Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Step Back 140 Years...

Arriving at my shop yesterday morning, I really felt like I had travelled back in time to around 1870.
All the shop signs have now been painted by skilled sign writers ready for the filming to start today.
The attention to detail is fabulous, with even the existing shops on the Market Place being given an authentic Victorian looking sign above their doors.
If only the original and awfully dated (in a bad way!) Dollond and Aitchison sign could be permanently left with this far more stylish stage set one after the BBC leave town! ;-))
Even some of Shepton's empty shops have been given an identity.
Yesterday was an exciting day in more ways than one. The local shop keepers were invited on a tour of the shops and flats that will be used in the programmes. Of course I didn't need to be asked twice and jumped at the chance to have a look around yesterday afternoon.

Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take photos inside, as they didn't want any images leaking onto the Internet before the families that will be running the shops for the show come to Shepton today, to move in. I think they want to film their reaction to the authenticity of it and the realisation that they will have to live and work just as the Victorian families did a century or so ago.
One of the flats had two sparsely furnished bedrooms, with beautiful iron beds and a few tasteful ornaments - no carpets, but sumptuous William Morris style papers covering the walls, complete with dado rails. The main living room had several chairs around a coal burning stove. In one corner of the room was an alcove where food preparation was done - no luxury of a separate kitchen! All the family's cooking will have to be done on the iron stove.

I really was totally amazed by the attention to detail that has been lavished on the shops and homes, just for an hour long episode. After this, the shops will be given a quick turnaround to reflect retailing in the Edwardian era.
Many of the artifacts that they will be using are genuine, but also some have had to be built from scratch, such as the fabulous bread oven at the back of the bakery. The room was very dimly lit and hot and stuffy. I can't imagine what it will be like to work in there when the oven is lit and has to be kept going over night. The general public will be able to go shopping in the shops - Bread, for example, will be priced relative to Victorian prices, when the daily loaf was an expensive item.
The general grocers (the green/brown shop I've shown near the top of this post) was my favourite. The produce on the shelves was fairly limited, as packaged goods weren't readily available in the Victorian era, unlike today. The products that are there have had to be chosen carefully by the BBC, who cannot blatantly advertise on their channels. Also, with copyright, they have had to get special permission from the manufacturers to re-print labels. Years ago labels didn't include a list of ingredients, so anyone purchasing any of these products this week will have to be given a separate leaflet showing all of these to comply with modern regulations! (examples include Prices candles, Lea & Perrings Worcestershire Sauce and Bovril)
Incidentally, you will be served by the man of the family, as women were expected to do all of the work at the back of the shop!

Moving on to the butchers; the metal grilles to the right, with the lovely canopy above fold out onto the street. This is so the butcher can serve the public through the hatch and they don't need to enter his shop. This will be run by an already qualified butcher, but he will have to work with the same methods employed by a Victorian butcher of the time. We were taken down stairs to the cellar, where a cool box had been built. It was a large shed like construction which had been totally lined in metal. A huge block of ice was stored inside and was already doing a perfect job as an early fridge.

To the left of the butchers shop is the Ironmongers. Also shown in the photo below is the original Shambles, which are always on the Market Place and are the remains of the old market stalls. (There would have once been many more of them.)

The ironmongers shop will be run by a single man who has already trained as a blacksmith. I believe he will be asked to take orders for items to make this week. Inside the shop it is filled with tools and finished products such as metal umbrella stands and birdcages.
Some shops, such as the ironmongers, wouldn't have expected to survive the whole century, so this shop may well close down and another shop with different merchandise will take its place later in the series.

Further up the road at a secret location, an entire forge has been built where the blacksmith will also be able to work, producing his iron work. We were all totally overwhelmed by the sight of this huge work area that had been created on some scrubby waste ground behind the shops, complete with all the necessary tools, anvil and furnace. Also unbelievably, was an entire garden with flower borders and veg patches on the same site. Apparently work had begun back in March to turn the waste ground into a very flourishing garden. The vegetables were looking in prime condition, all growing in very neat rows, peas were entwined around birch twigs and sweet peas grew up large wigwags of tree branches.
How wonderful if this garden could later be used by the local school children perhaps?, rather than it all being lost.

Existing Hairtech, next to the ironmongers, with its new sign.

In honour of the BBC's arrival, I decided to arrange a Victorian window display in my shops front window. I included two flat irons and a trivet, a black metal hat box and ostrich plumes, Victorian portrait photographs, and a china clock surround decorated with roses, that I found at the weekend.
After that I had a man wander into my shop yesterday. His wife quickly grabbed him and told him he wasn't allowed inside as it was part of the BBC's film set. I had to quickly jump in and tell her that 'no, I was a real shop, not part of the scenery, and I was definitely open for business!'
Hope that doesn't happen too often!

