Shopfronts are not the most obvious items in the cornucopia that is the architecture of Cambridge, but here is one that pulled me up short as I walked around the town in the rain last week. My first response to this building in Market Street was a question: could this really be an original art nouveau frontage? The glorious collection of curves described by its carved woodwork certainly seemed to point that way and I guessed that it was late art nouveau, a survival from perhaps the early 1920s. When I got home and looked it up, I found that the building's official listing put it at c 1910, whereas Kathryn A Morrison in her excellent English Shops and Shopping dates it to c 1923, when the front was made for Stetchworth Dairies.
The front repays a close look. The woodwork above the door is a stunning collection of stylized foliage and multiple curves that turn back on themselves in a way that we're now more used to seeing in Paris or Brussels than in England and the flowers and stems in the glass echo these curves beautifully. The door and the wooden panels on either side take up the theme of curves too, as does the extraordinary metalwork.
The building must have made a remarkable diary. The front seems to have been designed to catch the eye more effectively than the display of eggs, cream, butter, and cheese in the window. If it's not perhaps as effective in its new role fronting a gift shop (it seems to cry out for a more sensitive sign than the one currently in place), at least it is in use, a curvaceous and exotic reminder of the skill with which which shops were designed and fitted out in the days when frontages like this were made to last.