Shops and shopping

An exhibition about Chesterfield shops, large and small, over the last 200 years and how shopping in the town has changed.

Shopping in Chesterfield

Before the mid 1800s, Chesterfield like most towns had relatively few shops. Shopkeepers were often also craftspeople selling their own products such as shoes and hats. Other shops catered for the better off, selling expensive clothing, furniture and luxury grocery goods.

As the number of people living in towns increased and the growing middle and upper working classes became more prosperous, new shops were established to meet demand.

Shopping Festivals, first held in 1908, celebrated Chesterfield shops with competitions and events. They were intended to promote the town as a shopping destination claiming that “…the quality, variety, and prices of goods offered for sale in the shops will stand comparison with any other town”. One of the highlights of Chesterfield’s Shopping Festivals was the best dressed window competition. A series of public events accompanied the Shopping Festivals. In 1914 B C Hucks, billed as the famous ‘upside down airman’ entertained crowds in Highfield Hall Park.

Chesterfield’s market continues to play a central part in the shopping experience in the town. It is one of the largest open air markets in the country.

 Market 2015

Chesterfield Market

The Pavements shopping centre development opened in 1980. This project was ground breaking for the time in that the historic shop facades looking towards the Market Place were retained and restored with the modern shopping complex built behind.

Filling the larder

The way which people shop for food has changed dramatically in the last fifty years. Without the convenience of fridges within the home, people shopped daily for perishable foods from the 1800s until the 1960s. Most people shopped at Chesterfield Market, however there was also a good range of food shops in the town centre.

S E Redfern’s opened in 1872 and was one of many butchers in the town centre. The practice of hanging meat outside reflects not only a different view of hygiene but also of what was acceptable to the public.

Woodhead’s was a long established grocery shop in Chesterfield (established in 1829). Like many grocers, Woodhead’s specialised in the sale of tea and coffee and they also opened a café on the premises. The grocery trade was particularly competitive so Woodhead’s targeted the middle and upper working classes who valued quality and personal service above price.

The supply of fruit and vegetables was largely catered by Chesterfield’s market. In 1914 there were only three greengrocers in the town centre – Whitworth’s on Burlington Street, Damm’s on Holywell Street and Arthur Shentall on Glumangate.

Fresh Food

Fresh food on Chesterfield Market

The 1950s saw the introduction of the supermarket which meant that a wide range of foods were available under one roof rather than at several shops and usually at low prices. This saw a big decline in small, independent food shops.

Mr English’s grocery shop on Chatsworth Road closed in 1995. It reflected an earlier time when a personal service was offered. From the Victorian period until the 1950s customers were served individually and the ingredients weighed and bagged by the shop staff. Credit was often offered and the shopping delivered.

Fine Fare on Vicar Lane was one of the early supermarket chains to come to Chesterfield. Fine Fare was known for its cheap Yellow Pack own label goods, a forerunner of the supermarket basic ranges.

Safeway Poster

The rise of the large supermarkets located outside the town centre reflects the changes in people’s shopping habits. Better packaging, refrigeration and higher car ownership meant that people did not need to shop as often. Tesco and Sainsbury’s opened in 1989 while Safeway on Chatsworth Road opened in 1993.

Furnishing the home

By the late 19th century many wage earners, particularly the Victorian middle class, had more disposable income. This meant that people were able to spend more on furnishing their homes. As a result furniture and home decoration shops became a feature of the town.

The Victorian house furnishers in Chesterfield also manufactured their own products at their own workshops. By 1950, however, mass production of furniture was the norm.

Eyre and Sons, founded in 1875 by Isaac Eyre initially sold sewing machines and mangles. It quickly developed into a furniture manufacturing and retail business with a cabinet works on Tapton Lane.


Eyre and Sons

The shop moved to Holywell Street and Stephenson Place in 1891 and the premises were extended several times until by 1914 it was said to be the largest furnishing and decorating store in the Midlands. In 2015 it continues to offer high quality furniture in the town centre at a time when much home furnishing is bought via the internet or large out of town retailers.

Whites was a house furnishers on Corporation Street which specialised in musical instruments. The piano, a great status symbol, was a popular buy. The shop closed in 1970. Chesterfield’s first decorating shop, R J Stokes, began life as a paint manufacturer. Their shop was on Knifesmithgate. The Chesterfield store closed in 1993.

From the 1920s, generous Hire Purchase terms offered by furniture retailers enabled households to purchase entire suites of furniture from one store. T Greaves offered a bedroom suite in 1946 that even included the carpet.

Dressed to impress

Victorian Chesterfield boasted a wide range of specialist tailors, costumiers, milliners and drapers. These shops tended to offer a made to measure service for those who could afford it but also sold material and trimmings for customers to make their own clothes. Many poorer families bought their clothing second hand.

By the 1880s factory made, ready to wear clothing became increasingly available which made the cost of clothing cheaper but it was not until well into the 20th century that off-the-peg clothes shopping was the norm.

J K Swallow was located on the corner of Burlington Street and Packer’s Row. Founded in 1862, the firm was essentially a department store selling house furnishings as well as fabrics and quality ladies’ and gentlemen’s clothing. The business closed in 1970.



John Turner’s was established in 1845 on the corner of Packer’s Row. It specialised in women’s clothing and hats were made on the premises.

The ‘Chesterfield Mourning Warehouse’ formed part of Taylor Bros. Victorian drapery business providing dark clothing and fabrics required at short notice for mourning.

G Brown and Co was located on the High Street. This photograph was taken in 1910 as part of Chesterfield’s first shopping festival, a time when few people would have considered going without a hat.

G Brown

G Brown and Co

Chesterfield was able to support a number of clothes shops but competition was fierce. However, the outbreak of World War II brought clothes rationing which began in 1941 and lasted until 1949. It changed the way people shopped for clothes dramatically. People were encouraged to ‘make do and mend’ and make their own clothes as new clothes cost limited ration coupons as well as money.

Part of a chain

By the mid 1890s, a new type of shop appeared in Chesterfield’s town centre – the chain store. Boots Chemists was one of the first established in the early 1890s with premises on the Market Place. It moved to its current location on Low Pavement in 1980 as part of the Pavements shopping centre development.

Pavements Shopping Centre

Boots in the Pavements Shopping Centre

Part of a larger company, these shops were able to offer more competitive prices putting pressure on established local shops to work harder to attract customers.

The Co-operative Society was first formed in Rochdale in 1844. The business was run and owned by its members. Chesterfield’s Co-operative store opened in 1894 in New Square selling groceries. The store expanded to include furniture and clothing while branches opened across the borough. New premises opened on Elder Way in 1938. This department store however closed in 2013 with the supermarket remaining.

Built in 2000, national chain shops dominate the Vicar Lane shopping area.

Vicar Lane Sign

The very first Burton’s shop was established in 1904 on Holywell Street by Maurice Burton. A refugee Russian Jew, he changed his name to Burton from Meshe David Osinsky. He was able to sell men’s suits at half the price of his competitors by buying them wholesale. Burton was the pioneer of the chain store. By 1914 he owned 14 shops in the Midlands. In 2014 there were 400 in the UK.

By 1933, when Marks and Spencer’s came to Chesterfield, the company had over 160 branches in the country. Their advertising stated that nothing was over £5.

Nationally owned chain stores now dominate the high street with independent retailers providing niche, specialist, high quality and locally made products not available in larger stores.

Last updated on 01/02/2024