Business survives two world wars and depressions

READ OFF THAT CARD: the eyesight testing room of E Hayden and Son in Market Row, Great Yarmouth, in

READ OFF THAT CARD: the eyesight testing room of E Hayden and Son in Market Row, Great Yarmouth, in 1899, three years after the business opened there. Picture: SUBMITTED - Credit: Archant

While preparing today’s column, I read that national glasses chain Specsavers is seeking to trademark “should’ve” and “shouldve” to protect its advertising slogan.

FOR THE WELL-DRESSED MAN...Sayer's tailor's shop, another Market Row business at the turn of the 20t

FOR THE WELL-DRESSED MAN...Sayer's tailor's shop, another Market Row business at the turn of the 20th century. Picture: PERCY TRETT COLLECTION - Credit: Archant

My subject was opticians, and I intended to mention that my all-time favourite TV commercial is the US astronauts erroneously landing at a busy British holiday airport instead of their base in America...because of their poor eyesight!

Except for one simple procedure, I do not mind an eye test, being happy to declare which letter looks the sharper or which is the smallest print I can read. It is that puff of air on the eyeball that usually takes an embarrassing time because my lid involuntarily closes a split second too soon and I have to suffer repeats.

Last year the operative gave up as I could not stop the blinking, but on my first visit to a different Great Yarmouth practitioner recently, I advised the lady about my blinking problem. She solved it immediately, using her fingertip to hold my eyelid open while she operated the puffer.

Instant success! What a relief! Simples, as those TV meerkats would comment.

My visit reminded me that among the nostalgia-type items I possess is an 1899 glossy illustrated magazine entitled Great Yarmouth – Its Past and Present devoted to detailed descriptions of various aspects of the town, including geographical position; notable citizens; churches and chapels; hotels, boarding houses and restaurants; educational; manufacturers; professional; general trade...

Among the “professional” category, is: Mr Hayden, described as “ophthalmic optician and eyesight specialist, qualified optician by examination”, of Market Row.

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That business has survived two world wars, economic depressions, competition from national chains high-spending on advertising, and a move to King Street where it is now. A few years ago it amalgamated with another traditional Yarmouth ophthalmic optician, D R Grey, in the Arcade, and the business is now Hayden and Grey.

The 1899 “advertorial” allows Mr Hayden “the opportunity of mentioning a very important step recently taken by the Ancient and Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers (incorporated 1629). Last year this company, with the view of protecting the public against the host of unqualified men who assume the title of ‘optician’ or ‘occulist optician’ established an examination which entitles the successful examinee to a diploma of fellowship of the compamy.

“Mr Hayden (who had practised in Yarmouth for three years) was one of the first to submit himself to this examination test and became a Freeman of the Company as well as a Freeman of the City of London. In no profession is the possession of exact knowledge and scientific training more necessary than in that of the optician.

“The use of unsuitable glasses has, in multitudes of instances, resulted in blindness and in other scarcely less serious evils. Yet the public is still being victimised by vendors who call themselves opticians simply because they have spectacles to sell but who are utterly without any knowledge of ophthalmic science.

“While many eyes are permanently and seriously injured through the ignorance of such vendors, true opticians are constantly performing marvels in not only correcting the defects of vision but also in restoring sight to persons whose eyes have become abnormal either through disease or accident.

“We have no doubt that Mr Hayden, with other scientific eyesight specialists, can tell of cases in which the skilful adaptation of specially constructed glasses , or the use of a graduated series of such glasses, has saved the patient’s eyesight when such a result had appeared hopeless.”

The magazine claimed that Hayden was the only registered and certificated optician in the borough, occupying specially adapted premises in the most characteristic of the 145 Rows for which Yarmouth is famous.”

Improvements to his premises included the installation of electric light.

There followed another dire warning about charlatans in the profession: “Before supplying glasses he, in every case, makes a most careful ophthalmoscopic examination of the eyes of his patients, as the eyes may be diseased and the patient unconscious of the fact and, left to himself, or when placed in the hands of the ignorant or unscrupulous spectacle vendors, he is liable to select, or be supplied with, altogether unsuitable glasses which may temporarily improve the sight but which will ultimately lead to partial or total blindness.

“Numerous such cases are continually occurring with the result that the eyesight of thousands of persons is ruined beyond redemption which, under proper scientific treatment might have been saved to them.”

It was with surprise that I read that his 1899 eye examination and sight testing on the ophthalmic principle was “free of charge”.

Oh yes: Mr Hayden “also makes a speciality of supplying and matching artificial eyes.”

So from opticians to one of Britain’s most notorious gangsters, Reggie Kray, and his stay in Blundeston Prison, a recent topic in this column in which I wrongly claimed that he never been incarcerated there.

Les Cockrill writes: “I too can confirm that Reggie Kray was at Blundeston Prison for a while. My work with two young inmates doing the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award took me there a few times about 1992 and I encountered him for a few moments on a couple of occasions.

“I think our maximum communication was when I said ‘thank you’ because he held a corridor door open for me.”

And reader Arthur Roberts tells me by letter: “In the 1980s it was the responsibility of Yarmouth immigration officers to visit foreign prisoners in Blundeston to discuss their cases.

“I recall meeting Reggie Kray on one visit when sitting next to him, having tea in the visitors’ room. Apparently he received streams of Yuppie visitors from London who wanted his autograph and on the day I saw him, he had three young visitors who had arrived at the prison in an Aston Martin car.

“One of them was a glamorous girl, perhaps an actress or model?”

Caister’s Paul Apostoli adds to his previous information on the topic: “My family knew the Krays well. My uncle worked for them, and even I know a lot of secrets that cannot be spoken of...”