A water pump has been erected on the market place, next to the original 1600's fountain - Could you tell the difference between the real stone work and the clever trompe-l'œil?

This pile of goodies are, I imagine, to be part of the market on Sunday. There are old hand carts and barrels to give the Market Place even more authenticity.
I find it quite staggering that after a few days of filming, everything will be changed to reflect the next era, as we fast forward over 6 programmes to the 1970's, to document a century of retailing and how it has changed and compares to the modern way retailing is carried out today. I do hope the programme will get people thinking about using their local high streets again. At the moment I am loving the Mary Portas (Mary Queen of Shops) BBC2 programme, as I can identify with her ideas and also the struggle that small independent retailers face. She is fabulous!

Enough of my ramblings for now - Except to say if you happen to be anywhere near Shepton Mallet on Sunday, please can you come and visit the Special BBC Market which will be filmed as part of the new series? I'm sure the atmosphere will be magical and you may well feel as if you have been transported back in a time machine to an era where hardships were more prevalent, but a community spirit was far more in evidence.
Niki x


  1. I love Mary Queen of shops she is such a visionary her ideals are brilliant, I have watched her series from the beginning and totally agree with her opinion that we are losing that community. I really do champion the small businesses as it would be a real shame to see the decline of the local shops.
    My dream is too open a shop in my town but sadly the lack of funds hinder me, never mind maybe one day I will win the lottery and realise my dream!
    Nicky x

  2. Wow the transformation is amazing, lucky you to be part of it!

    Leeann x

  3. Thank you so much for posting the photographs and the information, it was so interesting. x

  4. Love the transformation!!!

    The photos are lovely and how fantastic to be let inside.

    Kerry xxxx

  5. This looks so interesting ~ will look forward to seeing the series on the BBC! Your shop must look fab at the moment if customers are convinced by the original displays ~ have a really fun weekend, and I hope lots of new people visit the area and find your little gem...
    Mary Portas is amazing ~ I am loving her new series ~ her knowledge of retailing is quite astonishing and I am learning a lot...!!
    Love Ali x

  6. Oh Niki this looks WONDERFUL! I'd want them to leave everything just the way it was for the Victorian era...the shop fronts look so authentic! How exciting for you and all the other shop owners and people from the village...wish I didn't live so far away! Have a wonderful day....Maura :)

  7. I could soooo have one of these shops. Sea Witch

  8. Oh my what lovely little shops and beautiful signs.... Oh to be so many miles away....

  9. Oh my how EXCITING, Niki! It must be an even extra special treat to go into work at your shop each day! I wonder if this will air over here in the States? I ask because my gr-grandfather was a cobbler in Boston during the turn of the century, and he, too, lived behind his shop. I'd love to see how my grandfather would have grown up as a child and lived with his working parents in those days!

  10. Oh my Nikki this is all so exciting!!! Thank you for keeping us updated. I would love to come to the Victorian Sunday market. The shop facades reminds at Candleford out of my favorite BBC period drama series Larkrise to Candleford which I follow on youtube. I hope someone will upload this BBC documentary to youtube too so that we foreigners can also watch it.
    I wish you lot's of fun on Sunday!
    Carola xoxo~

  11. How absolutely fascinating! Ohh, I wish I was there to see it for mysef - the whole process is just amazing - thank goodness I've got satellite TV here in France 'cos I'll be waiting, glued to the box! Regarding Mary Portas, I really admire her, both for her strength of character (I would HATE to tell someone how awful their business is) but also she really knows the retail trade inside out - I wish she'd come here and sort out some French shops I could mention - customer care is totally zero... In the meantime, here's hoping that loads of new customers will discover your shop and pass the discovery on!
    Rds, Carol x

  12. Amazing! It all looks so fabulous. I will look forward to seeing this when it airs Niki. I hope it brings lots of business to Shepton.

  13. It looks fascinating & right up my street (no pun intended!).
    Tamzin & I are planning a little jaunt over to SM on Sunday - it looks like something not to be missed & we'll be able to visit your shop at last!


  14. How thrilling to have all this happening on your doorstep Niki. I hope that the programmes will be shown on BBC IPlayer as I don't have a tele! I too am loving the Mary Queen of Shops series; I find it fascinating to see how other people run their shops and I think there is always something useful to learn too about the relationship between retailer and customer. Look forward to seeing more of your pics soon!

  15. How exciting!
    I will be working a long day shift and if I'm not too busy, will be thinking about your day and how different they are!

    Sandie xx

  16. Oh Niki, you must be in 7th heaven!! It all looks amazing.. I'm going to try and get there on Sunday, I would love to see it xx

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Thank you for finding the time to visit me...
Niki xx