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Memories of the very special Norwich city centre restaurant Princes

PUBLISHED: 12:55 25 May 2017

The wonderful Princes cafe and restaurant on Guildhall Hill in Norwich. Photo: Archant Library

The wonderful Princes cafe and restaurant on Guildhall Hill in Norwich. Photo: Archant Library

Archant Library

Today there are so many restaurants dotted across Norwich and Norfolk serving some of the best food in the land....but there was a time.

The waitresses at Princes taking a break. Photo: June SmithThe waitresses at Princes taking a break. Photo: June Smith

As a country boy visiting Norwich, especially on Saturdays when the county came to the city, a visit to a cafe was a rare and very special occasion.

Especially if you were taken into Princes on Guildhall Hill. What a wonderful place thanks to the food, but especially thanks to the “Princesses” with their black and white uniform, pencils and pads.

And their smiles.

Service with a smile from the Princesses at Princes. Photo: June SmithService with a smile from the Princesses at Princes. Photo: June Smith

To a small boy they were so glamorous in what I considered the best place to eat...in the world.

Mind you, I hadn’t been much further than Lowestoft in those days. We are talking 1950s/early 60s Norwich.

It is more than 40 years since Princes, which was run by Donald and Olive Dinnage for 37 years and were one of the best known and best loved couples on the city restaurant scene, closed its doors.

Chefs Graham Mills (left) and Peter Hemblen who worked at Princes. Photo: June SmithChefs Graham Mills (left) and Peter Hemblen who worked at Princes. Photo: June Smith

Back in 1998, I reported how it had been a quarter of the century since Princes shut and asked for your memories. There were so many.

At the time I thought I may be looking back with rose-coloured spectacles. Was it that special? Was the food that good and the welcome so warm and inviting?

It seemed it was. Here are just some of your memories.

Sandra Crozier (Hamilton):

“I worked as a Saturday girl in the 60s. It was such a happy time for me. Lilian became my mentor. I was treated as an equal by the staff and built up my regular customers.

“The routine was always the same. Change into our crisp clean outfits, polish the chairs, set up the tables, get familiar with the menu and off we went. There was a real sense of community amongst the workers,” she said.

Gillian Rowles (Abbott) of Thorpe St Andrew:

“I used to work there as a Saturday girl. My father Charlie Abbott was in charge of the bakery on Ladysmith Road and my mother-in-law Jennifer Rowles was a waitress. I remember the numerous shaped breads which would appear on father’s van with Princes emblazoned on the side.”

June Smith of Norwich:

“I went there in 1956 and worked in the evenings from 6.30pm to 11pm until 1972. After that I went back to help out when I was needed.

“I loved every minute of it. It was a terrific place to work. There was never a dull moment.”

Pat Hall of Brooke:

“The drama commenced as the swing door flung open and the impeccably dressed stars of the show emerged on to the restaurant floor.

“Carefully balancing huge trays containing white cups, saucers, cutlery and steaming teapots, all the usual trappings associated with Princes in the 1950s. To a six-year-old and her brother, being taken out to tea at Princes, was indeed the treat of all treats,” said Pat.

So I was right. Dear old Princes...and the princesses.

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