23, High Street.
One of the more imposing buildings in Lynn’s High Street, No. 23 is a statutory Grade II listed building. The colour-washed brick façade is three storeys high with a full-width iron balcony at first floor, with five French doors to the windows at this level. The very large rear extension, of two and three storeys, has a first floor Venetian-style window and a datestone for 1833.
The ground floor shop space was very extensive, with a staircase giving access to a sales floor at first floor level through much of its retail life. The yard and outbuildings at the rear provided accommodation for storage and ancillary uses. For over 70 years these were premises for an ironmongery business – firstly Charles Willett and later for W. M. Couperthwaite & Sons. For almost the same number of years, from 1906, W. H. Smith & Son, newsagents and book sellers, were here.
When Charles Willett was here, the address was usually given as Nos. 23 – 26, High Street. However, during this period there were individual listings for other businesses at Nos. 24, 25, and also for No. 26, which was on the other side of Sedgeford Lane.
1830 (James Jacob)
James Jacob, a tailor, was here in 1830 (Pigot).
1835 – 1866 (Charles Willett)
The ironmonger and bar iron merchant Charles Willett moved here from No. 101, High Street in February, 1835. He stocked bar, rod and sheet iron, nuts, bolts, nails, cabinet makers brass hinges and locks, heating and cooking stoves, garden rollers, mowing machines, anvils, bellows, vices, cutlery, plated goods, and all manner of other ironmongery requisites for domestic, commercial and agricultural purposes. He advertised as a brass and iron founder, tin-plate worker and whitesmith. He also manufactured steam engines and is recorded in Kelly’s Nine Counties Post Office Directory for 1846 as:-
‘Wholesale & retail ironmonger, bar iron merchant, fire engine manufacturer, & steam boiler manufacturer’.
Besides selling equipment of his own making, he was agent for a number of agricultural machinery manufacturers, and had an implement warehouse near to his High Street shop. In 1860 he took over the business of Howard Reed, who had a large implement depot attached to their Tuesday Market Place premises.
He advertised regularly in the local newspaper, including the Norfolk Chronicle, where on 14th February, 1852, he was named as agent for the prize dressing machine of Norwich agricultural implement maker J. M. Turner. He also displayed a variety of implements at the Norfolk Agricultural Association’s annual shows, including ploughs, harrows, horse rakes, thrashing, dressing and riddling machines. He occasionally sponsored demonstrations of new equipment on local farms. In August 1864, he arranged a trial of ‘Samuelson’s Self Raking, Side-Delivery Reaper’ on the farm of Jacob Curl at East Winch, to which he invited all of his farming friends and clients.
In addition to his premises at King’s Lynn, Charles Willett ran a Norwich office at 5, Great Orford Street, and was appointed agent for the Scottish Provident Institution in 1859.
Charles Willett was born in about 1800 in Feltwell, Norfolk. His parents were Thomas Willett and Sarah Eyres, who had ten children:-
1) Henry – a Worsted and cloth manufacturer – (b. 25/06/1791 – m. Mary Ann Oxley). 2) John (b. 1793). 3) Jane (b. 17/03/1795 – m. William Henry Roberts – d. 08/01/1874, aged 78). 4) Edward – a Worsted and cloth manufacturer (b. 1798 – m. Martha Mary Deane Flower – d. 09/12/1869). 5) Charles (b. c1800 – m. Mary Wethered on 17/09/1823 – d. 22/05/1874). 6) Susan (b. 1802). 7) Sarah – m. John Roberts on 28/02/1826). 8) George Eyres – a Worsted and cloth agent – (b. 1806 – m. Sarah Roberts on 04/04/1831 – d. 1878, aged 72). 9) Mary (b. 1808 – m. Adam Taylor). 10) Ann (b. 1810 – d. 1810).
Charles Willett’s brothers Henry and Edward had a Worsted and cloth manufactory in Norwich, and Edward became a magistrate and JP in the city. Another brother, George, had a very successful worsted and cloth wholesale and retail agency and lived for many years in Wellington Square, Chelsea.
