LOOKING BACK: Shopping was not so different back in Victorian times

Franks in St Neots circa 1900.

Franks in St Neots circa 1900. - Credit: Archant

Sitting at home waiting for the van to deliver your latest purchases may sound like a modern purchasing phenomenon.

St Neots town centre in the floods of 1908.

St Neots town centre in the floods of 1908. - Credit: Archant

But the idea of having your shopping delivered by van predates the internet by decades, work by the newly-reopened St Neots Museum has shown.

Orders would have been handwritten and left with the shop-keeper, rather than by computer and made online, but shoppers were accustomed to home deliveries, as a Victorian picture of a van outside Plum’s, a confectioner and cafe in St Neots High Street, shows.

It was the closure of the museum for three months because of the coronavirus lockdown which prompted staff to look at the history of shops and shopping in the town, providing a pictorial glimpse of trade in the past.

Their research shows that the top end of the High Street, at the Huntingdon Street junction, may have been the original site of the town’s market square until the present one was developed by monks from St Neots priory, right outside their building’s walls, to encourage market trading, which brought them an income from the stalls.

International Stores in St Neots in 1916.

International Stores in St Neots in 1916. - Credit: Archant

The industrial revolution saw an array of shops opening to sell the newly-available products - but the first image of the interior of a shop in the town comes from an 1831 billhead drawing showing tea dealer and grocer Adam Bailey’s store with male shop assistants behind long counters serving smartly-dressed women.

The museum said: “In Victorian England the delivery of groceries from local shops was an accepted way of life and new online shopping services today reflect the earlier practice of leaving your shopping list with the grocer and waiting for your items to be delivered to your home.”

Most Read

The First World War brought huge changes, including female staff, traders then had to battle through the depression of the 1930s and the Second World War, after which car ownership and self-service shopping started to put home deliveries out of fashion.

But the museum said that despite changes over the centuries, the High Street and market remained the retail heart of the town.

The museum has now reopened, with social distancing in place, featuring a temporary exhibition called ‘The Upcycling Crafter’ by local artist Frances Corlett.

Her artwork is made from a wide range of recycled material with pictures on sale from £12-£38.