Collecting Britain's lost high street stores



2017-05-15 11:23:48

The high street was once the heart of the community.

On a Saturday morning, you and mum would go from shop to shop, picking up supplies for the week ahead – chatting to an inexhaustible supply of her old friends along the way.

No longer.

The out of town supermarket has put paid to that.

Store upon store has closed down, leaving behind charity shops, betting shops and 99p shops.

Today, we nostalgic Brits are reclaiming our high street heritage by buying up memorabilia from these long-lost stores.

Here are 11 of the most lamented, along with examples of what you can collect.

Radio Rentals

People stopped renting radios and TVs as retail prices fell Image: Wikimedia Commons

In the 1930s, radios were hugely expensive and frequently stopped working.

The answer?

Rent one instead for a small weekly charge. This enabled you to upgrade when a new model came out, and to take advantage of free repairs when the thing exploded.

This modus operandi worked just as well when the even more expensive television became the must have item in the UK in the 1950s.

Yet as TVs became cheaper and more reliable, the need to rent diminished in the 1980s. It's why the familiar "RR" sign is gone from our streets, although it lives on in Australia.

Working Model 204s from the 1950s sell for around £40 Working Model 204s from the 1950s sell for around £40 - image: eBay

There's a strong market for vintage Radio Rentals radios. Working examples from the 1950s sell for around £40. Vintage Matchbox toy vans bearing the Radio Rentals logo are also collectable. Expect to pay around £100 for a good condition one, with its box.

Freeman Hardy and Willis

image: Flickr Image: Flickr

For more than a century, if you wanted a decent pair of good value shoes, you went to Freeman Hardy and Willis.

More than 500 stores around the country provided us with "shoes for all the family". By 1996, families were going elsewhere. All the stores were shut.

These 1950s Burlington wing-tips recently sold for £150 - image: eBay These 1950s Burlington wing-tips recently sold for £125 - image: eBay

Antique store signs sell for around £30, while you can grab yourself a pair of shoes (sensible of course) for anything from £10 to £150 on sites such as eBay.


image: Wikimedia Commons Image: Wikimedia Commons

When you were nine, pick n mix was the reason to go to Woolworths, although not before mum had forced you to try on a selection of reasonably priced "back to school" attire first. 

At 15, you popped in for the latest chart-topping single.

Your 20s? Woolworths was your oyster. Magazines. Lightbulbs. Passport photos. Woolworths catered to your every need.

30s? Reasonably priced-schoolwear ahead of the new term…

Whatever your age, Woolworths is part of your story.

The shop closed in 2008, when it finally succumbed to the greater convenience and lower prices offered by the big supermarkets. Why go to Woolies for your new mop and then head to the supermarket for your groceries, when you can just go to the supermarket and buy both?

90s nostalgia: sold for more than £100 - image: eBay 90s nostalgia: sold for more than £100 - image: eBay

The store has a huge following of nostalgia-fuelled buyers. Large, heavy-duty store signs from the 1980s will set you back around £200. School shirts auction for more than £100.

A 1990s pick n mix bag, complete with 15 Raspberry Ruffles, 3 Turkish Delights and 3 Caramel Cups sold for £130 on eBay recently…


image: Flickr Image: Flickr

75 years of dependable, affordable high street fashion ended in 2000, in the UK at least.

The reason? Partly because the Dutch-owned firm had begun selling identical product lines throughout Europe. Which meant the conservative British clothes shopper found the suits on offer "a little too continental".

It was very different from the heady days of the 70s, when, despite its detractors, the "Man at C&A" line outfitted scores of budget-conscious gentlemen.

You too can be the Man at C&A - image: eBay You too can be the Man at C&A - image: eBay

You can pick up a vintage wool or Harris tweed blazer for around £25.


image: Twitter Image: Twitter

If you had a bare wall at home that needed livening up, Athena was the place to go.

Initially specialising in reprints of fine art in the 1960s, it was Athena's signature photo shoots that most of us remember it for today.

Woman bearing her bottom on a tennis court? Sold 2 million copies at £2 a time from 1977 onwards.

Man and Baby, the 1987 poster featuring a male model holding a newborn? 5 million. Britain's best-selling poster.

image: Wikimedia Commons Britain's best-selling poster - image: Wikimedia Commons

You can pick up examples of those two for just a few pounds today, so widespread were they. Some rarer posters are more valuable. 1978 Melons posters sell for around £100 in good condition.

