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.”


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.


“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.


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!”

Ian Burt

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

Matthew Usher

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)

Pic­ture So­nia Dun­can

ABOVE: Sir Richard Jew­son

Pic­ture So­nia Dun­can

BE­LOW: Sir Richard Jew­son and his wife Sarah with their pet dogs.

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