Looking fondly back on a true Norwich retail institution
PUBLISHED: 12:47 14 February 2017 | UPDATED: 12:47 14 February 2017
Bob Bagshaw: Echoes of Old Norfolk
He was born 170 years ago, he had a garden like no other which is now making the news...and thousands of boys and girls rode on his horse in the middle of Norwich.
George Green was a big man, a six footer with his pointed white beard and immaculate frock coat he stood upright, like a drill sergeant, in charge of his large gents outfitter’s store on the Haymarket overlooking Hay Hill.
He commanded respect – and he was respected and by one and all who entered his shop and were directed to the attention of equally well-dressed shop walkers.
George would give them a bow and make sure they were looked after while his general manager Mr Shelbourn could be heard to ask the staff to: “Sparkle, Sparkle!”
This was a shop which children loved. It was akin to a playground. Greens was a Norwich institution.
Former customer and author the late Robert Bagshaw wrote of his memories of Greens which closed in 1960 and was demolished along the Livingstone Hotel and, perhaps saddest of all, the Elizabethan building which many people believe to have been the Garden House of Sir Thomas Browne.
The authorities compromised by putting up a plaque in Orford Place saying Sir Thomas Browne “lived near here.”
How generous of them.
“At the end of the ready-made department was a wooden swing with two chair-type seats on which children could swing themselves sick,” said Robert in Echoes of Old Norfolk.
“In another area there was a wooden switchback with two trolleys on which young children could ride. The air became filled with the ear-piercing shrieks of youngsters pretending to be trains.
“Then, of course there was the famous rocking horse, which must have been there from the very beginning. Countless thousands of children will have fond memories of the many imaginary miles they covered on that worthy wooden steed,” said Robert. Dear old neddy would regularly disappear for a while. It often gave the impression of suffering from an acute attack of mange and had to go away for a facelift which included a new mane and tail.
Happy days indeed. Any boy proudly walking around in a pair of short trousers from Greens was the bees-knees.
George was born in 1847. His father was a Baptist minister at Great Yarmouth. He was a grocer before coming to Norwich at the age of 22 and opening a hatter’s and outfitters shop in Rampant Horse Street.
A mark of how his career flourished is that from living in rooms above the shop, and went on to live in 13 different houses bigger each time – the last being at The Plantation, yes THE Plantation in the shadow of the Catholic Cathedral, when he was Lord Mayor of Norwich in 1919/20.
The glorious gardens, now restored to their former glory and hitting the headlines for problems over the entrance, were used for many fetes and civic occasions during his year of office.
George lived there until he died and from there he went to the Rosary Cemetery where he joined so many of the men and women who have helped to mould the future of their city.
His son Tim took over and the shop continued to prosper. Generation after generation followed each other into this wonderful shop in the heart of the city...but times were changing.
The shop closed at the beginning of the 1960s and the bulldozers moved in to destroy a collection of fine-looking old buildings so new ones could be built.
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