'Ahead of her time' - Tribute paid to city's vegetarian trailblazer

Jennifer Smith pictured with her autograph from rock ‘n’ roll musician Bill Haley

Jennifer Smith pictured with her autograph from rock ‘n’ roll musician Bill Haley - Credit: SUPPLIED BY FAMILY

Tributes have been paid to the daughter of Norwich’s vinegar dynasty, professional autograph collector, and a life-long vegetarian who has been described as “ahead of her time”.

Jennifer Smith, nee Potter, died on Sunday, February 7, at the age of 82.

She was the great-granddaughter of E. W. Potter, the founder of Potters Vinegar and Pickle Works based on Chapel Field Road, Norwich, from 1880.

Her father, Ernie Potter, was the last member of the family to run the business after its factory was transferred to Portersfield Road in the early 1960s due to a compulsory purchase by the government to construct a dual carriageway.

The factory closed its doors for the final time in 1965, marking the end of 200 years of vinegar production in the city.

Potter's Vinegar and Pickle Works

Potter's Vinegar and Pickle Works - Credit: SUPPLIED BY FAMILY

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Mrs Smith was born on October 11, 1938, on Colman Road.

She attended Lonsdale, a private school for girls in Lonsdale House on Earlham Road, which closed during the 1990s.

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Her son, Nick South, said: “She enjoyed her time at school very much. It was a big part of her life and she stayed in touch with many of her friends she met there.”

Unfortunately, Mrs Smith was struck down with tuberculous when she was a teenager, which meant she was forced to take a long time off school. It was during this time, she began collecting autographs – a hobby which saw her collect more than 300.

One of her most famous autographs is that of rock ‘n’ roll musician Bill Haley, who played in Norwich during the March of 1957. She is believed to have been the only person to do so.

Mr Haley and his Comets performed at the old Carlton Cinema, which became the Gaumont and then a bingo hall before being demolished.

Tickets, all 4,000 of them, were like gold dust and his arrival was planned like a military operation. But the star did not hang about after.

However, Mrs Smith, who lived on Earlham Road at the time, went to the Royal Hotel in the city after hearing the rocker had booked in there after his concert.

She was told he was in bed but left her autograph book at reception. The next day, she returned to find a signed photograph: “To Jennifer. Best wishes always, Bill Haley”.

Mr South added: “She showed me her autograph collection a few weeks before she died. I knew she had a few but there must be around 300 – with pictures too.”

Her collection includes autographs from many musicians, including Simon and Garfunkel. There were also many actors, musicians, and comedians from the 1950s, including Peter Sellers, Richard Burton, Spike Milligan, and comedians Laurel and Hardy.

In her collection, she also has a Dickie Valentine handkerchief which he used to mop his brow with before throwing it into the audience at Theatre Royal in Norwich.

She got him to sign it after the show, and it is in perfect sweat-stained condition kept in a folded-up brown envelope.

Her family were also avid fans of Norwich Speedway and she has an album of around 50 signed black and white photos. Ove Fundin was one of her favorites, and she collected cuttings and had a letter from him.

Potter's products from the 1930s

Potter's products from the 1930s - Credit: SUPPLIED BY FAMILY

When she left school at 16, she took a secretarial course. She also achieved a very fast speed at Pitmans shorthand and would continue to use it for the rest of her life.

She began working at West Norwich Hospital as a shorthand typist and continued in that role until she married Brian South in 1960.

Her first son, Julian, was born in 1961, followed by twins, Nick and Ashley, in 1963. By 1967, the couple had split and were divorced by 1969. At the time, she had been living in Colchester, but moved back to live in Norwich.

Mr South described her parents and former in-laws as “a huge support to her and her children.”

Jennifer Smith pictured with her family

Jennifer Smith pictured with her family - Credit: SUPPLIED BY FAMILY

Fourteen years ago, Mrs Smith was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy. Unfortunately, cancer returned seven years ago and by July 2020, she was told it was terminal.

Being a long-time spiritualist, and a member of the Norwich Spiritualist Church since 1981, her son described her as being “very calm with death”.

In her final words to him, she said: “I've had a really good life.”

Mrs Smith was also a life-long vegetarian. As a baby, she refused to eat any meat and would spit it out. As she became older and enquired where meat came from, she decided to continue being a devout vegetarian.

She also spent the last 40 years of her life as a vegan and became passionate about animal rights. She went on to become the founder of the Norfolk and Norwich Vegetarian Society during the 1970s.

Mr South added: “She was very much a free thinker. She had absolutely no prejudice about anyone whatsoever, and she did not have a racist bone in her body. She was the most unprejudiced person that you could imagine.

“She also loved animals so much and would never tolerate any harm to them.”

She is survived by her brother John, who lives in Okinawa. He is the last close relative remaining from the Potter family. He originally moved to Japan in 1984 to become a Professor of English and has now retired. He is also a music enthusiast and is a music journalist specialising in Okinawan culture and music.

A funeral was held on Tuesday, March 2, and donations to Hallswood in Mrs Smith's memory are welcomed.

- The Eastern Daily Press and Norwich Evening News are inviting families and friends to remember their loved ones who have died during the Covid pandemic. To submit your own tribute, please follow the instructions included via this Google Form.

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