Fascinating memories of working at Curls when it first opened in Norwich

Curls department store sale - Robertsons & Garlands - Norwich pic taken july 1965 m1061-11 pic to

Curls department store sale. - Credit: Archant

An original staff member of Curls has shared his memories of the store's place in the heart of Norwich city centre. 

The Norwich man was just 17 when he joined the original staff at the store's opening on April 7 1956, paid £3 a week for his work in the  furniture department. 

The department store, in Orford Place, was taken over by Debenhams in the 1960s, but traded under the Curls name until 1973. 

The Curl brothers arrived in Norwich from west Norfolk in 1860, purchasing The Rampant Horse inn and transforming the site into shops and warehouses.  

By 1929 the store covered 51,000 sq ft, until it was destroyed by bombs during World War II. 

Damping down the fires in the ruins of Curls Store,Rampant Horse Street, April 30, 1942 Pictur

Damping down the fires in the ruins of Curls Store, Rampant Horse Street , April 30, 1942 Picture: Archant Library - Credit: Archant


Curls in the heart of Norwich 100 years ago. Picture: Archant Library

Curls in the heart of Norwich 100 years ago. Picture: Archant Library - Credit: Archant

The new store was rebuilt and opened in 1956 with the former employee - who didn't want to be named - recalling the shop being among the first in East Anglia to have escalators and music playing in the background.


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He said: "Most purchases were cash, few customers had cheque books and Barclays did not appear until the late 60s.

In the Westlegate store, also in Jarrolds and Co-op, the cash was transferred to the cashier upstairs by pneumatic tube who would return your receipt and change several minutes later. In the new store every counter had a Sweda electric till which was emptied periodically by the chief cashier, Mr Smith, and his assistant."

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The furniture department often handled larger transactions, with customers pulling out "a wad of £1 notes to complete their purchase". 

The Norwich resident had taken a job at Curls to learn about furnishings with the aim to join his family representing furniture manufactures. 

In the department, it was normal for customers to buy furniture as a suite.

He said: "By the time of the store opening homeowners were more discerning than their parents had been. They had seen pictures in Ideal Homes Magazine and wanted the new contemporary designs and colour. Consequently, staff sold furniture from manufacturers' catalogues. However there was no next day delivery like today. It was often several weeks before the manufacturer was delivering in Norfolk.

"At Christmas time, Curls stocked less expensive furniture items, pouffes, mirrors to hang over the fireplace, sewing boxes. No fireplace was complete without a companion set. This consisted of a poker, brush and dustpan and tongs to pick up stray coal usually hanging on a frame in the shape of a lucky horseshoe. 

Norwich Buildings "D"Debenhams Department Store which was built on a bomb site in the late 1950s

Norwich Buildings "D" Debenhams Department Store which was built on a bomb site in the late 1950s and was originally called Curls. The picture was taken from the Brigg/Theatre Street junction Dated -- 25 December, 1988 Photograph --C2357 Folkes - Credit: Archant Library

"The poshest homes might serve tea and cakes on a tea trolley with wheels and if you really wanted to impress how about serving port or sherry from a cocktail cabinet fully illuminated or display your china ornaments in a china cabinet."

During the mid 1950s, the laws were relaxed around borrowing, allowing customers to make purchases over a three year period, with payments due weekly at the cashiers department on the first floor.

Elsewhere in the store customers would see security officer Sid Cole, a retired police constable, and operating the passenger lift was Charlie, who would announce the floor "in the manner of Are You Being Served?"

Norwich - OAPs christmas shopping in Curls department store - lady trying on a hat pic taken 26th no

Norwich - OAPs christmas shopping in Curls department store - lady trying on a hat pic taken 26th nov 1968. - Credit: Archant Library

The retired store worker said: "Men's suits were made to measure. Every ladies handbag would contain a Max Factor powder compact and lipstick but the cosmetics counter was tiny compared with the space devoted today. Mothers' purses did not stretch to many luxuries."

Ladies fashion was found on the first floor with woollen coats among the items on sale and it would be rare to find lightwear fabrics, anoraks or even trousers in the store. Women could purchase corsets and girdles from the corsetry department and prams. 

He added: "This is a time before gyms and jogging. Such items would have to be bought at Pilch's or Tom Stevenson's in Swan Lane."

Tights were not stocked in the hosiery department until the 60s and curtains were not ready-made.

Away from the shop floor, employees ate in the staff restaurant on the third floor, with the management staff lunching in a separate room.

While working at the store, the employee was secretary of the store's football club which played in the Norwich Thursday League and attended an annual dinner and dance at the Lido Ballroom on Aylsham Road. 

Unfortunately, as time went by and larger warehouses began opening on the city outskirts many well known furniture shops in the city closed, including the Curls furniture department.

Now after several decades under the Debenham's name the future of the building seems uncertain, but still provides many for shoppers and employees alike.

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