The residents of the new suburb of Primrose Hill probably bought the furniture and fabrics to adorn their brand new homes in older established shopping centres. Nearby was Camden Town whose new High Street grew northwards straight into the old village of Kentish Town, both centres soon bustling with markets, small shops and large stores competing for business. Tottenham Court Road was already a centre for furniture. Further away, and more expensive, was the West End. Regent Street had been flourishing since the 1820s and Oxford Street was fast becoming popular. However it took time to walk there from Primrose Hill (about forty minutes south through Regent’s Park) or money to ride (a hackney cab from Primrose Hill to the West End was very expensive). Omnibus fares were high for the poor, and local trams started only in 1871. Besides, once you had walked the ten minutes to Camden Town to connect with public transport, you might as well shop there.
For daily needs, residents did not need to leave Primrose Hill. Food, household goods, pharmaceuticals, even fabrics could be purchased within five minutes of home. Many shops would deliver to the home, sometimes even twice a day. Regent’s Park Road eventually had the most shops, about fifty. Other streets had their own retail terraces.
Gloucester Avenue had about fifteen shops, Princess Road had about thirteen, Chalcot Road also about thirteen. Even little Erskine Road had two or three. Sharpleshall Street had a short terrace of shops which was demolished in 1961 to make way for the new library, and there had once been others on the opposite side of the road. This makes a total of about ninety retail outlets. (The numbers are vague, because sometimes it is not clear when the Post Office Directory lists the occupier as, say, ‘house decorator’ or ‘tailor’, whether he ran an actual shop there, or whether he worked elsewhere.)
By the mid-1870s nearly all the retail premises were operating. The 1871 census shows conditions as being cramped, with often twelve or more people living over and behind a shop. As well as perhaps three generations of immediate family, there might be nephews or nieces. There was perhaps one servant, apprentice, or errand boy. Then there were often lodgers or boarders: elderly widows, unmarried men (such as clerks, railway or piano factory workers) or women (laundresses, dressmakers). Booth identifies the shop-keepers of Regent’s Park Road, Chalcot Road and parts of Gloucester Avenue as ‘lower middle-class’. Others he records as ‘higher class labour’.