What shops were on the high street?

A busy wartime high street

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During World War One, the high street looked very different from how it is today. There were no supermarkets or shopping centres. Shops were smaller and many were named after the families who owned them.

People of the high street

An illustrated high street

Explore an interactive high street and find out about the different shops and people you might have found on a typical wartime street.

Often, shopkeepers displayed their goods outside the shop and then brought them indoors at closing time.

To buy the things a family needed meant walking to lots of different shops, like the butcher for meat, the tailor for clothes, the baker for bread and the greengrocer for fruit and vegetables.

There were lots of posters on walls and notice boards encouraging people to support the war.

Every high street had a recruitment office where men could join the army or navy. Often, groups of friends from the same town or workplace would join up together in Pals Battalions.

The jobs they left behind were taken by women who had previously worked at home or as servants in domestic service.

The home front

Newspaper sellers stood on the pavement, shouting the latest war headlines. Horse-drawn vehicles rattled by and on the motor buses and trams, women drivers and conductors could be seen in their new, smart uniforms.

The invention of street lamps

Gas lighting became a popular way of lighting streets in the early 1800s. At first gas lamps had to be lit by hand, but a self-lighting mechanism was later invented. Some streets in London are still lit by gas to this day.

As darkness fell, the shops closed and gas street lamps were lit.

From the start of the war, towns closer to the coast had to be dark at night in case of air raids. When the bells were rung to warn people of an attack, all vehicles had to drive without lights.

Teachers' notes

Teachers' notes and classroom ideas looking at the high street 100 years ago.


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