Charles came to Lynn and had established his own ironmongery business on High Street by 1822 (Pigot) – see No. 101. He married Mary Wethered at St. Margaret’s church, Lynn, on 17th September, 1823, and they had five children, all born in the town:-
1) Charles Wethered, a Norwich barrister (b. 09/08/1824 – m. Thomasina Georgina Harrison on 15/09/1860 and Sarah Roberts in 1876 – d. 09/01/1911, aged 85). 2) Thomas William, a civil engineer (b. 1826 – m. Mary Sloper Leach in 1860 – d. 1882, aged 52). 3) Mary Elizabeth (b. 1829 – m. John Roberts in Calcutta on 17/02/1855). 4) Anna Jane (b. 1831). 5) Frank Arthur, an engineer (b. 04/07/1841 – m. Isabella Ritson on 26/06/1866, and Amy Carter in 1902 – d. 1935, aged 94).
Charles and Mary were still here in 1861 and the business was listed in Harrod’s Directory for 1863 as: ‘Wholesale and retail ironmonger and bar iron merchant, bell hanger and agricultural implement maker’.
On 10th March, 1866, the following notice appeared in the Lynn Advertiser:-
‘To Ironmongers & Iron Bar Merchants. To be Disposed of, an old-established Furnishing and General IRONMONGERY BUSINESS, having a first-rate connection in the improving town of King’s Lynn.
The Agricultural Implement Trade has been carried on in premises apart from the general business and could be treated separately if required.
For further particulars apply to Mr. Charles Willett, the proprietor, upon the premises, King’s Lynn.’
Charles and Mary retired to live in Torquay, where they were in 1871. Charles died on 22nd May, 1874, aged 74. Mary died in 1889, aged 87.
On May 16th 1868, the premises were advertised to let:-
‘HIGH STREET, KING’S LYNN. To be Let, as a whole or separately, The Large SHOP, with EXTENSIVE SHOW ROOMS over, and the FAMILY RESIDENCE, fitted-up with every convenience, as late in the occupation of Mr. C. Willett.
For further particulars apply to Messrs. Cruso and Son, Estate Agents, King’s Lynn.’
1869 – 1870 (James Thomas Banks)
James Thomas Banks opened a wine, spirit, ale and porter business in part of the premises here in July, 1869. The business did not work out, and within a year it had closed. He placed the following announcement in the Lynn News on 31st July, 1869:-
‘JAMES T. BANKS, for seventeen years at Lady Bridge Brewery, King’s Lynn, begs to inform his friends and the general public that he has taken the premises previously occupied by Mr. Charles Willett, 23, High Street, King’s Lynn, where under the style or title of “James T. Banks & Co.” he purposes carrying on the business of a WINE, SPIRIT, ALE, and PORTER MERCHANT, and hopes by the best service which he can render, and strictly honourable conduct, to succeed in retaining the confidence of those with whom for so many years it has been his happiness to do business.’
Elijah Eyre and Company at the Lady Bridge Brewery were not pleased that many people assumed that there was still a business link between James Banks and his former employers. They placed the following notice in the Lynn Advertiser on 2nd October, 1869:-
‘NOTICE. Elijah Eyre and Company beg to inform the Public that the recently established firm of J. T. Banks and Co., of this town, is not a Branch business of theirs, as from inquiries made it is supposed to be. E. E. & Co. think it right to make this generally known, in justice to themselves as well as to the new firm. LADY BRIDGE BREWERY, King’s Lynn, September 2nd, 1869.’
Within a few months, the new business had closed down, and the stock and goodwill was offered for sale in the Lynn Advertiser on 20th August, 1870:-
‘WINE, SPIRIT, ALE & PORTER BUSINESS, WHOLESALE and RETAIL. FOR IMMEDIATE DISPOSAL, the Stock and Goodwill of the business of James T. Banks and Co., High Street, King’s Lynn. The premises are most commodious, in good position, with every facility for carrying on an extensive trade. The Stock is of excellent quality and well-selected. The returns for the last year have been about £6,000.’
James Banks became a commercial traveller.
He was born in Tinwell, Rutland in 1826. His parents were William and Ann Banks. William was a farmer. James did not marry, and died in Sheffield in 1877, aged 50.
1869 – (King’s Lynn Insurance Society Ltd.)
