A Brief Introduction to Shopping Parades

Shopping parades are a familiar sight in urban areas across England. They usually consist of one or more continuous rows of between five and 40 shops.

Regional and stylistic variety exists, though all tend to have some degree of architectural uniformity and usually consist of shops on the ground floor with housing or offices upstairs. Parades differ from shopping arcades as the latter is covered, whilst the former is open to the elements.

Planned shopping developments were built in the 19th century but the term ‘shopping parade’ did not enter general use until the 20th century. The Inter-war period (1918-1939) is seen as the heyday of parades, due to the volume and quality of those built during the era.

Proto-parades

In the medieval and early modern periods rows of shops were created to extend their town’s market provision. A rare surviving example exists at 34-51 Church Street in Tewkesbury dating from around 1450.

© Amanda Hooper

By the late 18th century private developers were building plain terraces with shops on the ground floor and housing for shopkeepers above. Prior to this the word ‘parade’ had referred to a show or procession and was applied to public spaces used for military parades.

But it was soon extended to described fashionable residential streets in spa and seaside towns. These were places where well-to-do people might ‘parade’ in their finery.

The construction of these types of terraces continued in the 19th century, with shops on the ground floor and accommodation for traders above, however they were designed with greater uniformity than in previous years.

During the Victorian period the spread of the suburbs, combined with the growth of middle class consumerism and new resort towns led developers to build rows of shops on a much larger scale and with more elaborate detailing.

A short parade (c.1870) Barrow in Furness, Cumbria, in an attractive red brick Italianate style, 1870 © Historic England Archive dp169323

After 1870 these rows of shops were increasingly referred to as parades, in part because of the fashionable overtones of the word: developers used it to seduce the aspirational suburban middle-classes. By 1880 the fully-fledged shopping parade, with capacious upper-floor accommodation, had arrived.

Topsfield Parade, Crouch End (1895-7) © Historic England Archive DP176259

Towards the end of the 19th century, a number of streets in north London acquired clusters of parades. Amongst the most striking and ambitious were those of the developer James Edmondson, whose projects appears across north London.

Queens Parade, Muswell Hill (1897) © Historic England Archive DP176260

Edwardian

In the early Twentieth century, new dormitory communities began to grow around London and the West Midlands as the suburbs expanded. New architectural styles emerged including the widely favoured Neo-Tudor, Queen Anne, Neo-Baroque and a more restrained Neo-Georgian idiom.

Bourneville Shopping Parade, Birmingham (1905-8) © Historic England Archive DP167288

However, parades were not always stylistically pure at this time: architects and developers added elements from other styles, including Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts.

By 1914 the floors over parade shops were frequently leased separately, as offices, workshops, or residential accommodation. Many of the shops were now owned by chains such as WHSmith or Boots. 

Amongst the best known and most admired shopping parades of this period are the Arts and Crafts style offerings around Finchley Road in north London.

Arcade House and Temple Fortune House, Finchley Road © Historic England Archive DP110937

Temple Fortune House and Arcade House were built to designs by Arthur J. Penty and their location acted as a gateway to Hampstead Garden Suburb, which at the time offered radical new ideas about suburban living.

Inter-War

During the heyday of shopping parades the red brick, Neo-Georgian style dominated, but alternatives appeared in affluent suburbs, such as Neo-Vernacular (also known as ‘Stockbroker Tudor’).

The Quadrant Parade, Edgware, London © Nigel Cox

These parades were mostly built by private developers, though some were constructed by local authorities to serve cottage estates: early council housing by the London County Council. Examples exist at Becontree, Dagenham and Roehampton.

Other styles from this era include Tudor (or ‘Modern Gothic’) – one example of this is Monmouth House in Watford, which was a partial rebuild of a 17th century house and is Grade II Listed.

Byron Parade, Upminster, 1936 © Historic England Archive DP176277

In the early 1930s Art Deco and Streamline Moderne arrived in Britain and new shopping parades were built in these styles. The first modern roundabouts were built in Britain around this time and their shape was perfect for shopping parades: inviting concave and convex forms, which suited the modern style.

107-123 Muswell Hill Road © Philafrenzy

In the Inter-war era, shopping chains started to build their own parades: Sainsbury’s built them through their development company, Cheyne Investments.

Firms also employed their own staff architects or built strong relationships with developers. By the late 1930s Woolworth’s usual partner was Herman Edward Lotery, a young entrepreneur who is claimed to have built 80 parades across London (consisting of 1005 shop units).

Parade Mansions, north London (1935) © Historic England Archive DP176265

John Laing and Sons adopted a new method of accessing the housing built over shops, with balconies built over the shop fronts – a precursor to the ‘streets in the sky’ style used in many post-war housing estates.

Acton Town © London Transport Museum

Some 1930s parades were designed to accompany new tube stations, for example flanking Acton town, and around the circular booking hall at Southgate: both part of Charles Holden’s 1930s Piccadilly Line extension.

Southgate Station © Historic England Archive DP183526

Post-War

In the aftermath of the devastation of the Second World War, Britain embarked on an extensive building project to replace slums and bombsites.

During this time a new style of shopping parade emerged, fusing pre-war English and more recent European styles to create new ‘precincts’, often decorated with public art.

Hemel Hempstead ©️ Historic England Archive, Chris Redgrave

These first appeared in post-war new towns: offices replaced flats above the shops and some designs incorporate cantilevered upper storeys.

Coventry ©️ Historic England Archive DP164659

In the 1960s and 1970s rows of shops formed a component of many large-scale multi-functional developments, skirting the base of new hotels, theatres, office blocks and even multi-storey car parks.

In the 1980s, parades declined as covered shopping malls took over. There have been a few modern examples of parades, though shifting patterns in retail behaviour mean far fewer local shops are created nowadays.

Modern shopping done offline is now largely concentrated in retail parks and outlet centres. Meanwhile, the occupants of existing parades have shifted from traditional retailers, like butchers and supermarkets, in favour of service industries, like cafes and salons.

Further Reading

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