This account represents the Alley as it was in the 1960s and 70s. It has been a pedestrian street for as long as I can remember and its narrowness suggests that even in the days of horses and carts it was reserved for foot traffic.
h HOVELL’S stood on the corner of Bridewell Alley and Bedford Street at the upper end of the hill that slopes down towards the river. When I first remember it the shop was not a large one. It was a simple room with a counter and the brushes and baskets hung up on the walls. You went in and asked for what you wanted. In later years you walked round two floors and selected your wares self service. By then they had started sell items of small furniture as you can see in the picture above. Utilitarian brushes and brooms had disappeared.
When the shop first opened in the 19th century the baskets were all produced locally. W.E. Hovell was still described as a basket maker in 1969 although the firm had long ceased to make the stock it sold. By then the existence of the village basket maker wasn’t even a distant memory. The days of osiers being gathered from the local carr and willow wands being fashioned into baskets in Norfolk villages are lost in the mists of the past. Some baskets may still have been produced in this country after the war but by the time Hovell’s finally closed its entire stock came from the Far East.
A As well as the source of the goods changing the nature of the customers changed too. Instead of catering for the man or woman who merely needed a shopping basket to carry home their purchases from the shops it became a tourist attraction where the customers wanted ‘rustic’ goods. When your shopping went home in a plastic bag you didn’t need a shopping basket for practical purposes. After Hovells moved out of Bridewell Alley early in the 21st century it diversified into all kinds of fancy goods and lo st much of its distinctive flavour. It ended in 2012 when the increasing cost of Asian goods made its continuation uneconomic.
FURTHER DOWN BRIDEWELL ALLEY next to Hovells was the COLMAN’S MUSTARD Shop. If you look closely you can see part of the yellow sign hang outside the shop. This was not a large shop but besides selling all their brands of mustard it also had displays from Colman’s archive collection. The finest part of this was their extensive collection of silver mustard pots. This collection should have remained together as those who assembled it obviously intend; the company even produced a booklet detailing the items (a copy of which I possess). But once the company had been sold off and the Colman family no longer had any connection with the Norwich factory the pots were sold by the new owners with an eye for the fast buck. The Mustard Shop was also due to be closed by the new owners who had no sense of civic pride, but it was saved by local people who appreciated the importance of mustard to the history of Norwich. The new shop was opened in the Royal Arcade and has no association with the multi-national firm Unilever who market the mustard brand. They are merely suppliers of the products.
O Opposite, but a few years before the mustard shop opened, was BRISTOW’S alternative bookshop that was a frequent place of resort for me from about 1966 until it closed. This shop sold all sorts of modern poetry; I can’t tell you what else filled its shelves because poetry was my overriding passion at the time and nothing else entered my head. Once a month in the afternoon the basement of the shop was taken over by all us budding poets from the local scene and we would read each other our latest efforts. It must have been dreadful. The shop was very much a product of the 1960s and did not survive long into the 70s (if at all).
W WILLSON and RAMSHAW the music shop was at 10/12 Bridewell Alley. They sold sheet music, instruments and records. Violins, guitars and recorders filled the shop window. Mr Ramshaw regularly came out to Poringland to tune our piano. On one occasion he was talking to me about my school. He was convinced that the house Tallis at Gresham’s (newly opened in 1963) was named after the 16th century composer of that name. I did not have the heart to disabuse him. The house is named after the Master of the school during the first half of the 17th century.
I do not know the origin of the pike sign in Bridewell alley. It ought to hang over a fishing tackle shop but it hangs over a bakers. There was a tackle shop and JOHN WILSON took it over just about at the time that the bookshop was closing. the fishing tackle shop at 18 Bridewell Alley He had begun his career as a hairdresser but by 1971 he was firmly into fishing. His television series ran on Channel Four for decades and his shop was a feature of Bridewell Alley. He recently moved from Great Witchingham he had a lake on the river Wensum to Thailand where he also has a lake filled with what are to us exotic fish..
O On the same side as John Wilson was a cafe I sometimes called into for a cup of coffee. If you wished you could also have your lunch there if your tastes were simple – sausage rolls for example. It later became the TAJ MAHAL Indian Restaurant. This was opposite the west end of St Andrew’s Church. The church takes up all the east side of Bridewell Alley from the Bridewell itself down the hill to St Andrew’s Street. The bottom shop in Bridewell Alley was GIBSON, a tobacconist and sweetshop.
MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIA