The Face of Shrewsbury's Trade

An exhibition of old and new photographs of independent shops within Shrewsbury’s river loop is welcoming visitors to the new Museum and Art Gallery in town.

‘The face of Shrewsbury’s trade’, which is the first show to be mounted in the entrance to the museum, is the result of 18 months’ work by photographer Paola Alessandri-Gray who said that she wanted to take pictures that captured the variety and interest of the town’s many independent shops.

“I had an idea for the exhibition some time ago but the project did not quite make sense to me until I came across some beautiful photographs taken by Joseph Lewis Della Porta in 1888,” Paola said.

Della Porta was a prominent businessman whose father arrived in Shrewsbury from northern Italy, running a department store from 1857 to 1976, moving in 1929 to a purpose-built shop, which is now Rackhams.

He took around 80 pictures of shops with their staff standing outside which proved an inspiration to Paola, who lives in Shrewsbury now but originates from Milan, close to where Della Porta came from.

“Through the Italian link and the connection through the centuries I found the focus for my initial idea. I viewed the original photographs in the Shropshire Archives and I started working, taking pictures of today’s Shrewsbury traders,” she said.

The project has won Arts Council funding and has had the support of the Council’s Museum Service, the Shropshire Archives, Shop in the Loop as well as many individuals who contributed advice and expertise.

Paola added: “Central to the success of the project has been the good will and good humour of all the shop owners and their staff, enthusiastically embracing the idea and posing for the photographs in the middle of their busy days.

“It has been a great pleasure to get to know so many new people and learn about a side of Shrewsbury’s life that I knew nothing about.

“Running an independent business is very hard work, and I am full of admiration for the commitment of all these people who contribute so much to the character of our town.”

Shop in the Loop chairman Phil Freeman commented: “We have been supportive of Paola’s project from the very beginning and we are delighted it is at last on show in such a prominent place.”

The exhibition is displayed at the entrance of the Museum, so it can be seen by anyone who just wants to visit the free ground floor spaces, and will be on show for the next few months.

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