The Shop Girls by Elee Seymour

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The Shop Girls by Elee Seymour

Category: History
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Louise Jones
Reviewed by Louise Jones
Summary: The story of a long-forgotten department store as told by the ladies who worked there.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: September 2014
Publisher: Sphere
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780751554960

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Heyworth's Department Store.

The chances are, you have never heard of it before. I know that I hadn't, before I picked up this book. And yet, there was a time, not so long ago, when everyone in Cambridge would have been familiar with Heyworth's, even if they couldn't afford to shop there themselves. Smaller than most department stores, it offered high-end fashion, childrenswear and millinery, with a staff of smiling, smartly-dressed sales assistants ready to cater to the customer's every whim. It seems sad that with the passing of generations, the very existence of the store seems to have slipped away from the collective consciousness; ask most people in Cambridge if they remember Heyworth's and the majority response would be negative.

Thankfully, the store lives on in the memories of those who worked there; ladies now in their 80's and 90's, who can recall a time when stores prided themselves on personal service, merchandise was carefully stored in display cabinets and the resident milliner would create a bespoke creation fit for a queen.

Welcome to Heyworth's.

The store was named after it's larger-than-life owner, Mr George Heyworth, who was renowned for his kindness and generosity. His story is told through the eyes of four very different shop assistants: Eve, who starts work as a fresh-faced junior, straight from school; Betty, who has had to move back home with her domineering father after a failed marriage; Irene, who is finding life as a housewife dull and longs to return to the world of work; and Rosemary, a bubbly and vivacious young girl who loves going out with her friends. Their shared memories build up a picture of a life that seems a world away from our own, despite the fact that the events depicted took place mere decades ago.

Heyworth's reminded me of the store in Are You Being Served? and even had a senior sales assistant with a purple rinse! Floor walkers would greet customers personally and the ever-watchful Mr Heyworth would patrol the store to ensure that staff were busy at all times, as slacking would lead to instant dismissal.

I had some issues with the layout of the book, which could be confusing at times. The narrative switched between the girls, and a surfeit of ancillary characters meant that it was sometimes hard to work out who was being talked about. Every time a minor character was mentioned, the author would go off at a tangent and go into the complete life history of the person before returning to the main narrative. This felt overwhelming at times and it was hard keeping track of who's who. I would have preferred it if each shop girl had been given one complete section of the book, rather than chopping and changing between stories.

The Shop Girls is a beautifully written and well-researched book that gives a window into a forgotten world. The author must have a had a lot of fun compiling the stories and listening to the memories of these fascinating ladies. I really enjoyed reading their memories and thank the publishers for my review copy.

Bookbag enjoyed The Mill Girls by Tracy Johnson, which is written in a similar style to The Shop Girls and relates the experiences of the workers of Lancashire's cotton mills.

Buy The Shop Girls by Elee Seymour at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Shop Girls by Elee Seymour at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Shop Girls by Elee Seymour at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Shop Girls by Elee Seymour at Amazon.com.


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