John Lewis boss bids farewell to Norwich store after nearly three decades

Richard Marks, MD of John Lewis in Norwich

Richard Marks, MD of John Lewis in Norwich pictured in 2007. - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Sitting in the restaurant at John Lewis in Norwich my companion looked around…and you could tell just how much he will miss his 'second home' and I know the people who work there and the customers will miss him.

A week ago Richard Marks left as the head of branch at the big department store.

It was back in 1993 when Richard and Maeve Marks moved to Norwich from London just for a 'couple of years'.

Richard worked for John Lewis and had arrived at the much-loved Bonds department store. It was all part of the training process. Travelling around the country working at different places to see how things were done.

New Lord Mayor of Norwich Marion Maxwell and Sheriff Richard Marks.

New Lord Mayor of Norwich Marion Maxwell and Sheriff Richard Marks. - Credit: Antony Kelly

With two young children, Conor and Orlagh, they settled into life in the city and…fell in love with the place.

They were going nowhere.

Two more children, Roisin and Declan, arrived. They were welcomed by the parish of St John’s Cathedral and the local schools played a big part in their lives.

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“Norwich has been a wonderful place to bring up a family – in the early years the convenience of walking to infant, junior and high schools, as well as to work together with the opportunity to spend many stimulating hours in the playgrounds of Heigham and Eaton parks,” he said.

As time moved on Richard became more involved with the community, supporting many different groups and individuals, and five years ago was elected Sheriff of Norwich.

He said at the time: “I promise to work hard to represent this wonderful city to the best of my abilities in the year ahead.”

Richard and Maeve did just that – attending 160 engagements during their year in office.

NORWICHBONDS IN ALL SAINTS GREENDATED 12TH FEBRUARY 1965

NORWICH BONDS IN ALL SAINTS GREEN DATED 12TH FEBRUARY 1965 - Credit: Archant Library

NORWICH2ND WORLD WAR BLITZBONDS STORE FROM BER STREETDATED 28TH JUNE 1942

NORWICH 2ND WORLD WAR BLITZ BONDS STORE FROM BER STREET DATED 28TH JUNE 1942 - Credit: Archant Library

The Bonds sign is removed from the Norwich John Lewis building.

The Bonds sign is removed from the Norwich John Lewis building. - Credit: Archant Library

A personal highlight for him was holding a Sheriff’s reception for 100 Norwich start-up businesses and hearing advice from some leading entrepreneurs and business people.

It also gave him and Lord Mayor, Marion Maxwell, the opportunity to raise the profile, and considerable sums of money (more than £22,800), for the civic charity On The Ball, highlighting testicular cancer.

“We met so many people who freely gave their time to make this city such a wonderful place,” said Richard. “I do have a lasting memory of our first week in office, riding in a horse and dray with the Lord Mayor and our consorts to the opening of the City of Ale Festival, holding up the traffic on Grapes Hill and being shouted at by a taxi driver who asked:  ‘Why don’t you get a proper job?’”

During his long career with John Lewis and in preparation for his permanent head of branch at Norwich, Richard temporarily took charge of shops at Peterborough, Kingston and Leicester.

“This brought home to me the great heritage of Norwich. My commitment to this fine city and the shop I have been so fortunate to run,” he said.

Richard is also proud of the Bonds heritage – so many years of trading from Ber Street and the bedrock of loyalty and affection giving them such an engagement with the people.

And sitting in the top floor restaurant you can see the collection of great photographs on the walls…following the fortunes of Bonds over so many decades.

“If I am passionate about Norwich, then I am extremely proud of John Lewis and the achievements of the 300 partners who work here today,” he added.

So what now?

“I have worked for the company for 41 years – starting in Oxford Street in 1980. I have loved my job. It has been a very challenging time recently but there are signs things are improving,” said Richard.

And he praised the company for doing all they could to support staff through the lockdown days. “I am going to take some time to consider the future and we intend to see more of Norfolk and all that it has to offer,” he said.

Richard is handing over to Morton Edwards. We wish him well.


The history of Norwich's John Lewis building

In 1879 Robert Hearne Bond took over a draper’s shop in Ber Street, Norwich. He worked long and hard to make it a success.

He announced they had: “A quantity of hats and fancy goods almost given away.”

Robert and his enterprising wife Mary expanded the business, took on staff, and were soon expanding with their children joining the business.

Bonds continued to grow after his death in 1924 and in 1930 the company bought the former Thatched Cinema on All Saints Green.

The millinery department was second to none with 20 milliners making hats, 30 sales assistants selling them – up to a thousand on a Saturday alone.

Expansion continued but the store was destroyed by Second World War bombing. It took about five years to rebuild it giving Norwich its first modern department store.

It was sold to John Lewis in 1982 and in 2001 the store was re-named…but to many of us it will always be known and loved as Bonds.