On 11th September, 1869, the launch of the King’s Lynn Insurance Society Limited was announced in the Lynn Advertiser. They established their Head Office here at No. 23, High Street, with a London office at 36, Coleman Street. The directors were; John Thorley (Chairman), William Clark (Norfolk Street), George Holditch (London Road), Joseph Kerkham (High Street), William Plews (Portland Street), and John Dyker Thew (High Street).
1868 – 1893 (William Myers Couperthwaite & Sons)
William Myers Couperthwaite was the son of Christopher Couperthwaite, the vicar of Dalton-in-Furness, Lancashire, and his wife Hannah Gawith. Christopher and Hannah had six children:-
1) Margaret (b. c1788). 2) John (b. c1790). 3) Joseph (b. c1794). 4) William (b. 1799 – d. 1800). 5) William Myers – see below – (b. c1805 – m. Sarah Love on 20/04/1836 – d. 19/08/1873, aged 68).
William, who was born in about 1805, came to Lynn in 1827 as an assistant to Charles Willett, later becoming his manager. The family lived for several years at Albion Place, Gaywood.
William married Sarah Love (b. c1814 in Harpley) on 20th April, 1836 at St. Nicholas in Lynn, and they had nine children:-
1) Sophia Love (b. c1837 – Thomas Henry Smith on 27/11/1873 – d. 1874, aged 38). 2) George Love (b. 1839 – d. 1842). 3) Hannah Gawith (b. c1842 – d. 1921, aged 79). 4) William Myers II – partner in Couperthwaite & Sons – (b. 03/03/1844 – d. 11/02/1910, aged 65). 5) Christopher – ironmonger’s assistant – (b. 1846 – d. 1890, aged 42). 6) Joseph – partner in Couperthwaite & Sons (b. 1849 – d. 01/08/1930, aged 81). 7) Alfred (b. c1851). 8) Sarah Love (b.1853 – m. Edward Anderson Davison in 1877 – d. 20/05/1928, aged 74). 9) Walter – an ironmonger’s assistant – (b. c1856 – m. 1885 to Catherine Hayes – d. 09/04/1906, aged 49).
William Couperthwaite took over the ironmongery business here when Charles Willett retired and was listed in Harrod’s Directory for 1868 as W. M. Couperthwaite & Son. Apparently, Charles Willett had allowed the business to decline but William soon turned it around. By 1871 he had moved from Gaywood and was living here, listed as an ironmonger and landowner, aged 66, with his wife Sarah, their five children and two servants. Kelly’s of 1875 lists:-
‘Couperthwaite, William Myers, & Sons, wholesale & retail ironmongers, bar iron merchants & agricultural implement manufacturers’.
By this date the four brothers William II, Christopher, Joseph and Walter were all partners, with William as the senior. However, the roles appear to have changed later, with Walter taking on less responsibility and being described as an assistant ironmonger in 1881.
William Myers Couperthwaite I died on 19th August, 1873 at the age of 68 and the business was taken over by his sons. The brothers were living on the premises with their mother in 1881.
Sarah Couperthwaite died in 1884, aged 70. All four brothers were unmarried at that date. Walter was the only one of them to marry – in 1884/5.
In 1888, the business of W & J Cooper, ironmongers at No. 75, High Street was put up for sale and the Myers brothers bought it. It was said that the strain of running the two businesses was too much for Christopher, who fell ill and died on 10th April, 1890, aged 42.
William Myers II was still here in 1891, as head of the household, and his brother Joseph was in partnership with him in the business. Their sister Hannah was living on her own means.
Staying with them at that date was their nephew Edward Anderson Davison II (born c1878 in Islington, London), the son of their sister Sarah Love Couperthwaite, who had married Edward Anderson Davison I, a builder’s foreman born in Scotland in about 1845. Edward Davison I died in 1903, aged 59 and his son Edward II continued to stay in Lynn to work at Couperthwaite & Sons, eventually becoming sole proprietor of the firm. Edward II married Catherine Jesse McLean Mackay in 1902/3 and they had three children:-
1) Margaret Jeanie McLean (b. 1903/4). 2) Donald Anderson – see below – (b. 1905 – d. 21/07/1930, aged 25). 3) Joan Catherine (b. 1919).
Donald went into the business but died of pleurisy on 21st July 1930, on the eve of his 25th birthday. Edward Davison II died in 1962, aged 84.
