When women across the world had a Norwich-made handbag

In the machine room workers stitch the upper parts of the handbags together.

In the machine room workers stitch the upper parts of the handbags together. - Credit: Archant Library

It was a company which rarely gets a mention nowadays…but a few decades ago women across the world were walking about with a handbag made in Norwich.

The company,  D MacLaren Ltd, was at one time producing thousands of handbags a day at its factory, Diana Works, on Mousehold Lane.


Wire stitching in progress at the factory.

Wire stitching in progress at the factory. - Credit: Archant Library

They were on sale in the city, in the county, across the country and all over the world – from America to Africa and Australia.

The man behind this company was Douglas Colin MacLaren, the son of Attleborough tailor Colin MacLaren. Born in 1909, he went to Norwich Grammar School and then joined the family business.

Knives of all shapes and sizes were used to cut the leather and plastic to shape,

Knives of all shapes and sizes were used to cut the leather and plastic to shape, made in this section where the gentleman is working. - Credit: Archant Library

After serving in the Royal Navy during the Second World War he launched a business in 1946 on Sprowston Road in Norwich with John Pelllegrini…employing just four people.


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Business boomed. They employed skilful workers with nimble fingers, a legacy of the city’s former weaving trade.


Skilled and nimble fingers at work – using welding equipment to fix coloured flashes to shoe inserts.

Skilled and nimble fingers at work – using welding equipment to fix coloured flashes to shoe inserts. - Credit: Archant Library

Some worked in the factory and others at home….the number of handbags they produced took off. A MacLaren handbag was something to cherish.

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John Pellegrini went to establish Pell Footwear and the two companies shared a factory on Mousehold Lane before Pell’s moved to Mile Cross Lane.

Our photographs take a look at what was happening in the busy and bustling MacLaren works at the start of the 1960s.

Fitting the frame to the handbag.

Fitting the frame to the handbag. Can you recognise this young man? - Credit: Archant Library


Part of the “Mac” Diana Works at Mousehold Lane, Norwich.

Part of the “Mac” Diana Works at Mousehold Lane, Norwich. - Credit: Archant Library

In addition they were making shoe accessories, using electronic high-frequently welding equipment. In 1961 they made no less than one and half million pairs of bows for shoes.

Much of our manufacturing hit tough times in the 70s and both Maclaren’s and Pells being taken over…and then shut.

I wonder if there are many McLaren handbags still being used today?

Men prepare handbags to be sent all over the world.

The despatch department at MacLaren handbag company where handbags were sent across the world. - Credit: Archant Library

*Thank you to everybody who entered our competition to win a copy of the new book The Days of the Norwich Trams: Transforming Streets, Transforming Lives by Frances and Michael Holmes of the Norwich Heritage Projects.

They received more than 100 entries, including one from South Africa, and seven lucky readers will be receiving their copies of the best-seller.


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