The famous Norfolk family that helped save Norwich City Football Club

George Hawkins and his colleagues at the Surrey Street depot before it became BRS.

George Hawkins and his colleagues at the Surrey Street depot before it became BRS. - Credit: Family Collection

It is one of the best known and most loved names in Norfolk and the family money continues to help others in so many different ways.

We are talking Watling.

Our recent story about the three women from Cringleford writing a book about growing up during the Second World War in Norfolk prompted Gerald Hawkins to send us these photographs and memories.

His father, George F Hawkins, was employed for most of his life working for C. Watlings (Carriers) and the subsequent companies of P.X. and the British Road Services.

Watling’s lorries on Mulbarton Common in the Second World War.

Watling’s lorries on Mulbarton Common in the Second World War. George Hawkins is on the front row, fourth from the right, and Geoffrey Watling is the smart young gentleman in the middle of the picture with his black hat, standing next to Charlie and Frank Watling - Credit: Family Collection

The picture of the men and the vehicles was taken on Mulbarton Common during 1940 and it also appeared in The Book of Mulbarton by Jill and David Wright published back in 2006.

In the photograph, contributed by Jack Grady, George is on the front row, fourth from the right.

About 40 lorries were brought to Mulbarton from Surrey Street in the city centre, every evening during the war to ensure they were safe from being bombed in the nighttime raids which destroyed much of the city.

One lorry returned with all the men and brought them back in the morning. In the centre of the picture in the tall black hat is Geoffrey Watling, Next right are Charlie Watling and Frank Watling and seated second from left on the front row is Jack Grady.

George Hawkins and his colleagues at the Surrey Street depot before it became BRS.

George Hawkins and his colleagues at the Surrey Street depot before it became BRS. - Credit: Family Collection

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“I’m told,” said Gerald, “that, on occasions, the families of the drivers had the opportunity to stay the night, sleeping in the back of those lorries.

“Both my brother George (born in 1937 and therefore can recall a few memories) and I, born in 1942, must have endured some rather safe but uncomfortable nights in Mulbarton.”

George Hawkins and his colleagues at the Surrey Street depot before it became BRS.

George Hawkins and his colleagues at the Surrey Street depot before it became BRS. - Credit: Family Collection

In fact many people, especially those with children, would head out of the city at night to sleep where they could in a bid to escape the bombs.

The other photographs Gerald hope will bring a few memories back were taken in the Surrey Street Deport before it became BRS and show the annual arrival of Santa Claus at the firm’s Christmas party usually held at the Cow Hill off St Benedict’s, Norwich.

Father Christmas hands out presents at a staff party.

The annual company Christmas Party usually held at the Cow Hall, on Cow Hill, off St Benedict’s in Norwich. - Credit: Family Collection

The name Watling is very special.

Charles Watling was a Norwich stable boy who was driving a parcel delivery cart in the city by 1890 and in 1915 took over his employer’s bankrupt firm Globe Parcels Express with one pony and a two-wheeled cart.

This was the beginning of the company, F C Watling, which grew into a large business that his son Geoffrey, born in 1913, would take over and replace horses with motors.

Charles went on to become a Liberal councillor. He was Sheriff in 1929 and Lord Mayor in 1937/8. The public loved him.

Children hold their presents from Santa.

The annual company Christmas Party usually held at the Cow Hall, on Cow Hill, off St Benedict’s in Norwich. - Credit: Family Collection

What can you say about Geoffrey? One of our greatest citizens in living memory.

He looked after around 200 businesses, from ballrooms (the Samson & Hercules) to chalet parks and so much more.

Geoffrey saved our football club from bankruptcy in the 1950s and 1990s, becoming known as “Mr Norwich City.”

And today his memory lives in so many ways and there is the wonderful Geoffrey Watling Charity which has handed out more than eight and a half million pounds to help others across Norfolk and Suffolk.

Many of you, including me, will have special memories of Geoffrey who died in 2004. A very special man.

We have much to thank members of the Watling family over the years… and the good work carries on.

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