To anyone walking by, it looks like an empty unit in the splendid Victorian building that once housed Bradford’s popular department store Brown, Muff.
But tomorrow the space will be transformed into a bustling store where baskets will be filled with fresh produce, the air will be filled with the aroma of soap, tobacco and fresh herbs, and stacked high on the shelves will be tins featuring such names as Oxo and Tate&Lyle.
News reports and music will be broadcast from a wireless in the corner, and mannequins in period clothing will stand at the window.
Outside will stand a 1930s Jowett Jason car and, as shoppers open the door, a bell will ping and a friendly grocer will look up to greet them.
A newspaper on the counter in front of him will let visitors know that they have stepped back 80 years. This fascinating ‘pop-up shop’ – in the style of a 1930s grocer’s shop – will be in town for this weekend only, giving visitors a retail experience encompassing sights, smells and sounds of times past.
It’s all part of a BBC Learning Hands on History project complementing the series Turn Back Time – The High Street, currently running on BBC1. One of 11 projects nationwide, it’s aimed at helping people learn about local history and share their own memories of shopping in Bradford.
The living history experience doesn’t end with the shop. A ‘back room’ will be home to a multi-media exhibition of bygone grocery shopping and a ‘High Street Timeline’ featuring old posters, adverts, photographs and documents highlighting retail periods from the 19th century to the present.
The BBC Learning team has been working with Bradford Council, libraries, museums and archive services on the Timeline, which will include CH Wood images from the Council’s Museums, Galleries and Heritage collection. Also featured will be archive footage, historic text and quotes from Bradford people.
Visitors will be invited to pull out drawers filled with items to touch and smell, and pick up telephones to listen to people’s high street memories.
The look of the grocer’s shop is in keeping with Turn Back Time – The High Street, taking empty shops in Somerset back to Victorian times then right through to the 1970s. The 1930s is one of the periods covered in the programme.
It was a time when shop-owners began to use the power of advertising posters and window displays to attract customers. Goods were displayed in glass cabinets and there were brands we’d recognise today, such as Hovis and OXO. Food was becoming relatively cheap, with tinned food growing in popularity and fruit and vegetables year-round staples.
BBC Learning Campaign executive Nina Bell says the project offers “a fantastic opportunity to bring history alive and give everyone a chance to celebrate their high street.”
She adds: “It’s not just about the high streets with pop-up shops; BBC Learning is working with local history partners right across the UK to develop engaging, hands-on events to bring the history of their local area to life and encourage Britain to fall in love with its high streets again.”
The pop-up Brown, Muff is not dissimilar from how the Bradford department store started out. The roots of Brown, Muff can be traced back to 1814, when a room shop was set up in Market Street by Elizabeth Brown. In 1834 it was taken over by her son, Henry, who married Betsy Muff of an Ilkley family who changed their name to Maufe. The department store was founded in the 1840s and became one of the classiest in the region, known as the ‘Harrods of the North’. It was taken over by Rackhams in 1978.
The pop-up shop will be open while Bradford Christmas Market is on, and there will be other festive events throughout the district over the weekend.
Bradford Council’s cultural programmes manager David Wilson says shoppers will be encouraged to use present-day shops as well as the 1930s store.
“People have a lot of fondness for Brown, Muff. We hope this shop will stir memories for older shoppers, and give younger ones a hands-on experience of shopping from the past,” he said. “Our city centre management has secured this empty unit and the managing agents, Mark Brearley, have been very helpful. The BBC looked at a number of empty units in the city centre but in the end several were filled, which is encouraging.
“Bradford Libraries and the West Yorkshire Archives Service are running events during the weekend, gathering people’s memories. The Busbys exhibition at Bradford Industrial Museum was a huge success, and we hope this will be as well received.”
Bradford Museums and Galleries are providing objects from their collections including a ladies hat purchased from Busbys. Visitors to the pop-up shop will be invited to sample goods on offer, and learn about life as a 1930s’ grocer. Children may be invited to have a go at tasks such as weighing produce, counting money or wrapping a parcel.
Walking through to the Back Room, visitors will encounter a TV screen, modified to look like a 1930s set, showing footage from old high street shopping and clips of the current TV programme. Also on display will be the Timeline archive, and a bookcase will feature works by 1930s writers such as Bradford’s JB Priestley.
Visitors are encouraged to take along old images of their high street to upload, creating a memory line.
The Brown, Muff pop-up shop will be at 4 Ivegate, Bradford, from tomorrow to Sunday from 10am until 5pm.
For more information visit bbc.co.uk/history/ handsonhistory l photographic ‘Now and Then’ archive of their area can go to the project’s dedicated Flickr group or download a research guide at bbc.co.uk/history/handsonhistory