England’s Shopping Parades
Defining 'shopping parades'
In the course of researching Historic England’s national study of suburbs, it became clear that shopping parades provide a vital service to local communities.
Shopping parades can also offer an architectural focus in areas of residential sprawl. Clustered together, they form the commercial centres of suburbs – but, ironically, are rarely located in their geographical heart. Rather, they tend to be set on the outskirts of settlements, where they are able to attract passing trade as well as local shoppers. Parades are thus commonly found lining busy arterial roads, conveniently close to bus, tube and railway stations. Having said this, shopping parades exist in diverse locations, and can even be found in villages and city centres.
Given the paucity of information about this building type, it was decided that an Introduction to Heritage Assets for shopping parades should be produced. This offered a chance to review what we understand about this building type: to study its origins and its evolution, in all its various functional permutations and architectural guises.
The most difficult part of the process was grappling with a definition, for it quickly became plain that ‘shopping parade’ means different things to different people. Boiling it down to the most basic level, it was decided to adopt this definition: ‘planned developments incorporating rows of shops (facing onto an outdoor space), with a strong degree of architectural uniformity.’ It was agreed that a development had to include at least three shops before it merited the label ‘shopping parade’.
Shopping in a confident age: Victorian and Edwardian parades
It became evident that this definition admitted a great many developments erected long before the term ‘shopping parade’ was coined. Nobody can claim that the ‘shopping parade’ was a Victorian invention, but it was certainly in the 1870s and 1880s – when the development of middle-class suburbs and seaside resorts was taking off – that rows of shops became architecturally ostentatious.
Such was the confidence of the era that developers thought nothing of erecting rows of 40 or more shop units, with two or three storeys of accommodation above them. These sprouted through the spreading suburbs of London and other cities, sometimes echoing the design of the terraces and semi-detached villas that populated their hinterland. Indeed, given the preference of parade architects for upper-floor oriel windows, it often looks as if a standard terraced house has been perched atop each shop unit.
Amongst the many interesting mid-Victorian parades in north London are James Edmondson’s parades in Crouch End (1895–7) and Muswell Hill (c 1897), illustrated here. Neither is listed, but a single shop (Martyn’s) in Queen’s Parade, Muswell Hill, is listed Grade II as a well-preserved shop unit.
Architecturally, two of the most admirable of all shopping parades are Temple Fortune House and Arcade House, built on Finchley Road on the edge of Hampstead Garden Suburb to designs by Arthur J Penty (1909–11, listed Grade II). These two Arts and Crafts blocks flank the entrance to Hampstead Way, forming a gateway to the suburb. The end cross-wings, with ground-floor arcading and steep half-hipped roofs (reflecting Rhenish influence), projected in front of a timber-framed row of shops with picturesque dormers and tall chimney stacks. This development was influential in the years leading up to 1914, especially for parades throughout north London.
Elsewhere a fashion grew for half-timbered parades, something that worked best on a moderate scale, for example Nos 35–47 Sycamore Road, Bournville (E Bedford Tyler, 1905–8, listed Grade II), in the West Midlands.
Lotery and the inter-war years
The neo-Georgian style came to dominate, nationally, between the two World Wars. Sometimes the upper-floor accommodation was let separately from the shop, and independent access systems – including balcony access to flats – were devised. Chain stores such as Sainsbury’s and Tesco now wanted to enter parades and began to impress their preferences onto hitherto uniform designs.
In London, one of the most prolific and successful developers of the 1930s was Herman Edward Lotery (1902–87), whose company, Greater London Properties Ltd, specialised in suburban parades. Working with the agents Warwick Estates, just three firms of general contractors, and the architects Marshall & Tweedy, Lotery standardised the architectural design and construction of parades to an unprecedented degree. He is estimated to have built 80 parades (equating to 1,005 shop units) around London between 1930 and 1938.
Lotery’s parades are easily recognised: they stand three storey high, are of dark red brick with herringbone aprons beneath the windows, and have a modicum of classical styling including distinctive pilaster capitals with upright foliage.
Many of the new communities created after the Second World War included a small neighbourhood ‘shopping centre’ in the form of a short parade. Moreover, although the terminology had changed, post-war shopping precincts were little more than shopping parades arranged to face one another across pedestrianized piazzas.
Shopping moves out of town and goes online
The row of shops, however we choose to label it, is one of those simple, functional building types that existed in the Roman period and will probably be with us forever.
Many historical shopping parades, however, are not thriving as they did once. Local shopping was hit hard by the arrival of out-of-town superstores in the 1980s and 1990s and is now being knocked again by the growth of internet shopping. Many traditional parade shops – the butcher, the grocer, the greengrocer, the newsagent – have ceded space to personal service industries such as nail bars, tanning salons and tattoo parlours. Amongst these, convenience stores, takeaways, hairdressers, cafes and launderettes cling on, but only just.
Inevitably, as local shopping continues to shrink, the commercial future of shopping parades, often standing on prime sites, will come increasingly under pressure. If and when this happens, we will need to be able to assess their historical significance: the Introduction to Heritage Assets, published this spring, is a step in that direction.
This page was first published on 30 June 2016
Kathryn A Morrison MA (Hons) MA FSA
Joint Head of Historic Places Investigation at Historic England
Kathryn studied art history before embarking on a career as an architectural investigator. Her publications include The Workhouse: A Study of Poor-Law Buildings in England (English Heritage 1999), English Shops and Shopping: An Architectural History (Yale University Press, 2003) and Woolworth’s: 100 Years on the High Street (Historic England, 2015).