ROPES, BOOKS AND A DRAPER’S
Down the bottom end of Exchange Street was a shop of a type that has quite vanished. This was Hurns cord and twine merchants; its stock also included flags, bunting, waterproof covers, tents and sacks but during the period in which I remember the shop its stock was primarily rope. This may seem not to be a shop of much interest to me, but it was essential for our growing involvement in sailing and boating, and our need for painters, halyards and shrouds. It was an old shop, having been established in 1812 by Isaac Hurn. Despite its great age its stock was up-to-date and the rope that we bought was all of modern manmade fibre like polyester or Nylon, not hemp or sisal, though I’m sure that was available too. The shop had once been considerably larger, the block at 13 – 17 Dove Street which now houses a variety of shops including a modern pawnbroker’s (more on these shops later). This ornate building was erected by Hurn’s after a fire in 1898. It was there as Daniel Hurn and sons rope manufactures and yachting requisites in the 1912 Kelly’s Directory of Norfolk.
In 1896 Hurn, Daniel, (Patronized by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales) was down as manufacturer of ropes twines sacks, stack cloths, sheep and lamb sheltering cloth, sail and awning covers, cocoa matting, door mats, canvas and net hammocks, bell ropes for churches, braided leather reins, bunting and flags. The shop was still at 36 Exchange Street in 1969 but it must have closed soon after.
Continuing down Exchange Street and then turning left would soon bring one into St Benedict’s Street, and about halfway along was the Scientific Anglian secondhand bookshop. This belonged to Norman Peake who is still fondly remembered by many. As a bookshop it was unusual, as you may guess (if you did not know it) from the name. Professor Hubert Catchpole on one of his trips over from Chicago to his childhood home of Norfolk remarked of the strange name that there was nothing particularly scientific or Anglian about his stock. It got more cluttered as the years went by, for as time passed and his stock increased the area in which he was allowed to display it shrunk. He had a regular stock of local books, but the books were not expensive nor –for the most part- rare. You got to know your way round; nautical books were high up so you need his ladder to inspect them. His large stock of Everyman volumes was arranged in shelves up the stairs to the first floor until the authorities prohibited the use of other than the ground floor.
Norman liked nothing better than to stand at the back of his shop and dispense his wisdom to his customers. You soon got to know his opinions just by listening to him as you browsed through his books. He didn’t like Mrs Thatcher for example, nor nuclear weapons (but who does actually like them?). He had been a member of CND when that was thing to do. There was the the slightest hint of the bar room bore about him and I preferred not to get into conversation with him too often. Norman Peake never appeared to open his post, which just accumulated in the box inside his door. Eventually the authorities closed the remaining ground floor as a fire hazard.
At the end of Davey Place, almost underneath Davey Steps was another bookshop, only this one sold new books. This was Goose and Sons Ltd. Goose’s were also publishers of local books and had been since the 19th century, although in those days they were in Rampant Horse Street. One of the last books they published was Ronald H. Clark’s history of the M&GN railway in 1967, and although the shop was still there in 1969 it must have closed soon afterwards. Although it was loosely associated with another local publisher, Jarrold’s, in as far as they printed Goose’s later books, it was a far better bookshop than Jarrolds. Indeed it was the best bookshop in Norwich; there weren’t many new bookshops about. There was Jarrold’s and W. H. Smith’s which has never sold anything which didn’t appear as a best-seller, and the SPCK in Pottergate, but that sold mostly Christian literature. After Gooses closed the Hungate Bookshop opened in Queen Street and another bookshop opened up in Wensum Street where the Black Horse public House had been (naturally it was called the Blackhorse Bookshop). When Goose had gone the Blackhorse was Norwich’s best bookshop until it too closed. With the appearance of Waterstone’s we have entered the modern era of national chains.
A shop from the earlier period of local businesses was Butchers in Swan Lane. This was a draper’s and was the place to go for material and haberdashery. Such shops have gone, including a slightly more recent one in Gordon Thodays of St Stephens Street. Obviously people do not have the time or inclination to make things anymore, and even if the did the price of the material would be many times that of the finished article from places like Bangladesh or Sri Lanka.
Another sort of shop I had imagined was on the way out was the pawnbroker, but this has had a renaissance in these cash-strapped times. It is true that the old fashioned shop with three balls as its trade sign has largely disappeared. One was G. and W. Boston in Orford Street; they were another old established business, in this case having been opened in 1856 and of course they had the three balls hanging above the door. Orford Street was the centre of the Boston businesses in close proximity; opposite the pawnbrokers in Orford Hill was George Boston and Sons Ltd who dealt in prams (‘perambulators’), while just round the corner in Farmers Avenue was another branch of W. and G. Boston selling clothing. They specialised in working attire like warehouse coats and chef’s black-and-white checked trousers. I think still have a baker’s hat somewhere; I bought it there about 1971, but why I can’t now remember. Boston’s baby carriage shop (also established 1856) had closed by 1974 but I think the clothing shop lasted until the redevelopment of Farmers Avenue with the building of the Castle Mall. There is a photograph in my post on Norwich Shops (1) on December 4 2012 of Boston’s perambulator shop taken just after closure in the 1970s.
JOSEPH MASON firstname.lastname@example.org