London’s Welsh Dairies: The Welsh Milk Trade

As a child I remember people mentioning the ‘milk train’ between London and South Wales, but was never sure if it was first up or last down or both. Before I married, my fiancée and I went to stay in Bermondsey with her aunt who had been in the milk trade in London, but was now running a local shop. Over time I became more aware of the strong Welsh links to London, centering historically on the milk business, developing out of droving activities. The Welsh had dominated the London milk business.

On our recent trip back to west Wales we ended up in a lovely book store in Cardigan (Awen Teifi Bookshop). Whilst my wife decided how many Welsh language books she could actually carry, I browsed and came across a book on the London Welsh milk trade, the families and their shops. Published by Y Lolfa in 2018, it had not come across my radar before.

Book Cover Dairies

The book tells the story, in both English and Welsh, of the milk trade between Wales (and especially Cardiganshire/Ceridigion) and London. It begins with the droving history but focuses mainly on the migration from Welsh speaking rural farming west Wales to urban sprawl London and the reasons, economics and cultural shifts within this. It is a tale of product distribution and industrialisation but also so much more.

At one level the book is inherently Welsh; being all about families and relationships and placing people in the patchwork of community of place, both in Wales and then in London. But it also contains a fabulous treasure trove of pictures of the retail stores that these families operated and some insight into the supply of milk to the growing English capital.

TH Jones Clapham Junction

These pictures are for me the essence of the book. They are a first class compendium of shopfronts (and very occasionally shop interiors) drawn from their family histories and memorabilia. As we found out with our Sanders saga, store interiors are often lost to history (anyone who wants to share any let me know) but these shop fronts provide a time capsule of retailing and products (not only milk, though getting milk direct from the cow in the back of the shop in the early days is one notable distribution solution). The quality and pride shine through.

Most of these stores are now long gone of course, defeated by retail progress and change (and sometimes by war-time bombing damage). But some still remain – albeit in other uses – and a few photos at the end of the book make this point. One in particular stood out (see below) and I am pleased to note that this is Grade II listed. Next time I am in London I want to seek it out.

J Evans cropped Conway Street

J Evans Conway Street interior

Original Photos of 35 Conway Street London by Leighton Morris

The author – Megan Hayes – sums up the history she portrays succinctly in terms of markets and change:

The drovers provided London with cattle bred on Welsh pastures, while dairy cattle keepers provided milk for the growing population of the city. That trade ultimately adopted and developed, by and large, by a population of dairymen mostly from Cardiganshire. Later, economic pressures led to their demise, yet some dairies survive to this day in the hands of people who are proud of their roots and origins

It is all too easy to be nostalgic for what was a very hard life – in the book, the families note that the milk business was a tough life, day in and day out – and we should try to avoid this. But we can I think revel in some of the shops and the people who created and ran them. This book allows us to do just that.

Megan Hayes (2018) Y Lon Laeth i’r Ddinas: Hanes Llaethdai Cymry Llundain/ Cows, Cobs and Corner Shops: The Story of London’s Welsh Dairies. Y Lolfa. ISBN 978-1-78461-526-0. £14.99.


Posted in Books, Buildings, Consumer Change, Consumers, Customer Service, distribution, Food, Food Retailing, Heritage, High Streets, Historic Shops, History, Independents, London, MIlk, Retail Change, Retail History, Sanders Bros, Shopfronts, Signage, Uncategorized, Urban History, Wales | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Poundland and Sports Direct

It has always baffled me; if Poundland lived up to its name and everything was a pound, then why was the average basket size not a round pound number?  Anyhow it is a moot point now.  The announcement that Poundland is to sell products at various price points between 50p and £5 has rendered the ‘everything’s £1’ slogan even more obsolete (they had introduced some price extensions before).

This was always going to happen.  The fixed price retailer ends up being up against it over time; especially where there is some inflation or price as a driver begin to dominate a market.  They end up having two approaches (not mutually exclusive) if they don’t move prices:

  • Reduce the size of the product but keep the price point
  • Reduce the quality of the ‘ingredients’ in the product.

