The ‘rich seam’ of heritage in our town centre

Garwood Burton Palmer's shop c 1880s

Garwood Burton Palmer's shop c 1880s - Credit: Archant

A local author described archive material kept by a Great Yarmouth store as being a “rich seam.”

Tales of Norfolk Retail

Tales of Norfolk Retail - Credit: Archant

Anything from a Pin to an Elephant is the third book by Chris Armstrong about the social, industrial, and commercial history of Norfolk. It features five local independent department stores, including Palmer’s of Yarmouth. And Chris has revealed he found the research to write the chapter on Palmers particularly rewarding.

“Not all companies are so aware and so proud of their history as Palmers.,” he said. Of particular interest was a notebook, dated 1884, giving remarkably detailed instructions to the housekeeper responsible for running accommodation above the store for the shop assistants. The level of detail is such the book even contains instructions on how thick the slices of bread and butter provided for the staff were to be, differentiating between those for the men and the thinner slices for the girls.

The stories of all the stores provide anecdotes which bring to life the experiences of those staff and illuminate the history of the stores. Palmer’s, for instance, suffered an horrendous fire in November 1892, and the fact all the staff escaped can be attributed to late night revellers singing Christmas songs so loudly outside they woke the head dressmaker, Mrs Jennings, who smelt burning and raised the alarm.

Palmer’s was initially a draper’s shop. The author points out that this was the start point for many department stores and that they have been the subject of interest to writers ever since H G Wells’ Kipps published in 1904, of which there have been three film adaptations, most latterly starring Tommy Steele in Half a Sixpence.

The Blue Plaque at Gorleston Conservative Club, former home of Garwood Burton Palmer, founder of Pal

The Blue Plaque at Gorleston Conservative Club, former home of Garwood Burton Palmer, founder of Palmers department store. Picture: Nick Butcher - Credit: Picture: Nick Butcher

The book title is taken from an interview given by Arnold Roy, joint founder of Roys of Wroxham, which also features. When asked on the BBC’s In Town Tonight programme in 1938 what could be bought at his store, he replied “Anything from a pink to an elephant.”

Palmer’s will stock the book and Chris Armstrong will sign copies in store on Thursday, April 28, 10am to noon. He is also giving a talk to the University of the Third Age in Great Yarmouth library at 2pm.

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The book costs £12.99 and is published by Amberley.