The third in this series of broadsheets from The British Land Company PLC is devoted to shops and shopping. Looking - even from the outside - at these everyday buildings can give us an insight into the changing patterns of people's lives. The things they buy, where they buy them, how they pay for them, how they get them home - the more we learn, the more we understand.
This study looks principally at the architecture of shops, because this is often what gives them their identity. Certain styles have come to be associated with different kinds of shops - the clinical elegance of the chemists, the elaborate tilework of a butcher or fishmonger, the cheerful free-for-all of the ironmonger with most of the stock displayed outside. Even quite ordinary shops often have, by historical quirk, facades that rise above the humble station of the present occupier. Conversely, some of today's most successful retailers - who might be expected to lead the way in good design - conduct their business in remarkably dull and unimaginative premises.
Architecture and retail design are only the starting point, however. Hints and clues abound in the illustrations to stimulate further discussion - who works in these shops, for instance, and under what conditions? What is their status? Most shop keepers, until the present century, were men - but even before the First World War many branches of W H Smith employed women, and today two-thirds of Sainsbury's total staff (and 40% of its managers) are female. Though the accompanying text - which maybe freely copied for classroom use - considers many other aspects of the subject, we are sure teachers and students will find and pursue further avenues of enquiry.
More than most buildings, shops adaptable to change. The frontage can be altered, the interior fittings replaced until the premises are almost unrecognisable. This rebirthing process, it has to be said, is not always for the better in visual terms. But it can be a useful barometer of consumer demand, reflecting not just the shop's commercial fortunes in a competitive but changing market, but also the lifestyles of the people who spend money here. The draper's emporium becomes a hat-shop which becomes a trendy boutique which becomes a store selling cut-price jeans. Then it becomes something else entirely. The old-fashioned ironmonger's shop, however, or the well-established baker - there is usually at least one firm like this anchored in every town, quietly riding out the storms of economic circumstance. In such cases the business may actually be far older than the premises it occupies, as is true of some of the examples here. As far as possible the illustrations show the shops in their original condition, as they would have appeared at the dates shown.
As one of Britain 's most widely respected property investors and developers, The British Land Company PLC is very much aware of the changes taking place around us. Beginning with the age-old tradition of the weekly market, this broadsheet looks at the different types of shop that have evolved in the last 250 years, and in particular at the distinctive architectural styles that have been employed in an effort to encourage us, the buying public, to use them.
The British Land CompanyPLC, (Educational Publications), 10 Cornwall Terrace, Regent's Park, London NW1 4QP
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