century onwards it was chock-a-block with coaching inns, stables, maltings and breweries. Amongst the pubs (which are still plentiful) some interesting historic shops can be spotted.

Tailor’s Shop, 7 High Street 

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No. 7 High Street

John Phillips (1835-1910) had opened a tailor’s shop on Baldock High Street by 1866, when he was listed in the Post Office Directory. This beautiful late Victorian shopfront – surely the finest in the town – may have been installed when his son, also named John Phillips (1864-1929), entered partnership with his father. Its outline appears on the 1898 OS map.

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No. 7 High Street

Phillips’ shopfront projects (or encroaches) into the street.  The windows hold expensive sheets of plate-glass with curved corners framed by slender, decorative colonnettes. Lettering on the glass door identifies the shop as: ‘Tailors and Outfitters’. Although the family lived at the property, one of the upstairs rooms was set aside as a tailoring workshop.

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No. 7 High Street

In 1930 the shop was sold to a Mr Anderson of Baldock for £1,570. Now it is a branch of Day’s, a local bakery chain founded in the nearby village of Ashwell in the 18th century.

Two Stationers’ Shops, 18-20 Whitehorse Street

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18-20 Whitehorse Street

This pair of houses on Whitehorse Street was gentrified by the addition of a neat brick façade in the mid-Victorian period. In the 1870s No. 20 belonged to a retired solicitor, Charles S. Cautherley (d.1877). After Cautherley came James Brown (1844-1928) and his family.

Brown was a man of parts. As well as being the local Postmaster, he was a solicitor’s clerk, a local councillor and a stationer. His shop served as Baldock’s Post Office. On 1 January 1882 Brown expanded his interests by taking over a business previously conducted on the High Street by a ‘stationer, book and music seller, printer and bookbinder’ named Samuel Thody.

When a new Post Office opened on Whitehorse Street in 1910, Brown retired as Postmaster but kept his shop going. Edwardian photographs reveal that the double property (Nos. 18-20) had just one shopfront (now No. 20B) instead of the present three. A window occupied the position of the middle shopfront (No. 20A), with a bay window and the main entrance to No. 18 on its right. Brown’s shop must have occupied the present-day No. 20B, which probably dates from the 1870s.

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No. 20B Whitehorse Street

Brown’s unmarried daughter Bertha, a music teacher, lived on at No. 20 after her father’s death. The old shop at No. 20B became a hairdresser’s, run by a Miss E. Rose (1939), and later by Harry Derrick (1942).

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No. 18 Whitehorse Street in 2005

Intriguingly, by 1939 a new newsagent’s and stationer’s shop – perhaps the successor to Brown’s business – had opened in No. 18. This belonged to Francis G. T. Reed (1878-1944) and his wife, Henrietta (1886-1967, neé Combley). Francis had started out as a journalist but became a newsagent – selling rather than reporting the news. But the shop was in Henrietta’s name and until recently the name ‘H. Reed’ was displayed diagonally across the glass of the door.

The exquisite glass fascia of Reed’s shop survives behind the modern signboard for ‘The Makeup Studio’. It must date from around 1930 despite its Victorian appearance.

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No. 18 Whitehorse Street in 2005

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No. 18 Whitehorse Street in 2005

Its medieval style – often cultivated by newsagents and booksellers – was echoed in the griffin-like beasts on Henrietta’s glass door, now sadly lost.

Grocer’s Shop, 26 Church Street

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No. 26 Church Street

Today Church Street (originally Norton Street) is a quiet residential street, congested with parked cars. In the 19th century many of its small houses contained thriving family businesses.

Bearing testament to this is the lovely shopfront of No. 26, now incorporated into a house. Neighbouring businesses included a butcher, a greengrocer and ‘The Eight Bells’ public house.

From the size and style of its arched windows, this shopfront may date from the 1850s or, perhaps, 1860s.

Documents reveal that it belonged to a series of grocers: James Scott (1871); James’s widow, Eliza Scott (1881); George Sherwood (1891) and George Cox (1901; 1911). In 1939 it was known as Harry’s Stores. Today it appears to light somebody’s front room!

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No. 26 Church Street

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Spotting Historic Shopfronts: Cambridge

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21 Market Street

Cambridge is rich in historic shopfronts. Here are a few interesting examples to look out for on shopping trips in town!

Two Art Nouveau Shopfronts from the 1920s

Surprisingly, the elegant art nouveau shopfront at 21 Market Street, in the heart of Cambridge’s shopping centre, belonged to a local dairy. Dairies usually had simple, practical frontages with wide sash windows.  In stark contrast, this shopfront would have been perfectly suited to a high-class draper, or perhaps a fashionable milliner.

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21 Market Street

The occupant was The Stetchworth Dairy, a business which expanded from a dairy farm in Stetchworth, south of Newmarket, to encompass additional farms and a chain of shops in neighbouring towns such as Bury St Edmunds and Cambridge. The branch on Market Street opened in 1901 and was managed for many years by Mr Charles Alder.

Despite having curvaceous glazing in a style more usually associated with the Belle Époch preceding the Great War, this shopfront seems to have been installed around 1923.

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52 Trumpington Street

Another lovely art nouveau style shopfront in Cambridge belongs to Fitzbillies at 52 Trumpington Street. This shop was opened by the bakers E. & A. Mason in October 1920. It was damaged by fire in 1998 and later restored to a semblance of its former glory. Fitzbillies is especially famous for its Chelsea buns.

