Touring Exhibition

The local shop is something that everyone has a memory of and is familiar with. It is part of Britain's collective memory. The response from the public to the exhibition demonstrates this as people were inspired to leave their own corner shop memories in the comments book.

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"My parents ran a corner shop on Arnold Road, Partswood, Southampton in the 1960's we used to weigh out the cheese and slice the ham. Customers had little red cash books in which they could write down their orders and as a family we boxed it up and Dad could deliver on Saturday. You could even have goods 'on the book' and it would be written in your 'red book' and you paid on pay day!"

Gazebo's Corner Shop Video (13mins)

  • YouTube
  • Stowlawn Primary School

Gallery - Stowlawn Primary School

Exhibition viewers sharing their corner shop memories

"I fondly remember the corner shops of my childhood in Bilston. We would go from shop to shop with a few pennies to spend which were rationed after the war. Shopkeepers usually lived on the premises and were made aware of customers by a bell over the door which rang every time it opened...Sweets were weighed from large glass jars and put into small, white triangle shaped paper bags with a flap on the top to turn down. Bread and milk were usually delivered to homes in those days. Looking back our trips to corner shops made us happy when treats were few and far between."
Betty, Bilston, Wolverhampton.

"My parents ran a corner shop on Arnold Road, Partswood, Southampton in the 1960's we used to weigh out the cheese and slice the ham. Customers had little red cash books in which they could write down their orders and as a family we boxed it up and Dad could deliver on Saturday. You could even have goods 'on the book' and it would be written in your 'red book' and you paid on pay day!"

"I work afternoons in Lovedays Bakery, Oxley village (925 Villiers Road). It hasn't changed much in the last 90 years, and still in the same family. The best bread for miles around. Near Bushy arches, Watford. Save local shops!!!"

"Our corner shop 'Tommy Allens' in Quorn, Leicestershire was always open on Boxing Day. Every Christmas we would 'find' a sixpence in the Christmas pudding and on boxingday we would take it to Tommy Allens to spend on sweets. I remember only just being able to see over the counter."
Alex, Penrith, Cumbria.

"As a child 35 years ago I used to love going too our village shop with my mum because the shopkeeper used to cut a cube of cheese especially for me and wrapped it separately to put in with the family block for the week."

"When I was small I lived in Eccles, Kent. Our corner shop was a co-op run by Bob Wood and his wife. I remember him on the till putting mums divi number in before totalling it up. One day when I was three they caught me moving the bacon slicer back and forth."
Anne, Gillingham ,Kent.

"Remember when the corner shop was not allowed to sell certain goods on Sunday morning? Some did but the customer had to sneak out with it under wraps"

"I remember going to my corner shop. Bought my first packet of fags with my mates."

"The corner shop in the 50's was where I learnt to shop and count change. We bought all our food from there. Cheese, ham, bacon, sweets were weighed out and packaged. No bar codes. All the products were on shelves behind the counter, and the owner had to use a ladder to get at some of them. Often 3 or 4 neighbours would spend time in conversation there."


Gazebo's Corner Shop Video
by Gazebo and English Heritage © 2010

Gallery - Stowlawn Primary School
13-28 of 30 by Gazebo and English Heritage © 2010

Main Body
29 of 30 by English Heritage © 2010

30 of 30 © John Good

Touring Exhibition

The French Leader Napoleon said of the British in the early nineteenth century that we are 'a nation of shop keepers', but are we still?

The Corner Shop exhibition was curated by Sandwell Museum Service and designed as a small-scale display to give wider public access to the project. The exhibition included quotes from shop owners and customers, contextualised within a narrative of the history and meaning of the small independent shop.

The themes of the exhibition were drawn out of the oral histories collected by Black Country Touring. The core theatre production team listened to all of the recordings and highlighted the key recurrent themes. These themes included migration, new communities wanting products from home, the reasons and motivations for people from very different backgrounds in running their own shops, work patterns, how running a shop is a way of life rather than a job, how corner shops are important as community resources and the problems facing small independent shops in the future.

The exhibition provided an opportunity to locate the project within the long presence of the corner shop and independent small shop in Britain and hinted at the issues facing their future and continued existence.

Several case studies showing a broad section of shops were presented in the exhibition. Using these stories as the basis for an exhibition was a fantastic way of working with a universal theme; a common subject recognised by all, from a variety of social, economic and cultural backgrounds.

The local shop is something that everyone has a memory of and is familiar with; it is part of Britain's collective memory. Using a topic such as the corner shop is an excellent model for working with diverse communities without singling out certain groups for engagement and excluding others - it is of relevance to all.

