Looking back at Debenhams shop site that survived Nazi bombing
- Credit: Archant Library
The prospects seem bleak for Norwich's Debenhams store.
For a site where a shop survived Second World War bombing and multiple recessions, it seems a global pandemic has brought a once cherished department store to its knees.
The fate of Debenhams might not be sealed but the withdrawal of JD Sports from a last-minute buyout does not bode well.
The building, which previously housed Curls, rose from the ashes after being flattened by a Nazi bombing raid. But what will happen now Debenhams appears likely to close?
The Curl brothers arrived in Norwich from west Norfolk in 1860. Soon after they purchased The Rampant Horse inn, transforming the site into shops and warehouses.
Curls, as shoppers came to know it, prospered and expanded absorbing neighbouring buildings and shops.
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By 1929, Curls covered 51,000 sq ft – and boasted a glass dome roof over the wholesale department store and a restaurant on the first floor.
Hundreds of employees worked there and many of them lived on-site in the heart of the city.
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But disaster struck in 1942 when Curls was razed to the ground by German bombs during the Baedeker raids.
It took 14 years to rebuild the store with the site serving as a car park in the meantime.
Reconstruction commenced in 1953 and took three years to complete.
In the 1960s Debenhams took over the business but continued to trade under the Curl Brothers name until 1973.
Curls merged with rival local retailer Chamberlins in 1963 and opened new headquarters in 1965.
Elsewhere in Norfolk, the Arnolds department store in Great Yarmouth changed hands and started trading under the Debenhams name in 1972 but it had closed by 1985.
In Debenhams’ bicentenary year, 1978, the Norwich store was one of six locations chosen to host an exhibition about future trends in shopping.
Since the 1970s Debenhams has been a go-to destination for Norfolk shoppers.
It is unclear if a chapter is closing for a pillar of the British high street. Nevertheless, Debenhams has been a major part of the Norfolk shopping scene for many years.
What are your memories of Curls or Debenhams? Let us know in the comments below or on social media.