One of Norwich’s oldest family businesses closes its doors

One of the oldest family businesses in Norwich closed its doors for the final time this weekend after 137 years of trading in the city.

Civil and military bespoke tailors and shirtmakers F.A. Stones & Sons has closed its doors on its Timberhill shop of 16 years as there is no family successor to take on the business from current owner Diana Dewing, nee Stone.

Mrs Dewing is retiring at the age of 80, but not in the circumstances she would have liked.

The granddaughter of the shop's founder Frederick Adolphus Stone, who established the business at 11 Prince of Wales Road in 1874, could not find anyone suitable to take over the business from her.

For F.A. Stone & Sons was no ordinary tailor. Its specialist skills have been fitting the Royal Anglian Regiment at Sandhurst since the turn of the 20th century, when it was making uniforms for The King's Own Royal Regiment Norfolk Special Yeomanry.

The quality of the Norwich store's work has long been appreciated by the Royal Anglian Regiment and Mrs Dewing received a kind letter from the company's Colnel, Gen Sir John McColl.

He wrote to say that Mrs Dewing should be 'immensely proud' of her family's 'marvellous work', before going on to say: 'This has been a personal service, helped by your warm personality and memory for faces and names.'

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It is a letter that Mrs Dewing, a former Norwich High School pupil, is extremely proud of and she admits to dreading the thought of no longer working for the business she has worked for since the age of 18.

She said: 'I've actually been connected to the business since I was five years old because I used to come to the shop straight from kindergarten school and do any home work necessary, and then my father would drive me home.

'What is so sad and what I have been dreadfully upset about is that I am having to give up the shop because I can't find anyone to keep the same standards up.

'But It has been a great privilege and I have taken great pride in serving the Royal Anglian Regiment, I shall miss my frequent trips to Sandhurst.

'It involves me and our cutter who lives in London, Tony Burns, going to Sandhurst at least 12 times a year and I can't expect anyone to carry that on because it is hard.'

Mrs Dewing has watched as Norwich expanded into the busy, thriving shopping centre of the east of England that it is today for the vast majority of her life, only leaving for three years when evacuated to Keswick in Cumbria during World War Two.

But despite the huge changes the city has gone through, Mrs Dewing says her trade has not changed dramatically in her 80 years.

She continued: 'The city centre has a much, much bigger footfall now, but now Chapelfield is open it is very different on Timberhill because it is a lot further for people to come.

'When we were down on Prince of Wales Road we had about 40 people working there and enough trade for that because people used to have to have suits for business, and obviously more than one.

'Now that has very largely changed and people don't require suits as much.'

The business also had a store on Regent Street in Great Yarmouth which shut in the 1960s, and retain a by-appointment presence at Holland and Sherries in London's famous Saville Row.

The name of the business will survive in a new format, but will no longer have a shop front.

Long-time employees Mr Burns, Norma Cheney and Bridget Harrod are starting a new company called Stones Bespoke Tailoring Ltd, which will be based on Cattlemarket Street from the start of July.

Mrs Harrod, 58, has been a tailoress since she started as a learner with Stone & Sons in 1967 and admitted it was a sad day to see Mrs Dewing closing down.

She said: 'It's been my life and I've loved it. It's a trade you can take anywhere because you can take it home, you can sew anywhere, it's a good trade.

'They don't teach sewing at school any more and I think more young people are wanting to learn to sew now because they love their fashion.'

Mrs Cheney, 68, has worked for the company as a tailoress since 1976 and hopes that the new business will be able to carry on its good reputation, adding: 'It's a very sad day to see Mrs Dewing leaving and our first choice would have been to keep the shop.

'But she has agreed that we can use the name Stone and I hope we can keep the good work going.'

Are you starting a specialist business in the Norwich area? Contact reporter David Freezer on 01603 772418 or email david.freezer@archant.co.uk

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