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Norwich Merchants


Head Office : 3 - 4 The Haymarket 1 - 7

2. Expansion : 3. Headquarters : 4. The Grapes etc.   6. Disasters : 7. Mancroft Vaults etc.

1. : Early Days

As early as 1802, James Back was trading in
wines and spirits from 3 Hog Hill (Orford Hill);
whilst Thomas Back & Co., at the Old Haymarket,
were merely described as  grocers etc.  - albeit since 1783.
J. Back was still in Orford Hill in 1811, but
- oddly - James Back in Old Haymarket in 1805.

In an advert for  Norwich Silk - the aristocrat
of the Sherry wines,
  in 1935, Backs Ltd.
claimed to have been established since 1717.

The principal outlet (address as above) was,
until closed in 1971, always known as  "Back's",
despite a takeover by  Henekey's  as early as
March 1952.

Going back (!) to 1839, by then Edward seems
to have inherited the business, and in 1842 was
listed under  British Wine  merchants.

S. & P. Brewery supplied the free house from
the year commencing November 1840.

In 1845, the Haymarket premises were called -
officially and traditionally - "The Vine".  

2. : Expansion

By 1859  Back & Co.  had expanded from
No. 3 to numbers 3 and 4 Haymarket.

By 1864 the oddly-named Lemon Jeffries had
moved from the  very  ancient pub  The Griffin
in Upper King Street, by Tombland.
It appears that Backs then 'converted' the pub
to (principally) a wine and spirits store.
This was, apparently, a short-term expedient;
as, by 1867, they had opened a  new branch 
in the 'new' Prince of Wales Road.

At this stage Philip Back was in charge : the first
of three  Philips  in the lineage. Philip  Henry  is
named in 1890, and he lived in Mile End Road.
He called the new outlet  Griffen  or  Griffin,
having  transferred  the licence from Tombland.

The new Griffin was moved, in turn, from No. 20
to No. 64 Prince of Wales Road in Sept. 1898.

This outlet survived the takeover and later
closure of Backs Ltd. - as described below.
A survey in 1961 (in the Henekey era), done
by the  Bystanders Society,  was happy to
describe the pub as a Free House.
For this very reason it became
very popular in the early 1970s.

The pub eventually fell into the hands of
Watney Mann, who closed it in 1983.  

3. : Back at headquarters

12 years later (1879), the  third outlet  (part of
the original "block") was licensed in White Lion
Street, formerly known as  The Adelphi.

Within the said block, forming an internal link,
was the ancient  Curat House  - itself used as a
high-class licensed restaurant, over many years.
Prior to 1971, this house had been in the family
for 7 or 8 generations.
John Curat built the house in 1480, over cellars
which were possibly as old as 1286.

A survey by the Bystanders Society in 1961
noted that there was a "subway" exit (from the
main pub on The Walk), leading to White Lion St.

For much further detail, including the use of
the cellars for the wine/bottling trade,
see pages 41 - 43 of  Young's  book.
Also see  Thompson,  pages 21 onwards.  

4. : The Grapes etc.

By 1903 the firm had taken over  The Grapes
in Wensum Street, the long-established home
of  Geldart & Co.  - also wine merchants etc.

Philip  Edward  was the Principal licensee
at the HQ since 24th August 1900; and actually
lived in the  Curat House  mentioned above -
certainly in 1890.
He became owner of the Haymarket premises
in March 1903.

A photograph of a commercial advertising card
can be found in the following :   STANDLEY :
Norwich - in old postcards, Volume 4, page 101.
This indicates a presence in 1908 in
Gt. Yarmouth & Lowestoft as well as Norwich.

The business of  Willmott & Johnson  of
26 Exchange Street ("Monument House")
was added to the growing empire
- by P. E. Back - in October 1926.


5. : The Dynasty

February 1929 saw the accession of
Philip  Glanford  Back.
Having taken over the licence at H Q on
12th February 1929, he gave up the licence of
the White Lion Street outlet in January 1932.

Also in January 1932,  Backs Ltd.  became
owners of the Haymarket premises.
Undaunted, P. G. took over the  Queen's Arms
in Magdalen Street in April 1946 (under the
umbrella of "Norfolk & Suffolk Hotels")

However, the whole Backs "empire" sold out to
Henekey's  on 15th March 1952, as mentioned
in paragraph 1. above.

The former Willmott & Johnson outlet
was closed in January 1958.
P. G. Back gave up licences at the  Grapes
and  Queen's Arms  in June/July 1970.

As already mentioned, closure of Head Office
(the  Vine)  occurred in May 1971; after events
carefully and painfully described in  Young's
book; and alluded to in the next paragraph.  

6. : Disasters

The first disaster was in March 1962, when
the adjoining  Curat's House  was hit by fire.
The Long Bar in the main pub was also
damaged, but - as ever - advantages accrued :
in the shape of more modern ice-making
equipment and cooled shelves for bottle beer.
The bar itself got an extra, L-shaped, section.

The pub continued to serve a wide range of
clientele at lunchtimes; including a separate
snug fronting The Walk - always populated
with older customers.
However, the Long Bar was also popular with
the younger generation, esp. in the evenings;
many coming from the new University.

The label of 'student' was attached, and that
class of customer was banned at one point,
which led to great protests, and a retraction.
In the end, the lack of spending power of
'students' was blamed for the house closure;
regarded by the entire City as a major disaster.

The Long Bar was removed to the
Jacquard Club  which was then located in the
former  White Lion,  in Magdalen Street.
The bar was cut into two, one piece forming
the ground floor bar. The second piece formed
another bar in the front upstairs room.

Photos taken c. 1970 are shown in
Norwich Heritage Projects  (NHP 2011).
Items focussed on the famous Long Bar
appear on pages 41 and 158.
The latter page has a view from the street.  

7. : Mancroft Vaults etc.

There is a follow-on to the Back's story, in that
Harvey's  (Bristol Cream??) took over part of
the ground floor (facing Haymarket), also for the
sale of wines and spirits i.e. as an off-licence
(probably by 1972).

They also opened the old  Curat House  cellars
as a pub/wine-bar called the  Mancroft Vaults.
The vaults were entered via the off-licence
mentioned above.
This was noted in 1977 as a free house; but
one where the Saturday hours-extension
(to 4.00 p.m.) had recently been withdrawn.
This may have been the last example of
that concession in the Market area.

The venture only lasted approx. 7 years,
before Hepworth's (clothiers) occupied the
whole shop area.

The demise of the Henekey's empire (1970)
allowed a brief incursion of  Truman's  Brewery,
generally poorly represented in the City.
They had control of the  Griffin  for some time,
and the  Queen's Arms  was tied to
that brewery until the 1980s.