Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Boots On Parade

Both my parents worked for Boots the Chemists; in fact they met in the Wellingborough branch. Readers of More From Unmitigated England will remember that once the liason was discovered (or owned up to) my mother was summarily dispatched to the Matlock branch. In this volume's predecessor Unmitigated England I mentioned the sign above. It's on a corner of the High Street (Parade) and the narrow lane that leads down to the cathedral in Canterbury, and whenever I'm there (as on last Saturday) I check that it's still up on the wall. It's one of those rituals one does, quiet personal assurances that everything's as it should be. I first saw it on holiday in about 1957, my father doubtless in the shop either telling everybody he was from Leicester Boots or chatting up the girl on the photographic counter. And then, much to my amazement, I watched Powell & Pressburger's wonderful 1944 film A Canterbury Tale and, in a crane shot that follows a procession turning into the lane for the cathedral, this same sign appears in the bottom right hand corner of the screen. I noticed on Saturday that the shop sadly isn't a Boots anymore, (banished to a shopping centre or retail park I suppose), but I'm so glad the sign is still there, from an age when the integrity of the building and its environment was taken into account when signing. And another reward for always looking up.


Philip Wilkinson said...

Excellent post - the way place and memories interact is very powerful. The sign (is it stone, or a clever piece of plasterwork?) is integrated into the wall, so more difficult to take down than a board or similar fitting. I like the way that retailers used to go for this kind of permanence. Now it is all up today and all too often gone tomorrow.

Peter Ashley said...

Thanks Phil. I think the sign's in a very hard plaster- a bit like the decorative pargetting you get on East Anglian exterior walls.

Sue Imgrund said...

I blogged about bricks & mortar branding a little while ago and - from the Michelin building down to this humble little Boots sign, I love the air of permanence and reassuring stability that these things lend. Don't think we'll be seeing anything like this for Primark, or am I mistaken?

Peter Ashley said...

I'm afraid we won't Sue. Major chains have no conception about the character of buildings, and if they're not in a purpose built retail shed will just run out their 'corporate identity' onto existing buildings in the minimum number of sizes they can get away with.

Stephen Barker said...

Retailer's nowadays favour leasing or renting their outlets rather than tying up their capital in bricks and mortar. An attitude that is not conducive to displays of permenance. As long as customers want low prices and easy parking for their cars there is no incentive to invest heavily in the property. Mind you W H Smith found in the 1930's that the investment they made in their shops could be counter productive as it discouraged shoppers who thought they were exclusive and only for the more affluant to shop out, not a mistake you would make today.

Peter Ashley said...

Stephen: Remnants of WH Smith's more pleasing signage and decoration still lingers on in some towns- the beautiful tiles for postcards and maps on the Great Malvern branch, and an original 'Newsboy' enamel hanging sign in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Hels said...

Of course you are glad that the sign is still there - for continuity and a sense of historical reliabity, as well as for architectural integrity. Everyone over a certain age loves historical integrity :)

Spouse and I lived in hospital accommodation for a few years in the early 1970s, because young doctors worked endless hours for crappy pay. So Boots and Mothercare were the cornerstones of our lives in Britain.

Mr_Handley said...

I live in Canterbury and the city, like so many other towns and cities throughout the UK, has fallen foul of the corporate homogenisation that has now stolen the charm and individuality of our highstreets!It's a real bugbear of mine!!!!

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