Sad demise of city’s shoe-making past
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.