George Spratt bought The Larches and the surrounding land – including a pig farm and the shop, from the estate of Robert Dennis Day’s niece (Matilda Neagus) after her death in 1941. Charles Spratt, his relative, had been running the village grocers and drapers shop, as a tenant, since about 1927. He continued the business until his death, at 70, in 1963.
Over the years, Charles Spratt took on many other roles in the village. These included: president of Wreningham Bowls Club, an official of the darts club, a school manager and Chairman of the Parish Council. He was also on the Church Council.
George Spratt sold off various bits of the land – including (to Colin Spratt) the area which supported the bus business, before his death in 1976.
Wreningham Village Shops
Spratts Coaches was started in the early 1950s by Colin Spratt.
He began the business with a taxi, delivering groceries from his parents’ village store. He also found himself transporting school lunches to local schools as well as taking children to and from school. It was soon apparent that taxis were not large enough and so Colin bought his first coach.
Things started to expand! It was not just local village groups or school outings which he ran. He started tours to Switzerland and various other European destinations – being one of the first coach operators in Norfolk to take a coach abroad.
At one point, “Spratts” were operating 30 vehicles from their Wreningham base.
Colin Spratt always came up with new ideas, being the first company in Norfolk to have coaches adapted to enable the disabled who were wheelchair bound could go out for the day; he was also believed to be the first to have larger 57 seat capacity coaches in Norfolk. Colin retired from the day to day running of the company in the 1990s.
Other Village Shops
The history of the Toprow shop started in 1864 when a Norwich Innkeeper, Samuel Jeffries, bought the property and three other cottages from owner Emma Brown, of Great Yarmouth. Samuel Jeffries died in 1875 and an auction followed at the Bird in Hand on 26th November of the same year.
The four properties were bought by Reginald Steward who, by the mid 1880s, was landlord to 14 village households.
Reginald Steward died in 1904 and his estate passed to his brother, Campbell Steward. After the latter’s demise (1917), the estate was auctioned off.
The buyer of the 1918 auction “Lot 6”: the cottage with the shop, was a Mr H Locke who paid £140. However, he immediately decided to resell the property to James Rushmore for £150. In September 1923, James Rushmore had sold to Benjamin Bertie Rushmore, a Market Gardener from Ashwellthorpe and, in May 1925, it was then sold to Harold Gilbert Cooper “of Wreningham” – recorded as a “Grocer and Draper”, for £225. (Perhaps he had been the ongoing shop tenant?)
By October of the same year, the property had been sold to Albert Shinn but, sadly, he died in August 1928. Fortunately, in July 1929 the next owner, Leonard Bateman (a Wreningham former harness maker) and his wife introduced a long period of stability; they ran the Toprow shop for many years. Eventually Leonard retired. He died in 1970.
Robert Dennis Day’s Victorian Jubilee booklet of 1887, tells us that “Mrs J Catchpole relinquishes shop keeping on 23rd May 1880”. Was this Julia Catchpole (and husband: James Catchpole) – who Basil Day tells us, in his book, lived in Toprow for all their married lives? If so, was she the shopkeeper in the Toprow shop in its early years?
A less formal shop once existed in a front garden in Ashwellthorpe Road selling cycle repair kits, torch batteries, paraffin, sweets, tobacco, boot-laces etc. It belonged to the (senior) Alfred Hewlett and his wife. Apparently, you just needed to knock on their front door and they would come out and serve.
Their shop closed in 1963.