In Kelly’s Directory for 1892, William Myers Couperthwaite & Sons are listed at Nos. 23 and 75, High Street. On 14th May, 1892, William Couperthwaite placed a notice in the Lynn Advertiser for ‘YOUTH, quick and active, wanted as Outdoor Apprentice. – W. M. Couperthwaite & Sons, Ironmongers, Lynn’.
The Couperthwaites had moved out of these premises by the beginning of October, 1893, when the following notice appearing in the Lynn Advertiser on the 7th of that month:-
‘IMPORTANT BUSINESS PREMISES, No. 23, HIGH STREET, KING’S LYNN. TO BE LET on lease, or Sold, the extensive Shop and Warehouses, with superior Residence, in the centre of High Street, for many years occupied by Messrs. Couperthwaite and Sons – Apply to Mr. W. M. Bennett, Market-place, King’s Lynn’.
The Couperthwaite brothers continued to operate the shop at No. 75, High Street until the early 1930s.
Walter never assumed the role of a partner in Couperthwaite & Sons, always working as an assistant to his elder brothers. He married Catherine Hayes and they lived in All Saints Street with their three sons, all born in Lynn:-
1) Walter Myers (b. c1886 – d. 24/11/1965). 2) Arthur Joseph (b. c1887 – d. 1943). 3) Ernest (c1889 – m. Sarah S. Wilson).
Catherine (born 1864 in Lynn) was the daughter of William Hayes a cooper of 121, Norfolk Street, Lynn. Walter died in 1906, aged 49, and Catherine died in 1926, aged 61.
Unlike his father, Walter jnr. ran his own business, a grocer’s shop and post office in Tennyson Avenue, Lynn, and is listed there in Kelly’s directory for 1929. He married Florence Harriet Bone in 1910, and was living at 4, Blackfriars Road in 1951, when the Tennyson Avenue shop was that of Hannam & Barnard. He died on 24/11/1965, aged 80.
1895 – 1906 (Walter Sothern Dexter)
On 13th April, 1895, Walter Dexter advertised his photographic business at Nos. 23 – 26, High Street:-
‘DEXTER’S New Photographic Studio and Fancy Repository, 23 to 26, High Street, King’s Lynn. The Largest and Oldest Established Business in the Eastern Counties. (Under Royal Patronage). Cabinet Photographs from 5/- the half-dozen. C. de V’s from 5/- the dozen. Midgets (Promenade) from 3/6 a dozen, two positions. VIEWS, GROUPS, COPIES and LIFE SIZE PHOTOGRAPHS. The best selection of LOCAL VIEWS. Pictures Framed on the Premises in Every Style. The most varied stock of Albums, Leather Bags, Bibles, Prayer and Hymn Books, Dressing Cases, Desks and Workboxes, Combs and Brushes, Stationery, View and General Fancy Goods. NEW SHOWROOM for TOYS, DOLLS etc. Large Assortment of Stove Screens.’
The numbering is confusing at this date, especially since Walter Sothern Dexter did not include numbers in his directory entries for 1892, 1896, 1900 or 1904. Throughout these years, No. 25 was ‘The Greyhound’ public house. At the same period of time, Robert Nurse, a carver and gilder was at No. 24.
Walter Sothern Dexter had been born in Lynn in 1848. His father, William Sothern Dexter, was born in Lynn in about 1819 and worked as a shoemaker for several years. William and his wife Sarah (born in about 1825 in Lynn), had three children, all born in Lynn:-
1) William John Sothern – a photographer – (b. 11/04/1847 – d. 1907, aged 60). 2) Walter Sothern, a photographer – see below – (b. 1848 – m. Emily Allday on 16/11/1875 – d. 13/06/1920, aged 72). 3) Alice Sothern – see also No. 113, High Street – (b. 1850 – m. John Bayes in 1872 – d. 1930, aged 79).
In 1851 the family were living at 2, St. James Street, and William was still working as a boot and shoe maker. At some time between that date and 1861, he gave up the boot and shoe business to become a ‘photographic artist’. The family lived in Regent Street, Lynn for a few years before moving to Blackfriars Street, where they stayed between about 1868 (Harrod) and 1883 (Kelly).
By 1891, William Sothern and his son William John had both retired from business (William John had a ‘fancy repository’ in Blackfriars Street in 1875) and were back at Regent Street.
