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In Need of Distraction

We have filled our windows with colour, smiles and peace symbols from Jumper 1234. The latest lightweight cashmere knits to literally buy now, wear now (and may even make you smile). I have hardly taken off my grey smiley cardigan this week (I am enjoying the irony far too much).

And for something completely different. As we celebrate our 20th Year of Collen & Clare I am overwhelmed by the pride the team all take in being part of this story. Our weekend superstar, and full time student, Bella has taken the time to research and write a history of our building, interviewing the previous owners, team members and sourcing photographs. I hope you enjoy learning a little more of the story behind this wonderful building. Thank you so much Bella.

History is what arguably writes our future, and this most definitely is the case for our much loved Collen and Clare store here in Southwold. Unknown to most, there is a clause in the lease stating that 25 Market Place must be a ‘Drapers and Clothiers’ and that is exactly what it always has, and still continues to be.

Our story here began on Christmas Eve 2003, when after 45 years as ‘Avril, Ladies Outfitter' the keys were handed to Collen & Clare and the era of the destination coastal chic fashion boutique that we know today began. As I’m sure most of you will have seen from our celebration window created by the talented James Straffon, this year is 20 years of Collen and Clare, and 19 years in this beautiful (but rather creaky) building.

Something unknown to most, including myself until I chatted with Vanessa, is that 25 Market Place (the address we all know as Collen and Clare in Southwold) and the adjacent numbers 1 and 3 East Street have been interconnected as a single business since the early 1890s.

They are what we call today the menswear department and salon room of our shop. Henry Moss ran a groceries, provisions, and drapery store from 1892 for over 30 years and during his tenure incorporated the three separate addresses into one. By 1916 Henry Moss had expanded his drapery business by taking over the 'S.W Reynolds Grocery & Drapery' business at No 10 Market Place across the street.

When a sale was made at No 10 Market Place the money was placed in a capsule, fired through the tube to the cashier just inside the door on East Street, and the receipt was then fired back to the customer across the road.

Going back in time, in 1819, the two neighbours of our building, numbers 21 and 23 Market Place were demolished and rebuilt. Ours remained standing making the Collen & Clare building one of the oldest in the high street, with its original structure, ceilings and uneven floors largely unchanged.

Southwold has a wonderful body of social history in the books of Stephen Wolfenden entitled ‘To The Town: Portraits of Southwold’. Over three decades local photographer Stephen Wolfenden captured the shopkeepers, businesses and residents of the town in 1988 with 'To The Town', in 2002 with 'The Town Revisited' and in 2012 with 'It's That Town Again'

In the first edition 25 Market Place features as 'Avril'. In 1958, 25 Market Place was taken over by the Johnson family and opened as 'Avril, Ladies Outfitters'. Run for many years by Douglas and Joy Johnson and a team of still familiar faces Avril was a destination for clothes, wool and all things haberdashery. Second on the left, holding onto the banister is Ann Jerman, known to all of us as Annie. If you have ever been to Collen and Clare chances are you will have met Annie (tall, elegant, lots of curly hair). Annie worked at Avril and now us and is, we believe, the ultimate guardian of this building.

In the second edition the business is very much still Avril and standing in the exact same position, you can see Annie twenty years on. Not only has Annie remained but so has the chair, which, to my surprise we still have in the shop today! I see this chair everyday, I have dusted it, perched on it and moved it out of my way, but never realised the extent of the history it has with the building. It was passed on from Avril to Collen and Clare and represents a lovely piece of our story.

I had the pleasure of speaking to Joy Johnson on the phone, who owned Avril with her husband Doug. She told me that in the late 1990’s, 25 Market Place caught fire. One evening the Night Watchman from the Swan Hotel over the road heard the cracking of roof tiles, and saw smoke rising from the roof.

An arsonist had broken in and set fire to the roof. Luckily the fire only affected the roof area, leaving the main shop unharmed. However, left unattended much longer and the flames would have engulfed the whole shop and the story of 25 Market Place would have ended there. Luckily thanks to the quick response of the Southwold Fire Brigade and our watchful friends at The Swan, our iconic building still stands today.

The most recent 2012 'Portraits of Southwold' records the team at Collen & Clare as the tenant and ten years on the story continues. Many layers of a fresh paint have been applied over the years but the structure of the building remains almost the same, the wooden floors oozing history and the signature spiral staircase still a focal point. And here is the most recent picture of the building today. The demolition of its neighbours in 1819, bombings in WW1 which hit Southwold with quite some force and the arsonist all had a shot of destroying the building, but it has put up a tough fight and remains standing today.

The store that lives inside has changed over the years, but the staircase, Annie and the chair remain unchanged in a 'Drapers & Clothiers' for the 21st Century.

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