Lost Moseley: Retail Therapy
Sunday, 6th December 2015
The run-up to Christmas 2015 looks set to be the busiest on record with the recent opening of Grand Central adding to the shopping options, and the image, of the city. Moseley Village was also built as a convient shopping centre – though for the affluent middle classes and with a touch of personal service missing from modern retail.
Records show that there were just two village shops in 1840 – a butcher and a grocer. The 1867 Birmingham Post Office Directory listed 14 and, by 1890, this had almost doubled to 37. Victoria Parade was built in 1900 and the original shops featured a corn dealer at 127/129 Alcester Road (now Boots the Chemist which has been in residence for over 100 years), Cornish Brothers booksellers at 119 (Coral Bookmakers) and an umbrella maker at 97 (closed branch of HSBC). By 1910 there were 122 shops in Moseley.
The high class Shufflebothams existed where Cafephilia now stands and provided personal service with delivery boys on bikes. A photo from around 1930 displays stools and hooks beneath the counter to unload ladies of handbags as they described their needs in comfort. There was also a servants’ registry business in Moseley (see last month’s article on Moseley’s servant class).
Further to the recent debate about independent vs chain stores, records show that branches of stores have existed in Moseley since the earliest years, with Simpson & Son fishmongers – one of the original Parade shops and a branch of a Birmingham family business – based at 107 and surviving for more than 80 years. Houghton’s, the gents’ outfitters, based at 115, also operated from the Parade’s creation into its 80s, closing down in 1986. Houghton’s had two other shops in the city & the Moseley branch was its last surviving store. Chains have provided their popular brand in all eras of Moseley’s shopping experience, whether it’s Freeman, Hardy and Willis shoeshop and Wimbush Bakers who served Moseley in the 1950s, or WH Smiths, another long lasting branch.
That said, independent stores have certainly provided the lifeblood of Moseley’s character and an incentive for curious shoppers where originality is the attraction. The fact that The Lanes of Brighton (narrow pedstrian-friendly cobbled streets of indepedent retailers) are often voted ahead of such UK tourist attractions as Stonehenge, Skara Brae and the Giant’s Causeway is probably as a result of the dull, generic British high street. Current stores like Nima Delicatessen bring colour and individuality to our shopping experience, just as Stoneleigh Dog Shop (25 St Mary’s Row) did in the past, with its significant cut-out picture of “man’s best friend” on the upper storey, and 1970s Prometheus (books on politics, philosophy, yoga, etc) at 134 Alcester Road and, downstairs in the cellar, Ben-eartheus – the underground shop (quite literally).
Empty shops were a worry during the recession of the early 90s, as they are now. Ishrat Begum begins the 1992 study on ‘Shopping in Moseley’ with: “Many people who live in Moseley are concerned about the fate of Moseley Village and its shops. Each time a shop closes, there is a concern about whether or not this will spell the end of the village.” It seems that with each lost business we are eventually brought something new and it is likely that our retail village will survive, as will the debate about the place of chains and independents in Moseley.
– Mark Baxter
With thanks to: Shopping in Moseley by Ishrat Begum, A History of Moseley Village by N. Hewston & Birmingham Shops by Alton & Jo Douglas