Shopping and relaxing in Norwich 60 years ago

In the latest part of his great series celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Festival of Britain, Derek James looks back at how the inhabitants of Norwich spent their leisure time in 1951.

Welcome to Norwich . . . It was 60 years ago when the city was hosting one of the biggest festivals outside London and was greeting visitors from far and wide.

People were flocking into the city which was still being rebuilt following the bombing raids of the second world war, but now people were looking ahead, not backwards.

They were proud of their city and all it had to offer.

It was as if a black and white world was slowly turning to colour.

Last week we took a wander around some of the old factories which were dotted around the city centre back in Festival of Britain Year 1951, and today we go shopping and relax in some of the bars and restaurants Norwich was famous for.

Visitors were told 60 years ago there were two kinds of shopping, old and new, and Norwich provided excellent opportunities for both.

Most Read

As far as old shopping went, be it for genuine antiques or attractive oddments, the narrow streets that wind back from the main thoroughfares were fertile hunting grounds.

Shops there had been patronised by the Royal family, including Queen Mary, whose most recent purchases were an old mahogany Adam-winged wardrobe and a rare bone-worked stand made by a French prisoner-of-war with an enamel portrait of Nelson fixed in the centre.

Elm Hill, of course, got a special mention and visitors were encouraged to visit the shop with the largest stock of buttons in the country.

It was founded in 1808 by Mark Thomas Swann, who leased the property on condition he did not sell shoes.

And what else should visitors to 1951 Norwich buy?

A pair of shoes, women's and children's were among the best in the land.

A box of mouth-watering Norwich chocolates.

Some beautiful Norwich silk.


A cap from the one and only Rumsey Wells. The famous Norwich capitalist. He said he made the best caps in the world, and no-one disagreed.

Department stores included Chamberlins, Garlands and Curls (now Debenhams), dear old Woollies and, still leading the way on the city shopping scene, is our very own Jarrold's and Bonds (John Lewis).

Visitors could stay at the historic Maid's Head or Bell Hotel, still going strong, the almost forgotten Royal and Castle Hotels. Purdy's in Tombland was a place where sophistication and a good menu were on offer along with The Curat House, with its maze of bars.

Visitors were urged to pop along to the Wine Room and taste the sherry.

Then there was the subterranean cafe in Prince of Wales Road, where your meal was accompanied by poignant chimes from a collection of old musical boxes and where transatlantic customers kept in touch with their homeland by browsing over piles of American magazines.

Do you remember that place?

London Street coffee houses such as Lamberts Oriental Cafe and Langfords, where the great and the good of Norwich met to put the world to rights, were also recommended.

Male visitors were encouraged to head downstairs to the smoke-room at Langfords.

'Although custom has restricted the clientele to the male sex, the visitor need not be shy of descending the steps. This is a coffee shop not a closed shop, and he will appreciate the opportunity of meeting a cross-section of the city's public figures,' said the festival programme.