Mike Pryce reflects on a High Street which for many people has changed out of all recognition

A TIME traveller from the 1950s landing their Tardis in Worcester High Street today would likely be more than a little confused.

Certainly the thoroughfare might look familiar, after all it still has The Cross at one end and the cathedral at the other, but where has all the traffic gone? And who is the chap on the statue gazing across at the South African War memorial?

Not only that, but where have all the familiar shops gone? There’s no Woolworths, no Russell and Dorrell, no Bobby’s. Where do you go for an afternoon cup of tea when there’s no Cadena Cafe, where is Gertrude Mitchell, and where can I take the children when there’s no Bradburn toy shop? Maybe everything is at Marks and Spencer, which seems about three times the size.

Inevitably a lot has changed in half a century as these old photographs show. For better or for worse might be a moot point, but today’s retail warriors have higher expectations than the generation that emerged from the Second World War.

Worcester News:

The biggest casualty along the High Street has been the department stores. In the 1950s Worcester would have been unthinkable without Russell and Dorrell, the epitome of the TV sitcom Are You Being Served.

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You bought everything there from school uniforms to suits for weddings and funerals, furniture to  frying pans.

Bobby’s, where Debenhams now stands, was much the same, while Woolworths had grown from its roots as what the Americans call  a dime store into a bargain store chain which even had its own record label Embassy, specialising in cut-price copies of hits of the day. One of my first records was an Embassy 78rpm 12-inch wax Wake Up Little Suzie, a version of the Everly Brothers bopper by some unknown.

Worcester News:

Fashionable ladies in real fur coats shopped at Gertrude Mitchell, the frontage of which never suffered from being understated, while after a bit of retail therapy they would wander along  High Street to have their hair done at Twells, where my father was manager before being headhunted by tobacconist Dick Skan for his new gents barbers business, first in The Foregate and later Broad Street.

Of all the buildings in High Street, few are more instantly recognisable than the five-storey, bay windowed property on the corner with  St Swithin’s Street. For many years it was the Cadena Cafe, a popular meeting place for the local café society.

It then became a shoe shop and is currently empty, having been a building society and food outlet. It deserves better.

High Street was eventually pedestrianised in the 1980s, the city at last having got fed up with the constant chaos caused by through traffic and today it is hard to imagine two lines of vehicles moving in opposite directions, plus parking lanes and pavements either side, fitting into that space.