New guide to Cromer’s 19th century shops shows the ‘love local’ spirit

It gives a unique glimpse of the entrepreneurial 'love local' spirit of Cromer's shopkeepers in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

And it reveals how the battle between home-grown independents and the ubiquitous chain stores began more than 100 years ago.

A newly published booklet by Cromer Preservation Society traces the development of the seaside town from when it had just three shopkeepers to the time when it became a bustling and fashionable resort with all manner of shops and traders.

The booklet - called 'Every Article a Bargain and Every Customer Satisfied', taken from an advertisement for one of Cromer's Victorian shops - draws on newspaper reports, advertising and old photographs to paint a picture of the town at trade.

It coincides with the current North Norfolk News 'Love Local' campaign, which champions the cause of the sort of shops and personal service that have existed in towns like Cromer for centuries.

Society secretary Andy Boyce said: 'At a time when towns are recognising the value of small independent local shops, this 20-page booklet offers a glimpse of their history.

'Cromer is fortunate in having a variety of independent shops. These make a strong contribution to the pleasant character of Cromer, so that the town centre continues to be a lively place to live in and to visit.'

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Mr Boyce said the first half of the booklet looked at 'different aspects of the town's shops', while the second half had an 'introduction to the sort of shops that would have been found in Cromer at the close of the Victorian period'.

He added: 'This was a time when local traders made their own products, such as Everett's in Bond Street, which made soft drinks including lemonade and ginger beer.

'At one time, it was the practice to ask in local pubs for a 'pint and Everett's' - beer with a dash of lemonade. There was also Thomas Puxley (today K Hardware), who made his own brand of tea.'

The guide goes back to a 1792 trade directory, which featured just three shopkeepers.

They included Benjamin Rust, whose business operated in Cromer for another 200 years. At the time, he sold 'textiles, sperm oil, gunpowder, flints and shot and other useful commodities'.

All of the shopkeepers supplemented their income by offering lodgings above their shops. And many favoured the custom of visiting gentry, sometimes setting aside higher end goods and refusing to sell them to locals.

In the early 1800s, fishermen were selling crabs from stalls outside their house - a practice that continues today.

A doubling of the population of Cromer to 1,232 between 1801 and 1831 led to Cromer having 10 food shops - making up for the demise of the town's market.

Shops had limited access to manufactured goods, which had to be transported by cart along unmade-up roads. Benjamin Rust had goods delivered to Blakeney Harbour, then employed carting contractors to carry them to Cromer.

The railways arrived in 1877, sparking a big population increase as Cromer became a fashionable resort. Many new shops were opened, with some being added on the ground floor of existing houses, and some being purpose-built for the first time.

The booklet also exposes the enduring issue of long working hours. In the late 19th century, shopkeepers often worked from 8am to 9pm Monday to Saturday, closing for part of the day on Sundays.

The entrepreneurial spirit is demonstrated by an advert from 1898, which said: 'S Gallehawk, fruiterer and greengrocer (25 years in Church Street) has taken larger premises in Mount Street. Fruit and vegetables of all kinds. Mineral waters and hot drinks, tea, coffee and light refreshments. Tinware and umbrellas repaired, scissors sharpened.'

And the march of the multinationals, which has blighted so many high streets and left them in danger of becoming clones, began in Cromer at the beginning of the 20th century. An International Tea Company shop (later International Stores) was at West Street by 1904 and a Co-operative store opened on Prince of Wales Road in April 1906.

? The booklet, costing �2.75, is available from Cromer Museum and the town's tourist information centre.