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Gazebo Theatre's Corner Shop Case Study

As part of the continuing outreach and education work to accompany The Corner Shop Project touring exhibition, Gazebo Theatre in Education Company, supported by English Heritage, worked for a week with a group of pupils from Stowlawn Primary School to create a dramatic response to the exhibition. Their performance was then shown for Heritage Open Days at Bilston Town Hall to an audience of family and local people. Alongside this an additional group spent three days working with a visual artist to produce Corner Shop art pieces to be displayed within the exhibition.

Project Methodology

Gazebo wanted the performance to show the children's growth of understanding for the corner shop. Before the young people even explored the exhibition they were asked what their current understanding of the corner shop was. Their views, thoughts and opinions were then recorded and used within the performance. The young people explored the exhibition; noting down anything that they found of interest. They fed their findings back to rest of the group.

The pupils visited local corner shops in Bilston. The young people came up with questions to ask the shop keepers that would allow them to gain an insight into their daily lives and why they decided to run a shop. They came up with the following questions:

  • What is the name of your shop and what kind of things do you sell?
  • Why did you choose to open a shop?
  • Who comes into your shop and why?
  • How long have you had your shop?
  • What is your first memory of when you opened your shop?
  • What is your daily life like?
  • Is your shop successful and do supermarkets affect you?
  • What good and bad memories do you have?
  • What do you think is going to happen in the future?

The answers to these questions and the knowledge that they gained from exploring the exhibition was to form the basis of the performance.

The visual arts group also visited local businesses, collecting materials to be used within their final pieces and exploring the contents of each shop. They questioned shop keepers about any unusual products.

Drama exercises and games were used to build the confidence of the group and enabled them to work together as a team.

The end performance became an amalgamation of different exercises and drama skills that the young people had learnt and developed throughout the week. It also showed a growth of understanding for the topic and the views and opinions that they had personally developed. It included:

Drama Group

Recorded voices - their initial views and opinions.

  • The use of tableaux (freeze framing) - How their views and opinions on the subject changed and their interest grew as they initially explored the exhibition.
  • Taking on the role of a shop keeper; deciding why their character wants a shop, what they will sell within their shop, what the name of their shop will be and what their daily life will be like.
  • Key quotes were used that the young people found of interest within the exhibition and in their shop keeper interviews.
  • Pupils created their own corner shop and established a daily routine for their shop keeper in groups.
  • Pupils created a 'corner shop machine' showing the hard work and monotony of the shop keepers lives.
  • Music was used, live and recorded, that the young people responded to. They also created their own corner shop chant.

Visual Arts Group

  • The group decided to create their own corner shops out of objects, boxes and packaging that they had collected from their corner shop visits.
  • The young people were split into smaller groups each becoming a production team all with their own roles.
  • They decided on the type of corner shop they would like to create and had to work successfully within a team.
  • They developed woodwork skills and imaginatively created a framework for the shop and its contents.
  • Each group had to decide on product pricing. Once completed they were then able to role play in their shop, thus discovering any changes that had to be made.
  • The groups were then able to decide where, within the exhibition, their work would be displayed.

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The groups gained a much greater understanding and an appreciation of the subject area.

They worked successful as a team and grew in confidence.

Each group took complete ownership of the project.

The groups gained new skills in both drama and visual arts.

The end result was an extremely successful Heritage Open Day - enjoyed by all and making good intergeneration links.

Their hard work resulted in an additional performance at The Wolverhampton Children's Plan 2011-2014 Conference held at The Ramada Jarvis Park Hall Hotel, Wolverhampton.

As a result of this another organisation has asked them to perform at The Wolverhampton Primary School Conference. A fantastic opportunity and a great experience for the young people.

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Quantative Info for 2008 and 2009

Sandwell Museum Service toured the Corner Shop exhibition through its community museums and other local venues between September 2009 and April 2010. It is estimated that almost 11,000 people engaged with the exhibition during this time.

English Heritage programmed the second phase of the tour to 8 community venues and public places across The Midlands including in Birmingham, Bromyard (Herefordshire), Bilston (Wolverhampton), Leicester, Kelmarsh (Northamptonshire) and Wednesbury (Sandwell). It is estimated that between May 2010 and April 2011 over 30,000 more people would have visited the exhibition.

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From the range of comments received, the Corner Shop exhibition has evoked happy childhood memories, inspired people to try out their own local corner shops again after years of supermarket shopping, and challenged people to help halt the decline of this British Institution.

"Hope the corner shop continues to exist for many more generations. Strive to maintain them, use your local shops!"
Jen Clother, Lincolnshire