Monday, 30 June 2014

Sidmouth's Glorious Shop Fronts

Monday 23 June. We were in Sidmouth for the afternoon, prior to going along the coast to book into our hotel in nearby Seaton. The other week I was reading a book about shops and how they had changed during the 20th century and it mentioned that Sidmouth had kept many of its original shop fronts despite the rest of the country demolishing all the architectural heritage and plastering gaudy plastic all over the place.

And without having to look too hard to find examples of this conservation, we just stumbled across them. Loads of them! A place to indulge that shop front fetish!

All windows had panes of glass the small size of those of the shop on the left at one time. It was impossible to make larger panes. Most of them would not have been as perfect glass as this either - they would have had the "bubble" in the middle. It wasn't a bubble so much as just a thicker bit of glass and because there was no alternative people had to put up with the distorted views when looking through. Later plate glass started to become available and shop windows could be a lot larger. It was still not possible to produce a single pane to cover a shop front though, so columns of wood or cast iron separated windows into several panes as seen on the right of the photo.

Shopkeepers wanted to draw customers into their shops, so they used tricks such as this recessed window. Besides allowing would-be customers to shelter from any rain, it gave the feeling that you were already in the shop. You also had a choice of views of the goods in the far right portion of the display.

Not really a shop, I know, but I'm digressing for a moment here, because I remember this Costa outlet as The Ship Inn. It was a pub the last time I was in Sidmouth and an old one at that. From pints of bitter to buckets of coffee - what a huge shame.

Mr Trump has been providing food and drink to the people of Sidmouth for over 200 years and in that time has been successful enough to buy up the premises next door and knock them through into a large shop. There would have been no pre-packaged groceries for three quarters of his time. He would have weighed out goods like cereals, sugar, flour and butter and even biscuits from large square tin boxes that he probably placed in or near the window as they would not go off as quickly as butter in the sunlight.

What I can't see here, which surprises me a little, is any evidence of shop blinds - those huge canopies that were on rollers and were let out over the windows on sunny days in an attempt to keep the interior cool. There were no refrigerated display units until the 1960s. Butter came in half-sized barrels and ran out over the marble slab they were placed on. Grocers used to scrape it up anyway and put it in waxed paper bags to sell. When people start to talk about the good old days, just remind them about eating rancid butter and sieving the lumps out of milk...

"Stag" Menswear. Ah yes, that conjures up a different type of image these days than I expect it did when the shop was first named... Another offset window but this time with a little arcade that shoppers could walk into to look at the window display. It took them ever farther along towards the door!

Now, I had started to write "I've no idea whether Fields is still family owned..." but then I dragged myself out of my 1950s reverie and Googled it. And, oh joy! It is still family owned. Their website proudly (and justifiably so) welcomes you to "one of the few select, family owned and managed, independent department stores remaining in the UK".

And you can't see it all in my photo - it occupies more frontage to the right up the street around the corner. This is what the very best and most prestigious shops in any town would once have looked like. Check out that clean and well maintained shop front above the ground floor level and then compare that with the sorry state of most chain stores in your own town once you get above the plastic signs with their mis-spelt "Kwik Krap" lettering. Fields: long may you continue.

I turned the corner myself and found this tea rooms on the opposite side of the street to Fields. I love the sign on the side of the shop on Ebbons Court but even more so, I love that side window with the bowed glass. That would have been hellishly expensive when first put in place. (It would still be hellishly expensive now I should think!) I'm sure that originally the tea room (or whatever kind of shop formerly occupied the building) would have made a great feature of that window. It reminds me of Piccadilly Arcade in London, though it's not quite as large as the bowed panes there.

And I'll finish this time with a photo of Hayman's Butchers. Rabbits and game birds would have once hung where the flower baskets now hang and there would probably have also been a couple of trestle tables outside laden with meat. All of which is no longer socially acceptable these days where people either don't eat meat, or don't want to think about where it comes from. Indeed, many youngster have no idea where it comes from - having had conversations with students along the lines of:

"Do you know where milk comes from?"
"A bottle..."
"Yes but before that?"
"A supermarket..."
"Before that?"

Silence and confusion... As for myself, it is a source of some pride that I can say that no hummus or couscous has ever passed my lips...

If you're ever down Devon, go and have a look at the shops of Sidmouth!

Devon & Dorset 2014 Index

1 comment:

  1. Nice try spamming person - please note no comments will be published with links to commercial sites

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