Either way over time the danger is that the consumer ends up feeling short changed and disappointed. When you then see extreme competition in the market from the likes of Home Bargains and B&M, plus some pressure from Aldi and Lidl, then the pressure really mounts on the price points.

Adding variation to the price point also allows extension at the higher end of the market position and so allows for sensible range development.  This is also the historical lesson from Woolworths and Marks and Spencer who also had fixed price for some time.

If Poundland have a vacancy for a signwriter to remove the ‘Everything’s £1’ from their signs, so too Sports Direct have a vacancy.  In their case it is more serious as they seem to be in search of an auditor, and have a deadline looming soon.

The recent saga of Sports Direct would be comical if not yet again so serious.  The company had to delay its results as a ‘last minute tax liability’ from Belgium had got in the way.  I am not qualified to understand the phrase ‘last-minute tax liability’ but it sounds dodgy to me.  Throw in a valuation for £605m and I’d also be hiding under a rock.  What is happening?

Sports Direct say that the bill (which they dispute) arrived just before sign-off on audit and that this development has nothing to do with long standing (2004) auditors Grant Thornton stepping down (despite them seemingly being on track to be re-appointed only hours before).  The need for new auditors does seem to have come as a surprise (though they are being investigated by the FRC over their 2016 audit). There seems to be a lack of groups stepping forward, citing conflicts of interest.  Given Mike Ashley owns most of the high street I am not sure what these conflicts are.  Even in the midst of results and auditor turmoil he bought Jack Wills (promptly sacking the chief executive, closing 8 stores and saying he wanted to pay no rent on all the others – you sort of get the modus operandi) to add to his collection; though he does now regret House of Fraser, which he seems to think is now in a terminal state.

Of these two stories, the Sports Direct one is the more serious in a number of ways.  It does point to the lack of capacity/choice in the audit system and to the pickle Sports Direct keeps on getting itself into. The government may have to step in to find an auditor. Whilst it is admirable that at least Mike Ashley is trying to achieve things in retailing, the proof of it working is in short supply.  For those working in all these businesses, let us hope ways through this are found.

Posted in Accounting, administration, Auditors, Closure, Department Stores, Finance, Government, House of Fraser, Jack Wills, Landlords, Mike Ashley, Poundland, Pressure, Pricing, Rents, Retail Failure, Retailers, Retailing, Sports Direct, Strategy, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

UK Grocery Market Share 1997-2019

One of the by-products of our data rich age, is that more data is available ever more frequently.  Our attention spans have collapsed and if we don’t get a weekly, daily or hourly update then we begin to panic.  And then having got that immediate fix we eagerly await the next one; the next high.  All the while our ability to act is diminished and we cease to function strategically.

So this post is using ‘slow data’.  As I have published before, for over two decades I have been using the Kantar July UK market share data to consider the longer-term trends in the UK grocery market.  This is not difficult or flashy and it has required now almost a quarter of century of data points.  But it makes a pretty graph and does allow us to pose some questions.

UK Share 1997-2019

If you look at the graph above, and then compare it to the one I did last year (here) then the obvious conclusion is that nothing much has happened – and after all, there is only one more data point.  And that at one level is right.  But think more deeply and the graph illuminates two of the major stories of the last year.  The ‘not in your lifetimes – copyright CMA’ merger of Asda-Sainsbury is readily explained by the 15+ year stagnation of market share in both; the graph measures the failure of the leadership of both and helps explain their firm belief that 1 + 1 always equals 2 (it does not always in retailing). Secondly the recent further trimmings of the store estate and operations by Tesco point to their continuing worry over the now thirteen year decline in market share.  How can this be halted or even reversed?

For each negative there is of course a positive and in this graph, as before, it is the relentless march of Aldi and Lidl.  They continue to gain market share and still have huge expansion plans.  Both are bigger than Waitrose and at present growth rates Aldi will overtake Morrisons in the next two to three years.  Put Aldi and Lidl together and by next year their combined market share will be bigger than Asda and almost as big as Sainsbury.

To put this in further context, and as shown in the graph below, the CR3 ratio (the market share taken by the largest three market shares) in 1997 was 55%, a figure that grew in a decade to 2007 to peak at 64.3%.  By 2014 it was down to 62.5% and this year its decline has accelerated further to 57.4%.  There is a good chance CR3 will dip below its 1997 level in the next two years. This is becoming significant.

