'He was happiest in his overalls' - tributes paid to well-known furniture dealer
PUBLISHED: 08:47 17 April 2019 | UPDATED: 10:18 18 April 2019
Tributes have been paid to a well-known Norfolk man who turned his passion for antiques into a thriving business.
Eric Bates, who spent many years living in North Walsham, has died aged 83.
He was known for his strong work ethic, pride in a job well done, passion for wooden furniture and love for his family.
Graham Bates, a son, said: “I've never known anyone who worked as hard as dad.
“He was never not doing something. He was never happier than when he was in his overalls driving around in his old pickup truck.
“He was also very proud of the employment he gave people - it must have been more than 100 over the years. A lot of those people thought of him as a friend, not just a boss.”
Mr Bates was born in Blofield, and married his wife Christine in the village church in 1955.
Graham said: “They were born less than 50 yards from each other, six months apart.”
As a young man Mr Bates served in the Royal Marines for seven years and was stationed in Egypt, and was then employed as a carpenter and stockman, working with pigs.
But antique furniture was his true passion.
Graham said: “He used to buy and sell antiques as a hobby for years, buying bits and pieces at auction and doing them up.
“In the end he wanted to turn that into a business.”
He had a particular passion for dining chairs, and built up a huge collection, sometimes reuniting sets of antique chairs which may have been split up decades before.
Mr Bates bought and renovated a property in North Walsham to become a family home and show room, and he opened his first big antiques shop on Coltishall High Street in 1983. The firm evolved into a manufacturer of bespoke and reproduction furniture with a large export clientele.
The couple had a daughter, Teresa, and two other sons, Alan and Roger, who, along with Graham, followed him into the business, which became Eric Bates and Sons, based in Hoveton.
Never afraid to change course Eric steered his business from its early days in antiques, through to manufacturing and now offering bespoke kitchens and interiors from its proud base on Station Business Park in Hoveton. The firm is now in its third generation with Eric's grandson Jamie.