Roy Dashwood: From Norwich market stall holder to millionaire:
PUBLISHED: 12:15 23 August 2013 | UPDATED: 16:16 23 August 2013
One of Norfolk’s most colourful and opportunist businessmen, Roy Dashwood, has died after a long illness aged 82.
The Norwich market-stall trader built up a property portfolio which once included the city’s largest nightclub and converted a former Lowestoft Theatre into a successful bingo hall.
The millionaire, who left his native city 22 years ago to live in Guernsey in the Channel Islands, was the oldest son of a Norwich greengrocer.
When he returned from Canada in 1952, where he had worked as a plumber, he started with £100 of capital initially running a stall selling surplus clothing.
He always had an eye for a deal, especially with property. One of his biggest coups was a £62,000 investment in the Bell Hotel, Norwich, which was sold 15 years later for £3m. In 1974, he bought the city centre pub and sold it to property developer Graham Dacre in 1989.
Born in Norwich, Roy Reginald Dashwood’s early schooling was interrupted by a serious leg injury. Although he missed months of lessons, he was a grafter as he showed over the next five decades.
Always determined to fight his corner against all comers, he delighted in taking on the authorities. He successfully fought the then Norwich Corporation in a two-year legal battle in the Court of Appeal over his controversial plans for a new city centre amusement arcade.
The first of many legal tussles with planners started in October 1960 when he described himself as 29-year-old dealer in surplus stores, having started 10 years earlier as a market stallholder. He bought six shops, 79 to 87, Magdalen Street for £6,000 in March 1959 and then applied to put up 55 lock-up garages on land from cleared condemned cottages and stables. He won his appeal.
Then he bought the Theatre Royal, Lowestoft, which had closed after the 1961 season, to re-open as a bingo hall. The building, which had seating for about 700 people, was offered at public auction on October 17, 1962 but withdrawn at £6,800. He bought it a fortnight later. Built as the Playhouse in 1927, it was destroyed by fire in 1946 but re-opened two years later.
His empire was to expand rapidly. By autumn 1965, he had three shops including Roy’s Surplus Stores in Norwich, the Wymondham cinema and Lowestoft’s Royal Casino. He bought a 25-acre golf course next to the Washington Hotel, Sprowston, for £11,750.
That November, he bought the 14-bedroom former hotel and country club on a seven-acre site off the Salhouse Road – a month earlier it was sold at auction for £24,000.
He planned to open the Washington Club 400 the next month as the city’s only nightclub offering entertainment after 11pm including strippers and spent as much as £1,000 a night to bring stars including Bob Monkhouse, Frankie Howerd and Diana Dors.
In June 1970, he closed the “400 Club” because it had lost its licence after a change in the gaming laws. Although it had 10,000 members the previous year, customers were not prepared to pay.
“When it costs £600 a week to run a night club, you can’t charge 2s (10p) a pint for beer,” he added.
Two days earlier, the Washington Hotel (now the Racecourse) was sold at action for £40,000, including £6,500 fittings, to a Martham farmer, William Chapman. He retained 28 acres of land with the golf-course site.
Mr Dashwood, who had added a moneylender’s licence to his portfolio in December 1966, had started his ambitious amusement arcade at Old Post Office Court between The Walk and Castle Street.
In May 1971, he won the test case at the Court of Appeal. “If I had lost, it would have cost me about £10,000,” he said.
When the Norwich Evening News and EDP published critical editorials, he hit back robustly in the letters’ column.
Newspapers were also involved in gambling activities – not least Where’s the Ball and advertising bingo halls, nightclubs.
“You are hypocrites of the first order,” he wrote.
But his legal problems continued. His property company, Sagnata Investments, was fined £700, with 16 guineas’ costs, by Taverham magistrates in December 1970 when he had admitted felling 120 trees without a licence. He maintained afterwards that the sale of timber more than covered the fine.
A spectacular fire in Magdalen Street, which involved 35 firemen, saw him making headlines in July 1972 and losing stock and goods worth at least £13,000.
In the aftermath of the power strikes, fire swept through C&G Stores near the flyover, also gutting the Old Rose public house.
He told the EDP: “We were going to pull down a chimney as part of a project to enlarge a shop. I lit a Tilley lamp and it blew up in my face. I was upstairs when this happened and the lamp set fire to candles which I had. There were about 15 tons of them brought in to help out during the last power strike business. I made for the door.”
Later the building, of listed historic and architectural interest, was demolished.
Undaunted, five months later, he submitted plans for 200 houses on the 25-acre golf course but lost a planning appeal.
An inspector ruled that it should remain as farm land. In December 1975, he submitted plans for a £130,000 24-bay golf driving range and 18-hole pitch and putt course off Salhouse Road.
He made another shrewd deal in December 1975 when he bought the Baptist Chapel in Timberhill for £18,700. Built in 1833, it was “an absolute bargain” and was later converted into six shops.
His pub venture was to bring further brushes with the law and £3,900 fine in March 1985 for allowing alterations to the grade II-listed Bell Hotel, without approval.
It included a demolition of wall plaster bearing a painting dated 1643 and a 17th-century pitched roof.
In October 1987, during a drugs raid, he was held in police cells for five hours after being arrested. Later, he was released.
But the police opposed renewal of his licence.
In February 1989, Norwich magistrates were told by Supt Roy Elflett that “the current licensee is no longer a fit and proper person to hold such a licence”.
Despite these setbacks, which he fiercely criticised, by December 1992, he had won his 20-year battle for his Silver City Amusements venture.
With his devoted wife, Betty, they had left Norwich for Guernsey having settled a £1.7m tax bill. But she was to return to the city where they had made a fortune and died aged 70 in June 2005 from cancer at the Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital. He was distraught to have lost his “great woman,” who had been at his side for more than half a century.
He leaves five children, Donna, Rudy, Lisa, Heidi and Chantelle, and is survived by his brother, Colin.
Funeral arrangements are to be announced.
• BUSINESS HIGHLIGHTS
1959 Bought six shops in Magdalen Street for £6,000
1962 Acquired Theatre Royal, Lowestoft, for about ££7,000.
1965 Added Washington Hotel’s golf course for £11,750.
1970 Closed Washington 400, sold for £40,000.
1970 Fined £700 for illegal tree felling at Sprowston.
1971 Won test case Court of Appeal planning victory.
1972 Magdalen Street shop fire, 15 tons candles lost.
1974 Bell Hotel costs £62,000.
1975 Baptist Chapel, Timberhill, for £11,700.
1987 Arrested in drugs raid, later cleared.
1989 Sold Bell Hotel for £3m.
1991 Leaves Norwich for Guernsey.
1992 Final victory in amusement arcade scheme.
2005 His wife, Betty dies.