Saturday, July 18, 2015

Sepia Saturday 288 : Gimmie A Pigfoot And A Bottle Of Beer


Our Sepia Saturday theme image for this week shows an old butchers shop with some pig carcasses hanging outside. I don't think I can match either the pigs or the specialist shop, but my photograph does manage to capture a particular moment in retail evolution - the shopping street supermarket. I took the photograph in the early 1980s and, as far as I can remember it was taken in the town of Burton-on-Trent. I was there taking a series of photographs of the great breweries of that splendid town: in the 1980s beer still flowed down the streets of Burton, metaphorically at least. It was towards the end of an era when breweries were central to many of the towns and cities of Britain, standing proud like some nineteenth century commercial castle in the centre of towns, spreading their rich aromas of hops and malted barley. And it was a time when food shops were still clinging to their town centre locations, even if the small independent butchers and bakers and greengrocers had already started to be replaced by the supermarkets.

During the next couple of decades the behemoths of both the brewing and the retail world would quit town centres - making for the out of town industrial and retail parks. Food - be it loaves of bread, tins of soup or pigs' feet - would be sold under cantilevered concrete and glass roofs amid tarmac car-parks. Beer would be brewed in aluminium silos in sterile anonymity.

But before we drown in the flood waters of nostalgia, it is worth noting that there has been the beginnings of a reverse in the trend towards the soulless. The big supermarkets got it wrong in believing that shops would become ever-bigger and ever more marginalised, and are rapidly reintroducing "local stores". The big brewers were mistaken in the belief that bulk quantity and rigid standardisation would always rule the world and the last ten years has seen a wonderful revival in small breweries producing a liquid cornucopia of tasty beers. Small specialists shops are making a bit of a comeback in our towns and it may not be too long before the descendants of Mr J Morgan will open a pork butchers near you.



Until that time comes along you can occupy yourself by going over to the Sepia Saturday Blog, and whilst you read the posts, you might want to listen to Billie Holiday singing.

14 comments:

  1. Nice take on the topic. I think I'll go look for Bessie Smith singing the above song.

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    1. Yes, I was faced with a bit of a dilemma as to whether to link to Bessie or Billie. I chose the latter because the recording quality was that little bit better.

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    2. Yes, On this one, Bessie Smith wins hands down.

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  2. Even our big supermarkets are introducing small shops within their walls. My local Kroger has an amazing cheese shop - you can even do a tasting. Wine shop - tastings every Saturday. Craft beers are on the rise here in the US and local eateries pride themselves on providing a big selection.

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  3. One thing that hasn't evolved much is the supermarket trolley. They still have wonky wheels.

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  4. Those big industrial parks are not much in evidence here in Aus, but small specialised shops struggle to compete with supermarkets and department stores. I much prefer strip shopping to malls, but see many empty premises in both.

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  5. Can I have bacon and a glass of white wine, instead? haha.

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  6. It is exciting to see the local independent shops making a comeback.

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  7. Where I live in California small breweries are popping up; we even have one we can walk to where they make and sell the beer. I like to see this trend and it goes nicely with our local farmers markets. I am glad to see this trend is going on where you live too.

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  8. If that was indeed Burton's High Street, then it won't be too far from where my ggg-grandmother was arrested for stealing some meat and clothing in 1850. As an epileptic, and a widow with a young son (my gg-grandfather), she was treated leniently, and after a few weeks in gaol was sent to the Ashby workhouse, where spent the rest of her short, sad life.

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  9. That's a clever perspective, Alan. Not too long ago when visiting Britain, I remember being appalled that TESCO offered beer in plastic liter bottles. Perhaps they have a dried powder mix now. Meanwhile I am proud to report we have over 16 small breweries in our small city of Asheville, NC.

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  10. I remember pushing those carts back in during big snow storms.

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  11. I'm glad Mike made the comment about Asheville (since I also am proud to live nearby and be an avid customer). Asheville and Portland OR have been in competeition for the beer city of the US for years, and I think we're on top this year. It's also fun to take a tour of the larger breweries, but many micro breweries have a bar right by the vats! Come over and visit us Alan!

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  12. Trust you to somehow incorporate beer with a butcher shop theme.

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