Tag Archives: norfolk

Old Town

If you stand and listen in the Old Town showroom in Holt, Norfolk, you hear the ticking of the clock and the sound of the sewing machine upstairs, making garments from traditional, hardwearing materials. There is no sleepy electronic beeping or the soft hum of computer fans that  we tend to take for granted.

The list of fabrics they use reads like a hymn to the forgotten glories of British mills – not just Harris Tweed but also corduroy, heavy tactile linens, cavalry drill, wool serge, moleskin and flannel. Shapes are simple, inspired by workwear from the last hundred or so years, and crucially don’t change seasonally. If you find something that suits you can continue having it made for you in summer and winter weight materials.

Old Town started 18 years ago in Norwich as a retro kitchenwear shop, but gradually the clothes started creeping in, and gained a fanatical following.

In their own words “Our single breasted rever collar jacket is an unfaithful copy of one found in a tool locker during the demolition of Stratford locomotive works; locker and contents seen on offer at Lea Bridge Road car boot sale.

Handed in as lost property in 1936, the originals for our style know as ‘High Rise’ were then mislaid behind a radiator in the London Transport Lost Property Office until redecoration in the early nineteen eighties.

Our popular ‘Overall Jacket’ is the mutant offspring of a pre-war lamplighter’s jacket glimpsed on the back of a chair in Coffee Republic at Canary Wharf.”

The Old Town look isn’t a painstaking reproduction of a particular period, but more an exuberant ramble through Britain’s idea of its heritage. Playful references to the Nanny state (the ties you can just see in the photo above), a range of Fair Isle tank tops straight out of an Enid Blyton book, and the dreaded Aertex which sadly reminds me of the smell of my old school changing rooms, all contribute to a jolly air of faded seaside holidays and 1950s milkmen.

Everything both downstairs and up contributes to this feeling – there is no jarring note of  the 21st century creeping in.

Upstairs is a low ceilinged work room reminiscent of those on Saville Row, where everything is cut out and much of it sewn, the rest being sent out to local seamstresses before coming back for finishing. It is the exact opposite of buying semi-disposable chainstore clothes made in the Far East.

So, if you prefer Gill Sans to Helvetica, and paper cones of winkles to plastic trays of sushi, do investigate further. Telephone former Woolworths saturday girl Miss Willey, visit the store in Holt or their fine website, where most of the male models sport estimable beards and the ladies sensible shoes suitable for bicycling through country lanes.

Old Town clothing

Also turn to The Evening Star, their cheerful publication which makes the final demise of pale blue Aertex headline news. Next edition coming soon.

Old Town, 49 Bull Street, Holt, Norfolk NR25 6HP. 01263 710001. (they do say it is advisable to telephone before travelling any great distance).

Opening times Tuesday to Saturday 10am – 5pm

NB If you’re interested in reading more about art, design and culture in East Anglia, please do follow the blog to its new home at http://flatlanders.co.uk/ – you’ll find more posts on everything interesting happening in the area.


Hunting signs of spring

Today is the equinox and the official beginning of spring. Signs of it are catching hold all across East Anglia. Yesterday I popped into the gardens at Blickling Hall to see their lovely dell full of hellebores – if the weather holds this weekend will be the perfect time to visit them.

It’s a blowsy spring joy seeing so many together among other spring plants and set off by the elegant browns of last autumn’s fallen leaves. There are some more daring combinations to – hellebores with black grass – is that Ophiopogon Nigrescens?

Even more unexpected – hellebores with tree ferns, which I would never have thought of but looked beautiful, somehow anchoring the alien form of the tree ferns into this very english garden.

The rest of the garden is laid out on impeccable classical lines, with a great deal of attention paid to vistas opening up and focal points as you move through the garden. If, like me, you fetishise lichen-covered urns and centuries old  mellow brick walls, then this garden is heaven.

It wasn’t until I turned back to the house that I realised there is a whole lake there as well. The views are so controlled for when you approach the front of the house onwards that you just don’t see it until you turn back on yourself.It’s still a little early in the year, but the bones of the perennial garden are beautiful and everywhere there are green shoots thrusting through the mulch. Definitely one to visit in full summer as well.

