Context 144 - May 2015

C O N T E X T 1 4 4 : M A Y 2 0 1 6 27 GRAHAM TITE and CHRIS POND The changing face of UK high street frontages As town centre uses develop and shopping patterns change, conservationists are considering the significance of retail buildings and finding how to make the most of them. NewYear 2008–9 saw the closing of the lastWoolworths stores on British high streets. At one time hundreds of its branches stood within a few steps of Burton tailors. Sometimes they were direct neighbours. Prominent in a town near you may be Marks and Spencer PLC, but local and national news sources report numerous branch closings even for this esteemed retailer. We examine here the conservation challenges of shop closings and redevelopments across the country in towns as large as London or Birmingham, or as small as Abergavenny or Penrith, and for the suburbs. Marks and Spencer (M&S) opened its first outlet in 1884, Burton in 1904 and Woolworths in 1909. All three grew strongly in the 1930s at a time when modernised business methods and styles of selling on the shop floor gave rise to more, larger and easily recognisable high street premises. Archive shots of most high streets from the decades in mid-century will show the frontages of these giants, often higher, wider and more striking than their locally owned neighbours. They were not the only multiple chains but these three became universal household names.The various Co-ops were close behind. The shopping parades of suburbia still exist but they have begun to take on uses completely different from The Burton shop at Ripon in the thenWest Riding ofYorkshire must have been thought a brash intruder into the gentle Victorian streetscene when it opened in 1933.Today the building is a restaurant, but providing a clue to its origin is a very scuffed and degraded stallriser vent.The Ripon Civic Society has, commendably, installed a number of red plaques marking notable buildings of the town, but Burton’s is unmarked. (Photos: Chris Pond)

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