High Street (haɪ ˌstriːt): “a street, or streets, where the most important shops and businesses in a town are”.
A number of images may spring to mind upon hearing the words ‘High Street’. Perhaps it’s the steady buzz of locals going about their daily lives, performing all of their usual rituals. Maybe it’s the friendly smiles of the local shopkeepers, or the memory of bumping into a neighbour. It could be something more specific – for some, the lasting image of the high street will always be the way it was in the coronavirus pandemic. The concept of the high street is universally recognised, yet its meaning and identity remain slightly different for everyone.
This exhibition follows on from Elmbridge at War by investigating the evolution of our much-loved local High Streets and primary shopping streets of Elmbridge from the 1950s, 60s and 70s up to the present day.
- Historic High Streets: The Online Exhibition. You'll find information, historic items and photos covering four main themes: Food Shops, Entertainment, Communication & Convenience, and Clothing & Furniture.
- Community Curations. Watch out for these sections throughout the online exhibition - each one has been written and contributed by a handful of Elmbridge locals.
- Hidden Treasure Videos. Want to investigate an object in detail? These videos take a close-up look at bonus items not included in the exhibition.
- Behind the Scenes. This video examines how our Exhibitions Officer goes about collecting items for display from Elmbridge Museum's archive.
- From the Archive. These primary sources are interspersed throughout the page, revealing extra historical stories to explore first-hand.
- Coming soon: Curator's Talk. Keep an eye out for dates for our next talk about the exhibition, with our Exhibitions Officer and guest speaker.
Due to the current coronavirus guidelines, the installation of the Historic High Streets exhibition at the Civic Centre, Esher High Street, has been postponed. Keep checking our What's On page for updates on the new opening date. This online exhibition includes a selection of the items and photographs which will be going on display. From December 2020, Elmbridge Museum sent out an appeal for contributions of memories and photographs to display in our Historic High Streets project. The response was fantastic, resulting in over 60 contributions gathered together in this community-curated exhibition.
Below, with the help of some of those community curations, we explore the impressions that Elmbridge’s historic high streets have left with the people of our borough, as well as drawing upon the huge number of items in our own Museum archive. At the core of each memory, photograph and item displayed, the community’s ever-changing identity shines through. The exhibition uses them all to uncover how the individuals who live, shop, socialise and work in Elmbridge have, in turn, shaped our high streets over the years.
Top, the interior of J. Sainsbury's shop, c.1970.Inset, green embossed tile from interior of Sainsbury's Weybridge, Bottom, J. Sainsbury's shop, looking out, showing the front window display. The embossed tiles can also be seen on the walls.
1. Food Shops
One of the High Street’s main functions from the 1950s onwards centred around food shopping. In the 1950s, small stores which stocked the essentials were the norm. Sainsbury’s first opened in Weybridge as early as 1920, as a small grocers store, and the glazed tiles on display were specially made for their counters and windows by Minton’s of Stoke-on-Trent. Another small Sainsbury's much like this one opened up in 1954 in Walton High Street, closing in 1970.
By the time rationing had ended in 1954, and thanks to a steady rise in consumption in the 1960s, the majority of High Streets featured a supermarket by the 1970s. Indeed, on 5th Mary 1973, the very same year that the huge Waitrose opened its doors in Weybridge, the smaller Sainsbury’s branch there closed for good, directing customers to their new large Walton branch at 11-15 Bridge Street instead.
FROM THE ARCHIVE!
The closure of Weybridge's Sainsbury's disappointed many, and the company issued a letter to its customers explaining that it had become “inadequate to meet the present day needs" of customers and "impossible to operate... economically” there.
Read the original letter here:
Top, two United Dairies branded glass milk bottles. Bottom, United Dairies building, Walton High Street, February 1967.
First established in 1915, United Dairies was a creamery and milk distribution company which operated across the country. In Elmbridge, United Dairies had small stores in Walton, Thames Ditton, and Weybridge. Much like the fate of the small Sainsbury's stores, they closed their retail branches in 1972 and amalgamated to become Unigate Limited.
