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From small drapers shop to city landmark, the history of Bonds department store

PUBLISHED: 08:47 08 August 2018 | UPDATED: 08:47 08 August 2018

Bonds in All Saints Green, February 1965. Picture: Archant Library

Bonds in All Saints Green, February 1965. Picture: Archant Library

Archant Library

It was 140 years ago when a Norfolk farmer’s boy by the name of Robert was thinking about moving to Norwich and running a small general drapers shop.

The original Ber Street drapery opened by Robert Hearne Bond in 1879. Picture: John LewisThe original Ber Street drapery opened by Robert Hearne Bond in 1879. Picture: John Lewis

The following year, 1879, he took the plunge and opened a shop on Ber Street in the heart of the old city and moved in to live over the premises with his wife Mary Anne and children.

His full name was Robert Herne Bond, from Ludham, and this would be the start of a shopping dynasty which has, and still is, playing a leading role in Norfolk life.

In the 21st century it is called John Lewis but for many of us, including me, it is, and always will be known as...Bonds

And to celebrate the first wonderful Norfolk Day on July 27 members of the founding Bond family along with former workers gathered for an afternoon tea where friendships were rekindled and memories shared.

Cars parked on All Saints' Green outside Bonds. This photo was probably taken in the 1930's. Picture: Archant LibraryCars parked on All Saints' Green outside Bonds. This photo was probably taken in the 1930's. Picture: Archant Library

Former Norwich Sheriff and branch head Richard Marks said it was the perfect way to celebrate Norfolk Day and fascinating to talk to members of the original Bonds family and former shop workers.

And Vicki Burn, great granddaughter of founder Robert Herne Bond, said: “It has been fantastic to see so many old faces and pictures I’ve not seen before. I’m pleased that John Lewis is continuing to celebrate the shop’s heritage.”

The shop has a permanent heritage wall in the Place to Eat restaurant which has quite a tale to tell.

When Robert arrived the business quickly expanded and more staff were taken on to make hats – thousands of them.

Bonds after the blitz, taken from Ber Street, 28 June 1942. Picture: Archant LibraryBonds after the blitz, taken from Ber Street, 28 June 1942. Picture: Archant Library

Robert’s wife, Mary, was a hard-working and talented woman with a keen eye for business and together they laid the foundations for the largest millinery outlet outside London’s West End,

In 1924 Robert died and was succeeded by his eldest son, William, with other members of the family taking part in running the business including Ernest, who had been born over the shop in Ber Street.

By the 1930s Bonds had the famous Thatched Cinema on All Saints Green using the stunning and unique building as a restaurant, conference hall and ballroom. It was also a popular meeting for private functions.

Disaster struck in the Norwich Blitz of 1942 which caused widespread death and destruction across the city. Bonds was destroyed along with the Thatched Cinema, in the terrifying raids.

Bonds Milinery sale 1950s.Bonds Milinery sale 1950s.

The city was down but it was not out.

The savage raids made the survivors more determinate than ever to win the war and within days Bonds announced in the Evening News and EDP and it had hired a fleet of buses and were trading from the car park where they also set up a make-shift restaurant in an old corrugated iron building.

Business as usual following the 1942 Blitz. Bonds trading from buses in former car park in 1942 just two days after being bombed. Picture: John LewisBusiness as usual following the 1942 Blitz. Bonds trading from buses in former car park in 1942 just two days after being bombed. Picture: John Lewis

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