The house is a delight too – unlike many National Trust properties it is built on a properly domestic scale so you can actually imagine living there, with bright, cosy rooms, low ceilinged enough to heat and not so large you would have to shout to people at the opposite side of the living room. Add in beautiful decorative ceilings and wallpapers, and a glorious Long Gallery it’s a place to spend a little time. Everything is open Wednesday to Sunday at the moment, more in the summer.

Blickling, Norwich, Norfolk NR11 6NF
Telephone: 01263 738030
NB If you’re interested in reading more about art, design and culture in East Anglia, please do follow the blog to its new home at http://flatlanders.co.uk/ – you’ll find more posts on everything interesting happening in the area.

All the toys you can shake a stick at

Drum-playing BearThis Thursday there is a very special auction happening at Keys auction house in Aylesham, Norfolk. A stonking collection of automata, robots, toys. Browsing the catalogue it seems that everything that moves by itself is worthy of inclusion.

RobotsI’m a sucker for both auctions and toys with interesting or quizzical expressions on their faces – bringing them together might be too much for my discretion and self control.

Automated CowThere are also delights such as the lampophone (below), a combination lamp and gramophone, with the turntable hidden in the ‘cake’ base of the lamp and the speaker tube being the lamp’s column, the opening concealed by the shade. Although it also works as an ordinary lamp, so as not to give the game away.

The marvellous lampophone

Bids can be made by phone and over the web as well as in person, although with no estimates or guide prices on the website I suspect we might be in the ‘Collectors Only’ end of the price range.

Special Collectors Sale Thusday March 19th 2009.  To Feature the Arthur Windley Collection of 100+ Lots of Automaton 75+ Lots Japanese Robots, 300 + Vintage and other Toys, 75 Old Radios, Arcade Machines, Model Thursford Wurlitzer Organ, Juke boxes inc Wurlitzer, Rock Ola, Seeburg, Gramophones, Quantity of Lps & 45’s to include some rare Elvis Presley. Also to include 1970’s Taito Space Invaders Arcade Game, Sega Afterburner, Konami Track & Field Video Arcade Game.
Viewing Wed 18th March 9am to 7:30pm and from 9am the day of the sale.
Sale starts from 11am Thursday 19th March 09
Keys Aylsham Salerooms
Off Palmers Lane
NR11 6JA
+44 (0)1263 733195
Maps and directions here.
Catalogue here.
NB If you’re interested in reading more about art, design and culture in East Anglia, please do follow the blog to its new home at http://flatlanders.co.uk/ – you’ll find more posts on everything interesting happening in the area.

Bleak Norfolk

It has been bleak here recently – damp, cold, windy, grey. The only possible response is to stay home in front of the fire and drink sloe gin instead. I’ve been virtually travelling instead, enjoying the visual pleasure of the flatlands through other people’s eyes.

This is the Norfolk marshes, as seen by Rusty Projector on Flickr. It proves definitively that flat, wet and grey can be beautiful seen in the right way. 

Clouds and grass by seeks2dream.  Horizontal wind and cloudy skies, but in a way that captures summer. I’m feeling more cheerful already.

Sunset over Norfolk by Alex Layzell. Definitely November, leafless trees silhouetted against the light. It’s all about the skies here. The golden hour is extra golden when the landscape is so stark.

Sunset over the Broads by Paul Russell.

Wide Norfolk skies by Colin 30d.  

And back down to earth with some beautiful buildings for when the weather draws in.

Eco-photography’s picture of beach huts in Wells-next-to-the-Sea was taken before a summer storm.


And finally the Cromer telephone exchange, to remind us of the cosmopolitan nature of North Norfolk

Photo by rosberond

And look, the sun has come out – better get out there blinking in the light – there’s sleet forecast for later. Thank you to the Creative Commons community on Flickr for the reminder how beautiful it can be here.

Sailing away

Last weekend I had a glorious, quintessentially Norfolk experience, of going sailing on the Broads for an entirely wind powered weekend.

