Sunday, October 20, 2013
The High Street, as every television pundit, every economics correspondent, every social commentator, will tell you, is not what it was. Old-fashioned small shops are closing, established chains disappearing, shop fronts being boarded up – and everyone complains about it, then goes home, fires up the laptop, and starts shopping online. Even in my own small Cotswold town ('vibrant' and 'buoyant' are the typical catch-all descriptions) another High Street business closed the other day. But it's not all gloom. I'm always visiting towns and finding old businesses surviving, against the odds, and showing us what shops used to be like and still can be. Rickard's, the ironmongers of Ludlow, are a case in point. Another is Dyer's in Ilminster.
This shop was founded in 1870 by R P Wheadon and, as Wheadon's, it expanded over a 60 year period from a small draper's into quite a large shop with several departments offering men's and women's clothing as well as the stock in trade of the draper and haberdasher. In around about 1910 there must have been a major refit – the lovely frontage with its curving centrepiece and carved swags probably dates to this time. So do many of the interior fittings – wooden counters, all sorts of shelves for bolts of cloth, drawers for buttons and bows, a curved cashier's desk with cash drawer and low glass screens. Some of the glass-fronted counters in the menswear department are perhaps a bit later, maybe after R A Dyer took over the business in 1937.
Like quite a lot of drapers in the early-20th century, Dyer's expansion from cloth to clothes turned it into a kind of ur-department store. The shop has shrunk again since then, but it's still a wonderful sight, a business from another era, still going in spite of everything the pundits say about the decline of the High Street. I hope it continues to do so.