When shopfronts had individual character
» EVERY Mcdonald’s looks the same wherever you are in the world*.
But before the arrival of the corporate retail fascia, shops were different.
They had individual character and gave visual variety to our streets.
Some fine examples have been lost in Cheltenham, but fortunately others have escaped the architects, planners, graphic designers, shop fitters and such vandals.
To prove the point, take a look at F G Fildes, which today is the Montpellier Wine Bar. In the early years of last century this was The Spa Pharmacy, one of two branches in town owned by Thomas Brothers.
The other stood on the corner of Bath Road and St Luke’s Road.
By 1923, when the picture you see here was taken, the business had become Fildes Stores, a greengrocery and hardware emporium.
A new shopfront was installed to reflect the produce on sale with a stained glass frieze at the top featuring fruit and vine motifs. It pleases the eye to this day.
On the corner of Montpellier Walk and Montpellier Spa Road stands what was once T Woodard’s – fishmonger, poulterer and dealer in game, seen in the advert here from 1908.
Flat-capped and aproned shop staff stand proudly before a display of hares and wares that then made customers salivate with anticipation – and today would have public health inspectors shut the shop in the blink of an eye.
Many will recall that this premises was the choc-a-bloc Aladdin’s cave owned by eccentric antiques collector and benefactor to Cheltenham Ron Summerfield.
Over the years he filled the shop and rooms above, plus a large house in Bayshill Road and a barn in Derbyshire, with pictures, porcelain, furniture, knick-knackery – in fact, whatever caught his eye.
But rarely would he agree to sell anything to anyone.
Surely one of the prettiest shopfronts in the town centre is the Prom premises that used to be Scott Cooper, the silversmith and jeweller that closed in 2004.
The Art Nouveau gem is now home to Accessorize. Just round the corner in the Little Promenade is the splendid Art Deco store that some will remember as Madam Wright’s, once the poshest frock shop in town.
More modest, but not without charm, is St Anne’s Promenade, pictured left in 1926.
Still to be seen in Albion Street, the terrace was built by Alfred Miles.
This gent began in business making bicycles and plainly had an eye for publicity, because in 1868 he challenged a rival local bicycle builder named Davies to race from Cheltenham to Gloucester, each on a machine of his own making.
The starting flag fell and the two men scooted off astride their boneshakers.
It took the contestants two buttocknumbing hours to complete the sevenmile course from town to city, when they agreed to call the match a draw and caught the train home.
From cycle manufacture, Alfred Miles progressed to coach building and the manufacture of fire engines.
W Dean and Sons was an openfronted fishmonger at the Strand end of the High Street that presented its fine fishy fare in style. Perhaps you bought a pint of prawns there.
Not far away was George Mason’s grocery store where counter staff in ironed white aprons measured out loose tea, cut wedges of cheese with a wire and sliced cooked ham to the thickness of your choice from the machine with the whirring wheel.
Then they parcelled up your purchases in brown paper packages tied up with string for Julie Andrews to sing about at a later date.
George Mason, High Street
Madame Wright, Cheltenham
Montpellier Wine Bar
Scott Cooper closed in 2004
Dean & Sons