Lets go shopping: in small English towns

  • “Proper shops”

    Most local, independent shops in British cities today are mini supermarkets which sell a wide variety of food and domestic goods.  But that wasn’t always so.  When I grew in what is now a very chi-chi part of South London, we had what I call proper shops. We had two green grocers, a butchers, an iron mongers, a wet fish shop, a book shop, an art stationers, a toy shop, a sports shop that sold both sports kit and airfix models and a tuck shop (candy store).  And I’ve missed a few out. And they were all locally owned and we knew each of the shop keepers.  That age is long gone in London. The places that you are now more likely to find these kinds of shops are in the small towns and villagers.

    I began posting about independent shops in February last year with this post with the less than snappy title Lets go shopping; shop windows and people watching around London.

    This week’s post covers two out of town places I visited in the last twelve months. Off season, on a wet September afternoon, the seaside town of Walton-on-the-Naze, Essex.  And the Wiltshire town of Corsham.

    Walton-on-the-Naze, Essex

    At the top of Walton’s High Street, on the corner, you first see this cake shop with its home made facia and window labels. Note the giant fruit pastels in the right hand corner.  Its clue for when you turn left onto the High Street.


    Because once around the corner Betty’s Cup Cakes transforms into a local tuck shop.  I never checked to see if they sold aniseed balls or giant humbugs but I bet they do.


    Walton’s Backpackers’ Quarter.

    Looking through the rest of the shops I photographed that afternoon, you’d think that the town was a haven for bikers, tattoos lovers and exoticism.  I promise you its a regular English seaside town with a rock shop, a buckets and spades shop and all retailers who sell the paraphernalia people need for a holiday by the sea.  But these are the ones that caught my eye.  This gift shop is called Gifts Saigon selling nick-nacks from Asia.  Quite surprising, I thought, for an English seaside town.


    And on the main sea front is this clothing emporium.  He gets to select leathers whilst she is offered fashion wear.


    Corsham, Wiltshire

    The picturesque limestone town of Corsham has some delightfully traditional shops.  This local newsagents instantly pleased my eye. It reminds me of the kind of shops I grew up with.


    And there are plenty of independent but fashionable art, clothes and nick-nack shops.  My favourite is the incredibly discrete shop window of this upmarket arts and crafts shop which would not look out of place in Jane Austen’s 19th Century England.


    And then you come to AutoBits Plus which sells car accessories.  I really love the name of that one.


    It sounds related to AutoMattic which sells toys and comics at the other end of the High Street.

    As I revel in these excellent shop windows – and you can see a few more in the gallery – I’m reminded of that description Napolean gave us,, “the English are a nation of shop keepers.”

    The gallery this week keeps the shops in their respective towns and gives a brief flavour of each place. I hope you enjoy them.

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