Sarah Dexter died in 1894/5, aged 70, and William Sothern died in 1899, aged 81. William John did not marry and he died in 1907, aged 60.
Alice Dexter married John Bayes, a commercial traveller who was born in Besthorpe, Norfolk in about 1850. Between 1879 and 1885 they lived at No. 113, High Street, where Alice ran a ‘fancy repository’ and more details of the family are given under that address. She died in 1929/30, aged 79.
William’s second son, Walter Sothern Dexter, married Emily Allday in 1875. She was born in Birmingham in 1852, the daughter of John Allday, a butcher, and his wife Rebecca. They had five children, all born in Wellingborough:-
1) Walter – an artist – see below — (b. 1876 – m. Helen Mary Chadwick in 1915 – d. 1958, aged 82). 2) Sothern – an architectural draughtsman – (b. 1878 – m. Mabel Scamell in 1908 – d. 1954, aged 77). 3) Owen – a painter and illustrator – (b. 1880 – m. Agnes M. Green in 1927 – d. 1952, aged 71). 4) Irving – an artillery gunner – (b. 1881 – d. 12/02/1919 in France). 5) Ida (b. 1885 – m. Frederick V. Parker in 1915).
Walter Sothern Dexter had his own photographic business in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire for a few years, before returning to Lynn by 1889, following the retirement of his father from his photographic business in Blackfriars Street. In addition to taking over the photographic business, Walter Sothern opened a shop at No. 109 High Street, described as that of a ‘Photographer Fancy Dealer’ in the 1891 census, The shop, which included stationery, moved here to No. 23 in 1893. He spent most of his life in the town, being appointed overseer of St. Margaret’s at the age of 22.
Walter Sothern Dexter was a most learned and interesting man, being very widely read. He was an admirer of the 17th Century Dutch school of painters and an accomplished musician. For many years he was a Liberal Town Councillor. A keen sportsman, he took several cups in the Lynn rowing regattas and was a strong swimmer and a good shot. His other interests included, in his youth, boxing, in which he acted as referee in later years. However, he was best known as a dog fancier and a breeder of Irish water spaniels.
He remained in business here until 1906, when he sold it to W. H. Smith & Son.
The Dexters then moved to Felixstowe, where Emily ran a hotel in Sea Road for a few years, before moving to 16, Buckleigh Road, Streatham. Walter Sothern Dexter died on Sunday, 13th June, 1920 in London, aged 72. Emily died in 1927, aged 76.
Their eldest son Walter married Helen Mary Chadwick in 1915. She was the daughter of John Henry Chadwick, a house decorator who had premises at No. 83 High Street, where more details of his family can be found. Walter was taught to paint by the local artist Henry Baines and went to the Birmingham School of Art. He became a very well-known and much admired local painter, book illustrator, art master and commercial artist. Many of his works are in the Lynn Museum. Walter and Helen lived at East Winch until Helen died in 1948, aged 68. Walter moved to the former ‘Valiant Sailor’ public house in Nelson Street, Lynn, where he continued to paint. He died aged 82 in 1958, following a collision with a motor cycle when walking across the Saturday Market Place.
Sothern Dexter married Mabel Scamell in 1908 and was working as an architectural draughtsman in 1911, when they were living in Lewisham. He died in Cornwall in 1954, aged 77.
Owen Dexter married Agnes Mary Green in London in 1927. He was an ‘illustrator of works and painter of pictures’ as recorded in the 1911 census. He died in Surrey, aged 71, in 1952.
Irving Dexter joined the Army at the start of the First World War but was passed fit only for home service. However, he volunteered for the Front and went to France at Christmas 1917, where he served in the pay department of the Royal Field Artillery. He caught pneumonia and died on 12th February, 1919. He is buried in the British Cemetery at Denain.
1906 – c1970s (W. H. Smith & Son)
On 6th February, 1906, W. H. Smith & Son placed a notice in the Lynn Advertiser announcing that they were taking over from Dexter & Sons at Nos. 23 to 26. They held a sale of Dexter’s stock, clearing the building so that they could undertake some alterations.