CR3 Grocery Market Share

So, to conclude with some questions:

  • What next for Sainsbury and Asda? The powers that hold sway in each must be very disappointed and seem to lack a Plan B.
  • How much more cutting and trimming can Tesco do before they look just like anyone else?
  • Can Morrisons figure out a way to stop being caught in the middle?
  • Do Aldi and Lidl have the momentum to sweep up for years to come or is there a ‘natural’ limit?
  • What will the M&S and Ocado tie up bring?
  • Is the groundswell of local food stores and offers hitting any of the major players yet?


If you really need a new data fix then the big 3 all lost market share in the recently published August data.



Posted in Aldi, Asda, CMA, Competition, Competition and Markets Authority, Food, Food Retailing, Grocery, Lidl, Longitudinal Data, Market Shares, Morrisons, Retail Change, Retailers, Retailing, Sainsbury, Tesco, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Shopfronts – some recent sightings


Some people have been a bad influence on me: @historicshops @KA_Morrison (see Building Our Past) and @ghostsigns spring to mind. Their encyclopaedic knowledge – and delight in and willingness to share – means that I am forever on the search for shopfronts and traces of the past that might interest both myself and them. So any new town I visit I tend to spend far too much time peering into doorways, taking photographs of entrances and shopfronts or trying to decipher vague lettering high up a wall. But, however much I try, I can not match up to the experts.

Over the summer I’ve meandered around a bit of Yorkshire, some of Shropshire and Herefordshire and then the smaller places of West Wales. A few shops stood out for me, so I thought I’d share them here.

Genuinely I do find them interesting for a number of reasons. They say something about a place, not only then but also now. What was it like? How many survive and in what state of dereliction or re-use? Are they all very similar and so on? But they also make me think about the perseverance and quality these stores espoused. They were statements of ambition; something we can not say about any modern shop in my view. Which means we’ve lost something quite precious.

So what did I see?

I’ve dealt with the elephants of Halifax in another post (and have tweeted about the blue elephants of Swansea), but I also did like the jewellers shown below.


In Hereford there were a number of shops that caught my untrained eye. The Philip Morris store with slightly angled windows was interesting. But the main one was the ex-butcher with some lovely tiles still in place (shown at the head of this post).


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

West Wales saw a range of shops in Lampeter/Llanbedr, Cardigan/Aberteifi and Llandeilo. Some unusual triangular windows in Lampeter, a few odd signs and floor tiles in some shops and some lettering give a glimpse of the past – the same was true in Cardigan, with both places showing traces of Melia’s. In Llandeilo some nice re-use was underway as well as a range of tiling and design.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A final word though for a couple of oddities. I loved the beehive on what I thought would have been the Llandeilo Bank, but I have now been told (thanks to Kevin Thomas for this) was the Lloyds Bank. And in a nod to the complete transience of today’s modern retailing the lower photo below is from the dead supermarket (ex Co-op then Budgens – closed in Spring 2017) on Cardigan’s riverfront. They don’t make them like they used to.




Posted in Architecture, Buildings, Corporate branding, Corporate History, Design, Heritage, High Streets, Historic Shops, History, Places, Public Realm, Retail History, Shopfronts, Signage, Small Towns, Spaces, Streetscapes, Town Centres, Towns, Uncategorized, Urban History | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Halifax – with Elephants

When I was 10 months old my father ‘forsake the amateur code’ (copyright Welsh Rugby Union) and ‘went north’, joining the Halifax professional rugby league team. This was a life changing decision in many ways for his family; not least because four years later when we returned to Wales, I apparently spoke with a broad Yorkshire accent. Thankfully that soon disappeared!

Some 58 years later, I have never been back to Halifax, but felt that at some time I should see where I spent the first four years of my life. This decision was given recent imperative by a burning desire to see the Piece Hall, having been impressed by it and its renovation on a couple of pieces on TV. So a few weeks ago, down south we headed; a staycation with a busman’s holiday of looking at some shops thrown in.

