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When House of Fraser came to Norwich: What the department store meant to our retail scene

PUBLISHED: 11:11 18 November 2018 | UPDATED: 11:11 18 November 2018

Looking out over the Chapelfield development in Norwich, November 2004. Picture: Bill Smith

Looking out over the Chapelfield development in Norwich, November 2004. Picture: Bill Smith

Archant © 2004

When House of Fraser announced in 2000 that it would be opening in Norwich, it was seen as a big-name capture for the planned Chapelfield shopping centre. But 18 years on, its departure has come as a shock to the city. ELEANOR PRINGLE reports.

Lend Lease development manager John Peacock at the Nestle site at Chapelfield, Norwich before the final public consultation stage got underway in 1999. Picture: Keith Whitmore.Lend Lease development manager John Peacock at the Nestle site at Chapelfield, Norwich before the final public consultation stage got underway in 1999. Picture: Keith Whitmore.

When House of Fraser announced in 2000 that it would be opening in Norwich, it was seen as a big-name capture for the planned Chapelfield shopping centre.

News of its arrival was a coup for the new £200m centre, on the site of the former Nestle chocolate factory, bringing with it the promise of designer brands and more than 300 new jobs for the city.

But 18 years on, and 13 years after it finally opened, House of Fraser has announced that next year it will pull down the shutters on its unit for the final time.

‘An exciting opportunity’

Lend Lease develpoment manager John Peacock at the Nestle site at Chapelfield in Norwich before the final public consultation stage got underway in 1999. Picture: Keith WhitmoreLend Lease develpoment manager John Peacock at the Nestle site at Chapelfield in Norwich before the final public consultation stage got underway in 1999. Picture: Keith Whitmore

The Norwich Evening News broke the story that House of Fraser was set to move to Norwich in 2000, with a front-page story revealing that 300 jobs would be created.

Former chief executive John Coleman told the paper at the time: “This is an exciting opportunity for us in what we expect to become Norwich’s leading retail centre.

“Norwich is the hub of a very material customer catchment and has been a target for House of Fraser for some time.”

The news edged Norwich higher in the top 10 shopping destination rankings, reported a few months later.

The Nestle site at Chapelfield in Norwich in 1999. Picture: Keith WhitmoreThe Nestle site at Chapelfield in Norwich in 1999. Picture: Keith Whitmore

City councillor Harry Watson, the portfolio holder for major developments and transportation, said: “What we were saying about the [Chapelfield] development is that it could push Norwich even further up the league.

“It will add to the attraction for shoppers to come to Norwich by increasing the range and quality and getting a store like the House of Fraser is a major plus.”

Over the following years other major international retailers like fashion brand Mango pledged to take space at Chapelfield.

Having cemented Mango and House of Fraser as two major tenants, the then project director of the Chapelfield build, John Peacock said in 2002: “This is a top class retailer and will be a real asset to Chapelfield. We are constantly in contact with other retailers and will be in a position to confirm who they are as and when agreements are signed.”

The former Nestle chocolate factory which will become the new Chapelfield shopping centre, pictured in 2004. Photo Simon FinlayThe former Nestle chocolate factory which will become the new Chapelfield shopping centre, pictured in 2004. Photo Simon Finlay

Securing House of Fraser as an anchor tenant in the development was credited with attracting interest from other brands such as French Connection and Karen Millen.

Opening day

House of Fraser finally opened in Chapelfield on September 21, 2005, in the three-storey, 140,000 sq ft unit at the Chapelfield Gardens end of the mall. At the time the store employed 400 people.

Managers told this paper: “We are absolutely delighted with the performance of the Norwich store in the first week. The customer response has been very positive.”

First views inside the House of Fraser store under construction in the Chapelfield development in Norwich in November 2004.
 Picture: Bill SmithFirst views inside the House of Fraser store under construction in the Chapelfield development in Norwich in November 2004. Picture: Bill Smith

Signs of trouble

The first rumblings of the chain’s financial troubles began in 2008, when the department store looked to bring in names such as Ralph Lauren to combat difficult trading conditions.

As online retailers began to overtake demand for bricks-and-mortar stores, House of Fraser managed to cling on.

In 2014, the chain was purchased by Chinese conglomerate Sanpower Group for nearly £500m.

The enormous excavations for the Chapelfield development in Norwich, pictured in November 2003. Picture: Bill SmithThe enormous excavations for the Chapelfield development in Norwich, pictured in November 2003. Picture: Bill Smith

In August 2018, the store announced it was going into administration with debts to creditors of £1bn.

Bought out by Sports Director Mike Ashley for £90m in the same month, he pledge to save 47 of the 59 outlets, though a steady trickle of store closures have been announced since.

And on Wednesday the chain announced it would be closing four stores at Chapelfield, Lakeside in Essex, the Metrocentre in Gateshead, and Nottingham.

Bosses at Intu said that the companies had not been able to agree reasonable terms to continue trading.

View over the Chapelfield development in Norwich, in November 2004. Picture: Bill SmithView over the Chapelfield development in Norwich, in November 2004. Picture: Bill Smith

Work continues on construction of the Chapelfield development in Norwich, in November 2004. 
Picture: Bill SmithWork continues on construction of the Chapelfield development in Norwich, in November 2004. Picture: Bill Smith

House of Fraser before it opened in Chapelfield in 2005. Picture: Antony KellyHouse of Fraser before it opened in Chapelfield in 2005. Picture: Antony Kelly

House of Fraser before it opened in 2005. Picture: Antony KellyHouse of Fraser before it opened in 2005. Picture: Antony Kelly

House of Fraser's opening day in 2005. 
Picture: Paul HewittHouse of Fraser's opening day in 2005. Picture: Paul Hewitt

House of Fraser's opening day in 2005. 
Picture: Paul HewittHouse of Fraser's opening day in 2005. Picture: Paul Hewitt

Ipods and accessories for sale in House of Fraser in 2005 when it opened. Picture: Antony KellyIpods and accessories for sale in House of Fraser in 2005 when it opened. Picture: Antony Kelly

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