At the centre of almost every town and city across the UK is trade. This has been the case for thousands of years and gradually, during the Medieval period, we saw a shift from market stalls to permanent shops – creating 40,000 shopkeepers in England and Wales by the end of the 17th Century. In the centuries which have followed, we have seen an evolution in the design of shop fronts in the UK. There are many factors which influence the design of shop fronts – the popular construction materials of the time, the desire to display goods effectively and the need to attract customers. These are factors which have challenged shop keepers since the earliest stalls, but designs have varied over the years.
Medieval Period (476-1492)
During the Medieval period, shops were a common site around market places and on high streets. The price of glass meant that glazed windows were a luxury reserved only for the rich and for that reason Medieval shops would feature a pair of wooden window shutters. The top shutter would be used to protect goods from the elements, whilst the bottom shutter would fold down to create a table upon which to showcase what was on offer.
Georgian Period (1714-1830)
Georgian shop fronts can typically be recognised by a pair of bow-fronted oriel windows sitting either side of a central half-glazed door. This design was incredibly popular towards the end of the eighteenth century. As we moved into the nineteenth century, materials such as plate glass, cast iron and steel allowed for the development of taller and more elegant shop fronts. Whilst examples of this type of shop front are relatively rare today, it is still possible to find examples in towns and cities across the country.
Victorian Period (1837-1901)
During the Victorian period, the UK saw significant urban expansion – something which brought with it an increase in the number of shops in our town and cities. Designs during this period would incorporate tall windows, decorative cast iron ventilator and timber or glass fascia. Sun blinds also became increasingly popular, as did timber roller security shutters.
Early 20th-Century Period (1900-1940)
The beauty of shops from the Georgian and Victorian periods is widely recognised. However, the inter-war years brought with them increasingly daring and striking shop fronts. Edwardian shop fronts were typically crafted from exotic hardwoods and brass, but their design did not venture far from the Victorian design. This is best demonstrated by the 1925 Paris Exhibition, where angular windows, striking signage and smooth shop fronts change the direction of commercial architecture.