The announced closure of Barclays Bank in Dulwich Village in October will hardly come as a surprise considering the number of branches of banks closing elsewhere. Like other banks, the Dulwich Village bank had staff who could assist worried customers as well as providing a human porthole to the world of personal finance. Long gone are the days when the manager would act as treasurer to the village school or parish council.
Is the day of the local shop itself also well and truly over? Well, one might argue that the village shop was already under considerable pressure in 1911 in what some consider to be the peak period of the golden age of the high street.. This pressure came in the form of competition from the chains of multiples which were springing up and run by grocery companies like Home & Colonial Stores and David Grieg who were able to offer keen prices because of their considerable buying power. At the same time, the sale of milk and bread were fast becoming the monopoly of the giant dairy and bakery companies through mechanisation. The former were taking advantage of better transport facilities such as dedicated early morning milk trains. Both milk and bread deliveries were being made door to door by roundsmen of which milk deliveries are hanging on by a thread today. Fruit and vegetables were still largely the province of the market stall although the long established Bartley family had already opened their fruiters and florists in the Village.
If we take the year 1911 as the high point of the golden age of local shops then a comparison with what exists today might be interesting. (see Overleaf) Accordingly we have Kelly’s Directory for that year as our guide. Then Dulwich Village was named the High Street and almost certainly bore similarities with high streets in villages up and down the land.
The demise of some businesses, the corn chandler, blacksmith, and saddler is of course a result of new technology - horses being replaced by the petrol engine. The loss of the several tobacconists has come as the result of the success of anti-smoking measures. That of a newsagent seems to reflect many people’s preference to receive news through their phone or tablet. An area which has seen recent growth is that of cycle shops (Dulwich Park has one in its Recumbents Hire).. Although the local pub is still very much under threat, the move to add rooms to the Crown & Greyhound recently can be seen as a wise step in offering wider facilities, although local historians will remind us that the old Greyhound coaching inn offered lots of bedrooms and a good restaurant and function room.
The absence today of confectioners (sweets shops) reflects the warnings about the effect of sugar on children’s health. Although there has been an absence of 20 years since the village had one butcher, let alone two, now that one has opened it reflects people’s preference to choose their meat rather than accepting what appears in a shrink-wrapped delivery. The same preference may also be seen by the re-opening of a baker’s shop. Interestingly, there are four ladies fashion shops in the Village when in 1911 there were none. Is because in 1911 ladies preferred to look through catalogues and order from those - an early form of Online, or have a local dressmaker make them for them?
So what will happen in the future? Will eateries increase or are these too under pressure from an over supply? Will people get disenchanted with online purchasing? Will legislation and rising costs make delivering goods unviable? Will post-Brexit deliver a rise or a fall in living standards thereby affecting spending power?
Considering World War 1 followed on the heels of 1911 and the shops in the Village survived the 1930’s Depression and post WW2 austerity, it gives good hope that shops will remain but some will inevitably change as we have seen since 1911.