Traditions and Ghosts in Scotland’s Shops

Anyone following my twitter feed (@sparks_stirling) will have encountered my fascination and interest in ghost signs. It has also been included in some musings from me and a guest contribution to this blog.  I had a previous tendency to focus on the uses above ground level as I wander about towns, but this has been exacerbated recently by searching for signs and features of the shop past in Scotland’s towns.

The slide show below provides some of the recent shots from Edinburgh, Culross and St Andrews.  There is little systematisation in my search thus far, and so the slides are serendipitous discoveries and interests.

These traces of the past are only a small part of the historical legacy that we can find in our towns.  There is a very rich context that can be uncovered and has been explored by Lindsay Lennie in her excellent 2010 book on Scotland’s Shops.  Now there is an updated Historic Environment Scotland Short Guide on Scottish Traditional Shopfronts.  It can be downloaded here.  This is a 2017 Second Edition of the previous 2010 version.

This short guide is a fascinating verbal and visual exploration of the key elements of historic shops.  It covers shopfronts and architectural features before focusing on signs and lettering, sun blinds and awnings, security, ventilation, exterior and interior elements.  There is then technical help in researching and maintaining historic shops.  It really is an excellent guide and I love the fact that one of the target audiences is the “enthusiast”

Its publication is also timely given the changes going on in retailing and town centres.  We need places to be distinctive and different, as well as interesting.  Reflecting the legacy of shops is one way of ensuring that there are points of interest and engagement in often increasingly bland places.  We need good modern design and new shops and buildings, but in addition to the wonderful expressions of the past we should seek to preserve and use.