Honiton History: A look back in time at the High Street

  Posted: 11.11.20 at 15:24 by Terry Darrant

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In these unprecedented times of coronavirus, lockdowns and an inevitable future recession - many are doing all they can to support local shops and businesses.

Honiton High Street does offer a variety of retail outlets but it is a shadow of former times when consumers could achieve all their shopping needs in the once diverse 18th century highway.

In 1901 - the year Queen Victoria died - Honiton High Street boasted a wide selection of businesses.

Amongst others, there were 18 pubs, seven dressmakers/tailors, eight drapers, 11 grocers, 10 butchers, eight bakers, three blacksmiths, two cobblers & saddlers and four dairies.

At this time there were only two banks; The Devon & Cornwall Banking Co. Ltd, which is now Lloyds TSB and The National Provincial Bank, which is currently Natwest, compared to the seven odd we have today.

By the start of WWII, in 1939, present day changes in the High Street were becoming apparent. The three blacksmiths had been replaced by five motor garages and whilst the number of dairies had risen to a total of six, the number of butchers had fallen to six, two bakeries had disappeared and five pubs had been lost in just 38 years.

However, by this time the High Street had also acquired a cinema, an electric company, a fish & chip shop, two cycle shops, a wireless store, three tobacconists, two vets and three dentist surgeries.

Tourism had also started to have an influence on the town’s businesses as there were also four cafes and ten boarding houses in the High Street alone.

Today Honiton High Street has only two butchers, one bakery and two supermarkets, replacing all the former independent grocers. Independent retail outlets are fast becoming extinct in the High Street; Honiton itself has nearly 20 branches of national/non-independent outlets.

A few years ago a national tabloid stated that one third of all independent High Street stores are now cafes, pubs, restaurants and takeaways and Honiton is no exception.

Today the most apparently common business is coffee emporiums or hairdressers, of which the High Street today has seven compared to only two in 1901 in the entire town! Honiton is also home to over six estate agencies whereas in 1939 there was simply one!

The High Street has unfortunately been suffering in recent years but we must all play our part to prevent the events of 2021 from calling this ancient thoroughfares death knell.

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