Treasure trove of documents reveal history of Gaymers in Norfolk

When the Gaymers cider factory in Attleborough closed its doors for the final time in August 1995, a wealth of letters, deeds and photographs was saved by the Norfolk Record Office.

Now, after more than 15 years sitting in files, the historical documents are at last being catalogued – and a series of entertaining advertisements has gone on display for the first time.

The images reveal the Norfolk owners' cracking sense of humour – and a strong competitive streak.

Although the family had been making cider for a number of years before, archivist Tom Townsend said Gaymers, in its proper form, was founded in Banham, near Attleborough, in the late 19th century by William Gaymer.

It soon outgrew its original factory and moved to the nearby town.

Despite takeovers from larger companies – including Showerings of Shepton Mallet in Somerset – production in Norfolk continued until 1995 when the factory was shut.

Following the closure, Norfolk Record Office was offered the chance to go in, and it found a treasure trove of documents dating from 1877 to 1992.

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'It was a rescue job, really,' said Mr Townsend.

'There are lots of photographs of staff, products and premises, price lists, promotional and marketing material, file cards, partnership deeds and lots of correspondence.

'There's correspondence with staff, clients and reps – they were always asking for money – about disputes with employees and even road traffic accidents that occurred with Gaymers vans.'

Some of the most interesting files are those containing a host of advertisements and promotional sketches, mainly from the 1920s and 1930s, when the founder's son, William Chapman Gaymer, was in charge.

Often using a play on the name – and its jolly connotations – the images show a wonderfully tongue-in-cheek approach to marketing.

Some of the adverts were even considered a little too risqu� to be included in the mini-exhibition which is on show at the Norfolk Record Office from now until January 16.

Mr Townsend said: 'You can see when you look through their album of competitors' stuff, they didn't really do humour. They didn't do it with a twinkle in their eye like Gaymers.

'AF Harrison was the Gaymers sales director for the 1920s and 1930s. He was obviously a man with a great sense of humour.'

But the files of adverts also show a serious side to the business – particularly when it came to those of their competitors.

'They would travel around trade fairs, picking up literature from other companies. Sometimes there are comments scribbled on them like 'that's not true!',' he said.

The record office has recently won a �2,000 grant from the Business Archives Council to allow it to finally catalogue the Gaymers documents.

That will allow members of the public to see exactly what they have.

The process is due to be completed at the end of March and anyone interested will be able to visit the County Hall site to see anything that catches their eye on the online catalogue.

Among Mr Townsend's favourite documents are letters between William Gaymer and a Lord Hamilton in Suffolk. The cider producer had discovered a relative of Lord Hamilton, Lord Claud Nigel Hamilton, had been appointed deputy master of the household for the Royal Family. Mr Gaymer was desperate to get a royal warrant for his 'cyder' and wrote asking him to put in a good word.

In response, Lord Hamilton replied: 'Lord Claud Nigel Hamilton is my nephew and I much doubt whether he has the capacity for discharging the duty of the office to which he has been appointed.

'As he is a rather tiresome young fellow, no good would be served by my applying to him in accordance with your request.'

victoria.leggett@archant.co.uk

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