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When Norwich returned to business again

PUBLISHED: 10:03 04 July 2011

Chocolate was just one of the products manufactured in Norwich

Chocolate was just one of the products manufactured in Norwich

Archant

In his latest feature marking the 60th anniversary of the Festival of Britain, Derek James takes a look at the industries that have put Norwich on the map.

It was 60 years ago when Norwich announced it was “open for business” following the end of the Second World War and was looking forward to a bright new future.

This was Festival of Britain time and in 1951 the city was asked to put on one of the biggest shows outside London.

Yes, the rebuilding work was still going on following the savage bombing raids and people were still rebuilding their shattered lives, but there was hope on the horizon. Times really were changing.

And the festival was a great opportunity for the city to show the rest of the country what it had to offer.

Over the last couple of weeks we have taken a look at what life was like in Norwich all those years ago and today it’s time to step into the factories and offices to discover what the workers were up to.

The story of Norwich commerce starts back in the Saxon times when there was a mint, but it was in the Norman era that the place began to stand out in importance.

Before long, in the midst of a rich agricultural district, the city became first the centre for exporting wool to Northern Europe and later the centre of the wool-weaving industry.

The city sheltered Flemings, Walloons, Huguenots and other refugees from religious persecution in Europe, and their knowledge and nimble fingers further developed wool-weaving. There was a time when Norwich was the second city in England, with its wool trade.

By the 19th century, the vast changes brought about by the industrial revolution were hitting the city’s dominant positions – the power looms of Lancashire and Yorkshire were taking over.

Unemployment grew but the descendants of the weavers were learning to adapt to changing times and they started making shoes, producing silk, clothes and a range of other goods.

And far removed from dainty silk fabrics Norwich also invented wire netting and the city had a number of foundries – Barnards, among others and Laurence Scott & Electromotors made massive machines and equipment in operation over the seven seas and provided work for 3,000 people.

The largest single works in Norwich, covering more than 50 acres and extending along a river front of almost three-quarters of a mile was Colman’s. In 1951 the firm employed 2,000 men and women producing mustard and a range of other products.

Then were was the Caleys (Mackintosh) chocolate factory also producing Christmas crackers.

Norwich was also famous for its financial institutions.

Barclays was founded in Norwich as an off-shoot of the Quaker weaving firm of Gurney. Gurney’s Bank survived until the end of the 19th century, when it combined with another Quaker bank, Backhouse of Darlington.

It was in 1776 when Thomas Bignold and 17 fellow citizens banded themselves together to form a mutual insurance office – the result was Norwich Union, which became the largest mutual life office in the land and spread the name of Norwich across the world.

Norwich also has its own building society and trustee savings bank with branches across East Anglia,

Then there was brewing – thousands of people worked at Bullards, Steward & Patteson and the smaller breweries dotted across the city along with a booming printing industry and at Riverside the area was dominated by the large Boulton & Paul factory, another place where hundreds of skilled craftsmen, making a huge range of goods – from aircraft to doors – worked.

Timbers merchants, such as Jewson, played a leading role in city life along with building companies such as R G Carters, Youngs, Gills, Bush and the like. Then there were the millers – Reads has now been turned into housing.

And when the world was down, people in far off lands reached for the bottle and took a tonic to give them a lift, Wincarnis of course – made in Norwich.

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