Times change, and the shops change with the times. The times that I recall when Norwich shopping was a big part of my life were the 1960s and 70s. It is strange how what were then quite ordinary shops would now be regarded with a degree of horror; Pearson and Co, for example, at the top end of Bedford Street. It called itself a cutlery shop, and that meant knives. The shop window was full of nothing but knives. Carving knives and table knives, but also of sheath knives, huntsman’s knives and cleavers. Today virtually the whole stock would be liable to be destroyed under the police amnesty for dangerous weapons, although such a common item as knives cannot be made illegal, they are rather less visible to the public. But in those days nobody turned a hair and no-one thought it unacceptable to buy a boys sheath knife for his birthday; I had one myself. Nobody was ever stabbed. Truly it is the people holding them, not the implements themselves that are dangerous.
Slightly further along at 37 London Street was another shop that would now be regarded as highly dubious. Millers & Co boasted that they were the oldest firm of CIGAR and TOBACCO dealers in the City. A figure of a Highlander in full highland dress stood guard over the shop doorway; he was about 4 feet tall. By the time the shop eventually closed (sometime in the 1970s) he had done so for about 150 years. He then disappeared for a number of years until a reporter in the Evening News tracked him down to America – apparently looking very different having been repainted in garish hues. I remember him well enough but I scarcely gave him a moment’s thought. I didn’t know he was such a venerable figure of the Norwich scene, nor that Millers itself dated back to 1812. There are very few tobacconists left, and they are now not allowed to display their stock. The jars of tobacco and the trays of briar pipes were not then thought to the bringers of disease as they are today. The shop had this quotation as its motto;
“What is pleasure but a pipe?” – Taken from Logan’s “Pedlar’s Pack of Ballads” of 1869.
Lamberts was a marvelous delicatessen of a type which scarcely now exists except perhaps in London. There certainly isn’t one any left in Norwich. Lamberts shop had been established in 1843. They sold coffee, ground or unground, all types of dried beans and salted or unsalted bacon. This you had sliced off the side of bacon with a bacon slicer, cut to the thickness you wanted. The prime speciality was leaf tea, including their own blend, B.O.P. (but definitely no tea bags). That was on the ground floor, but in the basement was their counter for all sorts of exotic goods like salami which could not be bought elsewhere.
Olives too were not the common items that they are today. Other even more exotic sweetmeats and savouries I never got round to trying. Upstairs on the first floor was the Mecca Restaurant where you could buy morning coffee, lunch or afternoon tea. Evening meals however were not catered for as the shop closed at 5.30 prompt. It was not only Lamberts that closed at half past five; everywhere closed then and the city became a desert. Lamberts shop I remember best on Hay Hill, although it had been in London Street and moved to Boston’s old premises on Orford Hill in 1974 before closing for good.
And we shouldn’t forget Woolies in Rampant Horse Street, now part of arch rival Marks and Spencer. Before it closed in 2009 Woolworths had become but a shadow of its former self. In its heyday it sold everything I wanted (or almost everything) and quite a lot more besides. There were dozens of counters, each with an assistant serving all four sides. There were Harris’s sausages and little televisions shaped like Sputniks (these were Russian of course); cheap Spanish wine, Airfix kits, and even Yugoslavian Tomos mopeds. If you needed Blakey’s for your shoes or batteries for your torch Woolworths was the place to go. If you had kids (unlike me at that time) Ladybird was the brand name of their range of children’s clothes. And if you fancied an ice cream or sausage and chips there was a huge restaurant on the mezzanine floor with a view of the busy shoppers below.
I could go on; there was Hovells on the corner of Bridewell Alley that has only recently closed, although it left its city centre location some years ago, and had moved upmarket from the plain goods it had originally sold. When I first used to go there it was a real old-fashioned shop selling brooms and wicker baskets. For more on this shop and other in Bridewell Alley see my blog on Norwich Shops (7).
Lings in White Lion Street was a hardware shop. It is now Moss Bros, or whatever their current name is. Lings was a favourite with my father who frequently had to call in for bolts or screws, and he knew all the staff who stood behind the counter and served you. They all wore brown warehouse coats. I am just old enough to remember my Great Uncle “Ozzie” Osborne’s shop selling rubber goods also in White Lion Street. The stock was mostly things like rubber boots and hosepipe, but other under-the-counter rubber items caused a certain amount of ribald laughter among my cousins.
Most of the shops I have recalled were local enterprises; only Woolworths was part of a national chain. Times change, as I have already intimated, and now there are many more shops that are part of a large national or international group. Franchises which did not exist in the 1950s too have flourished. One thing unites all the businesses I have mentioned – they have all gone. With the growth of internet shopping who knows what the future holds?