End of an era for the tailor of Diss

CELIA WIGG From frock coats to lounge suits, generations of Hopgoods have dressed the gentlemen of south Norfolk in the finest fashions of the day. As they measured, cut and stitched at their outfitters in Diss Market Place, they watched the town grow and ponies and carts give way to motor cars and bustle.

CELIA WIGG

From frock coats to lounge suits, generations of Hopgoods have dressed the gentlemen of south Norfolk in the finest fashions of the day.

As they measured, cut and stitched at their outfitters in Diss Market Place, they watched the town grow and ponies and carts give way to motor cars and bustle.

While supermarkets and department stores have chipped away at small stores elsewhere, Hopgoods weathered the storm, serving its customers for 107 years - from the end of the Victorian era to the present day.

But that is all set to change on March 31.

For proprietor Richard Hopgood has decided to retire and the premises have been sold to new owners, who do not wish to continue the family business.

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It marks the end of an era - the closure of the last of five independent men's outfitters in the town.

As a former district councillor, Mr Hopgood was more than a tailor - he was a listening ear to his clients, helping with problems as well as sartorial choices.

He said: “My great-grandparents came to Diss in about 1885 and ran the Waveney Temperance Hotel, which is now a Chinese restaurant opposite the Corn Hall, bringing with them their family. My grandfather Walter Hopgood was a cockney, born in the parish of Bow Bells. He came to Diss, having worked in various tailoring outfits, and set up his own business in 1900 at the back of the hotel.

“He didn't count the first two years though, because he didn't have a proper shop until he moved to Crown Street, now St Nicholas Street, in 1902.”

The fledgling business faced stiff opposition, but Walter's hard work paid off. Eight years later, he moved to better premises in the main shopping centre in Mere Street, where Woolworth's store now stands.

Mr Hopgood said: “Grandfather banked at Barclays and used to walk past this shop, which was a derelict site. He bought it from Barclays, who had foreclosed on a mortgage in 1923, and my father Billy and the two other children slept on camp beds at the back of the shop.”

It proved a good investment. The shop is in a prime location and was valued at more than £400,000 when Mr Hopgood put it up for sale two years ago.

He was born in 1946 - the year after his father took over the firm - but was at first reluctant to follow in his footsteps. He said: “My inclination was to join the army, but I agreed to go into the company for a six months' trial. It was said by several people that I would never stick it and they were absolutely right - I've only been around for 44 years.

“My 21st birthday present was a third share in the business and when I took over the major share in 1973, my father became the junior partner!”

Although not a professional tailor, Mr Hopgood received excellent training in the key techniques. When the local economy took a downturn in the 1980s and 1990s, his sewing skills saved the firm from going under.

“We went through a bad period like many shops, as had my grandfather in the great depression. I was able to use my skill at sewing to get us through, as people were very pleased to have things mended. I've made curtains, cushions, skirts, a Union flag jacket for the conductor of an orchestra going on tour to Germany - everything from a bikini to a tent,” he said.

“The bikini was for a lady who wanted one copied in a certain fabric she had bought, and the tent was for someone who had designed a prototype and wanted to see if it worked - and it did.”