Home Page Lament for the passing of the old corner shop windows 04/05/12

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Matthew Hancock
Your Local MP

Hart of the Matter

One of the criticisms that is most frequently levelled at town centres is that they are becoming more and more the same, no matter what part of the country you travel to and Haverhill is no exception because, since the older heart of the town was ripped out in the 1960s there has been a continuing slide towards conformity.


Although we have a good number of independent traders in and around the town centre, the bigger stores all tend now to be multiples, which have a particular brand look that they like to maintain throughout the country.


The other day I was wandering about like a lost soul in the Arc in Bury St Edmunds, a stunningly grey and depressing place which reminds me of nothing so much as part of Ceausescu’s Romania. Everything is quite a bit bigger than it needs to be, as if the 21st century is expected to be peopled by 10ft giants – presumably those who crash-landed in the crumpled spacecraft called Debenhams.


If only there were some trees down these grandiose boulevards, or a bit of natural wood not painted military grey it would help.


Thankfully, in Haverhill, we have trees in the high street and a variety of roof lines which mitigates the sameness of the shopfronts to some degree. It feels positively cosy by comparison.


However, the charge of shops looking dowdy and old-fashioned has been brought up in the work of Kent Business School to improve the town centre.


If the Arc, or the plaza of clothing emporia which has replaced Robert Sayles in the centre of Cambridge are anything to go by, that may be no bad thing – aesthetically. Alas, it doesn’t bring in the punters.


It remains to be seen whether those aforementioned new developments do. I felt quite lonely on a Friday lunchtime amid the vacant stores in the Arc. Nevertheless the current received wisdom is that our shops have got to ‘up their game’ and look a bit more trendy.


I can only assume it is in pursuit of this aim that an appalling piece of vandalism has been committed and, presumably, permitted on the corner of Camps Road and Queen Street.


Queen Street, if you remember, was the place where the best of ‘old’ Haverhill town centre could still be seen, we were told. It was paved early because, the borough council told us, it was a bit like St John’s Street in Bury, an attractive and self-contained community of little shops.


We have even had the new gates created, which have attracted plenty of notice, even at national level, and plenty of money has been spent on sculpting the public realm around the entrance to that 1960s carbuncle called Queen’s Square.


Next, the enhancement will move into High Street, from Camps Road up to Quakers Lane, even though it will not be pedestrianised, as far as anyone can see. But the ‘Haverhill bollard’ will make additional appearances, and there will be benches and bins all of a piece. It’s costing £750,000 and the CG versions look very nice.


However, another charge that is brought against Haverhill town centre all the time is that it is not distinctive enough. There are no particularly memorable buildings and the casual visitor might go away with no clear impression at all, except of the distant prospect of the Old Independent spire or the frontage of the arts centre if they ventured that far along.


This is not strictly true – or it wasn’t last week. There was the very distinctive corner shop which used to be Thomas Moy’s coal merchants. Even as a small child this fascinated me because the windows were divided up into those little panes that make you think of a Dickensian sweetshop, especially as they were slightly convex.


You almost expected some of them to contain those pimple bottle-glass panes, and to see shelves lined with jars of humbugs and peardrops. More recently, I rather wished our excellent confectionery shop Indulgence had been located there because it would have been so exactly right.


Back in the real world, it has been STP stationery and computer shop for many years and I suppose, sadly, that this was not the look for such a modern type of business – although I’d have thought it made it jolly difficult for anyone to steal the computers. Or maybe it was ‘Elf an’ Safety, although I can’t imagine why.


Those windows were, probably, the most distinctive and memorable thing in Haverhill town centre, but now they are gone – replaced by the wide conventional plate glass with white surround.


Now this is in a conservation area. I live in a conservation area and when I wanted to renew the gates to my drive I was told they had to be replaced by exactly the same design, even to the point where they would have to have diagonal planking rather than vertical. It just made it too expensive, so they are still rotting away.


Sometimes we need to think about the balance between conservation and the economy.


Now, am I alone in lamenting the loss of these windows? Or is there anyone else around who thinks it represents another part of old Haverhill gone?

David Hart
David Hart revives his personal take on the week in Haverhill, covering everything from major town developments to what we do with our rubbish.
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