Catleughs of Lynn: How a tailor’s ‘shop log’ gives an insight into daily life and the outbreak of the Second World War

When thinking about business records, you may think of account books or correspondence, factual accounts, which tell us little about daily life. This is far from the case, as the records of Catleughs of Lynn, tailors, outfitters and clothiers, amply demonstrate. Catleughs were a well-known firm in King’s Lynn, operating from 1885. Richard Catleugh appears in Kelly’s Directory for 1883 as a travelling draper, with premises at 18 Albert Street.  By 1892, clothier, Robert Catleugh, was operating from 14 Norfolk Street and, by 1916, the firm had premises at 14-15 Norfolk Street and 11-14 Broad Street.  From 1922, the company was known as Catleughs of Lynn.

What makes these records particularly remarkable is the series of diaries kept by John Harwood Catleugh between 1919 and 1957.  John Harwood Catleugh, OBE, alderman of King’s Lynn and mayor of the borough for three consecutive years (1939-41), had held a commission in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve during the First World War, where he appears to have picked up the habit of keeping a daily record. Indeed, the diaries can be seen as a kind of ‘shop’s log’, containing records of the weather, daily temperature readings and events of note.

The diaries of Catleughs of Lynn open in September 1919: ‘Harvest trade commenced – a good day in all departments’.  Soon, however, problems arose with the start of a railway strike that lasted into October: ‘Pooley sent to London with cycle and sidecar to take parcels and bring others back.  Railway and Post Office both unable to receive parcels.’

BR 330.1.16#002

Catleughs of Lynn, diary entry, October 1920. NRO catalogue number BR 330/1/16

The week of 22-28 February 1920 was cold and foggy: ‘This month has not been at all satisfactory from a business point of view.  We only just managed to beat last year – the mart did not make much difference to us’. Here, Catleugh was referring to the famous King’s Lynn Mart, which takes place annually, for two weeks in February, starting on St Valentines day (14th) and, traditionally, is the first funfair in the Showmen’s calendar. There is a similar story in February 1938: ‘A dreadful month for business – weather has been dry throughout but no life in business at all – Mart does not make any difference’. Catleugh’s lifelong involvement in politics is also represented, with local elections results tabulated and comments on council business.

MC 2818 696X9002

Photograph illustrating the opening of King’s Lynn Mart in 1903, by Frederick Carpenter, Mayor. NRO catalogue number MC 281/8, 696X9

The most significant event covered by the Catleughs of Lynn diaries is the Second World War.  John Catleugh records on 23 August 1939, ‘international situation very serious’ and, on the 28th, ‘on the verge of war’.  On Thursday, 31 August, he notes, ‘Evacuation ordered.  State of emergency’.  War was declared at 11.15 am on 3 September, and the first air raid warning was at 2.40 that night.  In December, lighting regulations were imposed: ‘A very limited amount of window lighting allowed – a 25 Watt bulb in a box shining light through a slot 4″ x 1/4″ through one thickness of tissue paper’.  In 1940, a record of air raid warnings culminates on 31 August with, ‘4 bombs dropped in 2 fields either side road leading to Mintlynn Farm, Gayton Road.  No damage except the overhead and telephone wires’.  In November, the first Lynn casualties of bombing raids are recorded, with 10 people killed on the night of the 20th.

This post only gives a flavour of the diaries, but, they are available for consultation in our searchroom, under the reference BR 330. Until 2 July 2016 the Lynn Museum also has a temporary exhibition ‘Art of the Mart’ which looks at the art, craft and design of King’s Lynn’s Funfair.

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5 Responses to Catleughs of Lynn: How a tailor’s ‘shop log’ gives an insight into daily life and the outbreak of the Second World War

  1. Rachel Tofts says:

    I’m sure many have said this before but Catleugh in King’s Lynn operated well beyond 1957. It was the place to get School uniform and my parents purchased my Downham Grammar School uniform from there in 1973 and my sisters in 1975.


    • victoriadraper24 says:

      Hi Rachel, thanks for letting us know. I have amended the post so that it longer says the shop closed in 1957. However, we only have the diaries up to 1957. Was it still a great place to visit in the 70s?


  2. Margaret Harwood Arnold says:

    After my grandfather, John Harwood Catleugh, died in 1964 the shop was run by the board of directors which consisted of his four children who had no interest in the business really and lived in London. When the shop finally closed the auction of contents was amazing (I was there) people bought as souvenirs. I have wonderful memories of Gramp in the shop in the 50s with his fantastic, loyal staff.


    • nroeando2017 says:

      How wonderful, Margaret! Thanks so much for sharing that information with us, and great to have those personal memories of the shop itself.


  3. cornforthcra says:

    Thank you Margaret. Richard was my relation and Catleugh my maiden name.
    I do not know a great deal about that side of my family.


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