High Street Hero
Name: Edwin Lock
Store: E. Lock's, Grocery
Location: 41 High Street, Weybridge
What is it now? Bridge House
Edwin Lock designed and built his own grocers shop in Weybridge High Street in 1931. Edwin was always an artistic man, and although the shop was only small he put on displays of fruit and vegetables at shows in Holstein Hall further on down the high street, and regularly won cups for the best window displays in Weybridge. As the area evolved, many of the old stores near the York Column were redeveloped. The large Waitrose supermarket took prominence on its opening in 1973, and is opposite where Lock’s store once was.
Find out more about Edwin and the items from his shop in our Behind the Scenes video below.
Behind the Scenes: Preparing for our Historic High Streets Exhibition - including the story of Edwin Lock's store
FROM THE ARCHIVE!
As well as running his grocery store, Edwin Lock was a creative man, and an avid painter. In his later years, he painted colourful scenes of Weybridge's main streets, many of which remain preserved in our collection.
Take a look at some originals of Lock's brilliant work here:
EDWIN LOCK'S WEYBRIDGE ARTWORK, 1920s - 1960s
Left to Right: Edwin Lock working at his father's nursery at Shepperton c.1908; "Edwin Lock's" grocer's shop in the High Street c.1950s; white paper bag with 'Waitrose' in black print and 'a branch of the John Lewis Partnership' in orange print, from Waitrose Weybridge in 1986; Shop assistant on the butcher counter at Waitrose Weybridge, 1986. It is easy to see the huge difference between Lock's small shop and the development of the large supermarket in these images.
Fine Fare Supermarket
"Fine Fare was opened in 1963 in a blaze of publicity with pop star Ronnie Carroll who represented the UK in the Eurovision Song contest two years running in 1962 and 1963, causing much interest for female shoppers in particular. It was instantly popular as a place to shop." Ita L
Fine Fare Supermarket in Cobham High Street, c.1960s. Photograph contributed by Terry Gale.
"I worked there on Friday nights, Saturdays and school holidays to buy my first motorbike. In 1966... I can also remember being in the manager’s office overlooking the store through the large window. I thought I had been called up there for a telling off. Turns out I was kitted out in a waistcoat with huge pockets which were filled with bags of coins to be taken to the bank for paying in. I had to wear my parka anorak over the top to hide it. It was supposed to look inconspicuous but the weight of the coins meant I could hardly walk. A hefty member of the fruit and veg department accompanied me to the bank." Mike F
Top to Bottom: The Hare and Hounds pub, Claygate, in the snow, February 1991; Stalls and screen curtains of the Odeon Cinema, Walton, 1980; Exterior of the Odeon, Walton, c.1980; Ticket invitation to a coronation film show at the Regal Cinema, Walton, 1953; The Savoy, Cobham, 1963 (left) and the entrance to the Regal, Walton (right).
The entertainment on offer is one aspect of our local High Streets which has remained constant from the 1950s to the present day. The concept of pubs and cafés dates back to the 1600s, while cinemas were introduced in the pre-war years. In recent times, some entertainment venues have faced closure, but their records in our collection still provide a fascinating insight into past community social life.
Some pubs such as The Bear in Esher date back to the very beginnings of the High Street. The Hare and Hounds pub, at the top of Claygate High Street, is another such pub. It is pictured here in the snow in February 1991. The cold spell in early 1991 saw up to 20 cm of snow in areas around London and the south east, and was the deepest coverage since the early 1960s.
Many pubs, however, haven’t survived - the Kiwi, later the Wellington, named for New Zealand’s troops convalescing at Walton’s Mount Felix during the Great War, sadly closed for good in 2014, having been one of the central venues in Walton High Street for many years.
In recent decades, some local cinemas have faced closure, but their records in our collection still provide a fascinating insight into past community social life. The Regal Cinema in New Zealand Avenue changed to the ABC in 1963, and closed in 1971, and the Odeon around the corner on the High Street closed in 1980. The building stayed on as offices for 10 years until 1990, when a new development was built on the site. After a long campaign from local residents, the building finally began operating as a cinema again in 1992 when 'The Screen' took it over. This became the Everyman in 2008 and has stayed on as such to this day.
Both the original Capitol and the Regal were managed at one time by Clifford Spain, a well-known local personality who appeared in Cecil Hepworth's films as a young boy and kept scrapbooks of the time he spent managing both premises.
