Saturday, May 19, 2012

Hemel Hempstead High Street

We recently took a trip back to the UK and I went to see my parents at my home town of Hemel Hempstead. Now, Hemel has never been the most exciting place to be in the world, but I enjoyed growing up there. It is a place with plenty of green spaces, close to all road/rail links, close to London for when you wanted to go there and it had a bustling town centre. When I was a kid, I loved meeting up with my mates to "go down town" and just hang, ride around on our bikes or preferably meet girls. The town centre, like most towns of the time, had the main drag of shops on one main shopping street, for Hemel it was called Marlowes.

This is how I remember it from the 70s/80s...

For anyone interested, there is a nice "trip down Memory Lane" from the local council website here.

The town centre always seemed to be bustling and dodging the traffic was part of the fun! I remember having my driving lessons driving down the Marlowes and being told it was good training for emergency stops as it should be called "Suicide Alley" ! The main Post Office was there, there were loads of good shops and especially smaller independent shops. 

In the 1990s they built an indoor shopping centre which opened onto the Marlowes, called imaginatively, the Marlowes Shopping Centre! They also pedestrianised the Marlowes. That was the beginning of the end for Hemel's high street. I really think it was just downhill from there. Other factors certainly played their part - big out of town supermarkets and DIY centres, a major indoor shopping centre in Watford and lately, the general financial crisis. But now the town centre just looks like a dump. There are a few nice bits where they have tried to build new stuff, but generally it just looks like Pikeyville. 

I took a few pictures while I was there to illustrate....

So in one small row we have, a shop to exchange your crappy old mobile phone, a Pawnbroker (yes they still exists!), Cashconverters, a charity shop and a betting shop. Lovely.

The obligatory Poundland (every town should have one - even Dubai has one of these!).

B&M Bargains where Woolworth used to be before they went bust.

Bright House traces it's roots back to Radio Rentals, which was also on the Marlowes when I was a kid. Still serving people who want to pay for their electronics and white goods on a weekly rental. Room201 was a nightclub. I remember it as Scamps and after that The Living Room. Always a dump.

'Nuff said.....

Game - one of many chains killed by the financial crisis.

 Another shop that didn't make it...

Another Pound shop....

No one reads books or sends letters anymore it seems.....

The best value shop in Hemel - only 99p, not even a Pound!

One of the original independent shops that still survives - god knows how, but I wish them well and hope they keep trading!

The Olympic Torch is due to pass through the town on July 8th - let's hope they spruce the place up a bit! 


  1. I was going to mention Poundstretcher opening in Dubai but you got ahead of me on that front.

    Even allowing for the financial crisis, out of town shopping and shopping centres, Hemel town centre does appear to be have gone downhill more than most.

    The other factor was that they used to have free parking but now with high car parkign charges as well we never go shopping in Hemel - High Wcyombe is our 'local' shopping area. And if we want a big shopping centre then its only 30 mins down the road to Westfield.

    If you want to catch up on Hemel nostalgia there is a facebook group: