Shopping on Heaton Road: a century of social change

An analysis of the shops on a section of Heaton Road (east side, from the railway up to Meldon Terrace) in the year 1898, 1914, 1939, 1965 and the present day, shows how the shops and shopping habits of the people of Heaton give an insight into changes in British society over the period.

Nineteenth Century

In 1898, the shops on Heaton Road comprised only the stretch from the railway line to the Baptist Church, but the sample provides us with a clear picture of shops selling food or non-food, with only one providing a service and that very much of the time, being a photographer. People obviously shopped locally for all their food and other requirements and the drapers and haberdasher shops show that the needlewomen of the area were very active.

World War 1

In 1914, the shops still indicate a local habit of shopping for food and other goods, with many butchers, grocers and fruiterers.

Staff outside Brough's 60 Heaton Road post 1923

The appearance of three milliners reflects the standards of the time ie that no respectable women would appear in public without some head covering, but also the affluence of those living near or on Heaton Road at the time.

World War 2

At the outbreak of the Second World War, the shops really have a 20th century feel, with opticians and radio dealers. But the butchers, fruiterers and grocers show that people still shop locally for food. The increase in the number of shops acting as delivers of services, such as plumbers, decorators etc, begins a trend which continues to this day. The loss of the dairy and bakers probably reflects the growth of large national companies dominating the market.

Sixties

In 1965, people are still shopping locally for food (two butchers, three fruiterers, three grocers), and other goods; but a sign of the times is the demise of the last milliner, although the continuing existence of the final drapers indicates that the impact of globalisation and the import of cheap clothes had not yet made a difference. The move towards shops providing services rather than food or goods continues and includes the very sixties poodle parlour and launderette. The milk bar is the first example of a trend to come, of eat-in or take away food.

Heaton Ice Cream Parlour in the late 1980s

Heaton Ice Cream Parlour in the late 1980s

And now

In 2014, we can see a complete turnaround in the types of shops in this section of Heaton Road. In 1898 over 50% of the shops sold food; in 2014 only 5 out of 38 sold food (13%). Obviously this is because of the impact of the large supermarket chains and also of the more general level of car ownership, which is required if a visit to a large supermarket for a weekly shop is to take place. The existence of home refrigeration in virtually all homes is also a factor in the large weekly supermarket shop. The trend for the food shops to be replaced by services is continued to the point where 50% of all shops in the survey in 2014 were service providers of some kind. Some of the services were very 21st century, such as the tanning salon, web design, fancy dress hire and tattoo parlour.

Heaton Road Tattoo Parlour 2014

The biggest changes since 1963 are reflections of the change in the inhabitants of Heaton. Six letting agents, mainly catering for students, indicate the vast number of students now living in Heaton since the huge expansion in student numbers following the Robbins Report of 1963. This may also be the reason for the expansion in the numbers of premises providing cooked food, either to eat-in or takeaway (c25%), though other factors come into play including greater affluence, and with most men and women working, the lack of time for home cooking.

There has been a great change to shops and shopping on Heaton Road since 1898. But whilst the move away from over the counter sales of food and other goods towards services and cooked food is clear, there may be evidence of a move back to local provision. While it is unlikely that we’ll ever see drapers and haberdashers again whilst the rest of the world continues to provide us with cheap clothing, there is a move back to the local shopping parade of small supermarkets (see Tesco Express, Sainsbury’s Local), providing a service that was once provided by many independent grocers, butchers and fruiterers. In addition, local shops seem more recently to have become home to more esoteric and niche businesses (many in start-up mode).

We can’t predict the future for Heaton Road shops, but we can be certain that they will continue to evolve.

Alan Giles

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