TapStreet of Surprises

A survey of the Gloucester Road in Bristol

Gloucester Road is part of the main A38 trunk north out of Bristol and extends from the end of Cheltenham Road at the junction with Zetland Road, 1.7 miles up to Horfield Common before becoming Filton Road. It says in Wikipedia (without atribution) that it has the largest number of independent traders on any one road in the UK.

There are two independent directory web sites; one, ♥ Gloucester Road apparently supported by the Gloucester Road Trader’s Association but charges for “enhanced business listings” and another, Love Gloucester Road which has unknown support but appears to be crowd sourced. Neither is complete nor entirely accurate. Also the Bishopston, Cotham & Redland Neighbourhood Partnership and The Bishopston Society take an active interest in the road.

As I now travel regularly up the full length of the road by the leisurely and stress free public bus, I thought I would survey the street and see if it is as unique as suggested and also to look at some of the frequent complaints about degeneration. I surveyed the first mile of the road up to the junction with Rudthorpe Road (Numbers 1 to 457) where the bulk of the shops are. Beyond there it reverts to a typical suburban trunk road, mostly housing with local parades of shops forming small villages. I have included a short stretch of some adjoining roads where there were businesses which could be considered part of the community—for example Overton Road. Perhaps I should have included Cheltenham Road as far as The Arches but I don’t pass that bit regularly.

Using the street numbers there are very nearly five hundred properties in the section. I observed that the numbering in places was completely irrational, particularly between 237 and 257. The Promenade (1 to 15) is included but not the houses 28 to 38 behind them. Many numbered properties are doubled up for larger businesses reducing the total to 420 separate units. Excluding the 42 private houses and apartment blocks reduces the number to 378 business premises.

It is curious that many traders don’t seem to know the number of their shop; there is even one advertising with the wrong address.


It is a wasteland of derelict and empty shops?

I identified that 10% of the properties were vacant, 38 including one that burned down whilst compiling this report. That figure is certainly high and is exacerbated by them occurring in clumps—there are particularly bad patches between 148 and 158 which have all been empty for some time and a large property next to the Baptist church which, thankfully, now looks like it is now being renovated. Neglected and unoccupied shops became a magnet for bill posters and graffiti. The impression is not helped by traders who move to nearby premises leaving the old one in a terrible state; they should realise that it reflects badly on them, especially if it is still identifiable. Other shops which are open could do with a tidy up. I know times are hard but it is not good if you can’t tell an open shop from a vacant lot. But, overall, that is not my impression and a subjective view is that the road has improved and brightened up over the last few years.


“You can buy pretty much anything you need here.” Peter Browne, hon. sec. Bishopston Traders Association.

For each property that is occupied, and for those recently vacated where possible, I have identified the type of business and categorised them by planning code. The type of business was determined by exterior signage and mistakes are almost inevitable but it should give a general feel. The planning codes are also a guess, I have not consulted the council records. The results are

Retail (A1) 200 (53%)
Financial and Professional (A2) 40 (11%)
Restaurants & cafes (A3) 28 (7%)
Pubs & Bars (A4) 19 (5%)
Hot Food Takeaways (A5) 25 (7%)
Industrial & Office (B) 18 (5%)
Hotels etc. (C1 & C2) 1
Community Facilities (D) 28 (7%)—includes Doctors and Dentists
Special Planning Requirements 12 (3%)—businesses with a high community impact
Unknown 7 (2%)

This confirms the feeling that the street is primarily retail. The range of goods is remarkably varied but it covers a different spectrum to the city centre and Mall. The basic needs are well catered with bakers, grocers, greengrocers, butchers, hardware plus small to medium scale supermarkets. It is strong on ethnic goods having European, Oriental, Eastern European, African, Middle Eastern and South American specialists. There is also a wide selection of art and decorative retailers including jewellers and florists but is rather thin on fashion, especially men’s. Large items like furniture have moved out of town but it is good to see a strong showing in electrical goods and carpets. Services are a feature with many hair & beauty establishments. The A2 group includes banks and it is a shame that only two out of the big four are represented here. [Correction: The Nat-West I thought was closed was only boarded-up for refurbishment so there are three.]


The street is a ghetto of charity shops, estate agents and takeaways?

The results above are not detailed enough to verify this and those that are there could be misleading so I went on to do a more detailed analysis. For example, many restaurants also have a takeaway facility which pushes their category up to A5 and cold food takeaways are excluded. The results of the further work (which only includes current businesses not ones that have closed) are

Charity Shops 13 (4%)
All Takeaways 28 (8%)
All Restaurants & cafés 45 (13%)
Estate & Letting Agents 12 (4%)
Hairdressers 24 (7%)

The street is certainly a place for eating and eat-in places out number takeaways considerably (they also overlap, some trading as both). Estate agents have dropped off in recent years and I don’t consider the number of charity shops excessive—perhaps the perception of there being a lot is because they move around more than other businesses? If you need a haircut you are well served here.


The bars are a magnet for drunken crowds spilling onto the street at all hours?

I can only suggest that they haven’t seen Whiteladies Road and Park Street! The “Vertical Drinking Establishments” are covered by A4 above but many are small and are not used in this way. There are 11 pubs and two larger café/Bars with a slight concentration towards the lower end which may spill onto Cheltenham Road but otherwise they are well spread along the entire length. A pub crawl really would be a crawl by the time you got to the end. I have assumed that Restaurants but not Cafés have alcohol with food licences and have counted the following

Full Licence 20
Off Sales Licence 15
With Food Licence 15

The largest number of independent traders?

I have nothing to compare it against but I picked out those national chains that I recognised and came to a total of 37 (11%) with some of these being franchises with local owners. It is certainly predominately independent traders—much more so than you will find in the city centre and probably more than most county town high streets. One recent change is that there are now no chain off-licences; one has been replaced by an independent, one a supermarket and the other remains empty.

The complete analysis can be seen in the attached file (PDF). It will be interesting to review it in a year’s time to see the turnover of businesses and any trends.

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