On the way we stopped off at Fountains Abbey and mused a litlle on Henry VIII.  But even in its current state the Abbey demonstrated the grounding of wealth and status that is the hallmark of the powerful. It reveals the vast wealth that can be extracted from the country’s resources; and which to this day we squander.

A similar combination of feelings grabbed me in the Piece Hall. Built 240 years ago as a commerce and trading site for the natural wealth of Yorkshire, it is deeply impressive and symbolic. It is fantastic that it is brought back to use and is a fabulous witness to what can be done. It is also a sensational public event space, standing with the great European urban spaces, though I would not swear about an equivalency in weather.

Halifax today has 20% less people that in its Victorian heyday and the buildings speak to this. The Borough Market, the Town Hall, the Victorian Theatre, the Minster are all central testimony to the wealth of the time; fine buildings all. As are many others, though often in decay or shuttered. Either we don’t create wealth like we used to; or it is solely used for personal greed (shout out to Philip Green here).

Another silent witness to changing times and impermanence is the wonderful Burton building from 1932 complete with a pair of foundation stones and a lovely collection of elephants. It is now a McDonalds; a company not exactly reknown for building anything of value (and for me that includes the Big Mac).


Following in the footsteps of @soult we also spotted a Woolworth ghost sign, so covered another cultural base.

This reuse of things/places was a recurring theme as we also visited Dean Clough Mills in Halifax and then just down the road the World heritage Site of Saltaire in Bradford. Both are astonishing in their scale and their energy today. Dean Clough is a thriving workspace and art collection/space. We managed to see the last day of Conrad Shawcross’ Chord in the ‘new’ Jute Shed space. At Saltaire the Salts Mill has been used as a tremendous art space and Hockney’s ‘The Arrival of Spring’ is shown off to great efffect. Throw in the Hepworth Gallery at Wakefield and we were all cultured out.


I am not sure why it has taken me 58 years to get back to Halifax. It is a fascinating part of the world. It brought home to me the changing fortunes of our heritage, places and people. Why are we so reluctant to help those who want to keep this heritage and our buildings and towns alive? We ought to be incentivising re-use, and penalising the bland, identikit rubbish that mars and scars so many of the edges of our towns. The foundations were built for us; why are we so keen to kick them down?

Posted in Buildings, Burtons, Corporate History, Design, Ghost Signs, Halifax, Heritage, Historic Shops, Markets, Places, Public Realm, Regeneration, Retail History, Rugby League, Streetscapes, Town Centres, Towns, Uncategorized, Urban History | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Clicks and Mortar by Amazon


Last Friday afternoon I attended a launch of the new Amazon inspired and supported Clicks and Mortar store in the Waverley Mall, Edinburgh.  This is the third such store and the first in Scotland; ten are planned in total over a year.  Someone was kind enough to suggest I spoke and this post has a little of what I said.

I had the previous week visited the second such store in Cardiff (the first was in Manchester) – and chatted to people involved there, so I had some idea of what to expect in Edinburgh.  By contrast though, the Edinburgh store is much larger, more open and has more of retail flow and sense to it.  It is in the newly energised Waverley Mall (and look out for more changes to come) and last Friday seemed to be attracting quite a lot of customer interest (and not just to shelter from this Scottish summer).


The basic idea is a short-term pop-up store showcasing sellers (preferably local) from the Amazon Marketplace.  The mix of sellers is curated, and then supported by various partners including Amazon (Enterprise Nation, Direct Line for Business, Square and Amazon).  Every few weeks the mix of sellers is changed.  These sellers have no or very limited experience of physical sales but do have an active online presence – hence the store title.  The ‘staffing’ also provides a way of encouraging online (and new) customers to meet the sellers/makers.  It is a pop-up store so the time span is limited to a few weeks/months in most cases.


Now I have not been shy about criticising Amazon in the past (and yes I do end up using it on occasions, so I know the double standards) and I am a very firm and vociferous believer that our taxation system has to catch up with the shift from a physical to a digital system.  Nonetheless, this is an interesting initiative by Amazon and partners which should be applauded. We need more experimentation.

