A celebration of our department stores

A photographic exhibition to celebrate icons of the Scottish high street, past and present opens next week.

Featuring photographic images of Scottish shops spanning over 100 years from 1889 until 1991, it includes perspective designs for classic department stores such as Binns and Jenners.

This exhibition opens on October 12 and is a collaboration between Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh and Historic Environment Scotland, who have sourced the images from their archives.

The event ties in with the exhibition Liberty Art Fabrics & Fashion at Dovecot, who are also working with the SCRAN and Canmore online archives to bring together historic images of Scottish department stores from across the decades.

Scotland’s association with the pinnacle of department store shopping has a long history dating back over 180 years to when Charles Jenner founded his eponymous store on Edinburgh’s Princes Street in 1838.

From Jenner’s to fondly remembered names like Binns and Benzies – this exhibition is a stroll down the Scottish high streets of the past.

Many of the stores in this exhibition are still in operation – others have buildings that remain as a hint to the past but which now have different uses. In other images the architectural scene has changed beyond recognition and it is from a few visual clues that the hints of today’s high-street can be found.


Jane Thomas, curator at Historic Environment Scotland said: ‘Department Stores have been landmark buildings in Scottish towns and cities for over a century.

Designed by leading architects of the day, they are captured during their heyday in the drawings and photographs preserved in the archives of Historic Environment Scotland.’

With the nature of shopping changing once again the department stores are back in the headlines and fighting for survival as a nation’s shopping habits change.

This exhibition shows how department stores have continued to reinvent themselves, and how, through these iconic stores Scotland’s cities produced some of the finest examples of forward thinking architecture and iconic design, housing household names like Marks & Spencer and John Lewis.

More than simply a place to purchase high fashion and household wares the department store was a place to meet, to see and be seen, the destination for a day out, a trip into the big city, a meeting place to be pampered and indulged.

Department stores provided a complete experience such that the memory of a favourite store will often hold a firm place in a cities heart long after they have closed.

This exhibition will run concurrently with Liberty Art Fabrics and Fashion that continues until 12 January 2019.

The exhibition is free to visit.

The Dovecot Gallery, at 10 Infirmary St, Edinburgh, is open from Monday-Saturday 10.30am-5.30pm. The Scottish Department Store exhibition is open in line with the weaving floor viewing balcony which is Monday-Friday from noon-3pm and Saturdays 10.30am-5.30pm