London surprise reveals a link to candle-making in Great Yarmouth’s Rows

Surprise-surprise! The Great Yarmouth-linked wooden box in use on a London dining table. Picture: PE

Surprise-surprise! The Great Yarmouth-linked wooden box in use on a London dining table. Picture: PETER BRANDON - Credit: Peter Brandon

Architects and builders, gold and silversmiths, artists and authors, furniture designers and sculptors ...they are among the many professionals whose achievements can leave a legacy for future generations.

Great Yarmouth's Church Plain in 1905, crowded because of a Sunday School gathering. Picture: MERCUR

Great Yarmouth's Church Plain in 1905, crowded because of a Sunday School gathering. Picture: MERCURY LIBRARY - Credit: Archant

But it is unlikely that a candle-maker would ever believe his name and comparatively humble trade would come to the attention of the public centuries later, albeit in an obtuse manner. However, that has happened to a Great Yarmouth citizen, all because a man happened to go for a drink in a London public house recently!

Permit me to explain.

I was contacted by Mick Jones, of Halt Road, Caister, who correctly thought I would be interested in a discovery his London-based cousin made recently. That relative, Peter Brandon, went into The Smugglers Tavern in the central London district of Fitzrovia. The establishment also serves meals, and Peter spotted something so unexpected on one table that he photographed it as proof.

That object was a small sturdy rope-handled wooden box put to the novel use of accommodating condiments, extra cutlery and other items for diners. Its fascination is the name on the side in black capital letters: “BROWN THE CANDLEMAKER, ROW 10, CHURCH PLAIN, GREAT YARMOUTH.”

“It’s marvellous how these things get around and thought you may find it interesting,” writes Mick to me. “I rather wished he’d asked how much they wanted for it. I wonder how it got there...”

Yes, there was once a chandlery in the long-gone Row 10, making tallow candles. Had the pristine box somehow and somewhere survived for at least 200 years through the reigns of eight or nine monarchs and found its way 120 miles to the capital?

Most Read

Local historian and author Colin Tooke’s 2000 publication Great Yarmouth: The Rows and the Old Town, says candle-making was done in this Row from 1760 until the early 1800s by Mr Brown and, later, by men named Freeman and Mayes.

Row 10, “probably one of the oldest” of the 145, ran from George Street to Church Plain and was known by some as Brown the Candlemaker’s Row.

Colin was surprisingly unimpressed when I told him about the London discovery, pointing out that some internet browsing revealed there were plenty of similar reproductions covering various old trades available to buy.

Disappointed, I telephoned the tavern hoping for reassurance that somehow a wooden box once used for holding new candles two centuries ago had found its way to its dining room but was informed that it was only a replica, albeit “a damned good one.”

Also in the tavern are copies of a Suffolk ale crate and a Traynier’s fish box, but I have no details. I wonder how the makers of the replicas know what the originals looked like...

Coincidentally, that Yarmouth area where Row 10 was once situated has a family link for Mick Jones and his family.

He explains: “Our Grandad, Ralph Brandon, was parish clerk of St Nicholas’ Church (now the Minster) from 1946 till 1963 and lived at the parish clerk’s house at 25 Church Plain. I was born there as my parents lived with him till they bought their own place a couple of years later.

“When Ralph retired, he and his wife went to stay with their son in Yorkshire who was then Vicar of Kirkbymoorside. That’s where my cousin Peter Brandon was born. Bit of a roundabout way but this is what triggered his interest in the condiments box.

“Another minor connection is that my mother, Queenie, worked for many years at the Registrar’s Office in Ferryside alongside your regular contributor, Trevor Nicholls.”

For most of Ralph Brandon’s tenure of the parish clerkship and residence on Church Plain, the parish church was unused, apart from the occasional service conducted in the gutted ruins caused by incendiary bombs dropped in a 1942 German air raid.

St Peter’s was the acting parish church until the restored St Nicholas’ was reconsecrated in 1961.