Norwich has a long history of craft. You may or may not know the story of the Norwich Strangers: a group of mysterious, highly skilled craftspeople who arrived from the sea in the 16th Century, in order to resurrect Norwich’s textile industry. These Dutch and Walloon settlers taught local Norwich craftspeople – already highly skilled themselves – how to weave the luxurious style of foreign fabrics which were becoming increasingly popular in the Tudor era. These settlers brought with them their families, their customs, their language as well as their trade. They also brought with them tiny yellow birds, which the people of Norwich became very fond of – the legacy of ‘The Canaries’ is still felt today at Carrow Road Football Stadium.
More recently, Norwich was renowned for it’s flourishing shoe trade. Boots, shoes, and slippers were big business here (you could in fact say it was the heart and sole of the city…), and in 1931, employed an amazing 15% of Norwich’s total workforce – that’s over 10,000 people!
Amidst this success, Adelman Goodman – a refugee from Belarus who had found his fortune making shoes in London – bought the Florida Shoe Factory on Salhouse Road, Norwich in 1936. It was a small factory – and was for a time used as an aircraft hangar during WW1. Adelman’s sons David and Lionel moved to Norwich to assist with running the business, and eventually managed ‘The Florida Shoes Factory (Norwich) Ltd’ after their father died in 1938.
As you can imagine, the second world war devastated Norwich’s industry. Between 1939 – 1942, the shoe industry here lost 316,000 square feet of productive floor space (an overall reduction of 40%) due to enemy action & requisition. The workforce was reduced by an incredible 50%.
Amidst the chaos and a requisition themselves, Florida survived and did pretty well, selling unbranded ladies’ shoes to firms such as Lilley and Skinner, and Russell Bromley. Drastically, in 1946, the decision was made to form Van Dal Shoes Ltd in order to market Florida’s own range, which ultimately led to the manufacturer finding their own very specific niche…
The legend goes that the firm had begun making “Norfolk Narrows”, which was – as you might have guessed – for narrower feet. However one of their designers made a small mistake, and their lasts (the models used for making shoes) came in as wide, and hence the “Norfolk Broads” were born.
The Broads took off, and women with wider feet were finally able to buy fashionable footwear, made suitable for all ages. Sadly for the name, “Norfolk Broads” had to be rethought after the range was exported to South Africa, as the term had slightly less glamorous connotations over there…
Although there has been considerable change at the factory since then, it continues to survive in Norwich to this day. They’ve seen new machinery, changes in working practices, a fire in 1984 (it was caught early and thankfully nobody was hurt!) and one big factory move in 1990 to where the site still exists on Dibden Road today.
Van Dal still produce shoes using traditional methods at their factory, and thousands of pairs of shoes are made every week by a highly skilled workforce using a remarkable, painstaking process.
See for yourself with FREE tours of the factory
One of the last remaining traditional shoe factories still operating in this country, Van Dal offer free tours (but you MUST pre-book) around their factory, so you can see yourself how their shoes are made. With over 75 years manufacturing in Norwich, they know a thing or two! Plus, get an extra 10% off in store when you book a tour…
Tours are held weekly and must be pre-booked. Each tour commences on 10:30 or 13:30 on either Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday with a minimum of 10 and up to approx. 30 people.
Fancy making a day of it?
North of the city has got loads of things on offer if the factory tour is just one of the things on your itinerary. There are some great pubs such as the Fat Cat on Lawson road, and The Plasterer’s Arms on Cowgate (which does great pizza too…) which are both no more than a five minute’s brisk walk from Dibden Road.
The factory is also close to Mousehold Heath so it’s a good opportunity to walk over and admire the amazing view it gives of the Norwich skyline. There’s also a great eatery for cakes and/or lunch at Café Britannia with outdoor and indoor seating to enjoy the fabulous view.
If you fancied an overnight stay, we recommend Gothic House on Magdalen Street, for some well-decorated, cosy hospitality (and opposite one of our favourite curries in the city – Café Malabar). You can’t go wrong!
COMING TO VISIT?
Greater Anglia has Advance fares from £10 one way between London Liverpool Street and Norwich. Trains run every 30 minutes. Greater Anglia also serves Colchester, Ipswich and Diss on the Norwich line. Direct trains also run from Cambridge.
East Midlands Trains runs services from Liverpool, Manchester and Nottingham.
Flights into Norwich served from Edinburgh, Manchester, Exeter, Aberdeen, Jersey*, Guernsey* and Amsterdam.
To plan a trip to Norwich check out our website www.visitnorwich.co.uk