"Clifford Spain was Manager... and used to stand at the Front of House every night wearing an evening suit!" Mavis L
Some cinemas also appeared in other areas of the borough. One prominent building which is still a cinema today was the Embassy in Esher High Street. The Embassy was huge, seating up to 1,200 people in its stalls and circle around a 12-foot-deep, art-deco styled stage. As the cinema changed hands, it was renamed the Cannon in 1986 and then the ABC in 1996, and opened a much smaller additional screen where the cinema cafe once was.
The Savoy cinema in Cobham sadly did not have the same fate, becoming disused in the 1960s and demolished around 1970. It is now the site of the playing field on the Portsmouth Road.
Find out more about Clifford Spain's life and career at Walton's Regal cinema in the Hidden Treasures video below.
Hidden Treasures: Walton Cinema
FROM The Archive!
In the Elmbridge Museum collection, there are a number of old film posters from former cinemas across the borough, from the 1950s to the 1990s. The posters are revealing of popular culture in their time, and include hit blockbusters, some of which are still popular today.
See the original poster for 'Back to the Future' at Esher's Embassy Cinema, here:
Left to Right: The old Esher Library, 142 High Street, 1980; The Battle of the Books event at the Weybridge Book Fair, Weybridge Library, 18th February 1978; postcard of Walton High Street from the Hersham Road end, showing the Library on the left and the Odeon Cinema on the right, c.1950s. Libraries in our borough have been central to the community for decades.
LIBRARIES, CULTURE & HISTORY
Libraries remain a significant feature of our local high streets, albeit often in modern and updated venues.
Since the post-war years, local libraries have hosted many key community events: from book fairs, to Elmbridge Museum’s local history talks and displays. In 2008, Walton Library moved from its old school building at the bottom of the High Street to the Heart shopping centre.
Weybridge Museum was initially founded in 1909, but it was only in 1965 that permanent staff were appointed to run the community events it put on. It became Elmbridge Museum in 1991, with its gallery on the floor above Weybridge Library until 2014.
Left to Right: Four Museum posters from Weybridge Museum (now Elmbridge Museum) advertising events that were put on in their former gallery space above Weybridge Library, Church Street, and in collaboration with local libraries, including 'Oatlands Palace Excavated Material' 1982, 'Christmas Talks for Children' 1972, Toys of the Past 1977, and Make a Puppet, c.1970-80s; a list of public lectures on old Walton by Dorothy Grenside (former Weybridge Museum Curator) held at the former Walton Library, 1957; and paper bag from the former Weybridge Museum shop.
Ann's Coffee Lounge
There was little for the younger generations in Cobham, until Elizabeth Ann Thomas, known as ‘Bet’, opened Ann’s Coffee Lounge in 1959, maintaining it until 1968. Bet moved to Cobham with her 16 year old son and completely transformed the cafe into a welcoming, friendly place for locals to get food and drink. She lived in Oxshott until her death.
Ann's Coffee Lounge served "the first frothy coffee in Cobham...and was frequented by motorbike boys and girls so the Mods on scooter tried to get past it pretty quick! It had a great jukebox too." Mike F
"As well as frothy coffee and the jukebox it had an orange juice with a large tank full of orange juice and a plastic orange bobbing around on the top." Ita L
Left to Right: Ann's Cafe No 9 Church St and Bet Thomas, Cafe Proprietor of Ann's Café, in1961. Both photographs contributed by Tracey Ferris.
3. Communication & Convenience
Top to Bottom: People watching early television displays in the shop window of Rogers, Walton High Street, c.1950s; Window display at Rogers' shop, Weybridge High Street, 1950s; Wooden radio set sold at Roger' in Weybridge, 1950s.
In addition to the traditional shops, High Streets since the 1950s have acted as a centre for communication and news dissemination. Without mobile phones or the internet in the 1950s—70s, the High Street was where newspapers were bought and sold, letters posted, and where new advances in technology and communication, such as televisions, first came into contact with buyers.
This family business began as a garage and motor shop. After the acquisition of Seaman & Sons butchers next door, Rogers & Sons grew to include the sale of new technology such as radios and televisions across multiple outlets in the post-war years. You can read more about the development of the family business in our blog.
From the Archive!
