Retro: Corby’s shopping past

It’s not long ago that shopping was a chore rather than a leisure activity.

These old pictures of shops in Corby show simpler times when shops were less packed out with people trying to grab bargains, with more time to browse and more space to move.

Gateway supermarket, Corby, in 1991 NNL-140509-151106001

Gateway supermarket, Corby, in 1991 NNL-140509-151106001

In the 1950s, the new Corby town centre was built to provide a hub for a rapidly-expanding population.

Although there were shops in the Old Village, and on the estates, there was no central area to the town until the new buildings were put up around New Post Office Square and Queen’s Square.

The town attracted a number of chain stores including Woolworths but by the 1980s, when the steelworks had closed, shops began to close as locals had less money to spend.

In the late 1980s, after the demolition of the steelworks, Phoenix Parkway retail park was built in its place as part of the first wave of out-of-town shopping parks.

Our picture shows the retail park in 1991, when shops included Sports World, Childbase and Shoe City.

There is also a Poundstretcher store and a Texas Homecare which is now demolished to make way for Next and The Range.

Texas shut in 1995.

Our old images of the town centre were taken at a time when Tops Estates had recently bought Corby town centre for £25m.

Tops came with the promise of investing a further £30m on a revamp for the town’s shopping areas.

“My message to Corby is that such a remarkable town deserves the very best,” the firm’s then chief executive Everard Goodman had announced.

Progress was initially slow.

The town centre was built in the 1950s and in 1994 – five years after Tops Estates had taken over – the Telegraph lamented the glacial speed of the regeneration since bold plans were published in 1964.

“Three decades later still nothing has been done to protect long-suffering residents from gusting winds and rain,” the article said.

“Partially covered malls act as wind tunnels and in winter shoppers literally have to battle against the elements.”

During the 1990s, the ageing town centre waited in vain for a full-scale facelift.

Corby was found to have a very high rate of empty shops and a national survey branded it as the second worst shopping precinct in Britain in terms of spending.

Corporation Street, which had been pedestrianised in the 1970s, had undergone a number of facelifts, including the installation – and, later, the removal – of blue steel girders and canopies which protected shoppers from the elements.

But, that aside, full-scale regeneration remained on the horizon, with a number of false dawns frustrating residents, shop owners and local politicians.

In the late 2000s Willow Place was built and has proved popular with shoppers from Corby and surrounding towns.

Thanks to developments over the past decade there is a new air of optimism.

The borough council describes Corby as vibrant, confident and successful.

In October 2011, the shopping precincts were bought for £70m by property firm Helical Bar from Land Securities, which had acquired Tops Estates four years earlier.

In November last year, Crown House in Elizabeth Street was pulled down, with the old bus station to follow it.

A planned leisure quarter for the area around the old bus station has stalled but work to build a gym is ongoing and a Wetherspoons in Elizabeth Street will open up a side of the town that has been quiet for some years.

At the opposite end of a town, a cinema and leisure scheme is in the construction phase.