Reflecting on our shopping history at very topical time

Haidee Greenlees, in her Todmorden shop, 1970s,  from Todmorden Album 5, used courtesy of Roger Birch
Haidee Greenlees, in her Todmorden shop, 1970s, from Todmorden Album 5, used courtesy of Roger Birch

THE latest in a series of books compiled by a Todmorden author has a timely ring to it.

Todmorden Album 5 - Shops by Roger Birch focuses on the town’s shops and the shopping experience as it changed over the past century and more.

Given the debate during 2011 about supermarket developments and the future of key sites in Todmorden, the book has been published in a year when debate has raged about the direction in which the town is heading.

Its topicality was further enhanced earlier this week when retail expert Mary Portas unveiled a report about the state of the high street, giving recommendations to government about how to tackle declining town centres.

Looking at the wide range of images in Roger’s book, it is quickly apparent that the make-up of Todmorden’s high street (which in reality includes all three valleys - Halifax Road, Rochdale Road and Burnley Road - with the market and the large number of shops that were once at Shade) alters as you follow the photographs and accompanying captions through the decades, depicting the true tale of Todmorden’s retail history.

Roger has spent two years compiling the album, delving into the archives and talking to shop owners.

“People have always been asking ‘When is the next book coming?’,” he said.

“Two years ago I decided to concentrate on shops.

“Everybody remembers shops, reminiscing about where they went.

“It’s topical. The high street all over the country is in decline.

“In the book, we are looking at Todmorden when it was self-sufficient. You could get anything you wanted here.

“It took about two years to get it together, talking to people and looking at archives.

“The photography part was the easy bit. The research takes time.”

In his introduction, Todmorden News head of content John Greenwood remarks that the shopping route he used to follow with his family as a child has totally changed and he writes about how Todmorden businessmen and women have dealt with change over the years.

Some shops are no longer there while others changed with the times.

Roger’s choice of pictures and captions tells us, for example, about the Greenlees family, members of whom ran businesses ranging from a confectioners to a saddlery business. Thomas Greenlees was a saddler and his daughter Haidee trained with him but branched out into sports goods as horse work declined, running the shop until she retired and still using some of the skills she had learned repairing school satchels.

Other pictures show the sheer number of small grocers which fed Todmorden, how they faced the perceived threat from small supermarket chains (like Duckworth’s) who in turn had to battle for business with larger ones.

The book will bring back many memories. It is a feast for the eyes, featuring the dazzling brightly-lit display of Boots the Chemists in 1930, the sheer number of fowl and game available to shoppers of the 1890s at Water Street, and the grandeur that was Todmorden’s biggest department store, the Co-op in Dale Street in 1973.

It also contains a foreword by Sir Bernard Ingham, in which he describes Todmorden as having the potential to lead a Pennine renaissance.

The book is proving very popular. “It’s selling extremely well,” Roger said. “I have been rushed off my feet. It’s absolutely the right time to bring it out.”

l Todmorden Album 5 - Shops is now available from Roger’s stall on Todmorden Market until Christmas, after which it will be stocked at Border Books, Todmorden Information Centre, the Book Case in Hebden Bridge, and Wade’s bookshop in Halifax.

It can also be bought online at