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A Shop Through Time:

Mad Hatters Tea Shop

Sarah Standley Published: 01 March 2022

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Grainy black and white photo of old shop

The small but perfectly styled Mad Hatters Tea Shop at 14 Market Place has an eclectic history to tell over the last few hundred years.

The town was severally damaged by the Great Fire of 1615, with many buildings in town destroyed including the original Market Cross. The property dates from the early 17th century and was most likely built after 1615, replacing a fire-damaged structure. It has a timber frame and had many original features and beams inside.  Some of the buildings built after the fire used salvaged timber from the fire itself.

I have been able to research residents and businesses back to 1841. Before then it was probably a small dwelling and at times home to a shop or trade, as it has been since.

In 1841 the cottage was occupied by Catherine Wright, who was 70. She was a draper, and also living there was another Catherine Wright, possibly her daughter, aged 30. I have been unable to establish yet whether the premises was in use as a drapers or was their home at this time. They did have a domestic servant, Harriet Cann, age 15.

The 1851 census records that the property was unoccupied at that time, but by 1861 agricultural labourer William Reeve and wife Mary were living in the house. They were 58 and 50 years respectively, and had two children - Harriet aged eight and John aged six. 

From the mid 1860s to early 1870s Samuel Barrett and family were living at the house. His wife was Julia, and in 1871 his children were Hannah 9, Henry 7 and Jessie 2. They employed a general servant, Harriet Blazey, a very young 13 years old. Samuel was a Police Superintendent and the Inspector of Weights and Measures for Wymondham.

Old sepia tone photo of Fred Stadley shop

Wymondham's Post Office opened here in the late 1870s. The property was purposely converted for postal services, with a large clock and letter box added to the front. Mrs Sarah Harriet Postle moved into the property and became the Postmistress. The 1881 census records her daughters Elizabeth aged 25 and Sarah aged 17 living there too, along with servant Pamela Moore aged 18. In 1891 their servant was Lucy Miller, age 16.

Sarah Postle was born in 1824 to  Caudell Clarke, a solicitors managing clerk of Vicar Street. Her mother was Harriet. Following completion of her education she became a school teacher, teaching in Wellington in Somerset in 1851. On June 13th 1854 at Wymondham Abbey she married Samuel Tolver Postle, a gentleman farmer 28 years her senior from Browick. They moved to Repps and once Samuel retired, moved to Hingham where Sarah returned to being a school mistress. Samuel died in 1876 and Sarah returned to Wymondham, where she is listed as a ladies teacher before becoming the Postmistress.

The house at the Post Office Sarah lived in was named Postle House, probably in memory of her late husband, and the house name remained in use until the mid 20th century. Sarah died early in 1900 aged 76 years.

As well as a Post Office, it was a Money Order and Telegraph Office. In 1888 telegraph business could be transacted between 8am and 8pm Mondays to Saturdays and 8am to 10pm on Sundays. Money orders were issued and paid from 9am to 6pm and stamps sold from 9am to 9pm. Letters were received and dispatched by both night and day mail from and to London, Norwich, Yarmouth and Lowestoft at selected times throughout each day. Letters could be received until 10pm with an extra halfpenny stamp attached. Quite a service!

In 1896, the Post Office relocated to Market Street, roughly where Savers stands today, before moving again in 1940 to Middleton Street.

Next the little Post Office became a greengrocers run by William and Amelia Clarke and one of their sons, Alfred. The Clarkes lived in Market Street in the late 1880s and 1890s. As well as being a greengrocers, William was a carpenter. By 1901 they had moved to Market Place and converted the premises into their new greengrocers shop.

80s photo of Mad Hatters as a dry cleaners

William died in July 1919 but Amelia and Alfred kept their little shop open, which had a window that opened revealing a sloping display shelf full of goods. Amelia passed away in early 1934 and the greengrocers closed. 

The next occupant was Fred Standley, who opened his radio and electrical engineer business in the shop in 1934. Fred Standley was born on 9th May 1908 to parents Thomas and Alice. Fred joined the Royal Navy in 1924, training at HMS Ganges for two years. He then served on HMS Victory I and HMS Concord as a communications engineer. He was on HMS Renown for the Royal tour of 1927 with the Duke and Duchess of York, but was invalided out of the Navy after an accident.

In 1928 Fred returned home and started his own electrical engineering and radio firm, working from a bedroom at his mother's antique and furniture shop on the Market Place.

Fred married Edith Clarke in 1934 and with Mrs Clarke's grocers shop now vacant Fred took the opportunity to move into the premises just a few doors down from his mother's shop. Here Fred and Edith set up home together and went on to have two sons, David and Neil - who once young men followed their father into his business. 

Fred was contracted by Norwich Corporation to provide electrical, lighting and heating work employing several electricians. As time progressed the demand for modern products grew and televisions became a big part of Fred's business. 

In 1965, Fred purchased two properties in Market Street which were demolished and replaced with his new modern store, which they moved to. The old shop sign from the Market Place shop was cut up and used for shelving at the new shop! Here Fred was able to branch out into white goods like washing machines and fridges.

Pink Mad Hatters cafe from outside as per today

Fred died on 26th January 1996 aged 87, being reunited with Edith who had passed away in 1984.

Sadly, like many small businesses struggling in the new millennium to compete with online sales, in 2011 Fred's sons and grandson took the hard decision to close the store on 1st October. At the time, Fred's grandson Chris said: "It is gutting, really disappointing. The town is losing a piece of history..." Wymondham really did.

Back in the Market Place once Fred Standley moved out, the shop became a dry cleaners in the late 1960s. Initially, it was operated by Wymondham Laundry of Norwich Road. Names were Bestway Cleaners, Bestway Express and Smart Image. After about 45 years the dry cleaners closed in 2012.

In November 2012 Katherine Ford revitalised the premises and opened her Mad Hatters Tea Shop, which she originally launched in 2010 in Fairland Street at the rear of a dress and accessories shop.

Katherine and husband Martin moved to Norfolk in 2004 and say they consider Wymondham as their home now. Katherine said: "I love baking and my shop, I love my customers and I Iove Wymondham. It has been wonderful learning about the history of our shop and incredible to be able to know who has lived and worked here before Martin and me."

The Mad Hatters Tea Shop specialises in homemade scones, cakes, lunches and delicious afternoon teas. The setting is modern but cosy and Katherine and her staff provide a friendly and quick service - and if you lucky enough to get the window seat you have the perfect view of the Market Cross.

This building has been a loving home and business to many families over the centuries - it really is a small shop with a big heart.

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