High Street General

  • Subject: Oral History
Portland Road High street on a sunny day

Personal stories involving the high street and Portland Road. Judith talks us through the findings of her community research project about the high street shops. 

In this audio you can hear Penny, Judith and Anonymous. 

Audio Transcript:


When I first came here, obviously I, I actually worked in London or, you know, out of South Norwood. But when I had my first baby, which was in 1981, I was at home and he was a bit difficult [laughs], wouldn’t sleep, and so I used to put him in the pram and walk up Birchanger Road and along Carmichael Road and down the underpass, to the high street. And on the high street, it was like a real old…a real high street, not – not like now. And there was Woolworths and Boots and there were butchers’ shops and, you know, green grocers, all the things that you would used to think were a high street and I used to wheel him round Woolworths [laughs].  Round and round. Just for something to do and somewhere to go and to quieten him down because he would fall asleep in the pram. And then I’d, you know, go to the butcher’s and the green grocers and whatever…bakers and then I’d potter back home again and…Just before our house was a little curb, and I’d get to just…and I’d think, “Oh, he’s asleep. Thank goodness. Maybe I can get inside and do something.” But no, every time we hit that curb, he would wake up, so [laughs].


One thing I have found out over the course of the project is that shops may change names, but the type of business that they run doesn’t change a lot. You had a baker’s that then turned into Greggs, the same sort of products are different at a different look on it. You get a butchers that turns into a café, still in the food business. You get a bank that turns into a building society or building society that turns into a…becomes a bank. Right back to the 1930s. You can trace the same type of shop on the corner, where it’s empty now, on the corner of Oliver Grove. It started off as Williamson’s, which is… which was a corn chandlers. Then they became a I think a general merchants, and they became a grocers and then it changed completely and became a radio repair shop, then it became a radio rental shop, then it became a TV rental shop, then it became Blockbusters. So it was renting out videos, so the same types of business for a long time, even though it changes name and just slightly changes what it does. And it possibly, because there was a niche for that type of business, that if you’ve got a butcher’s shop, then people want somewhere where they can buy meat. And, “alright I’m not gonna be just selling meat. I might turn into somewhere like David Greig’s” that would have a meat counter, but also sell eggs. Also sell cheese, also sell tinned good. And then they drop the meat side, so it sort of evolves, but it’s still filling that same sort of niche in the market.

South Norwood High Street Stories is funded by Historic England’s High Streets Heritage Action Zone programme delivered by Croydon Council. For more information visit www.croydon.gov.uk/southnorwood

Image Credit: Historic England Archive

Portland Road High street on a sunny day

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