Baird’s / Dunn’s, 10a-11 Regent Street
The Irishman James Baird (1839-1917) set up as a boot and shoe dealer in Great Yarmouth in 1862. He specialised in footwear with waterproof soles made of ‘gutta percha’ (gum harvested from tropical trees), supplied by the Scottish manufacturers R. & J. Dick. By developing a network of retail agencies throughout the country in the 1860s, Dick’s could claim to be one of the earliest multiples in this field. Baird was part of this retail revolution.
Baird’s first shop at 5 Market Row – a narrow lane leading off the Market Place – was struck by tragedy on the night of Friday 24 January 1868. The next-door property, belonging to a clothier and boot and shoe dealer named Frederick Pigg, caught fire. Not only was Pigg’s property destroyed, but his wife and two of their young children were killed. Baird’s shop was beyond repair.
Baird relocated to larger premises at 11 Regent Street, where he lived and worked until his retirement. His son James took over the business, expanding into 10a Regent Street in the 1920s, and opening branches in Norwich and Lowestoft. He was an agent for Lotus and Delta.
The shopfronts of 10a-11 Regent Street are different from one another but are of equal historical interest. Together they form The Bizarre Bizarre Trading Company.
The deeply stylish No. 11 (on the left), with its slender mullions, art nouveau style glazing and (look up!) mirrored soffit, fronts Baird’s original shop. Installed in 1903 by the London shopfitter Frederick Sage & Co, it was praised in the local newspaper. It resembles Boots the Chemist’s early 20th-century house style, introduced at the flagship outlet on Pelham Street in Nottingham in 1903-05.
The shopfront of No. 10a was installed by Dunn & Co., a national chain of hatters who became Baird’s neighbours shortly before the Great War. The half-timbered ‘look’ is typical of Dunn’s house style. When Baird took over he tweaked it by inserting his own initial ‘B’ into Dunn’s window spandrels – and thus bamboozling shopfront spotters of the future.
Sayers, 28 King Street
The loveliness of this ornate shopfront is disguised by its contemporary colour scheme, modern lettering, and a framework for security shutters. Nevertheless, it seems to survive in all its essential elements and must be counted amongst the best in town.
This was the photographic studio – ‘St George’s Studio’ – of the artist and photographer Frank H. Sayers (1871-1952), who specialised in child photography. Perhaps Sayers had a hand in the artistic design of the shopfront, with its bravura display of cartouches, scrolls and flowing foliage ribbons in an art nouveau style. It must have been created around 1900.
Unfortunately, Sayers doesn’t seem to have been an astute businessman. He was a two-times bankrupt. He experienced his first failure in 1895, as a young man in Lowestoft, where he had built a new studio on London Road but depended too heavily on his father – an ice merchant – for finance. Then his business collapsed again in 1923, following two decades at 28 King Street in his home town of Great Yarmouth. He quit Yarmouth for Stratford-on-Avon in the 1930s.
Until relatively recently Sayers’ shopfront had been treated sensitively by his successors, with the original lettering remaining visible on the fascia. Doubtless this lies safe beneath the modern signboard, waiting for its next reveal.
Aldred & Son, 10 (formerly 56) George Street
‘Aldred’ is the most visible name in Great Yarmouth. It is emblazoned throughout the town centre on ‘for sale’ or ‘to let’ signs. The modern-day estate agency probably descends from Samuel Aldred’s auction house, established in 1857.
Many years earlier, in 1795, Samuel’s grandfather Samuel Higham Aldred (1774-1858) – whose family had been involved in the manufacture of Lowestoft china – founded a jeweller’s shop on George Street. This business was inherited by Edward R. Aldred (1809-76), who remodelled the interior of the shop in 1858. Next in line was Edward’s son Duncan A. Aldred (1841-1913), whose brothers were Samuel, the well-known auctioneer, and Charles, a five-times mayor of Great Yarmouth. Duncan’s sons Ernest and Stanley followed him into the business.
Around 1903 Stanley set up a branch of Aldred & Son at 172 King Street. When this site was redeveloped for the Central Arcade in 1925, he retained the unit to the left of the King Street entrance. Shortly after Stanley’s death in 1932, the venerable George Street shop shut and all business transferred to King Street.
Aldred’s was much more than a typical high-street retail jeweller. Its successive owners were goldsmiths, silversmiths, watchmakers, clockmakers and opticians. The company made high-profile civic, commemorative and presentation pieces, including the Town Hall clock.
The old building on George Street has been transformed since the firm’s centenary in 1895, when it was described as a ‘charming old house [which] . . . still presents outwardly the beautiful work of the days when Elizabeth was Queen’. The shopfront and interior had been remodelled in 1888: the arrangement of Doric columns, and perhaps also the mosaic floor – the only outward evidence of Aldred & Son’s 140 years on the site – probably dates from that time.