We have many more items from Rogers & Sons stores in our collection, including a family scrap book with numerous photos and newspaper clippings relating to the business over the years. These items track the development of the store through the events of the 1950s onwards, and help gain a sense of the historical background at the time they operated. One such momentous event was Queen Elizabeth II's Coronation in 1953 - the first ever coronation to be broadcast on television - for which Rogers applied for permission to put up a special sign.
Read the letter about Rogers & Sons' plans to commemorate the Coronation here:
LETTER FROM N.C. ROGERS TO WALTON COUNCIL, 1953
"In the early sixties, as a vintage car enthusiast, I learned that a butcher's shop situated about where Waitrose is now had previously been a motorcycle dealer's. Rumour had it that in the yard behind the shop there was still a stock of some 20 vintage motorcycles in various states of completeness. As the shop was about to change hands, that was a good time to see what might be available. Turned out that the well-informed had already been visiting the shop for some months and the stock was down to about 2 1/2 machines in various states of dismantlement." Trevor T
Top to bottom: Woolworths in Walton Road, East Molesey, 1960s, contributed by the Molesey Local History Society and copyright John Eagle; group of men outside an early Woolworths in Walton Road, East Molesey, contributed by Anthony Barnes; two pictures of Cobham Woolworths then (left – contributed by Terry Gale) and now (right – contributed by Mark Worsfold); photographs of H.G. Payne's shop and the donor with her grandfather Harry Payne, contributed by Sandra King; two photographs of Farrants in 2014 (left – contributed by Ita Lawton) and present (contributed by C Lee).
Opening in March 1955, Cobham’s Woolworths at number 16 High Street was their first self-service branch in the country. Woolworths had initially opened in the UK in 1909 but this store was the first to use the concept of customers putting items in a basket themselves and then taking them to a checkout desk to pay. Staff were trained to answer customer questions as there was at first fear of backlash at this 'un-British' practice, but the idea quickly caught on and is the way that the majority of stores operate today.
"I loved this Woolworths – it had mini wire shopping baskets (child size) which is awesome when you’re 8! I remember buying a nativity set in there in 1973" Claire L
"I got all my toy soldiers there. In fact I got everything there." Nick A
"it had a ‘clompy’ lino-on-timber floor, two aisles and no trolleys, just baskets. If I was good, mum would buy me a quarter of hot peanuts in a normal paper bag that oozed grease. We often sat and ate them on the patch of grass in front of the gas showrooms next door. I remember seeing my first pre-packed plastic bag of peanuts and thinking how awful it was having to eat them cold!" Graeme A
"My grandparents Harry Payne and Elizabeth Payne purchased 63 High Street Walton in the 1910’s it was run as a tobacconist and confectioners. It was gradually extended back to make the shop bigger. All the display units were made by by Grandfather from mahogany as he was a master joiner. In the mid 60’s my mother converted it to offices upstairs by erecting outdoor stairs into what was my bedroom... We had a large garden at the back with 2 greenhouses, vegetable plots with cold frames, fruit trees and canes and flower beds. Grandad cultivated coleus plants that he used to give for free to customers. He was a keen photographer and had a dark room under the stairs where he would develop the photos and give for free to the subjects that he had taken." Sandra K
Thomas Wiseman bought Farrants at 15-17 High Street Cobham from Mr Farrant in the 1930s. Eventually, his step-daughter and her husband took on Farrants and brought up their family there, buying the store upon Wiseman’s retirement. It is still owned by the family today, and the history of Cobham over time is shown in photograph panels on the upper walls of the shop.
"There were benefits of living above a sweet shop. My father used to have a giant display Easter Egg in the shop window every year. We used to pray that the Easter weekend would be hot and sunny. Then this egg would melt and my father would let us children have it. One Sunday my parents noticed how quiet the children were and set out to find us. Sure enough, downstairs, they discovered why. The corridor to the flat had shelving along it on which stock for the shops was stored. Apparently, quite a sight beheld them (my youngest brother and I were still in nappies!). My elder sister and brother had decided to lead an 'expedition' to taste all the Easter eggs. We were covered in chocolate and had poked little holes in each and every egg!" Mark W
Top to bottom: Charcoal drawing by Richard Haynes of R. Hicks, boot and shoe repairer's shop in East Molesey, initialled "RGH"; Mr. Hicks working inside his shop, 1976 (left); and Mr Hicks standing outside his shop, 1976 (right).
