Historic commercial buildings range from small local shops to huge department stores, from corner pubs to Victorian ‘gin palaces’, from simple sets of chambers to huge speculative office blocks. Market halls, exchanges, banks and restaurants are also included.
Commercial architecture always placed a high premium on novelty and effect. This has resulted in some of the country’s most splendid public high street architecture. However, it has also led to constant change, especially regarding shop fronts and fittings.
Some specialised commercial buildings emerged in the Middle Ages: others developed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. But their range and scale were transformed in the nineteenth century and they made a huge impact on the face of the Victorian town; the twentieth century continued this trend. Rates of survival in their original form of these buildings is fairly low, but what has endured is all the more precious as a result.
Most historic commercial buildings post-date 1850. Many other commercial building types – offices, pubs, shopping arcades, department stores, and hotels – are largely nineteenth-century creations. These latter buildings survive in large numbers and were subject to a high degree of standardisation. However, it is also the case that nineteenth and twentieth-century commercial buildings transformed our townscapes and gave many English town centres their distinctive character.
With the latest growing trend to preserve our heritage it is important to carefully asses our commercial buildings to see which are worth conserving and restoring. It is easy to overlook the significance of some modest and plain commercial buildings. They can sometimes possess significance beyond their outward form. Listing in the past has favoured the opulent and the grand at the expense of the more modest, the ‘gin palace’ and the palazzo bank rather than the beer shop or humble savings bank: consequently the latter have suffered disproportionate loss. Listing should aim to redress this balance where special historic interest clearly resides in unadorned fabric on the grounds of rarity. Unusual sorts of business – undertakers, pawnbrokers and hatters, for instance – may have left premises of note which are deserving of protection. And some common types of establishment – like fish and chip shops – are actually very rare in terms of bespoke and intact premises of interest.
CRL Restoration are proud to be involved in the preservation of our natural heritage through our involvement with the conservation, restoration and upkeep of our nation’s commercial buildings.