My father was an Estate Agent in Shotton Flintshire and I started selling maps from the rooms above his offices in the 1960's. After a number of years I had a chance to buy the lease of number 25 in Watergate Street, Chester formerly an antique shop run by Raymond Plant. An antique dealer specialising in fine English furniture. Little did I know when moving in that I would be there for the next 30 years. I closed the shop in 1998 and moved the business all onto the internet.
I think I was lucky to enjoy the end of a heyday period for antique shops in Chester. Watergate Street was where most of the antique shops were, being probably the only street where the rents were affordable. I remember when I was a trainee auctioneer in the city, visiting most of the antique shops back in the early 1960's never thinking that I would one day trade there myself. I fact I probably visited number 25 more than any of the other shops as it was an antiquarian bookshop run by a gentleman named Robert Langley. I believe he traded from a number of premises in Chester including Shipgate House in Lower Bridge Street. His last premises were on Christleton Road looking down Sandy Lane where he lived above the double fronted shop.
In those days you walked into number 25 from the street. You were hit by that wonderful aroma of old tomes. Bookshelves from floor to ceiling ran the depth of the shop. Robert used to perch himself in a chair at the back of the left hand section, wearing his favourite old mac and muffler and occassionaly whistling a short tuneless ditty. The whole shop was very dimly lit by two single lightbulbs.
When Raymond Plant took over the premises he needed height so as to be able to display longcase clocks. The landlords, Chester City Council, dug out the floor to a depth of about three feet. I believe the archivists took the opportunity of looking for Roman remains whilst the work was being carried out. Raymond also sold pictures as well as furniture. He probably thought that pegboard did not suit the elegance of antique furniture so devised a sytems of panels with hessian covered with chicken wire. With an antique carpet on the floor and a colour scheme of sage green, believe it not, it really looked quite elegant. The now lower floor meant that you now went down three steps from the street into the shop.
When I was there Watergate Street was a bustling area with no pedestrianisation. Buyers and shippers from around the world came regularly followed by vans to pick up their purchases. Chester had some 6 pages of entries in the yearly Directory of British Antique Shops.
Evenually the greed of landlords arrived with ever increasing rents, shorter leases and even rent renwals halfway through the leases. Many antique shops started to close after that. I was one of the last to leave. The character of the street had changed. Pedestrianisation arrived. It did not help business. When I closed my gallery in 1998 I think there were only two businesses that had been there when I arrived 30 years previosly. A wine merchant and a locksmith.
I still had some remaining years on my lease and fortunately was able to sell these. The internet beckoned although it was still the early years for this new invention to have the lure for shopping it has nowdays. Internet speeds were so slow bearing no comparison to now.
If your Interest is British County maps then you might be interested in an ongoing project of mine to offer more information on the amazing cartographers whose works you want to collect. Still in its infancy and a lot of work to do but please check it out.