Linlithgow has always been a retail and service centre. Its situation on the main road from Edinburgh to Stirling and the North, and its association with the Royal Palace, will have provided a living for a wide range of traders ever since the Middle Ages. The early temporary stalls and booths must have quickly made way for more permanent structures – the first proper shops.
Shop fronts as we know them, with glass windows for the display of goods, appeared from the 18th century; some had probably changed relatively little when the first photograph of Linlithgow High Street (copyright of St John’s Church, Bathgate) was taken, around 1890. The shops are small in scale, without elaborate frontages, and the names are simply painted on the stonework of the building. Visible shops include a clothier and a flesher (butcher), both typical establishments in a town like this.
Erskine’s bakers shop, also in Linlithgow and pictured in 1910, has a decorative painted wooden signboard and a small hanging sign as well; there is a carefully arranged display of sweetie jars in the window to tempt passing trade. We can see the progression towards the shop front designed as advertising, although this shop is still in the tradition of local independent retailing.
With William Low’s grocery establishment in Bathgate we are firmly in the realm of the chain store. Although modest by modern supermarket standards, we have a store proclaiming its corporate identity, in the severe Moderne style of the late 1930s. The glass and metal front suggests hygiene and efficiency, and contrasts with the Victorian stonework above. The change from a vernacular high street, with shops blending in with domestic structures, to modern shop fronts designed as bold statements, is almost complete.
Today, Linlithgow High Street is surprisingly unchanged, thanks to its status as an historic town. In many other high streets the newer shop fronts are less sympathetic to their surroundings. However, there has been a shift to leisure and luxury retailing. Smaller shops selling everyday necessities have been largely replaced by supermarkets and retail parks.
High street photographs like these have informed the current BBC series “Turn Back Time- the High Street” http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00v7p71 . Do you have any old high street photographs? Why don’t you upload your pictures and your high steet memories to the BBC’s Turn Back Time Flickr site? http://www.flickr.com/groups/bbcturnbacktime/
To view the images featured in this blog, click on the links below: