Buxton High Street: Past, Present and Future

Archivist Ian Gregory ruminates on the history of trade in Buxton and whether anything has truly changed:

My latest task at Buxton Museum is to photograph and catalogue photos from an exhibition. The one in question took place years ago and one of its sections was called Local Trades, Many of the shops and businesses recorded are long gone but one has continued to the present day. It is called J.W. Potter and is a shop selling clothes, towels and bedding. Our picture of its exterior dates from around 1890.

shop 02
J.W. Potter Terrace Road Buxton around 1890

As I worked on this image, I wondered why some businesses carry on while others fail. Then I thought about changes in the wider world, from which Buxton couldn’t have always been shielded.

There was a time not so long ago when many believed that Britain’s future lay with heavy industries like coal mining, ship building and. locally to Buxton, quarrying stone. Then many of these industries collapsed for one reason or another. After that, people were encouraged to set up small businesses and especially service industries like shops and cafes. Next came the recession at the end of the 1980s and many though perhaps not all of these enterprises failed. Today, we are told the High Street is dying and big businesses operating online are the future.

shop 01
Corner of Spring Gardens and Terrace Road Buxton around 1870 showing Lawson’s Wine Vault and Ibetson the Watchmaker

Is this the whole story or have we always had features associated with one era or one decade? Buxton was full of small businesses and independent shops long before we became fixated on the yuppies of the 1980s. People still new enterprises from time to time though not often enough to fill every vacant space. The Potters shop mentioned earlier is adapting to the digital age by setting up a website . I wish them luck. I do some of my shopping there and I have always been happy with their goods and services.

Twenty or thirty years from now, will we still be fixated with the online giants or will something we can hardly imagine be taking their place? Or will we be obsessed with something new while at least some other things stay the same or adapt and carry on alongside the new?

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