Shops and Buses

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, George’s relative, had been running the grocers and drapers shop, as a tenant, since about 1927.

During his life, 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.

Charles continued the shop business until his death, at 70, in early 1961. At this point, the family investigated the sale of the property and its associated businesses. However, no sale took place and operations continued.

The Buses

George Spratt had sold off various bits of the land – including (to Colin Spratt – Charles’s son) the adjacent land which supported the bus business, before his own death in 1976.

Coiln Spratt’s coach operation was started in the early 1950s

He began his business with a taxi: delivering groceries from his parents’ village store.  He found himself transporting 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 and business was not limited to local village groups or school outings! He started coach tours to Switzerland and various other European destinations – being one of the first coach operators in Norfolk to take his vehicles abroad.

At one point, “Spratts” was operating 30 vehicles from its Wreningham base.  See further examples of his early cars / taxis and buses on this page.

About Colin Spratt

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 in Norfolk to have larger 57 seater coaches. Colin retired from the day to day running of the company in the 1990s.

Other Village Shops etc

Wreningham 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 death (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 it to Benjamin Bertie Rushmore, a Market Gardener from Ashwellthorpe and, in May 1925, it was bought by 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 (tenant) 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 Howlett 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.

Also, see: Post Offices.

This is Mr Cole, a travelling knife and scissor sharpener, hard at work whilst visiting Toprow in the 1950s. His grinding wheel is driven by a treadle. Early mechanical sewing machines often used a treadle, too.

Such people would knock on your door and ask if there were any knives or other bladed instruments which needed sharpening. There usually were – and blunt tools never do the job, properly. Cutlers always seemed to be busy!

Today, we either go to a specialist hardwear shop or buy our own sharpening devices.

How did he move his equipment between villages?

In the second half of the 1900s, Wreningham saw regular visits from Russell’s fish & chip van which toured our part of South Norfolk.  However, at some point in the first half of the 1970s during a visit to Penny’s Green, their van experienced a major fire in its ducting.  The fire could have been much worse because they carried two large gas cylinders – although these were untouched.  Even so, they lost the whole rear of the van.  The old van, which had two chimneys, was replaced by a vehicle with three chimneys to prevent a reoccurrence.

Following the fire, the fish & chip van had been towed to Old Buckenham garage where they managed to rescue some of their equipment. They then sourced another van, from London, and had it fitted it out within a week to ensure their customers were not let down!

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