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by Ronnie Waters

Victoria Street was the setting for my childhood. It is a long street and, when you walk its length, it feels like three different streets: from the High Street to Bartholomew Green, from Bartholomew Green to the brewery and from the brewery to Trinity Street. So it is not surprising that it was, in fact, once three streets. A map of 1840 shows Camel Lane spanning numbers 1 to 10, Back Street numbers 12 to 34 and East Lane numbers 36 to 74.

The west end of Victoria Street. Click the street numbers for detailed information.

The middle section of Victoria Street. Click the street numbers for detailed information.

The eastern end. Click the street numbers for detailed information.

Three quite large structural changes have occurred in my lifetime. In the 1930s nos 1, 3 and 5 together with several houses in the High Street were demolished and the junction with the High Street re-modelled to cope with motor transport.

Historically, the entrance to Victoria Street was as narrow as the rest of the street. The space vacated by the demolished buildings was used to widen and realign the road itself and to create the little green – Camels Plot – where the town sign now stands. Soon afterwards the road was surfaced for the first time. The third change was the demolition in the 1950s of a complete row of 7 cottages - Numbers 57 to 69 - to make way for The Swan Hotel's Garden Rooms.

The street has been the home of the Waters family for well over a century. The 1881 Census lists my grandparents and their family living at No 73. I was born there in 1923 by which time there were 17 of us in the street. Longshore fishing was the family’s way of life until my Grandmother put her foot down and forbade her children from taking it up. Fishing had been a desperately hard way of making a living. There was money for food when Granddad returned with a good catch of herring, sprats or shrimp. When he did not, there was next to nothing. Aunt Mary used to relate how she’d sometimes come home from school and be sent next door to her aunt’s house to borrow half a loaf as otherwise there would be nothing at all for dinner. That wasn’t just ‘being poor’; that was grinding poverty.

Whether the family ate or starved largely depended on the wind; remember this was before longshore boats had engines and, without wind, you had to row while towing a heavy shrimp net – an incredibly hard task.

Next door to us, at No75, lived Freddie Wells who made ice-cream in his back yard and sold it from a handcart. Across the street, at No 46, was Mr Tom Goldsmith, greengrocer and fruiterer who had moved there from No 2 Stradbroke Road. I seem to remember his pony and cart outside waiting to set off selling door to door. His was just one of many mobile businesses in the town. They must all have found it a slog to earn a crust in the 1920s and 30s.

Victoria Street was packed with little businesses like this, operating out of houses, some mobile like Tom Goldsmith’s, others trading straight out of their front rooms. Over the period of my research I have found trading activity taking place at 19 or more domestic premises in Victoria Street – not counting the brewery, of course.

Then there were the ‘proper’ shops. They were for the weekly wage-earners and those needing a few days’ credit. They were owner-run and staffed mainly by family members. There was Goddards at No 4, near the junction with the High Street, Miller the wheelwright and laddermaker at No2 and Noller the blacksmith, next door at No 42 High Street. Later, a coffee shop opened at No 2. At No 24 was Cragie the watchmaker and at No 8, were the baker Ben Newson, and his children, Winnie, Georgie and Ben who sold sweets, four for a penny. Winnie used to have the sweets on a tray and she always kept her eye on them as you picked them up. Across the street No 6 Young's Yard were the premises of the aptly named Mr Bright the chimney sweep and window cleaner (A shilling he charged for a chimney and a penny for a window).

At No10 was the Corn Dealer. The private house which is there now still has the words ‘Corn Store’ engraved in the wall. No 12 was Frank Dodd the grocer. The houses between Bank Alley and what is now the Mark Eliot Furniture store were reserved for Trinity House Pilots. The derelict fish shop on the corner of Church Street (now being converted into a domestic home) was, in my childhood one of a row with Mrs Stern’s shop at No 47 and a nursing home run by the St Edmund Deaconesses at No 45.

Across the road from here, at Nos 20 and 22, was The Royal, a pub which was recorded as a beerhouse in 1857. It is now a private house which preserves the name ‘The Old Royal’.

In the row of houses opposite East Green, where the Swan Hotel Garden Rooms are now, lived Fanny Baker at No 59, next door to where my grandparents lived. Fanny was renowned for making her own sweets, Fanny’s Blackballs, which were a farthing each.

The two biggest businesses in the street were Newsons the bakers at No 8 which I mentioned earlier, and Carters at Nos 14-16. The latter had been trading at that address since at least 1874 selling pots and pans and oil for lighting, cooking and heating. Both these shops also had ponies and carts which enabled them to trade beyond Southwold. Newsons also had a bread round to Walberswick which the family ran with a handcart - pushing and pulling it along the old railway cutting and across the Bailey Bridge. Carters replaced their pony and cart after the war with a small motor van and later diversified by offering a taxi and car-hire service. The family firm remained in business until 2003 when the premises were converted into a private house.

The only businesses now left In Victoria Street are the craft and gift shop, Serendipity at Jack o’ Lantern Corner at the junction with the High Street, the new Adnams Cellar and Kitchen store, The Mark Elliot furniture store and, of course, the brewery. Most of the former shops have become houses – largely holiday homes – and there are very few permanent residents left.


View from the top of St Edmund's Church Tower in 1890 looking towards the west end of Victoria Street. On the lower left can be seen the Dutch Gable of what is now Southwold Museum. Circled are the three cottages which were demolished in the 1930s when the junction with the High Street was remodelled. For an enlarged view, click the picture.

Reproduced courtesy of Southwold Museum and Historical Soc P559