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Part 2: 'Fen men to the marrow' who have served us down through the years

D'Arcy of Peterborough, North's of Bourne and Goddard's of Wisbech and Spalding are familiar names about town – but how much do we really know about the businesses which have been serving us and our ancestors for centuries?

D'Arcy of Peterborough, North's of Bourne and Goddard's of Wisbech and Spalding are familiar names about town – but how much do we really know about the businesses which have been serving us and our ancestors for centuries?D'Arcy, Peterborough: Keeping an eye on the family jewels since 1853

Puns about the "family jewels" aside, D'Arcy has been a Peterborough-based jewellers since 1853, bought by the D'Arcy family in 1923.

When Jack D'Arcy bought a struggling clockmaker and jewellers in 1923 he remarked to a member of staff who had come with the buy-out: "The windows need cleaning," and that members of staff replied: "Why bother, no one looks in 'em anyway?"

All that was to change under Jack, who flogged off horrible old stock and bough high quality new stuff in and revamped the interior.

According to Rex: "The premises have changed very little from that day to this, and now exude an Old World charm.

"But the tangible feeling of history in the shop inheres, not only in its decor, but also in the family that have served behind the counter for almost three-quarters of a century. 'When you get a thing the way you want it, leave it alone,' as Winston Churchill said."

Read Part 1: 'Fen men to the marrow' who have served us down through the years

Jemma Walton met a man who has written a book on Fenland's most famous families.

The shop is very much a part of the city's history, and has done well to survive the carriage works next door catching fire in 1853, and the threat of demolition in 1973 when the plans for Queensgate were unveiled.

In the latter case, an inquiry was set up to scrutinise the development plans, the case was won and the D'Arcys were allowed to keep their shop.

Three generations down the road, and the shop is tended to by Mark D'Arcy.

Rex said: "Long-standing customers are the making of small traders and retailers, and what makes for a loyal customer is satisfaction with their first purchase.

"Staff play a vital role in the survival of such businesses, and in the best cases they feel they are part of the family firm.

"The likes of Irene Phillips, who worked for the family from leaving school until her retirement when she was 60, were devoted members of staff who were loyal to the family.

"Even after retirement she would help out when needed, and she still 'pops in' from time to time, just for old times' sake. This sort of loyalty is mutual, and is something that'll die with the demise of the family business."

Frank Bros, Peterborough: Butcher was hounded out after the outbreak of First World War

Anyone who has popped into Frank Bros in the Westgate Arcade for a pork pie or a pound of mince probably wouldn't suspect that around 60 years ago people were rioting in the streets, trying to force its owners out of the city.

But the Frank family originates from Braubach in Germany, and anti-German feeling at the outbreak of the First World War led to rioters smashing the shop windows, looting the stock and the Riot Act literally being read on the street.

Frederick Frank came to the UK in the 1860s. He learnt the basics of pork butchering in Boston, Lincolnshire, and opened a pork butcher's shop in Peterborough in 1876.

The shop prospered, the family bought a large house on the outskirts of the city, and everything was going fantastically for the family – until the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.

On August 9 that year, crowds gathered outside the shop, hurling stones at the shopfront, breaking windows and looting the stock – sausages were hurled in the air, with many strings found hanging off the tramlines.

The riots lasted three days around the shop and the Frank house in Fletton Avenue. Sir Richard Winfrey, MP and mayor of the city, read the riot act in the street, after which troops of the Northants Yeomanry were called on to quell the rioters.

Peace was restored by the end of the week, but on Monday the mayor issued a proclamation asking "All well-disposed citizens to be indoors at nine o'clock in the evening."

Twenty-four men were brought before the local magistrates' court, most were bound over to keep the peace, some were fined and three were sent to prison. Others were recruited to the army.

Frederick also had a shop on Boston High Street, run by his two brothers-in-law, the Cantenweins.

This shop was also attacked by rioters and completely wrecked, and had to be protected by territorial troops. The local police repeatedly charged at the rioters with batons until they were dispersed at 2am.

The family escaped unharmed, but could no longer keep their shop, even though they had been in the city for almost 50 years, 38 of which had spent serving customers in his shop.

He was devastated by the way his former neighbours and friends had turned on him and left Peterborough for Leicester, while his wife stayed behind. Three of the couple's sons, Fred, George and Charles, went to Europe to fight the war against the Germans.

They survived the war, and George set up GW Frank in Wisbech, while Charles and his brother Leonard joined their dad in Leicester, where they opened Frank Bros Pork Butchers.

In 1928 the boys moved back to Peterborough, and opened a shop at 50 Bridge Street. Today, Frank Bros has two shops in the city, at 304 London Road and the other in the Westgate Arcade.

The Franks have survived many tragedies throughout their time in Peterborough, but it could be said that they have remained more a part of the city than most families.

Their shop in Westgate is next door to their original shop, founded 130 years ago. According to Rex: "Resilience is part of their make-up, as is an allegiance to loyal customers and a charm for tempting new ones."

Elgood's, Wisbech: 'I don't want to be the generation that let family brewery go'

While swilling down pints of Stella and Strongbow in an impersonal chain pub, spend two minutes thinking about one of the fens' most famous families, who have kept fen folk in falling-down water for centuries.

No other country in the world can offer a range of styles and specialities of beer as the UK, and this is illustrated in the independent family breweries that brew beers to suit local tastes and fashions, many deriving from old family brews handed down the family line.

We are very fortunate to have two such breweries remaining in the Fens, Elgood's and Batemans, brewing what the fen folk have always had a passion for – tasty beers.

The present Elgood's brewery was built in 1794 on North Brink, Wisbech, and was one of the first classic Georgian breweries to be built outside London.

Like all breweries, it requires large amounts of water, and is thus situated on the banks of the River Nene, which at Wisbech is tidal. The brewery also has its own wells and a lake.

Its early years were fraught with problems, and it changed hands several times before it was sold to John Elgood and George Harrison for 38,965 in 1877.

The brewery at that time had a tied estate of 70 public houses, 21 of which were in the town of Wisbech, the rest being spread around the neighbouring fens.

Many Fen folk would have relied on ale to get them through the grind of daily life, which is one reason why there were so many inns and pubs on fen droves, gates and roads, and on the rivers and drains.

Some of the drainage boards and drainage commissioners still owned pubs where workers in the drains could redeem chitties earned from working for the boards. Boards didn't brew ales, and so they would have bought them from the likes of Elgood's.

The war was a good one for Elgood's, with plenty of thirsty RAF and USAAF men needing to drown their sorrows, but a savagely competitive drink market since then has meant the business has had to fight hard to maintain and improve on its past glory.

Elgood's is still family-owned, with Belinda Sutton at the helm. She told Rex, simply: "I do not wish to be the generation that let it go, and I want to leave it in better shape than I inherited."

Buy the book: Fenland Families is published by Sutton Publishing, and is priced 14.99.

It is available from both branches of Waterstone's in Peterborough, and all good bookshops in the high street and online.

 

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