As in so many city centres, new buildings of variable design quality are being thrown up fast in Derby. The sprawling Eagle Centre, an enormous shiny mall, covers a huge area,
filled with multiple copies of the same chain stores to be found in any other UK town or city. There are one or two individuals, such as Drucker's Viennese Coffee Shop (the original was founded in the 1930's in Birmingham by an Austrian émigré) and was a magnet for discussion, debate and prolonged perusal of newspapers until late into the night. It's just another coffee shop now, selling nerve-twitchingly fierce coffee and expensive continental patisserie, but at least it isn't Starbucks or Costa.
On the fringe of town stands a row of tall 19th century houses, their ground floors converted into shops, and facing an endless flow of traffic. At first they seem unremarkable, the usual mix of fast food outlets and small businesses, but squashed uncomfortably between brash modern neighbours with gaudy signage, sits the one-time Savoy Fish Restaurant. It's a long time since anyone took home a fish supper from this establishment, because it is very definitely closed for business, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say it looks as if it has been abandoned and forgotten about...
Covered in a thick layer of city and traffic grime, it is a tiny frontage from another era, with traditional wooden window frames and door. Most people probably don't even notice it as it sits gently decaying like a poor rotten tooth, awaiting its inevitable fate, yet a closer inspection reveals much of interest.
Peering through the filthy window, or at least that part of it which is not boarded up, there sits along the left hand wall a magnificent frying range of 1950's/60's vintage, handsomely mirror-backed with tropical fish and coral decoration as a finishing touch. Made by Harry Nuttall of Rochdale (who are, incredibly, still running a thriving business), it stands unloved, unpolished and greasy in the abandoned shop, devoid of purpose in the gloom. Piles of thick white plates stand covered in dust on the counter, and the whole place feels as if the owners simply walked out one day and never returned.
Sadly I don't know how long it is since the Savoy was filled with the heady smell of sizzling oil, the sharp tang of vinegar on salt or the brisk wrapping of fish and chips in yesterday's paper, in strict accordance with the "Quick Service" signwritten on the window. I want to imagine it filled with the ghosts of days gone by, a courting couple on their way home from a night at the Odeon, a shift worker picking up a fish supper after a week of noons, a gang of teddy boys fooling around and being half heartedly antagonistic. On the other side of the counter, the owner, a portly man with brylcreemed hair is feeling a little stressed as he tries to keep up with a sudden influx of customers, tipping out the fragments of batter with some irritation. The assistants, of which there are two, are capable middle aged ladies firmly clad in shiny nylon overalls, who serve the customers with speed and efficiency, occasionally glancing through the steamed up windows at the world outside.
When the last customer has departed, the oil is at last cooling and the floor given a cursory mopping, someone turns the sign to "closed" and the evening is at an end. One day the door will be locked and business will be over for good. Goodnight, Savoy.