Man with a vision who became a colourful city character
PUBLISHED: 21:45 16 December 2018
Tall, upright, immaculate, with a Homburg hat, a smart overcoat, a trimmed moustache and polished walking stick...he was a man whose dream came true 120 years ago when he opened his own business in Norwich.
Walter Little went on to become one of the best loved and highly respected gentleman’s outfitters not just in the city but across the county and when he died in 1934 his sons carried on running his clothing empire.
His story was told in a wonderful book written by the late, great Robert Bagshaw back in 2002 called Tales of Norfolk Folk.
It tells of a time, in the early part of the 20th century, when Magdalen Street and St Benedict’s, were the most popular parts of the city with shopkeepers, nearly all of them local, offering more than 160 retail outlets.
Whatever you wanted...the chances were you could get here. And as for Christmas time!
There was a seething mass of men, women and children jostling for space as the trams rattled by. Quite chaotic. Quite wonderful.
And there were many people who headed into Norwich from Melton Constable, and all stations between, arriving at the old City Station.
If your purchases were bulky the shopkeepers would wrap them up and take them either to City Station or to one of the carriers so they could be delivered.
Oh yes and you also had to keep as eye out for the cattle on market days.
Walter Little arrived in Norwich from Dorking in the 1890s to work at Green’s the big outfitters on the Haymarket but it wasn’t long before he left to open his own small business in Colegate.
He knew where the people were and moved to St Benedict’s Street where his clothing company proved so popular that in 1907 he opened his main store in Magdalen Street and then a little one next door to Loose’s known as The Collar Box.
Walter later opened a second shop in St Benedict’s and outlets in Diss, Watton and Wymondham.
The company slogan, thought to be the brainchild of his Walter’s son, Frank, certainly came true: LOTS ARE DRESSED BY LITTLE’S and that was the message across the top of the River End at Carrow Road, home of the Canaries.
Walter and his boys loved Norwich City and did much to support the football club.
He was fortunate to have sons Frank, Charles and Jack, along with “Aunt Fan” and other members of the family helping to run the booming business. Those who worked there were full of praise for the family and how they were looked after their staff.
Sadly Walter died at the age of 62 in 1934 leaving his empire in the hands of his sons.
The business continued for another 20 years but times were changing and as the national chains arrived the small family shops started to struggle. They couldn’t compete and the customers left.
The family shops in the city and county closed and by 1965 it was all over.
As Bob Bagshaw wrote: “Of the three brothers, Charles had already left to become a commercial traveller, Frank welcomed the chance of more to engage in the social life of the city, which was his great joy, and Jack became landlord of the Hoste Arms at Burnham Market.
“One part of Walter Little’s empire which continued to operate with the branch at Wymondham, taken over as an independent concern by Walter’s grandson, John, who carried it on until his untimely death in 1991.
Now, all that is left is the memory of a man who came from Surrey with a vision, turned that vision into reality and, in doing so, became, if not exactly a legend, at least a significant figure in the history of the City of Norwich.
Wymondham dentist and author Bob Bagshaw died in December of 2009 but look out for his brilliant books in the shops. If you love Norfolk you will certainly love his stories.
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