Freeman’s Cake Shop, 47 Sidney Street

Fitzbillies was not the only Cambridge shop designed to showcase cakes. Another high-quality example can be seen on the corner of Sidney Street and Green Street, now home to the Edinburgh Woollen Mill.

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47 Sidney Street

Three generations of the Moden family ran a business here as oil and colourmen from 1850 until 1899, when John Noel Moden and his wife Ada upped sticks and emigrated to Idaho, where they opened an upholstery and furniture store.

Sidney James Freeman, a confectioner who ran a café over Moden’s shop, seized the opportunity to take control of the whole building on a 21-year lease. By Christmas 1899 he had remodelled the shop and café and installed the impressive granite and mahogany shopfront which survives to this day – sadly minus the ‘stained glass and fancy tiles’ mentioned in descriptions.

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47 Sidney Street

The main feature of Freeman’s shopfront is the rounded window on the corner, topped by an ogee arch. Local newspaper reports reveal that this was for the display of ‘magnificent iced cakes’ while, in the other windows, ‘bon-bons, fancy packets, chocolate, sweets, and cakes complete an inviting display’.

The modernisation of this shop was expensive – the shopfront alone cost £1,200 – and Freeman was evidently a gambler. In 1905, facing pressure from creditors, he fled to Australia ‘with some vague idea of “striking it rich” on the gold fields’. In spring 1906 he sailed home to face his inevitable bankruptcy.

Meanwhile, G. P. Hawkins Ltd. (that is, George Plume Hawkins who, when mayor of Cambridge in 1919-21, ‘dispensed hospitality in a style worthy of Lucullus’) acquired Freeman’s business cheaply, for £525. He ran the Cambridge Café at 47 Sidney Street in tandem with his older business, the Dorothy Café across the street, until the lease expired in 1920. Thereafter, throughout the middle of the 20th century, the shop was occupied by a tailor called Bodger’s.

Peck’s and Deck’s

George Peck (1827-1909) set up as a chemist in Trumpington Street, in his home town of Cambridge, in 1851. Three of his 11 children followed in his footsteps by becoming pharmacists. Ernest Saville Peck, the eldest, assumed the reins on his father’s retirement in 1904.

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30 Trumpington Street

In 1904 Peck’s shop was at 30 Trumpington Street, where the shopfront survives. Over the corner entrance is a large bronze shield topped by a mortar and pestle – one of the most common symbols that identified chemists’ shops – with a spray of curling foliage reminiscent of heraldic mantling. Gilt letters proclaim: ‘G. PECK & SON LTD DISPENSING CHEMISTS EST 1851’. Note the stylish form of the ampersand.

By the 1920s Peck’s had taken over a shop at 9 King’s Parade, which is effectively a continuation of Trumpington Street, closer to the centre of town. This long-established ‘chymist’s’ had been run by Arthur Deck (1825-1903) since his father’s death in 1853. The two chemists, Peck and Deck, had traded along the same stretch for many years: a recipe for confusion one might think.

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9 King’s Parade

Peck’s did not inherit the Royal Arms which Deck had proudly displayed between the two ironwork balconies over his shop. The Arms were replaced by a hanging sign, which has been modified to display the name of the current occupant, ‘Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe’. The shopfront itself remains pretty intact. One of the chemist’s favourite motifs, a snake entwined around a chalice, can be spotted at the top of the Gothic-style pilasters. The cross-bars of the plate-glass windows would have corresponded to a carboy shelf, and a barometer is still fitted to the door frame.

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9 King’s Parade

In 1934 a new shopfront was installed for Peck’s on St Andrew’s Street by the shopfitters E. Pollard & Co. Ltd. The shop – today ‘Links’, by the entrance to the Grand Arcade – has been transformed beyond recognition.

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19-20 St Andrew’s Street

The lost shopfront was a neo-Georgian affair, surprisingly like W. H. Smith’s shopfronts of the same period. It was dominated by a massive transom, divided into small square panes which rather obscured the display carboys. Although this has been replaced, to the left is a contemporary brick doorway topped by a relief carving of an owl perched on a mortar and pestle and clutching a scroll. This is flanked by the dates 1851 – when Peck’s was established – and 1934.

Vinter & Son, 12 St John’s Street

The building now occupied by Hong Kong Fusion was erected (with a new cellar) in 1872 for the university robe makers and tailors, Vinter & Son. It’s wonderful that the façade survives all of a piece, including the ground-level shopfront.

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12 St John’s Street

In 1872 Charles Arthur Vinter (1843-1898) had recently taken over the business from his father, Charles (1810-1881). Their old shop had ‘a nearly-new mahogany-frame SHOP FRONT with PLATE-GLASS FITTINGS, shutters and door complete, 17 feet by 9 feet’, but this was sold with other old building materials, and Vinter put up a complete new frontage. The Vinters did not live on site – in 1871 the building was occupied by their foreman, Joseph Gillings

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12 St John’s Street

It’s worth stepping back to study Vinter’s entire façade, which is a lesson in the ornate High Victorian architecture of the early 1870s. The area beneath the display windows – under the ‘stall board’ – is recessed and protected by ironwork screens to light the cellar. Patterned encaustic tiles adorn the pilasters and window jambs. The windows contain huge panes of plate glass: in fact, the first-floor sashes form a wall of glass, structurally assisted by very slender cast-iron columns. Above this several heads can be spotted in the terracotta decoration. But what do they represent?

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12 St John’s Street

 

Posted in Chemists' Shops, Spotter's Guides, Streetscape | Leave a comment