1828 - Going Upmarket


Better-off customers could afford non- essential items, so a shop's outward appearance could be very influential in attracting people. 'Behind the great glass windows absolutely everything one can think of is neatly, attractively displayed, in such abundance of choice as almost to make one greedy,' one customer noted. Shopkeepers' fortunes, it used to be said, was in their stock. But even a hundred years earlier, as Daniel Defoe wrote, 'in painting and gilding, fine shelves, shutters, boxes, glass doors, sashes and the like, 'tis a small matter to layout two or three hundred pounds.' A high premium was placed on the shopkeeper's expert knowledge of his wares. Why, until the 1930s, were shopkeepers usually men?

AH Hale, Pharmacist and Optician. Classical architecture is in many ways ideally suited to shop design. As well as protecting the windows from the elements, the entablature - the area above the columns - can be used to display the name of the business. This chemist's shop in prosperous Bath has an Ionic portico; the large and handsome display window - an early form of plate glass - is particularly stylish. Beneath it, though hardly classical in inspiration, a fine cast-iron stallboard admits light to a basement that could be used as a preparation area or for storage. The symmetry of the design is maintained by the twin doorways, only one of which would actually be needed as an entry to the shop. The other could give access to the rear, or to the rooms above. The sense of solid respectability is unmistakeable. In this instance it is entirely appropriate, for the pharmacist's profession is a highly scientific one, strictly governed and entered only after a rigorous apprenticeship at college and in practice. Before the National Health Service was set up, people were often unable to afford the doctor's fees, and had to rely on the advice they could get from a chemist or pharmacist. Yet even in the Victorian period such skills at mixing and dispensing medicines were being taken over by pharmaceutical companies. They provided an ever-expanding range of proprietary medicines and preparations that could be sold without specialist knowledge. Though most chemists have now diversified into such related fields as photography and beauty care, their traditonal sign remains the apothecary's mortar and pestle that was once used to grind up medicinal herbs and spices.

1810 - Trader's Shop

1860 - Victorian Taste