Canterbury has been a market town & shopping centre since before the Middle Ages and it is the shops and shopping that makes up much of the character and vitality of the city centre. Canterbury is fortunate in that many of its traditional shopfronts and signs still survive from the hey-day of independent retailing in the C19th. The Canterbury Council has for many years understood the importance of preserving the historic shopfronts of the city and their traditional signage and over about a thirty year period from 1980, had encouraged the restoration and reinstatement of properly detailed traditional shopfronts and fostered the art of traditional signwriting within the town. During this time about 150 traditionally designed shopfronts were either restored or reinstated to replace ugly modern designs from the 1960s and 1970s.
However there remains to this day a relentless pressure from national traders and signage contractors to replace traditional local designs by more standardised corporate identities. More recently, lack of resources at the City Council have meant that the city is no longer able to maintain this Shopfront and Signage initiative and, in particular, there is a worrying trend towards the use and acceptance of individual pre-manufactured fascia lettering as a substitute for traditional signwriting. The Canterbury Society is particularly worried that this relaxation of standards of control might lead to the acceptance of inferior and clumsily detailed shopfront designs and signage proposals that will in time erode the special character and appearance of the historic city centre and tends towards the return of the “Identikit High Street”
Because of this, the Canterbury Society is now taking a more pro-active role in the city centre and it is now often the first point of call for developers seeking advice and wishing to alter shop fronts and put up new shop signs.
Committee members also often make contact with new shopkeepers in the process of fitting out their shops, and in addition to welcoming these new faces to the City, can offer useful practical advice on the appropriate design of shop fronts and fascia signage. Notable recent successes resulting from this process, include the new shop signs for ‘Bike Tart’ and for ‘Girlings‘ new offices in Broad Street. In both these cases, advice offered by the Canterbury Society has led to a significant improvement of the signs erected in both these places