4. Clothing & Furniture
Fashion really took off in the 1960s. Although tailors, cobblers, shoe shops and drapers had always existed on the High Street, the disposable culture of the 60s continued to expand, and consumers looked to buy ready-made clothes rather than materials to make them, new shoes rather than having old ones repaired. A few core stores hung on in the High Street —often family businesses like Ruffle’s, Bannister’s, and Hicks’, who had started up long before the war — but even these have died out as their owners retired.
High Street Hero
Name: Robert Hicks
Store: Hick's Cobblers
Location: 146 Bridge Road, East Molesey
What is there now? Studio 144 art and craft store
Robert Hicks decided to follow in his father’s footsteps by becoming a cobbler. He started up his cobbler's store in 1946, and worked there until his retirement in 1976. His shop became very well-established over the years, and these pictures were featured in a local newspaper.
”His shop is like a cobwebbed cobbling museum, full of the tools of his trade that has proved a haven for passers-by.” Newspaper article, October 1976
"We used to [make shoes from scratch] in Kingston when I worked with my father... we used to make some shoes in the shop... according to people's measurements. And we used to make them for a guinea.. [After moving to Molesey] Father and I often used to walk... at Esher, and come back through Ditton, or go around through the lion gates at Bushy Park, come back round Hampton way, or down along the river round Hurst Park and back home, before we started work." Robert Hicks, March 1974, from an oral history recording donated by Esher Local History Society.
Bannisters of Weybridge dates back to 1902, when it was taken over by Alfred Bannister. Alfred retired in the 1950s, but his drapers shops in Baker Street and Queens Road were continued by Miss Dunn from 1959 until her own retirement in 1964.
Left to right: Mr Alfred Bannister - proprietor of "Bannisters" of Baker Street and Queens Road. It was taken in the sitting room of the house in High Pine Grove to which Mr. Bannister returned and where he died in 1959; Packet of pins printed - Alfred Bannister, Draper and Silk Mercer, Waterloo House, Weybridge - on one side. On reverse - Your change with thanks; and brown paper bag with the words "High Class Ladies and Childrens' Outfitters, Bannisters, Weybridge' on the front.
Bert Carr's Thames Ditton Clock Shop
"My wife and I moved to Thames Ditton in 1976 to a house we could ill-afford and which was severely under-furnished. The village boasted three butchers, two fruit and veg shops and a petrol station along with the Daily Fresh food store, Furnish bakers, Andrews hardware, and Tilley where one could buy newspapers, sweets, toys - and have a haircut...
One day I arrived home with a non-working but cheap round-dial wall clock that I’d bought at a London auction house. My wife suggested I took it for repair to a chap called Bert Carr who she noticed had a tiny clock shop, opposite the fountain at 53a the High Street... I proudly showed him my purchase. After a quick look, he turned up his nose and said, “That’s rubbish, mate. It’s a Mickey Mouse clock! It’ll only keep going for 36 hours.” He went on to explain that if I wanted a proper clock it would need to have a fusee movement. I was given a swift and impressive horology lesson.
Armed with Bert Carr’s advice I successfully bid for a clock which met with his approval. He overhauled it and replaced broken parts. Forty years on it still keeps perfect time. I would pop in to have a chat with Bert whenever I was in the village. These conversations sparked an increasing interest in clocks, and, over time, I bought a further four wall clocks at auction, all of which Bert restored." Ian D
High Street Heritage Trail
This trail brings to life the history of businesses and buildings across Walton and Weybridge by displaying a panel in each collaborating store. Each panel will outline the building’s past and track it's story from 'then' to 'now' using historic items and photos in Elmbridge Museum's collection.
The trail is also available online as an audio tour here. History panels will be launching in local stores from the 12th April at:
1. Century 21
2. Church House Antiques
4. Eyesite Opticians
6. Princess Alice Hospice
7. Weybridge Audio
8. Weybridge Library
9. Weybridge Post Office
10. Click, Save & Print
11. Elmbridge Community Hub
12. Explore Learning
14. The 1955 Club
15. Walton Library
Coming Soon: Curator's Talk
Keep an eye out for dates for our next talk about the exhibition, with our Exhibitions Officer and guest speaker.
Head to our What's On page for further information on dates and booking.