How do you think the high street and shopping has changed throughout your lifetime? Is there a shop you wish still existed today that is no longer there?
These are just some of the questions our young Stockpiling Stories researchers asked our older volunteers to find out more about the history of Dacorum’s High streets. They explored the idea of towns built around weekly markets before more permanent shops appeared and filled the High street with small family businesses – butchers, bakers and candlestick makers! Our older volunteers remember these smaller businesses being replaced with larger department stores and shopping centres, getting busier with traffic and becoming the bustling busy Dacorum town centres we visit today.
“The biggest change in the High Street and shopping has been due to the huge increase in the amount of motor traffic”
“I remember the first supermarket in Hemel Hempstead. It was called Victor Values … They issued pink stamps by Sperry and Hutchinson when you got to the till, which could be exchanged for household goods.”
“The best shop of all was Woolworths because you could buy mixed biscuits and loose sweets. They also sold broken biscuits which were very cheap.”
“I always enjoyed going to Pyle and Thompson to listen to the latest pop record that had been released… The shop had booths where you could go inside and listen to your choice of record, deciding if you would like to buy it.”
“The market has moved twice during my lifetime. It was originally in the old High Street over looking St Mary’s Church. It then moved to the centre of the town between Marlowes and the river Gade next to the bus station. Now, following pedestrianisation of Marlowes, the market has moved into Marlowes itself.”
The children were asked to make their own shop window displays and design their own shop sign…
The children were particularly interested in the shop bells that would signal to shop owners that someone had entered their store, like this one which we believe once hung (and rung) in the Rance Family’s Dairy shop in Potten End
“Many of the small shops had a doorbell to let the owner know someone had entered”
“Not all shops had a bell, some just left the door open, like newspaper and tobacconist shops. I bought my Beano or Dandy comic at one of those.”
Our older volunteers shared their memories of how money and payment has changed during their lifetime.
“The revolution is so massive from the time when the only way to guarantee a cheque payment was by showing one’s drivers licence to now with smart phone contactless payment.”
“Very confusing. You went into a shop and they said that will be 45 pence so you translated it back into old money and thought 9 shillings… I sometimes still do a translation in my head back to pre-decimal.”
“Sadly we lost some nice names for our coins: thrupenny bit, shilling, florin, half a crown and crown went to be replaced by five pence, ten pence, twenty pence and fifty pence.”
“Credit cards and payment cards had not been invented but in some cases some shops let people charge items to their account, but this was usually only for the well off.”
Our young researchers are getting better at asking relevant historical questions as well as building a relationship with the older volunteers by finding out about their pets, favourite sweets and games and our older volunteers are enjoying reminiscing about the past and sharing their stories with the curious young people. Meanwhile we are adding to our collection of memories to share with future generations. Keep an eye out for the report on out next theme – transport.