As Sir Richard Jewson stands down as Lord-Lieutenant of Norfolk, he spoke to Rowan Mantell about working for The Queen, his pride in Norfolk and its people, and a life-long love of trees
Sir Richard Jewson, The Queen’s representative in Norfolk
Sir Richard Jewson helped build an international business – but his heart and home have always been in Norfolk. From an idyllic childhood, through a career which saw him make his family name a household name, to the past 15 years of unpaid service on behalf of the county, he has gloried in being a Norfolk man.
His first job was in a timber yard; as he retires he is looking forward to seeing hundreds of the trees he has planted, maturing into a new Norfolk woodland.
Originally destined to be a doctor after studying medicine at Cambridge, he was instead asked to join the family business, Jewson, and was instrumental in transforming it into a household name and global operation employing many thousands of people.
“I wanted to be a doctor. I wanted to look after my fellow man, to make the world a better place,” said Sir Richard. “But now I actually believe that businesses do the world as much good as doctors, because people need work, and people in employment have better health than people who aren’t.
“And I don’t think I’d have made a very good doctor. I don’t like blood!”
Instead he began work in the Jewson timber yard in Yarmouth, moving on to the head office in Norwich to learn about business
administration, and then on to run a sawmill in Toftwood, near Dereham. It was the start of a career which saw him become managing director, and then chairman of an international business.
He was invited to be Lord-Lieutenant in 2004. “It was a serious decision,” said Sir Richard, “But my father brought his children up to believe that if you are asked to do something in life, you should say yes, if there is no good reason not to.”
Both his father and grandfather were Lord Mayors of Norwich, and Norwich’s first female MP, Dorothy Jewson, elected for Labour in 1923, was a member of the family.
As Lord-Lieutenant, Sir Richard became the Queen’s representative in Norfolk.
“Norfolk is a fantastic place,” he said. “The main reason, I think, is that a high proportion of people who live here really care about Norfolk and are prepared to help out. Volunteering thrives in Norfolk.”
He now had one of the highest profile voluntary roles in the country. Highlights have included helping Bishop Graham James, the retired bishop of Norwich, set up the Norfolk Community Foundation. “I’m very proud of that,” he said. “My way of describing it is; if a good person wants to do a good thing and they need a bit of money to do it, they should be given the money.”
“You find you get interested in particular parts of the role of Lord-Lieutenant. I have taken a great deal of interest in end-oflife arrangements. The thing that really struck me was that, when asked, people say they want to die at home, but most people don’t.”
He helped set up the Palliative Care Forum and a system of recording the wishes of people approaching the end of their lives. “But the problem remains. People don’t like talking about death.
“The Victorians talked about death all the time, but not sex. Now people talk about sex all the time, but not death!”
“I’m hugely proud of Norfolk. Even more so now because I
know more than I did about the county. It’s the people as well as the landscape, the countryside, the seaside, and the built heritage. I am hugely grateful to all the people who make it so special. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”
LORD-LIEUTENANT HISTORY AND DUTIES
The office of Lord-Lieutenant was introduced by Henry VIII and began as a military role, with responsibility for local defence. Today the Lord-Lieutenant, who is unpaid, must uphold the dignity of the Crown. He (or she) also takes an interest in the business, industrial and social life of the county, encourages voluntary and benevolent activities, liaises with local units of the armed forces and their cadet forces, and leads local magistrates. Sir Richard has attended national ceremonies on behalf of the people of Norfolk, including Prince William’s wedding, and presents British Empire Medals and Queen’s Awards for Voluntary Service and Enterprise on behalf of Her Majesty.
HOME AND FAMILY
“I could not have done it without the support of Sarah and our children,” said Sir Richard. He and his wife Sarah celebrate their 54th wedding anniversary this year. They live in a farmhouse in Barnham Broom and have four children and 12 grandchildren.
Sir Richard grew up in a Baptist family but was not baptised himself until three years ago. “If you are Lord-Lieutenant you go to church a lot,” he said. Then Sarah told Bishop Graham he would like to be baptised and confirmed. “All our children
came and the Dean’s husband baked a cake!” said Sarah, who owns and breeds three-day-eventing horses. Sir Richard enjoys golf and sailing – and planting hundreds of oaks and ashes, chestnuts and hazels around the family home. “I love trees. It’s probably because I was brought up in the timber trade,” he said.
“I’m not in the habit of being overawed by people but I do think that when you are in the presence of the Queen it’s difficult to keep your thoughts running in a sensible order,” said Sir Richard. “She is the Queen, and she has an aura. You have to be star struck when you are with the Queen!” He has welcomed royals to Norfolk more than 100 times. Rarely do plans go awry. Prince Harry got lost on the way to the Royal Norfolk Show and on the day the Queen marked 60 years on the throne it had snowed heavily. Sir Richard is normally at a venue well ahead of the Queen but with royal cars prioritised through the snow he had to hurry to get to the entrance of Dersingham Primary School ahead of her – and fell into a snowdrift in full uniform.
Sir Richard was very proud to be made a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order because they are awarded directly by the Queen and he was one of just two created in the 2019 New Year honours list.
JEWSON AND BUSINESS
Sir Richard Jewson can trace his family back to 16th century Fenland farmers, who began importing timber via King’s Lynn. When the railways arrived, distribution by boat and horse-and-cart was no longer viable so the eldest Jewson son moved to Norwich to establish a business bringing timber from Yarmouth by wherry.
It developed into a timber and builders’ merchant business, and, in the late 20th century, expanded from East Anglia into the rest of the country and then abroad. “We decided we were going to be the go-to place for the jobbing builder,” said Sir Richard. “A lot of small businesses were selling up, businesses consolidated, and the winner was Jewson. We went from eight branches to 1,000 branches. We became part of an international group, keeping the Jewson name and by the end of my involvement I was running Meyor International, with 12,000 people and branches in Europe, Australia, America.
“It was the time of the ‘We’ve got the Jewson lot’ adverts!”
Sir Richard stood down as executive chairman in 1993 and the Jewson brand is now owned by French conglomerate Saint-Gobain. He has been involved in many other businesses, charities and organisations, including being chairman of Archant and Savills and deputy chairman of Anglian Water. He is chairman of two companies which build and operate warehouses – one in Russia and one in the UK; pro-chancellor of the University of East Anglia and patron of charities, including the Wherry Maud Trust. Maud, restored after being discovered submerged at Ranworth, turned out to have been a trading wherry built for a Jewson ancestor.
“You have to be star struck when you are with the Queen!”
LEFT: The Queen arrives at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn, and is greeted by The Lord-Lieutenant of Norfolk, Sir Richard Jewson
ABOVE: Duchess of Cornwall and Prince Charles walk to Thornham village church for a concert to raise money for local churches with Lord-Lieutenant of Norfolk Sir Richard Jewson (centre)
ABOVE: Sir Richard Jewson
BELOW: Sir Richard Jewson and his wife Sarah with their pet dogs.