NORWICH SHOPS (11)

THE HAYMARKET and THE WALK

These are the main shopping streets in the city, and being next to the Market Place and the Guildhall, they have been the commercial hub of the city for hundreds of years. Beginning opposite the Market we come to Gentlemans Walk, its official title, but everybody calls it simply The Walk. In spite of the universal use of the word Walk today, in the 18th century it was known as Gentleman’s Way. The Walk runs from the junction of Gaol Hill with Exchange Street, along the east side. The west side is occupied by the Market. Where the shops begin the name changes to The Haymarket, which runs along both sides of the street. Just one shop stands on the west side before the Haymarket begins. This used to be the Gas Board shop, selling gas cookers, geezers and fires; since the Gas Board became British Gas it has been a bargain bookshop, currently going by the name of The Works.

A few businesses have remained in this area since before I was born; Samuels the jeweller and the bank I think of in particular. But many that I remember as a child have long gone. Mac Fisheries was a nationwide chain of fishmongers, and they had a shop on the Walk. There was a branch of Sainsbury before it was a supermarket, just a grocers shop. Lyons Corner House was there too, where I used to be taken by my sister to the upstairs restaurant for a bite to eat.  These shops were generically called Lyons Corner Houses, but the one on the Walk was not on a corner. Lyons, together with the other firm Walls, supplied nearly all the ice cream you bought in the city, and both were national concerns. The only independent ice cream firm was Aldous (made in their dairy on City Road), and this was available from a kiosk very near the Walk on the Market Place. The Italians, like Valoris who had sold ice cream from tricycles along the city streets before the war, had moved into fish and chip shops instead.

W. H. Smith has been in the Walk for many years, but before that it was in St Stephens, and before that the only W. H. Smiths in the city was the bookstall at the station. Burtons the tailor had a shop on the corner of the Walk and London Street, and my father and I went there each of us to have a suit made up, when I was starting on my business career.  It is still a menswear shop, only now it goes by the name of Jack Wills.

The Royal Arcade was designed by the Norwich architect George Skipper, right at the end of the 19th century. It is a perfect piece of Art Nouveau architecture, apart from the entrance on  the Walk, which retains the frontage of the Royal Hotel which stood there before it was built. D. R. Grey, the optician, had a shop in the Arcade and Mr Pfob sold flowers there. Langleys the toy shop is still doing business in the Royal Arcade, but when I first remember it the shop was in a smaller unit on the other side of the exit to White Lion Street.

THE CURAT HOUSE, 1971.

THE CURAT HOUSE, 1971. on Haymarket, just prior to closure.

Moving along we come to the Haymarket. Starbucks is where Lamberts used to be; this delicatessen/grocery was venerable name in the city. Cecil Amey, the opticians, stands in the Haymarket. It has been there since the 1920s; my father worked for Cecil Amey himself, while he studied to become an optician. Cecil was not much older than my father, and he had a motorbike that he used to let my father use. On the other side of the street was Backs, the wine shop and bar, that occupied the Curat House. Backs had been a name in Norwich since at least the 19th century.

Mentioning the Curat House takes us back much further, to the Middle Ages. The part of the property that appears above the ground is basically a Tudor building, although you would never guess this from the modern shop front that appears on the Walk. Even the first and second floors above appear to belong to a Georgian building, but behind this facade you are immediately thrust  the 15th century. Below ground level the cellars are medieval. They may well date back to the time when the Jews lived in this quarter of the city in Norman times. These cellars were where Backs opened a bar to add to their wine shop in the late 1960s. I am just old enough to have frequented Backs a few times before it closed in the very early 1970s. There I would take the odd tipple as a young man.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE

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