Aladdin's cave bookshop transformed

It's best known to many as an Aladdin's cave of a bookshop, so cluttered with paraphernalia that it was difficult to negotiate your way in to look around.

Lucy Bolton

It's best known to many as an Aladdin's cave of a bookshop, so cluttered with paraphernalia that it was difficult to negotiate your way in to look around.

But the former Scientific Anglian Bookshop in St Benedict's Street has been given a £220,000 makeover and transformed into a wedding shop.

The bookshop was unique in Norwich with 6ft high shelves stacked up to the ceiling and for 35 years customers had to dodge stray books tumbling from shelves and negotiate their way through the narrow cluttered aisles.

Customers would see owner Norman Peake sitting among the clutter somewhere in the darkness with his cats, near a self mocking sign informing you that you were in an 'Unclean Free Zone'.

The dilapidated building, which was extensively affected by dry rot, was labelled a fire hazard by health and safety chiefs who ordered its closure in 2002.

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It was sold for £182,000 at auction in December 2005 and, two years after MC Clark's builders, from Wymondham, started work, the shop has reopened as John Field Formal Hire.

New leaseholders John, 63, and Liz Field, 59, said it had been quite a transformation.

Mr Field, who also runs hire shops in Gorleston and King's Lynn, said: “When I first saw it you cannot imagine what it was like. It looked like a derelict building. The first floor was missing and you could see daylight through the tiles.

“I could not believe that a business had been allowed to get in such a decrepit state. But it's been gutted down to the bare brickwork and tailored to our needs.”

The former bookshop's old storeroom is still boarded-up and there are still believed to be a few books lying around, but the old wet cellar is now part of the shop and the empty but renovated first floor will soon become an apartment.

Mr Field added: “There are quite a few wedding and bridal shops in St Benedict's so it's become a bit of a wedding lanes. It's a very up and coming and trendy area, and we're privileged to be in this iconic shop.”

Owner Nigel Morgan said the original building on the site, which dated back to the 1840s, was burned down in its entirety, so everything above ground now was originally built in the 1920s and is Art Deco.

He said: “Before Mr Peake moved in, the building was a grocer called Walkers Stores, and one of the interesting things that emerged during the work was that we uncovered the original Walkers signs, with the lettering fired into the tiles.

“We also found two earlier Walkers store signs; one is carved timber and the other a gold leaf glass sign.”

Back in the 19th century, the building was a pub called The Dog Inn, and then it became Walkers grocers in 1911 and was gutted by fire in 1919.

Walkers returned in the 1920s and stayed until Mr Peake opened the Scientific Anglian in 1967, after moving from Essex.

Mr Peake, who is believed to be living in a home in Norfolk, was a geologist and a former member of the Communist Party and CND national council.

Have you refurbished a famous Norwich landmark? Contact David Bale on 01603 772427 or email