Commemorating a bygone era

John Londei, Shutting Up Shop

From today’s

In 1972, photographer John Londei started taking pictures of small independent shops the length and breadth of Britain. Often family-run businesses, well-established in their local communities, Londei strove to capture the timeworn presence of these already anachronistic businesses:  the butchers and bakers, button makers, cobblers, fishmongers and chemists of our high streets.

Over a fifteen-year period, he photographed 60 shops. In 2004, when he retraced his steps and revisited the shops he’d photographed, he found that only seven of the 60 were still in business.

If you happen to be in London, Londei’s photographs will be exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery through May 4, 2008. And, as you can see from the photo at the top of this post, Londei has just published a book of these photos, Shutting Up Shop.

You can see a series of photographs on Londei’s Web site. Here’s one of my particular favourites:

Dog's Beauty Saloon

Note the name of the establishment:  Kim’s Dogs Beauty Saloon. Presumably your dog could stop by for a quick trim and a shot of whiskey.

Some of the shops had fallen into disrepair:  e.g., the fishmongers. Others stocked a product that no longer serves a purpose:  e.g., England’s last cork shop, and maybe the Magic shop.

As for the Harris Tweed shop, located in the Outer Hebrides:  it might as well be located on the far side of the moon, because you have to wonder where their custom came from.

Others possess a charm that will surely be missed:  the basket weaver, the tea merchant, and Sheila’s Milliner (i.e., hat shop).

We won’t see their likes again. And isn’t the world a poorer place for their passing?


7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Emerging From Babel » Shutting Up Shop
  2. AscenderRisesAbove
    Jan 20, 2008 @ 21:52:39

    some very nice photographs…. ok; except maybe the magic shop; I bet that was a bit of a stretch back in the day!


  3. juggling mother
    Jan 23, 2008 @ 11:38:57

    Whereas there has definitely been reduction in the number of small shops (not an anachronistic word here btw – we use it all the time!) and a rise in the number of out of time supermarkets and malls, there are still plenty of shops similar to those pictured still round the UK. I could (and indeed might well) go out tomorrow and photgoraph my local butchers, bakers, greengrocers, craft shop, rock sop (to eat, not stone), rock shop (stones, not to eat), magic shop, toy shop, model shop (trains, not girls), wicker/willow shop, postoffice, and goodnessknows how many more just by walking less than mile from my house.

    most are still individually owned by families, often by craftsmen and welcoming of customers whether to browse or buy – unlike the shops I remember from the 70’s. the ones that went out of business quiteoften deserved to do so, once people had any choice at all!


  4. Stephen
    Jan 23, 2008 @ 11:50:29

    Box stores and chains are the norm here. Although we do have our favourite independent book seller and independent toy store.

    Bakeries seem to be the only kind of business that continues to be mostly independent operators. Not so for grocery stores — they’re all chains here in Canada.


  5. juggling mother
    Jan 24, 2008 @ 08:12:29

    but your post was about UK shops. they are not a bygone era imo.:-)

    Village shops are tho…. now you have to go into a town in most places – but then again most villages are only occupied for 2 days out of each seven – who can blame the shopkepers for selling up & retiring? That is an issue here, but “shops” as a whole are thriving.

    If I can find my camera, I may well do a post.


  6. Sue Korman
    Jan 28, 2008 @ 15:33:42

    You can see most of Brighton’s independent and unique shops on our website.

    Some are pretty famous but many are small familiy businesses with loyal customers.They all contribute to the distinctiveness of the city and long may they thrive.

    The front of the cork shop (mentioned above) is here in the Brighton Museum.


  7. Stephen
    Jan 28, 2008 @ 18:48:28

    Thanks for sharing, Sue. I’m not surprised to learn that Brighton has more than its share of unique shops. Some day I hope to visit.


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