Standing here in South Molton today, you’d be hard pushed to spot any differences. At first glance very little has changed; the junction, the houses and the trees are much the same, even though the trees are a little taller! People still like to window shop, and the town has butchers’ shops, like the one in this photograph.
Shirley Bray from the town’s local history group says some of the buildings have changed, like the Tiverton Inn on the left of the picture and also the block of houses next to it which have since been demolished and rebuilt. “But looking down the street today, it doesn’t look a lot different; anybody would recognise it,” she says.
One person who knows the scene well is Gary Shaw, whose parents Lawrence and Joyce Shaw owned the butcher’s shop.
“Father used to win trophies for his shop windows,” he recalls.
The Shaws had arrived from the Midlands and bought the existing shop from a Mr Hobbs in 1968. At first it was still called Saunders and Hobbs, but was renamed Shaws in later years, before closing in 1988.
There were at least four butchers’ shops in the town in 1974, and four grocers in the Square, notes Gary. “When we first came it was completely full of shops; but not now, the shops are now offices.”
South Molton remains a busy, bustling town, particularly on market days, but how different are the shops? And, how different is the way we shop? When this photo was taken, everyone would buy their meat from the butcher, who would know exactly what his regulars wanted.
“It was much more personal to the customer,” says Gary “It was about your customers’ requirements, not your requirements.” People didn’t just accept what they were given, they knew what they liked and they knew what was good. And of course all the meat carcasses were prepared by Mr Shaw; nothing came in ready cut. “It was seven days a week with all the preparations on Sundays,” recalls Gary.
Are we seeing a resurgence of small, individual food shops in our towns today? Do people window shop for essentials, like food, or have the supermarket aisles replaced the shop window?