Rickards of Ludlow

On a recent trip to Ludlow I chanced upon Rickards of Ludlow, I was astonished and amazed by the shop fittings. There’s such character and age and a legacy of generations of local people, landowners, and farmers, who have sought solutions to their domestic and business hardware problems. It was a delight to enter such an historic emporium of irreplaceable shop fitting treasures. As a Documentary Photographer, I felt obliged to photograph and record such a momentous occasion for others to experience.

Michelle, who was managing the store was very interested in my request to photo-document the Rickards emporium, and we had a very interesting chat about commerce and social history.

Rickards is one of those shops where one can find whatever is needed to fix or replace that forever broken item, which is exemplified by the poster in the window (fig #4). During my short visit to Rickards, I was made aware of the significance of the store; an elderly gentleman requested “a flat bottom whistling kettle”; where else in Ludlow would you find one of those? Also, a woman came into the store and requested a scrubbing brush; she was astounded when she was shown a selection of four brushes. At any modern-day DIY store, one would be fortunate to find just one scrubbing brush; and that would probably be wrapped in plastic. Whereas this shopper was able to find a brush that fulfilled her needs, was ergonomically suited to her, and matched her budget.

On the Rickards web site there is an excellent account of the history of the store. It describes the store opening by Heber Rickards in 1864 and documents its history to the present day. Apparently, the store has over 100 original hand-made timber drawers, the ware-and-tear, and patina is clear to see and it’s a pleasure to imagine 100-years ago the bustle of customers and staff, the opening and closing of drawers and hob nail boots on the wonderful timber flooring. The current owner takes great pride in the history of the store and the service it has provided to the town and its environs in the past 159-years. On the web site it’s stated that ‘Rickards was proud to be a significant supplier for horse-drawn ploughs to the farming community’.

On one of the cabinets there’s a charming hand-written notation dating from 1954 to 1973 (fig #8), it appears to read ‘New Rolls of Paper Began on-‘ There is also an amazing array of original posters, dating back to the 1950s, and perhaps some as early as the 1930s (figs #10 ~ #18), the age and patina tells a story of the town.

I discovered two B&W photographs tucked away on a high shelf, I managed to retrieve them and photograph; I’m not aware of who they are, possibly management and staff of the 1950s or 60s. (figs #19 & #20). The ‘Pay Point’ (fig #21) tells a wonderful story of the customer transactions over the past 159-years, and the changing method of payment. The wear, indentations and scaring are evident of the money changing hands; how many people passed their cash, cheques, and cards over the tablet with the delightful sliding door? It’s amusing to see the Eley ammunition box having a new use for storing and displaying what looks like short-handled spades. (fig #22)

All the drawers and shelves tell a unique story of an essential business and the townsfolk of Ludlow. To imagine the men and women who have served probably thousands of customers over the 159-years of trading; it just makes one tingle. There are two locations that appear to have suffered exceptional wear (figs #23 & #24), it looks as though a floor has been laid over the original floor, and that too has worn through.

The patina, scratches, dents, bumps, and wear of the flooring, shelving, and doors tells a story of the rich history of the Rickards store and the people of Ludlow. (figs #23 ~ #37) It’s a story that is unique to Rickards and to Ludlow and needs to be valued and cherished.

There is a FOR SALE sign (fig #39) in the store window. The suggestion is, that the building would be suitable for ‘coffee shop, wine bar, or holiday lets’; what concerns me is that the heart of this historic emporium will be ‘ripped-out’, and the history of all the people who have stepped over the threshold will be lost for ever. Perhaps the only commercial saviour would be a community café. With a sympathetic rework of the shop area, and the commitment of management who cherish social history and the antiquity of Ludlow.

What will the future of Rickards be? Cherished, or lost forever?

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