Welcome back Ethel - when she left school she got a job at Bowhill & Elliott’s shoe shop - she returned more than 80 years as a VIP.

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She opened the door of this iconic Norwich shop and stepped back in time – to the roaring twenties. “It’s wonderful to be here again,” said Ethel Wright, who returned to Bowhill & Elliott’s shoe shop on London Street, Norwich, as part of her 100th birthday celebrations.

When she left school Ethel Smith had gone to work at the posh shop during a time when the city was bristling with local, independent stores.

Today, while so many of them have gone, disappeared or swallowed up by multi-national chains, Bowhill & Elliott is one of the few survivors – continuing a long tradition of selling fine shoes in a fine city.

There was a time when thousands of men and women were employed in the big and busy Norwich shoe factories producing footwear which was sent all over the world.

Most names, factories and shops, are now a distant memory but Bowhill & Elliott is still going strong – because it sells quality shoes people still want to buy.

“It’s lovely to be back. I thought it was wider than this,” she smiled as she took a look around and even nipped up the steps to remember a time when the men admired her “pins.”

“It was a happy place to work,” said Ethel, now living near Eye in Suffolk, and judging by the friendly and welcoming staff today – it still is.

Born and brought up in Swansea Road, Norwich, a century ago Ethel’s father, Frederick, was the caretaker of The Avenues School. That’s where she went and her first job was at Bowhill & Elliott.

“I remember being asked to take some of the shop paperwork to an office in Upper King Street. I was told to hand it over to a certain man, but this other young man held out his hand and announced he opened all the mail,” recalled Ethel.

Soon afterwards Ethel was selling roses on Alexandra Rose Day – a big annual event in those days helping a number of charities when she spotted the same young man.

“It was Thursday. Half-day closing in Norwich. He bought a rose. Then he walked round the clock before coming back and buying another rose. His name was Frederick Wright,” said Ethel.

They got married at Eaton Church in the early 1930s. Ethel has a son living in Canada.

She was a VIP at the shop on her return when she was presented with a bouquet of flowers by Roger Jury, a descendent of Thomas Baines Elliott.

derek.james@archant.co.uk

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