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Sunday, 23 July 2017

Continuity and Change in Consumer Behaviour

I have the great good fortune to have [modest] homes in Wapping and in Bakewell.

Bakewell has been a tourist destination since before Jane Austen visited, and made its main hotel the setting for the reconciling encounter between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy. With the growth of urban centres, the Peak District became surrounded by major industrial cities, market towns and mining villages; and despite the Thatcherite destruction of much of the former employment, there are still over four million people who live within one hour's travelling time of Bakewell [which is pretty central to the Peak]. Since the days of charabancs, the number who walk or cycle from Sheffield, Manchester and Derby have been massively exceeded by those who come on buses and coaches, and in family cars, to enjoy the beauty of the countryside, the variety of the shops, the delightful interests of the Monday market and - bizarrely - to eat chips by the river bank. With the chips, some eat fish, or fishcakes [Yorkshire or Derbyshire style], jumbo sausages or pies and - latterly - deep-fried Mars bars: but many just eat chips, and reminisce about doing the same thing decades previously with their parents and grandparents. Whatever exotic holidays or pastimes the family members may have been able to afford, they retain an affection for the location of childhood memories; sufficiently to keep two chip shops busy. Especially on Bank Holiday weekends, the town centre literally smells of chips. There are several good restaurants in the town, including two pubs that have moved upmarket; but that burgeoning alternative has not dented the traditionalist demand for 'open' chips to be consumed in the open air [and, disastrously for the wildlife] shared with the ducks and the geese. This is thus an example of a consumer tradition being continued through the generations.

Wapping has recently become a 'destination', partly driven by the mounting of major events at Tobacco Dock, partly derived from the increasing success of the establishments around St Katherine Docks, and greatly facilitated by the opening a few years ago of the East London Line as an integrated component of London Overground. Saint Katherine's  is only a few dozen yards from Tower Hill Station and is immediately adjacent to Tower Bridge; and direct lines from Wapping station now go to Croydon, Crystal Palace, Highbury and Islington and Clapham Junction. Thus people from much of London can easily get to Wapping; but why should they? Unlike the South Bank, the north bank of the river, especially at Wapping and Limehouse, is largely inaccessible to visitors. Except for the listed St Peter's church, there is nothing to draw the visitor into the centre of Wapping; where there are just [excellent] family shops and five pubs, four of which are not designed or geared-up to take the tidal waves of one-time visitors who now appear in them. The one pub that is set up to take the tourists is the Prospect of Whitby, which is known by name to millions of people, and features in family anecdotes as the place where young men [and occasionally women] in the dark ages when the London Docks were open could more-or-less safely go to see the rough edges of east end life. Wapping has become gentrified, and the riverside is now almost completely given over to expensive apartments, some in former warehouses and others in buildings made to look vaguely like old warehouses [and called after the former wharves that stood on the site]. Two modern restaurants - an Italian establishment from the 'nineties, and a fish restaurant from the noughties - have both attracted trade from far afield; but the sort of people who crowd the pubs, especially on sunny Saturdays and Sundays are a very different clientele from those who are attracted to the restaurants. The cool wind and the rain yesterday did not deter many hundreds of people from cramming in to the riverside pubs; from which the once-familiar faces of surviving 'old Wappingers' have disappeared. This change has been accelerating for five years, but this year it has become almost overwhelming. Where these people come from, and why, is a modern mystery: a consumer phenomenon.

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