Norwich shoe firm stirs up fond memories

My stories about the 75th anniversary of Van Dal has stirred up many memories so much so that a reunion is on the cards.

It wasn't so much a job – more a way of life. There was a special bond of friendship between the Norwich shoe workers.

Today most of the factories, which not so long ago employed thousands of skilled men and women, have gone but one major player in the market is still thriving – Florida, makers of the high class Van Dal brand.

This year the company is celebrating its 75th anniversary and my stories about life in the factory over the decades have brought back a host of happy memories.

Many of you have been in touch to say how much you loved working for the firm and now a reunion is on the cards along with an appeal for workers to get in touch with organiser Alan Robinson.

These pictures come from Janet Metcalfe who spent more than 30 years working for Florida – and loved every minute of it.

It was back in the 1930s when Adelman Goodman, a London shoemaker, arrived in Norwich looking for somewhere to open his business – it was the start of a love affair between the Goodman family and the ancient City of Norwich.

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As Adelman's grandson Simon, the current chairman, says today: 'Norwich is our home.'

Over the decades the firm has employed tens of thousands of workers, often generations of the same family and husbands and wives, who spent most of their working lives at Florida.

And after work there was a thriving social side.

Today Janet, who lives at Thunder Lane, Thorpe St Andrew, opens her album and hopes her pictures will bring back some happy memories for Florida workers over the years.

She first went to work for Florida at their Salhouse Road factory in 1960 and then left eight years later to start a family.

'I later returned to work another 24 years for the company before retiring seven years ago. I can honestly say that I loved it. They were such lovely people,' said Janet.

And that was the opinion shared by several other members of her family – real Norwich shoe people.

'I had 16 members of my family work at Florida at one time or another. What a great place to work. It was so much fun,' she recalled.

And it was a place where the bosses, members of the Goodman family, were highly regarded and respected by their workforce.

'I knew Mr David and Mr Lionel and all the family. They paid good wages and were good bosses and there were times when they came down the pub with us workers,' added Janet.

'My husband Peter also worked worked at Florida for 22 years. He came from Edwards and Holmes where he worked as a boy,' she said.

'He also had 15 members of his family working at both Holmes and Florida. His father helped to build the factory chimney at Holmes and worked in the offices,' explained Janet.

And there's more...13 members of her family also worked at another shoe factory which was famous across the world for making first class footwear, Start-rite.

These pictures of the Florida workers enjoying themselves were taken over the last four decades.

Many of the social gatherings were at the old Industrial Club, now The Talk, where thousands of factory workers were members.

Most of the more formal dinner/dances were held at the dear old Norwood Rooms on Aylsham Road which is now a bingo hall. Remember the likes of Billy Duncan and then Chic Applin? Great musicians fronting brilliant bands.

See some of the pictures that have been sent in of fond memories at Van Dal by clicking on the link at the top right of this page.