A "legendary" town with plenty of charm
All aboard for Swaffham. Derek James continues his journey around Norfolk of 1890 and has arrived in the charming old market town where pedlar John Chapman once had a dream...
H ave you heard the story about a chap by the name of John Chapman who found a large sum of hidden money thanks to a dream and devoted his mysteriously acquired wealth towards building a portion or indeed the whole of the parish church in Swaffham?
The fine building dates from 1474 and the legend has been passed down from one generation to the next.
It’s tales like this which make the book Norfolk 1890, produced by the Norfolk Industrial Archaeology Society, so interesting. This tells the story of some 365 businesses as they saw themselves all those years ago. This is no history book cobbled together by 21st century historians. The business people themselves write about themselves and the fact they all think they are wonderful adds to the enjoyment of this unique offering.
At the end of the 19th century almost anything you could need was available in Norfolk and much of it was made here as well. And they all had stories to tell as they reached out to the customers.
Swaffham is described as a charming old market town which in recent years had made considerable progress as a business centre. The shops and industrial enterprises of the town compared most favourable with those of any place in the Eastern Counties.
John Aldiss, draper, hosier, haberdasher etc Norfolk House, Market Place.
“Norfolk House is in the competent hands of Mr John Aldiss. It has been in existence of upwards of 35 years. The departments are numerous and varied. Mr Aldiss possesses business ability and long experience, and through close and honourable attention to all affairs has gained the esteem and confidence of all who known him.”
Let’s take a look at what Swaffham had to offer more than a century ago:
W Gould, printer, stationer, bookbinder and dealer in fancy goods Caxton Printing Works.
“Mr Gould is very well known in Swaffham, the premises fronting the Market Place are substantially erected and are of handsome appearance. Large workrooms are provided at the rear of the shop, these being replete with all the necessary plant and appliances of trade. The stock is of a really superior character and articles bought at this establishment are bound to give satisfaction. Mr Gould offers employment to an efficient staff and is in receipt of a deservedly large share of public support.”
William Barnes, miller, baker and corn dealer Mangate Street.
“This old-established business is of considerable importance to the welfare of the community, as through the agency of this concern a constant supply of good pure bread is ensured. He is also a dealer in hay, offal, malt and hops, Scotch oatmeal, dog biscuits, linseed, farm and bird seed. Mr Barnes is an agent for the celebrated Hungarian flour; while in all the branches of trade mentioned he has a most influential and widespread connection, which he has built up during the 25 years this business has been in existence.”
Hannant & Sons, grocers, provision and general merchants Market Place.
“Established about a century ago this is considered one of the oldest houses in the district. The premises in the Market Place occupied by this firm are of a commodious nature, and have a capital frontage. From ‘foreign’ fruit to Whitbread bottled ales, the chances are that Hannant sells what his customers want in his store where: ‘the efforts of the principals are well seconded by an ample staff of assistants’.”
H Plowright & Sons, agricultural implement makers, horticultural and hot-water engineers, bellhangers, gas fitters etc.
“The Eastern Counties have almost the exclusive monopoly of the manufacture of agricultural implements and machinery, and among the chief centres of this important industry is the ancient town of Swaffham. Foremost here in the trade is the well-known firm of Plowright – one of the best firms engaged in this manufacture.
The business over which these gentlemen preside has been in existence many years and has at all times enjoyed a large share of patronage, both at home and abroad – the Prince of Wales being among the patrons of the house. The principal specialities manufactured are chain harrows, carts, specially adapted for agricultural purposes, rollers and clod breakers, horse hoes, horse rakes and corn elevators etc. A large number of skilled mechanics and other workmen are employed in different departments of the works.”
Next month we shall be travelling over to Fakenham where Mr Pratt said he offered the cheapest and best tea - ever.
Swaffham Market Place.
The home of Plowright and Sons.
Hannant and Sons was a general grocers, provision and general merchants in Swaffham.
W Gould’s premises in Swaffham.