To be honest though, the basic idea is not that new.  We already have artists centres and cooperatives, Ebay and Etsy stores and a marketplace for a variety of pop-up and meanwhile uses.  But the backing of Amazon and partners and the transfer of knowledge of selling in physical space to let online sellers experiment is a good thing (there are other less positive views of this).  Less good is the short term and sporadic nature of the trials, but then maybe there will be further phases with a more fixed look (if that is appropriate, and it might well not be).

The progress of these sellers and stores during the experiment is being monitored (not by me, I add).  It will be interesting to learn how they go on and what benefits sellers see.

From a towns perspective, getting new, novel and local things into a place is a good thing.  We need to recognise a desire for difference and connectivity/authenticity – and this provides a way in to understanding some of these relationships.  Customers often seek out and want this difference and authenticity and an ability to browse and discuss with those that are involved in the product.

So, whatever you think about the motives, look out for these short life stores and if you can, get along and check out the sellers.  They might have something different for you and need/welcome your support.  This is not an expensive trial, but a learning opportunity and each store will be different, so there is no guarantee what you will find. This in my view is a good thing.

The learning is also not only for the independent sellers.  The Cardiff team told me they changed the window and entrance after realising customers were unsure what the store was about.  We can all learn something.



Posted in Amazon, Amazon Clicks and Mortar, Brands, Edinburgh, Entrepreneurship, Independents, Internet shopping, Malls, Online Retailing, Pop Up Shops, Pop-Up Shops, Reinvention, Retail brands, Retail Change, Retailers, Scotland's Town and High Streets, Scotland's Towns Partnership, Scottish Retailing, Shopping Centres, Small Shops, Town Centres, Towns, Uncategorized, Vacancies, Waverley Mall | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Preston Model”: Community Wealth Building

During the National Review of Town Centres, I was introduced to Neil McInroy and his work as the Chief Executive of CLES.  We subsequently begin to work together on the specific project of Understanding Scottish Places and he has been a valuable partner and sounding board/agitator in the work of Scotland’s Towns Partnership.

All the while I was vaguely aware of CLES’ work elsewhere and in particular began to hear about specific ideas being operationalised in Preston.  This more recently has been codified in the media as ‘The Preston Model’ and is an approach to local community wealth building.

So, what is the Preston Model and what is community wealth building?  Ask Preston City Council or CLES is one answer, but another is to read the short report on ‘How we built community wealth in Preston: Achievements and Lessons’ which they have recently produced and can be freely downloaded here.

This report tells the story, the impacts and the lessons learned and the authors hope it will act as an inspiration for other places.  It is not a finished process and more always needs to be done, but the report (and the associated publications and videos on the CLES website) gives some thoughtful ideas and starting points.

Community-wealth building according to the report comprises a blend of five strategies:

  • Plural ownership of the economy – more diversity and local ownership of economic power
  • Making financial power work for local places  – harnessing the wealth/spend that already exists locally
  • Fair employment and just labour markets – anchor institutions leading on stimulating the local economy and social cohesion of communities
  • Progressive procurement of goods and services – developing dense local supply chains
  • Socially productive use of land and property – using assets and anchor institutions to grow community use and citizen ownership.

You can assess for yourself whether this is possible in your place and if it would work as it has begun to in Preston.  It is in a way a blend of self-awareness and self-help but for the good of a place not an individual (though they benefit as well).  It is about understanding what a place can be rather than pining for what it once might have been, as so many local leaders and others are prone to do.

The report provides eight key lessons from Preston, noting that this approach to community wealth building:

  • Works
  • Is the work of many hands
  • Must be unique to place
  • Is about public service
  • Means a diversity of suppliers
  • Tells a story that people want to hear
  • Is not a ‘model’ but an inspiration
  • Is both a policy approach and a way of working.

These are strong lessons to learn, live by and implement in any place. It is not a model to be lifted but some thinking about how we might change a place. If interested, please read more and be inspired to see whether some of the ideas can be used in your town.



Posted in CLES, Community, Governance, Innovation, Local Authorities, Local Multiplier, Localisation, Networks, Places, Reinvention, Relationships, Scotland's Towns Partnership, Supply Chains, Sustainability, Town Centre Review, Towns, Uncategorized, Understanding Scottish Places | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment