WALK the terraced streets of South Bank and you can't help noticing some unusual features. Why are there so many bricked up shops? Why are some groups of houses so different to their neighbours? And why do some street corners have odd shapes?

In Shadows In The Bricks, their latest book, members of the Clements Hall Local History Group set out to find some answers.

Most of the houses here date from the late 19th or early 20th century. They mainly consist of "long straight streets of small houses opening directly onto pavements, although some have small forecourts," writes Susan Major in her introduction to the book.

The houses were mainly built for artisans and workers who needed to live near factories - although these days the popularity of Bishopthorpe Road and South Bank more generally as a place to live has driven prices up.

It is an unusual quarter of York. "The area is still interlaced with back alleyways, featuring traditional and distinctive stone paviours, and people talk about the local sloping alleyways, some known as 'the sleepers'," writes Susan.

The other distinctive thing about the area was its shops: at one point there were more than 100 of them in South Bank. Bishopthorpe Road, famously, had its own a parade of shops. Elsewhere they were more widely scattered - but were no less essential a part of the community.

"People have fond memories of a barber who used to sit on his front doorstep serenading on his banjo, of street parties and Coronation celebrations," Susan writes in Shadows In The Bricks. "They remember milk delivered in jugs on doorsteps, grocers using a horse and cart for deliveries and children taking ages to choose penny sweets at the sweet shop."

The shops are mostly gone now - although some are still happily doing business, often after after passing through numerous hands. Even those that are long since vanished however, have left a trace of their existence.

"As you walk along these streets... you can spot the traces of shops, often houses with oblique bricked-up corners and the bricked-up remains of flat display windows, leaving just shadows in the bricks," Susan writes.

Susan and other members of the Clements Hall Local History Group have drawn on research already done by local residents, plus their own research - combing through directories, the census and local newspapers, including The Press, from the last 100 years - to tell the story of these shops.

Their book, which is a follow-up to 'Bishy Road: a York shopping street in time' published earlier this year, is subtitled The Old Shops of South Bank.

But while it focusses mainly on shops, inevitably the team turned up much more, too. So the book also features other old buildings in South Bank, such as Nunthorpe Court and South Bank Adult School, together with others long gone, such as Nunthorpe Hall, St Clement’s Rectory, Old Nunthorpe, Riverside Lodge and Ashcroft.

There are also interviews with long-time South Bank residents - who remember a very different way of life.

Joan Jackman recalls how almost nobody went into town to do their shopping back in the day. "They did a lot of their shopping at the Co-op," she recalls. "You used to put your order in on a morning: mum used to send me on a Thursday morning with her order, then they used to deliver, horse and cart mostly."

Derrick Gray recalls how just about every street in South Bank had its shop. But these were much more than just shops, he stresses. They were, all in their own way, a "ready-made community centre, somewhere for a chat...a friendly ear and a comforting shoulder in times of trouble. I wonder if people, especially older people, were as lonely as we hear about now. Here was help and advice free, coupled with good sound common sense, and Yorkshire common sense at that!"

Stephen Lewis

Shadows In The Bricks: The Old Shops of South Bank in York is written and published by the Clements Hall Local History Group. The book will be available from tomorrow, priced £7, from outlets throughout South Bank, including Clements Hall, Fred's Bakery, Tranquil Hair & Beauty, The Corner Barbershop, Tower Vets, The Winning Post, Pextons, Frankie and Johnny's Cookshop and Cameron Beaumont Opticians.