Talking Shops at The Engine Shed


On a number of occasions this blog has covered aspects of the past and in particular ghostsigns and historic shops and shopfronts.  Across Scotland (and beyond) there is an enduring fascination for, and concern with, our retail history.

I was delighted therefore to accept an invitation from Dr Lindsay Lennie (@historicshops) to speak at an event to mark the launch of an exhibition on Scotland’s historic shops and shopfronts.  I was even more pleased that it meant I got to see the exhibition on day one and to present at the excellent Engine Shed in Stirling.


Unfortunately, I had to miss the first session of the morning, but I am told it pointed to untapped resources on our retail history at local and national levels.  Having had some students look at a small part of what Stirling Archives can offer, this is a huge opportunity waiting to be explored.

The second session was devoted to improvements on the ground and used examples of the problems and the benefits to be had from investing in historic shop fronts.  The example of Falkirk’s approach can be seen in this booklet. This is not easy – or cheap – but the rewords for shops and places can be great (as the photos below show from Paisley).  This was followed by a discussion of the development of the Talking Shops exhibition and the launch of the exhibition video.


Post-lunch saw a whistle stop tour of Co-operative store architecture from Lynn Pearson (@lynnpearson67), providing a fascinating overview of some magnificent small and large stores.  I hope the book on this does see the light of day soon.  It will add to a canon including Woolworths (and also here).

Lindsay Lennie then switched focus to store interiors and demonstrated all too vividly the dangers we face.  As I know from our work on Sanders, finding interiors is much harder than exteriors.  To realise that so many currently existing interiors are not protected, shows how fragile our history has become (a nice example from Lindsay is shown below).  This linked to Lynn Pearson’s similar point about murals on stores (and see the current issue in Hull).


As for me, well I lowered the tone by talking about present and future retail.  I trod my well-worn path of retail change and (overheads here) but then tried to explore and suggest that retail history can be used to promote an experience in a place and experiential retailing.  We need to be selective – and that is an issue – but we can harness the past to provide stimuli for the present and the future.

The exhibition itself, like many historic shops, is small but perfectly formed.  It is well worth a visit (as is the Engine Shed) and takes viewers through the issues of the development of retailing, the materials and designs used in historic shopfronts and provides some thoughtful points about history and places across Scotland.  The exhibition runs to the 22nd June and is free.

One local item caught me eye – a Gilded Beaver from King Street in Stirling. It really is a loss to streetscapes when signs such as this were removed. “Please note that following some interactions via Twitter it seems that the sign was on 3 King Street and not 4).


As noted before in this blog, resources for further reading on this topic in Scotland are readily available.

About Leigh Sparks

I am Professor of Retail Studies at the Institute for Retail Studies, University of Stirling, where I research and teach aspects of retailing and retail supply chains, alongside various colleagues. I am Chair of Scotland's Towns Partnership. I am also a Deputy Principal of the University, with responsibility for Education and Students and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh
This entry was posted in Architecture, BHS, Buildings, Falkirk, Ghost Signs, High Streets, Historic Shops, History, Retail History, Scotland's Town and High Streets, Shopfronts, Signage, Stirling, Streets, Streetscapes, Urban History, Woolworths and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Talking Shops at The Engine Shed

  1. Pingback: The Architecture of England’s Co-operative Movement | Stirlingretail

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