Is the traditional Surrey High Street lost forever?

PUBLISHED: 17:19 30 March 2020 | UPDATED: 17:19 30 March 2020

Guildford High Street (c) Tim Sheerman-Chase, Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Guildford High Street (c) Tim Sheerman-Chase, Flickr (CC BY 2.0)


With constant change on our high streets, comedian Paul Kerensa remembers the shopping days of yore

“I remember when all this was ‘Fields’. You know, Fields the Ironmonger’s. Old Mr Field moved out years ago and it turned into a Boots...”

This might as well be what I just overheard in the coffee shop. There’s a lot of nostalgia for old shops, probably because we’re losing more. You blink and another goes.

I used to like eating at Giraffe in Guildford (though clearly not often enough), and where do I get my cables from since Maplin’s has closed?

Earlier someone asked me where Waitrose was, and my instinct was to respond rather bafflingly: ‘Go past where Patisserie Valerie used to be, turn right at what was Pizza Hut but now a bank, just before the old MVC music store, and if you hit what used to be Woolworth’s, you’ve gone too far.’ If shops could just stay put, it would make directions a lot easier.

I don’t know what the future of the high street looks like (it can’t be entirely coffee chains), but those landmarks of my youth stick in my head. The old Odeon where I first saw an 18 film.

Camberley’s Our Price, where I’d spend pocket money on Roxette cassettes. Woking’s iconic Toys R Us, or Blockbuster Video – the scene of my first job. I say ‘job’, I spent quiet shifts watching films and eating apparently ‘damaged stock’ popcorn. Come to think of it, my gluttony could be the reason for the chain’s downfall.

But I kick myself that I’d like a high street with independent quirky shops, yet the old stores I think of are all chains. I can’t remember the name of the Onslow Village butcher’s that closed (was it Sparrows’?).

I know that Cranleigh had a fine haberdashery, but I had to Google to see it was John Graham’s. And long live Lorimers’ of Godalming, for all my stationery needs.

The chap at the next table would know all those names. I overhear his caffeinated nostalgia, plus his guesses at where we’re going next: he’d like a tobacconist (although I think a vape store is more likely).

Meanwhile we sip our cups in this branded coffee shop we’re both in (the blue one, not the maroon or green one), and look out of the window at where our favourite shops used to be.

We’re part of the problem, but we like the coffee here. Maybe it’ll help us wake up.

Paul Kerensa is an award-winning stand-up comic, a regular voice on BBC Radio 2 and writer for BBC’s Miranda, Not Going Out, Top Gear, ITV’s Royal Variety Performance and Channel 4’s TFI Friday. His books include Hark! The Biography of Christmas and the children’s book Noah’s Car Park.

Twitter @paulkerensa

Instagram @paulkerensa

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