Swan Lane is a narrow street that runs between London Street and Bedford Street in central Norwich. It has been a pedestrian only street since long before the rest of London Street was pedestrianised, which I remember happening around the late 1960s. The sign post saying “PUBLIC SHELTER” and the naval rating walking down the lane indicate that this was wartime. In this picture the sun light indicates that this photograph was taken in the morning but the closed shops suggest it may have been a Sunday; then of course Sunday was not a trading day.
This may have been wartime, but as far as the architecture goes this could almost be 2014; none of the shops look very different today. The two shops at the top of Swan Lane are Buckingham, the shoe shop, and Bullen the jeweller. Bullen’s is still there. Their address is London Street, although most of their shop fronts Swan Lane. Bullen’s proudly announce that they were founded in 1887. Dipple the Jeweller is also still in Swan Lane. What with all this talk of jewellers’ shops I feel quite keen to go and buy some something nice and sparkly there for my wife.
Shoe shops have not coped so well with the changing times. Besides Buckingham there was Bowhill and Elliottt in the city, and Ponds Foot Fitters Ltd. In 1969 there was still a shoe shop there in Swan Lane, only it was called Paramount Shoes. Besides shoe shops Norwich was famous for its shoe factories. Note the advertisement prominently displayed for NORVIC MASCOT shoes. As I have noted elsewhere, Norvic had their factory a few streets away in Colegate.
You cannot see it from this picture which was taken from London Street, but down at the bottom of Swan Lane was Butchers, a draper’s shop that I have mentioned in an earlier post on Norwich shops. Tom Stevenson the Sports shop was there along with Butchers and the other shops I have mentioned. That was about it, because Swan Lane is short as well as narrow.
Swan Lane was called that after the White Swan public house. The first landlord we know by name was James Munford in 1760. In those days the person in charge of a pub often had another occupation too, and his wife drew the pints during the day while her husband was at work. In the evenings he could act as publican; it was a busy life. James Munford was a hot presser, reflecting the importance of the cloth industry to Norwich at that time just as it had been for centuries.
The last landlord of the White Swan was the celebrated Prize Fighter Jem Mace. He had just made his debut in the ring at Norwich at the age of 26 when he briefly held the pub in 1857-9. We hear no more of the pub after 1859 although a fine sign of the White Swan still exists on the wall of a shop in Swan Lane. No doubt he spent some of his prize money on becoming a licensed victualler. Jem Mace was a champion boxer in the days of bare fist fighting, although he later helped to make gloved boxing under the Queensbury Rules acceptable. He was born in 1831 at the mid-Norfolk village of Beeston-next-Mileham. He boxed widely across the world, touring Australasia and America, where he lived for some years. He was the first world champion of boxing. Although he earned a lot of money during his career (he won for example $10,000 in a fight just outside New Orleans) he was penniless at the time of his death in 1910 in Liverpool, having spent it all on “horses and women”. In 1861 Jem Mace toured Lancashire with Pablo Fanque’s travelling circus. By coincidence Fanque – real name William Darby – was also from Norfolk, having been born near Ber Street in Norwich around the beginning of the 19th century. He was also the first black circus proprietor in England, indeed to date the only black circus owner, and achieved a posthumous fame for his appearance in a Beatles song.
At the time Jem Mace was growing up the offices of the Norwich Mercury stood on the opposite side of the road from Swan Lane at No 12 London Street. Indeed two hundred years ago the newspaper had already been published in London Street for many decades. The Norwich Mercury was one of the oldest provincial newspapers in the country. Then the street was called Cocky Lane. In the mid-nineteenth century Barnard and Boulton, the predecessors of Boulton and Paul still had their ironmongery shop at No. 9 London Street just to the left of Swan Lane. Boulton and Paul are perhaps better known to the general public as the makers of the Defiant, a Second World War fighter aircraft. Boulton and Paul and the Norwich Mercury are well-remembered names that lasted into the final years of the 20th century.
It all goes to show what a wealth of history (and not just local history) is contained within just one small corner- perhaps a dozen shops – in the city of Norwich.