The perfect shop window for artistic flair to shine

Co-op House Civic Pride window 1959
Co-op House Civic Pride window 1959
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Kay Ainsworth dressed some of Portsmouth’s most prominent shop windows, including the Co-op’s in Fratton Road.

She got in touch after seeing a Remember When picture of a display there of women’s underwear from 1932.

Kay (nee Britnor) says her only ambition was to be a window dresser and within days of leaving school in the late 1950s she was offered a junior position at Newmans, Commercial Road. She later moved to the Co-op.

Kay says: ‘In those years the store windows were designed by the window dressers themselves and were totally individual. Windows were planned, backgrounds and props were made and the windows dressed. Although this continues in some places today, more often the multi-national stores produce a plan that is copied throughout their branches.’

The Co-op’s display team won many competitions, she explains.

‘The display studio was always a hub of creativity, as window dressers produced their backgrounds and props out of a variety of materials.

‘Stanley knives, staple guns, drills, saws and hot wire machines were the regular tools of the day. We painted and sprayed and there were no health and safety issues then. We couldn’t have produced these creations had there been such restrictions.’

She says that at Christmas a continuous design decorated all the windows.

‘They took months to produce, fitting in the extra work around the weekly window dressing routine. The display studio was on the roof of Co-op House and props such as garlands, Christmas trees and snow scenes would spill over on to the roof space long before the festive season ever drew near.’