English's Stores was founded by Thomas English in 1869 and was run by the same family for well over a century. Thomas English was born into a farming family in Primrose Green, Lyng in 1832. He was the fourth of fifteen children and by the time he was nineteen he was working as an apprentice Grocer and Draper in Mattishall. This choice of trade was probably influenced by the fact that his uncle, John Bennett English, was a Linen Draper and Silk Mercer with a shop at 17, London Street, Norwich. Ten years later (aged 29) Thomas was working for Robert Jolly, a grocer and draper whose shop was on The Street in Long Stratton. It was there that Thomas met Mary Day, a girl from Wreningham, who was working as a housemaid for her uncle who ran a butcher's shop in the same village. Thomas and Mary married in 1862 and seven years later, by which time they had three daughters, they opened English's Stores on Low Road in Forncett St. Peter.
new home was a substantial property dating back to around 1600; as far as we
can tell it had not previously been a shop. There was another grocer's shop, run by the Smith
family, quite close by in Aslacton Road but we know very little about that
enterprise. One of Thomas's early initiatives was to take on a licence to sell
beer. The Norfolk Arms public house (also known as the Sope House), adjacent to
the church and rectory, had closed in 1865 and the nearest pub was the Safety
Valve at Forncett station half a mile away. So Thomas and Mary offered a
convenient source of alcohol to all the residents of "Low Forncett".
English's Stores - Low Road, Forncett St. Peter
House adjoining the Stores (photo_courtesy of Mike Jordan)
Thomas and Mary had ten children, six boys and four girls (one of whom died young). The youngest child, Walter, was only a month old when, in May 1883, Thomas English died at the age of only 51. He is buried at St. Peters. Mary took over the business and ran it for another 22 years, until her death in November 1905. The shop was very much a family business, and, when Mary English died, two of the children, Donald and Emma, ran the business with Alice and Thomas also working there. Donald had trained in the drapery business and in 1901, aged 23, he was working as a draper's assistant at Frederick Fish and Son, in Tavern Street, Ipswich.
Frederick Fish & Son, Tavern Street, Ipswich, 1905
Although originally described as a "Grocers and Drapers" the English's shop sold a very wide range of items. The invoice below, dated 15th August 1907 for Mr. Cooper at The Grove, includes butter, stout, leather gloves and brooms! (click on image to enlarge).
Like many enterprising village shops, English's also had a set of local postcards produced and inscribed with their name. An example is shown below:
In 1923 Donald, aged 45, married Ruth Hipkin, the daughter of a farming family from South Lopham, and in 1927 the couple had a son, Peter Donald English. Donald and Ruth ran the shop until Donald's death in 1935, after which Ruth continued the family business.
In "My Young Days at Forncett St. Peter" (published by Forncett History Group in 2012), Alan Womack recalled the shop in the 1940s. "I would run errands for Mrs. Frost; I would go to English's shop to get things and she would always give me sixpence and a couple of shortcakes or buns. Sixpence to me was a lot of money - it could buy lots from the shop. John Allison and I collected Corona bottles (often very dirty) which we took home, cleaned up and then took them to Mrs. English's shop and collected tuppence per bottle."
In 1950 Peter English, then aged 23, married Alice Brookes from Long Stratton and at some point he took over the store from his mother. Peter was still living at the shop when he died in October 1983. The shop finally closed down in about 1985 having been a family business for 115 years. The property was re-developed, with the old house and stores being converted into two private dwellings.
Photo courtesy of Su Leavesley