 I’m a sucker for beautiful things, so the almost the best part was that we were on two beautiful 1930’s wooden cabin yachts.

We were the most elegant people on the Broads that weekend. And the slowest, as there was hardly any wind, but that just made it more relaxing as we whispered along at well below walking pace. The people who know how to sail in our party (I was more of a passenger/landlubber) exclaimed how much better they sail in light winds than modern yachts. Apparently not having an engine, only a pole to punt if the wind fails, really concentrates the mind.

It is fabulously silent, all we could hear was the whispering reeds along the riverbank and occasional shouts of “ready about” and “helm to lee” and other nautical jargon. (I wasn’t quite prepared for quite the level of special language, which makes it very difficult for the non sailor to help out. What can you do with an instruction to scandalise the forepeak?)

The cushioned benches in the tiny cabin were actually very comfortable to sleep on, and as the boat only had an oil lamp rather than electric lights, it was pretty muchhome from the pub and straight to bed. I woke up early, dying for a wee, to this.

Also the smell of frying bacon wafting across the water.

If you don’t know any sailing geeks, Hunters do a skippered two-hour sail, so you can have a go with someone who knows what they’re doing. Have a look at the Hunters website here, and check the weather. It’s an idyllic ride in sunshine but would be miserable on a cold wet weekend.

NB If you’re interested in reading more about art, design and culture in East Anglia, please do follow the blog to its new home at http://flatlanders.co.uk/ – you’ll find more posts on everything interesting happening in the area.

Hunter’s Yard,
Horsefen Road, Ludham,
Norfolk NR29 5QG,
United Kingdom 


Telephone/Fax: +44 (0)1 692 678 263.
The season runs March to October.

Eco sneak peeks

If you’ve ever considered building your own eco-friendly Grand Design you should be in Norfolk next weekend. The Norfolk branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England is holding four days of Open Houses in a great range of properties around the county.

They run the gamut from eco housing developments to a traditionally built cob house, via converted farm buildings, strawbale structures and an ordinary-looking suburban house with discreet eco add-ons. There is even a beautiful old watermill that has converted its wheel to a micro turbine to generate electricity. Architects, designers and householders will be on hand to talk through what they’ve learned, which could be a really useful resource if you’re contemplating going down this route.

See their flyer here for the range of possibilities and book tours by telephone ASAP as they apparently get booked out very quickly.


Thursday 11th – Sunday 14th September – not all properties open on all days  

Book via the Energy Saving Trust on 01733 566910

CPRE Norfolk


 NB If you’re interested in reading more about art, design and culture in East Anglia, please do follow the blog to its new home at http://flatlanders.co.uk/ – you’ll find more posts on everything interesting happening in the area.

Velvety Icecream


Norfolk icecream company Parravani’s have the kind of back story of passion, obsession and love that Häagen Dazs executives would kill for.


In 1898 Giuseppe Parravani stumbles ashore from Italy with only a piece of paper with his brother’s name on. Miraculously, through the power of word of mouth about good icecream, he finds said brother in Norwich, where he has already opened up an icecream business in Ber Street.

They work together and Giuseppe saves up enough to buy a horse and cart and starts selling delicious ice cream village to village around Bungay. Meets an italian girl (fleeing icecream unfriendly famine back home)? They fall in love, marry and settle down near Bungay and raise dairy cows to continue making fabulous quality ice cream. Giuseppe dies young (from overwork possibly, after rising every day before dawn to collect ice from Lowestoft and coming back from his rounds after dark) but his family continue his legacy and eventually horse-drawn carts give way to motorised ice cream vans. Several generations of Bungay area families grow big and strong on the delicious stuff.

These days you don’t just have to live on one of their routes, they do wholesale around East Anglia too. I came across their wares in an unlikely little icecream parlour in Framlingham called the Lions Den and fell in love. You will too. Rich creamy ice cream married with perfect grownup flavours – I had maple and Walnut, but could easily have gone for Italian Marmalade, Stem Ginger or any one of about thirty others.

Seek it out.