Author Archives: buildingourpast

Kays Modern Food Stores

Kays’ shop at 3 High Street, Ely, is a surviving remnant of a grocery chain that had over 100 small branches throughout much of South-East England and the Midlands in the middle of the 20th century, before the age of … Continue reading

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Introducing Charles Morrison, A Stornoway Shopkeeper

The Stornoway shopkeeper Charles Morrison (1838-1920) came from a family of farmers and meal dealers living at Cyderhall near Dornoch, on the east coast of Scotland. Around 1855, aged 16, he set off for Stornoway, a fishing town on the … Continue reading

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The Fifty Shilling Tailors and John Collier

The Fifty Shilling Tailors was one of the most successful ‘wholesale bespoke tailors’ on the British high street through the 1920s, 30s and 40s. In later years, when it became impossible to sell a made-to-measure suit of clothes for a … Continue reading

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Queens and GEM: Building Asda, 1965-1970

When Asda (capitalised as ASDA from 1985) came into being in 1965 the grocery and provisions trade was undergoing a radical transformation throughout the British Isles. Small counter-service shops were gradually being superseded by self-service ‘supermarkets’, defined as having a … Continue reading

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Grouts of Palmers Green

Grouts, one of the last old-fashioned drapery shops in England, shut its doors for the last time on 20 April 2002. The photographs published here were snapped on the previous day, Friday 19 April 2002. Little stock remained but customers … Continue reading

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Foster Brothers

Circumstances surrounding the founding and naming of Foster Brothers, the men’s clothing retailer, are rather mysterious. When the founder, William Foster (1852-1914) died, his obituaries noted that he had opened his first shop with his brother in Pontefract in 1876. … Continue reading

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The Coliseum in Stockton-on-Tees: Unpicking W. Basil Scott’s ‘First English Steel-Framed Building’

Today it is generally accepted that James Frank Doyle’s Royal Insurance Building in Liverpool was the first significant steel-framed building to be erected in the UK. Although it was designed around 1895-96, it was not erected until 1900-03. The Scottish … Continue reading

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Buttercup Dairy Company

A Potted History of the Buttercup Dairy Co. Ltd. The Buttercup Dairy Co. devised one of the most artistic and coherent retail house styles to be found on Scottish high streets in the 20th century. The shops of few other … Continue reading

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A Brief History of Wallis

The Wallis chain of women’s fashion shops was a familiar presence on British high streets for 97 years. It started out as a standard ‘costumier’, selling dresses and coats – called ‘mantles’ in the trade – including furs. The first … Continue reading

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Multiple Multiples: Disentangling the Story of Millets

Millets, the outdoor retail specialist, has maintained a strong presence on the British High Street for over 100 years. Recently I began to dig into Millets’ company history for my forthcoming book on chain stores. Before long I had stumbled … Continue reading

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