The business had been started by Henry Walton Smith in 1792 selling news sheets around the streets of London and opening a small newsvendor’s shop in Grosvenor Street with his wife. His early death could have meant an end to this fledgling business but his widow, Anna, continued the news round and built it up into a modest but profitable business. She was in partnership with Zaccheus Coates until his death in 1812. Anna died in 1816 and the business, now trading as newsagents and stationers, passed to her sons Henry Edward and William Henry Smith. Only the latter was interested in the business, which he developed into the great chain of newsagents. When William Henry’s son (also William Henry) became 21, he was made a partner and the name became W. H. Smith & Son. In 1848 the company opened its first bookstall at Euston Station and other railway station bookstalls followed.
Smith & Son’s bookstall is listed at Lynn railway station in Kelly’s directory for 1904, when (John) George Archer was the clerk in charge. Born in Horbling, Lincolnshire in 1879, George’s father was John Archer, an agricultural worker who gained employment with the Great Northern Railway Company as a horse shunter. George became a bookstall clerk by 1901, when he was working on the platform at Halstead station. In 1903, George married Lillie Maud Shotbolt, the daughter of Spalding farmer Thomas Shotbolt.
George was appointed the first manager of W. H. Smith’s High Street branch in January 1906 and served until 1919. He and Lillie lived on the premises and their daughter Gladys Muriel was born at No. 23 in 1909. George died in 1937, in Lancashire, aged 58.
By the time that the Lynn branch opened, W. H. Smith was very much more than a newsagents and booksellers, also selling stationery, fancy and leather goods.
Each year at Christmastime, W. H. Smith put on a themed promotional display. For 1911 they announced:-
‘A Xmas Bazaar in the Arctic Regions is now open at 23-6 High Street, King’s Lynn. A special Showroom decorated with Arctic Scenery by G. M. Bridges and Son has been set out with a large variety of Leather, Silver, Brass and other Fancy Goods, especially suitable for Xmas Gifts. We have done this in order to aid our Customers in the selection of Xmas Gifts and we are sure you will appreciate the arrangements we have made. We have also made full preparations for meeting the needs of the Children. No child in, or near, King’s Lynn should fail to pay a visit to our Games and Toy Department. It will be a real delight to them.’
The next manager, appointed in 1919, was George Edward Mainprice Coates, born in Sudbury, Suffolk, in 1886 to Edward and Rosa Coates. Edward was a confectioner and baker. By the age of 14, George was working as a paper boy for Smith & Son and was an assistant newsagent in Harrogate in 1911. He married Florence Mitchell in Dorset in 1915. They had two children born at No. 23:-
1) Edward Mitchell (b.27/02/1920 – d. 2004, aged, 84). 2) Joan Henrietta (b. 1921).
Florence Coates died in Kent in 1942, aged 76, and George died in Surrey in 1967, aged 80.
Mr. A. Poole took over as branch manager in January 1926 and was here for two years.
In 1928, Mr. Harry Hindley Biggs came to Lynn as W. H. Smith’s manager, transferring from Godalming, where he had opened a new branch in 1922. Born in Frome, Somerset in 1873, he married Jessie Helena Hargroves at Highbury in 1905. She had been born in London in 1874. Mr. Biggs was an accomplished elocutionist and, accompanied by Jessie on the piano, raised money for local charities. He died in Lynn in 1946, aged 73.
Mr. Biggs retired at the end of September, 1938 and was succeeded by his assistant, Mr. Frank Arthur T. Overton, who had been a member of staff at the Lynn branch since before the First World War, during which he served with the Middlesex Regiment and was wounded twice. Frank was the son of John and Harriet Overton and had been born in Lynn on 13th August 1899. His father was a commercial traveller. In 1901 the family were living in St. James Road but had moved to Wootton Road by 1911. Frank married Grace Maud Poll, daughter of George and Blanche Poll, Diamond Street, Lynn, in 1929. Grace had been born on 16th May 1902 in King’s Lynn. They did not have any children. Frank and Grace were living in Park Avenue in 1961and were still there in 1973. Grace died in 1977, aged 75, and Frank died in 1981, aged about 82.
The next manager was Mr. W. I. Trevardon, appointed 4th May 1964, followed by Mr. A. T. Binks on 3rd September, 1971 and Mr. D. A. Lake, who commenced on 24th June 1974.
WH Smith moved to Norfolk Street, and in 2007 the Post Office moved into their shop.