Author Archives: buildingourpast

Debunking ‘Britain’s First Supermarket’: The Myth of Manor Park

On 12 January 2023 social media was awash with blogs and posts – including ones published by respected bodies like the British Library and Historic England – celebrating the opening of ‘the first British supermarket’ on 12 January 1948 at … Continue reading

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The Centenary of Britain’s First Self-Service Grocery Shop

One hundred years ago the very first self-service grocery shop in the British Isles was opened in North London by the multiple provision dealer David Greig (1866-1952), a rival of J. Sainsbury’s. This pioneering retail experiment was ignored by contemporary … Continue reading

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Four Victorian Stornoway Shops

The receipts published here relate to purchases made between 1868 and 1880 by Christina Morrison (Mrs Charles Morrison), then living in Cromwell Street in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, with her shopkeeper husband and growing brood of small children. With their … Continue reading

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Irwin’s ‘Ruby Red Stores’

Irwin’s was a popular regional grocery chain from the 1880s until 1960, when it was taken over by Tesco and phased out. The shops spread from the company’s Liverpool heartland, along the North Wales coast. The founder, John Irwin (1839-1920), … Continue reading

Posted in Grocers, Provision Dealers and Dairies | 6 Comments

McColl’s: A Scottish Confectionery Chain

McColl’s made headlines in May 2022 when it entered voluntary administration, seemingly the latest retail casualty of the Covid pandemic. It was swiftly rescued, however, by Morrisons and its 1100 shops continue to trade. R. S. McColl’s was founded in … Continue reading

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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

Posted in Fashion and Clothing, Spotter's Guides | 1 Comment

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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