Norwich's modern store that rose from rubble of The Blitz

IMAGES OF NORWICH BOOK; 2nd World War chapter - Blitz 42. Firemen at the site where Curl's (now Deb

Firemen at the site where Curl's (now Debenhams) stood on April 30, 1942 - Credit: Archant

It was 65 years ago when the doors finally opened on the most modern department store in East Anglia. Derek James tells the story of Curls

More than 10 years after the end of the Second World War the people gathered to celebrate the re-opening of Curls in the heart of Norwich.

The shop had been destroyed in the 1942 Baedeker Raids and the space it left in the city had been a popular spot for events…but times were changing.

The dark days of the war were over, the country was rebuilding itself and Curls was rising into the air once again.

An impressive modern building, with 97,000 sq. ft. of floor space it carried on the tradition of enterprise and service which generations of Norfolk and

Norwich shoppers associated with the name of Curls.

The story a century before the new shop opened when three brothers from West Norfolk arrived to turn a relatively quiet part of the city into a busy and prosperous shopping centre.

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The brothers bought one of the oldest inns in Norwich, the Rampant Horse, and turn it into a warehouse and shop covering half-an-acre onto three streets.

It was an area rich in reminders of the city’s history and it was here in the 13th century that a busy horse market was held.

Will Kemp ended  his dance from London to Norwich by capering past it on the way to the Market Place.

Irish soldiers were billeted there during the Great Rebellion and in the 18th century it was the starting point for the Ipswich and Norwich Dispatch coach.

Extensions to the premises were built over the years including a brass front to the ship lit at night by eleven Ediswan lamps in wrought iron brackets.

And there was an electric light from the basement to the top floor. Many of the staff moved in and apprentices were not allowed to speak to customers for their first two years.

A hole in the road marked Orford Place, Norwich in October, 1953. Bombed in 1942, the site became a

A hole in the road marked Orford Place, Norwich in October, 1953. Bombed in 1942, the site became a static water tank until 1945 and then a car park until a new Curls store began to rise from the ashes of war in 1954 - Credit: Archant

Hundreds of bound books were sold for a few pence and became the foundation of almost every village library in Norfolk.

Then the store was destroyed in the bombing raids of April 1942 leaving a gaping hole in the centre of Norwich

It would be many years before this new  four-storey landmark building , with window displays stretching for 430ft reminding shoppers they would buy anything from a party dress to a paint-brush at Curls, was finally opened.

Hundreds of men and women were proud to work in this huge shop. In the basement were four demonstration pitchers for a huge range of goods.

Think of something you needed and the chances are you would find it on one of the large four floors and there was one of those new-fangled escalators..

They said at the time, this was the 1950s: “Who will be the customers of the new Curls?

“In addition to the visiting farmer and his wife, they are the men and women who work in the important industries of Norwich – 10,000 of them in the shoe industry.

Norwich Buildings "D"Debenhams Department Store which was built on a bomb site in the late 1950s

The Curls store pictured from the St Stephens/Westlegate junction Dated in the 1960s

“Others are employed in the large Norwich Union offices nearby, in the two big engineering firms, in mustard and flour mills, chocolate and Christmas cracker factories, and printing works and breweries.” 

And the company was reaching out to school leavers to come and join them saying: “By tradition, a happy relationship exists between management and staff. Newcomers are welcome and a personal interest is taken in the progress of all employees.

“Staff are encouraged to sit for Junior and Senior Retail Certificates and to attend Norwich City College one morning a week for this purpose.

“Curls can offer their staff the up-to-date amenities only to be found in a modern building – light and spacious workrooms, a fully equipped clinic for treatment of accidents and illness, a bright staff canteen. A full-time welfare supervisor looks after the interests of the staff and attend to individual problems.”

As with so many other family businesses  the name of Curls eventually disappeared. It became Debenhams….as to the future. Time will tell. A sad time especially for the loyal staff.

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