Sunday, 20 November 2016

W H Smith Decorative Tiles

Newsagents and booksellers for more than 200 years, W H Smith has more than 600 stores on British high streets plus another 700 at airports, train stations and motorway services. In most of these locations it is unchallenged by any competition. Despite its longevity and ubiquity it seems to command little affection on the part of its customers. The shops are fitted out to a rigid and universal formula and the range of products is severely restricted to items that can be reliably sold in large quantities. Harsh lighting, artificial fibre floor coverings and a persistent smell of cleaning products makes for an uncomfortable browsing experience. It’s common to find only a single staffed checkout with a long, slow moving queue from which shoppers can contemplate the generous provision of frequently malfunctioning self-service checkouts. Any staff savings are cancelled out by the need for attendants to sort out all the customer problems. It wasn’t always so – in the inter-war years the business had a reputation for its ornate oak shop fronts (a few of which survive) and decorative pictorial tile panels designed and manufactured by Carter & Co. of Poole. An exhaustive survey of these panels was published in the 2015 Journal of the Tiles and Architectural Ceramics Society by Ian M Betts who listed 60 stores where examples can still be seen. The four examples shown here come from the branch in Mostyn Street, Llandudno – the postcard shows a W H Smith store in the right foreground. The present store where these photographs were taken is some half a mile further up Mostyn Street – presumably the tiled panels migrated with the shop to its new location.

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