Sad demise of city’s shoe-mak­ing past

Let's Talk - - POSTBAG -

It was sad to hear that the Dib­den Road Van Dal show fac­tory, which was the last op­er­at­ing shoe pro­duc­tion com­pany in Nor­wich out of dozens that once ex­isted in the city, was go­ing to be shut, bring­ing to an end our proud his­tory of shoe-mak­ing over the years.

It was par­tic­u­larly sad for me be­cause my late step­fa­ther Ce­cil Dawes worked there on the shop floor, mak­ing shoes for most of his life, and my late mother Milly also worked there as a part-time cleaner and it was there they met, fell in love and mar­ried.

It still makes me smile to­day that my mother, when Ce­cil propsed, asked his man­ager if Ce­cil would make a good hus­band to Mum and the two chil­dren she had, my­self and my sis­ter Dot. Ap­par­ently he gave Ce­cil 10 out of 10. Would any­thing like that hap­pen to­day?

The fac­tory was then called Chid­docks and was slowly go­ing down­hill. It was saved and trans­formed when taken over by the Florida Group who made Van Dal shoes, and the Good­man fam­ily who owned and ran it.

What amazed Ce­cil and my mother was how well the Good­mans treated their work­ers com­pared to how they had been treated be­fore. Ce­cil was one of the few work­ers who stayed on at the take-over and when he had com­pleted a few years at the Florida fac­tory his man­ager called him into his of­fice and pre­sented him with an en­graved gold watch for 25 years’ ser­vice.

I still have in use to­day a part of Ce­cil’s re­tire­ment present given by Good­mans, a book­case from Jar­rold.

My mother, when she turned up to work at 6am on her last day be­fore re­tir­ing, found the fac­tory man­ager, an­other Good­man, wait­ing to give her a bunch of flow­ers and a present. He also told her she was the only mem­ber of the work­force he had not spo­ken to per­son­ally and apol­o­gised to her for that.

The Good­mans also gave great Christ­mas par­ties for their em­ploy­ees’ chil­dren and their par­ents and an­nual sum­mer coach trips to the sea­side.

I won­der, when look­ing back at the fac­to­ries in Nor­wich which have shut over the years, had they all been run by small fam­i­lies like the Good­mans in­stead of large in­ter­na­tional com­pa­nies, if some would still be open to­day, giv­ing lo­cal peo­ple a more se­cure liv­ing.

DAVID M COE Nor­wich, Nor­folk

Those were the days. Ce­cil Dawes, right, with fel­low work­ers at Chid­docks.

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