The last Athena shop closed in 2014, in Exeter. It ended exactly 50 years of business.  

Our Price

image: gaber Image: Gaber

Saving up your pocket money to buy the latest Top of the Pops star's single…

Clutching your Our Price plastic bag tightly on the bus home…

Playing it constantly (even trying out the terrible B-side) for the rest of the day…

Great times.

£10-worth of bag - image: eBay £10-worth of bag - image: eBay

Those times ended in 2004.

Vintage 12" branded plastic bags sell for up to a tenner today. Half that for a 7".


American-style burger joints, with a British twist - image: Wikimedia Commons Image: Wikimedia Commons

Still going, but for how much longer?

 In the 1970s there were close to a 1,000 Wimpys. Today that figure is less than a 100. Mostly located in grey seaside towns or along A roads heading to grey seaside towns.

Wimpy offered us the glamour of American-style burger restaurants with a very English feel. "A wimpy and chips, and a bender-in-a-bun please".  Followed by the mandatory knickerbockerglory. 

But Wimpy's anything but fast table service – acceptable in the 50s and 60s – soon became outdated when McDonald's and Burger King arrived on these shores en masse in the late 70s.

Vintage Wimpy sugar packets sell for £1 - image: eBay Vintage Wimpy sugar packets sell for £1 - image: eBay

Today, nostalgists seek out "Wimpiana" from the firm's golden era: the early 70s and before.

Vintage Wimpy badges sell for around £10, while sugar packets achieve £1.

Timothy Whites 

image: Wikimedia Commons Image: Wikimedia Commons

Did you get your prescriptions filled at Timothy Whites? You must be older than you look. The chemist had no less than 614 stores in the days before it was taken over by rival Boots in 1968.

And if you're thinking, 'hold on I used to shop at Timothy Whites in the 80s,' you're right. The name lived on in 196 stores selling things for the home until 1985.

100-year-old toothpaste lids - image: eBay Popular: 100-year-old toothpaste lids - image: eBay

Circa WWI toothpaste pot lids are particularly collectable. They sell for around £20 to £30. Vintage hot water bottles make a fiver.

Midland Bank

image: Wikimedia Commons Image: Wikimedia Commons

Banks don't often produce nostalgia, but this one was different.

The Midland – which was a high street fixture until the 1990s, when HSBC got its hands on it – called itself "the listening bank" and also did much to encourage youngsters to save.

Indeed, Midland's yellow griffin was a part of many a childhood since the logo was introduced in 1965. Were you a Griffin Saver too? Have you lost your club badge? You can pick up a replacement for a £1.

1980s branded holdalls – a much-loved perk of opening an account with the Midland – sell for around £10.

image: eBay Were you a Griffin Saver? Image: eBay

Nostalgists came over all a quiver in 2015 when rumours of a high street return emerged. It didn't happen.


image: Wikimedia Commons Image: Wikimedia Commons

Compared with many names on this list, Blockbuster had only a short life span in the UK (1989 to 2013). But boy did it make an impression.

Gone is the great Saturday morning ritual of gazing up in wonder at the shelves of VHS (later DVDs) you've never heard of (and were too young to take out).

And do you too remember the thrill of finding Terminator 2 available at last? And having a big brother old enough to rent it for you?

The arrival of Netflix and its ilk made the practice of leaving the house to rent a film seem instantly arcane. Blockbuster refused to move with the times. It closed its doors in 2013. It was a miracle it lasted as long as it did.

image: eBay Street signs make around £100 in good condition - image: eBay

Standalone street signs sell for around £100.

British Home Stores

image: Wikimedia Commons Image: Wikimedia Commons

If you needed a new dressing gown, a table lamp and a mid-morning cup of tea and cake, British Home Stores was your friend.

Yet the company's fairly-priced products proved beyond many pockets following the 2008 credit crunch, and in 2016 another British institution closed its doors - after 88 years of trading.

The firm's demise hasn't stirred the emotions compared with, say, Woolworths, so prices are comparatively low.

Having said that, vintage ladies underwear is proving remarkably popular.

image: eBay BHS' vintage silky smalls have a large following - image: eBay

"A fabulous pair of vintage 1980s original British Home Stores soft stretchy sensual nylon & poly lacy full bum pantie knickers with a pretty bow to waistline and a cotton gusset," recently sold for £30 on eBay. 

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