FEW things illustrate the passing of time better than the high street. It’s not only the type and number of shops, it’s what they sell. Just watch the faces of those belonging to a certain generation light up at the mention of Spangles or Texan bars.

With this in mind, Horwich Heritage is to open its latest exhibition titled The Changing Face of Shopping in Horwich.

The exhibition will contain historic artefacts, displays and photographs from some of the forgotten and fondly-remembered shops and also a feature on the future prospects for shopping in the town where shopkeepers and the general public are invited to make their comments (as part of the Neighbourhood Plan consultations).

Mr Whittle said: “With so much attention currently being focussed on the future of the ‘high street’, we though it would make an interesting project for 2019 to look at the past, present and likely future of Horwich Town Centre and examine what has changed and why.

“Horwich, like every other town, large or small, has experienced drastic changes in the type of shops and shopping behaviour since it emerged as a ‘new town’ in the late 19th century (thanks to the building of the Horwich Loco Works). None of us can remember that far back but most of us can relate to the changes that have taken place since WWII.

“Shopping in the late 1940s and early 1950s was undertaken much as it had been before the war. It was necessary - and usually the woman’s job - to undertake the daily purchase of most of the items to feed the family because there were no means of keeping food fresh. Post war rationing and hardship also meant that there weren’t many ‘luxury goods’ in the shops, even if you could afford them and there were lots of shops offering to repair/mend items like shoes or electrical goods because it was so much cheaper than having to go to the expense of buying new.

“Gradually, however, things began to change and four particular developments hastened that change: refrigeration, the packaging of goods, the arrival of the ‘supermarket’ and the increase in car ownership.

“Suddenly - providing you had a fridge - you didn’t need to go to the shops everyday and, when you did, you could stock up on items for the week which came ready measured and wrapped. Amazingly, the Coop, which was the shop in Horwich (and many another town) with over a dozen branches, where you could buy literally anything, was ‘caught napping’ by these changes and found itself being outperformed by the new supermarkets, which in the case of Horwich was Kwiksave.

“By the late 1960s the ‘reign’ of the Coop in Horwich was over, as was the era of the small, independent butcher, baker, confectioner, grocer, tobacconist, fishmonger, ironmonger, draper, clothing and furniture shop.

“It is difficult to imagine now that Lee Lane and Winter Hey Lane contained such shops well into the 1960s/70s and that at one time Horwich had 17 butchers (it now has one – Greeleys). A number of these small traders hung on bravely (and still do) thanks to the faithfulness of local clientele, and older and not- so-old residents still mourn the loss of shops like Frank Hart’s cycle shop, Case’s pie shop, Buchanan’s ironmongers and Ferretti’s ice cream shop.

“And if these changes in shopping choice and behaviour weren’t difficult enough to contend with, there was the gradual decline of the town’s main employer, the Loco Works, which finally closed in 1883.

“This slump in Horwich’s fortunes could have been terminal but for the arrival of the Middlebrook Retail Park in the 1990s. This did wonders for those looking for employment but unfortunately did nothing to help the fortunes of Horwich Town Centre.

“Despite assurances from Bolton Council that it would be protected from direct competition, the ever-expanding ‘offer’ of every type of commodity that previously might have been bought in Horwich meant that the town centre did not benefit at all from all this massive investment and has continued to decline

“And finally, on top of everything else, the emergence of internet shopping has meant that even the high street and out-of-town retail ‘giants’ are struggling.

So what does the future hold for the beleaguered town centre of Horwich?

Mr Whittle said: “Credit must go to the ‘battle –hardened’ traders who have hung on in there and to the 21st century entrepreneurs who have opened new ventures. They deserve the support of the people of Horwich and the support of both Bolton and Horwich Councils.

“The promise of significant new investment as part of Bolton Council’s £1million pound ‘outer centre’ regeneration programme is welcome news indeed. What the centre now needs is a plan to show where this money should be spent with the express purpose of galvanising local trade, expanding what is on offer and making it more attractive not just to local shoppers but to visitors. Exploiting niche markets and even a farmers’ market might be the way forward as well as trying to attract even a small number of the hundreds of thousands of visitors who pass through on their way to Rivington, Anglezarke and beyond.

“We at Horwich Heritage have always believed that our local railway and countryside heritage could play a part in a retail revival in Horwich – let’s hope that’s the case.”

The exhibition opens on May 11 and will run until September.

It is open from 10am to 1pm at the Horwich Heritage Centre, admission is free.