Tail of Retail review

A Tale of Retail

Review Plymouth Herald

BRUCE Hunt is no newcomer to local history, his latest publication 'A Tale Of Retail - 150 Years Of Trade In Fore Street' is the latest of a dozen or so titles that he has produced over the years, all of them based in and around Saltash.

His latest tome will be a source of fascination and delight to anyone acquainted with Plymouth's near neighbour across the river and as well as a wealth of images and information - much of it gleaned from street directories - supplemented with invoices, receipts and advertisements generated by those who have operated in the street since the middle of last century.

It is veritable treasure trove of bits and pieces and has a wonderful index at the end listing all busi-nesses Bruce could find reference to and the years around which they were known to be trading.

All in all it makes for an essential addition to the bookshelves of not only anyone interested in that historic Cornish town on the other side of the Tamar but also anyone keen to plot the way in which it, like many shopping thoroughfares, has adapted to the ever-changing world in which we live.

`Fore Street is a continually changing and evolving place as are the businesses that have over the years occupied its premises.

`Originally the main business area was between the Guildhall and North Road but this rapidly spread up the street towards Victoria Gardens with the conversion of domestic properties into shops.

`Many of the businesses were long standing with the proprietors and their families well known in Saltash and the surrounding area.

`Change was slow up to World War II when in the blitz of April 1941 large areas of Fore Street were destroyed including the last Tudor house in the street.

`Rebuilding was slow, particu¬larly on the north side of the street where temporary buildings were erected pending the widening of the road and the redevelopment of everything west of North Road.

`The bottom of Fore Street (now Lower Fore Street) became a backwater when the Waterside was redeveloped and when the road bridge opened in 1961 people no longer walked down Fore Street to catch the ferry or train to Plymouth.

`Many of the well-known names on Fore Street managed to continue in business through this turmoil. Names like Elliott, whose shop is now preserved, Vosper, Cory, Jane and King were also long-standing businesses in the street.

'It is only very recently that three of the longest established names in Fore Street have disappeared: Davy the butchers, Freeman's seed mer¬chants with fruit, vegetables and flowers and, in 2007, Underhill's the chemist.'

Apart from banks the longest-serving shop on Fore Street now is the Co-op and the only build¬ing to retain the same name since 1873 is the Railway Hotel.

Between the years listed in the book Bruce notes 'many businesses were established and died with little impact on the street'.

`Who can remember,' he asks, 'a shop called Burp? Some,' he adds, `are well remembered, like Gen-erations and Possums, and some have moved to other areas of the industrial estate to survive, like Whites the dry cleaners and Framers Corner.'

Bruce then makes an observa¬tion that applies to so many high streets up and down the country: `The character of Fore Street is continually changing, with a de¬cline in the three staples of any shopping street - butchers, bakers and grocers are being replaced with charity shops.

`Permission to build more retail units on the edge of town can only mean that there will be more change in the future.'