Opinion: Broadmead was a ‘mess’ in the 1950s and it still hasn’t changed

Original article written by Stephen Fear for the Bristol Post on 4th April 2018 (also featured on BristolPost.co.uk on 16th April 2018).

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Stephen Fear, founder and chief executive of Bristol-based land and planning company Fear Group, writes on how shopping in Bristol has changed since the 1950s

Bristol wasn’t always as well served for shopping as it is today. When I was a boy we had Broadmead, which wasn’t exactly enticing. Architecturally, I always thought it was a mess, so I’m glad it is going to get a major revamp. It will bring it in line with Cabot Circus, which wins many plaudits from shoppers.

The Broadmead of my childhood did have its good points though. I always loved the arcade, Debenhams, and especially Woolworths, if only for their Pick ‘n’ Mix sweets, but as a major shopping destination Broadmead never really had it.

There were always lots of local shops in city; there were butchers, bakers and even some candlestick makers on some corners.

At the newsagents the owners actually knew customers by name and would let them have things ‘on tick’ until payday without charging interest.

Stephen Fear as a boy in the 1950s

I guess that’s where payday loans originated. They were part of every working-class community but not in the cynical way they are today. The local shops supported the community and, in turn, the local community supported the shops. It was a service rather than a profit centre.

As Crow Lane met Falcondale Road, on today’s route to Cribb’s Causeway and The Mall, there was Hignalls store which opened every day from 7am to 9pm, even on Christmas Day. I don’t know how they got around the regulations regarding restricted opening hours, but they did.

The old man who ran it, together with his family, owned a huge St Bernard dog, which they always seemed to be trying to load into their estate car. The dog was even less keen on that idea than he was on walking anywhere so used to lie on the pavement as if to say, “go on lift me in then”.

There were many other shops across the city which operated in a similar way. In Highland Square, which is just off Blackboy Hill, two old ladies ran a shop from what was ‘mostly’ a house.

They sold bread, milk, tea, coffee and various tinned food items. It was ideal if you ran out of something on a Sunday. They didn’t sell newspapers though.

The two old ladies remind me of the pair who star on Gogglebox. “Woss want luv?” one would say if I went in. “Ow’s yer dad? Alright? Still working is ‘e at ‘is age an’ that!”

Years later I dropped in to buy something and they noticed my new seven series BMW outside. “Ooo look at ‘e! Wunt nuffink like that as a boy mind was ‘e Marg! All posh wiv a German car ‘n’ that now mind!” There was always a mind on the end of every sentence, mind!

These local open-all-hours shops were right across the city from Knowle West to Southmead and Fishponds to Bedminster. They were part of the fabric of every Bristol community and existed because local people supported them, much as they did their local pub. They were of the people and for the people.

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