What do shops tell us about a town’s history, or does a look back at some of the traders merely give us a chance to reminisce?
An exhibition launched this month at Diss Corn Hall is all about the changing face of commerce in the so-called Diss ‘Heritage Triangle’,which includes St Nicholas Street, Market Hill and the area which connects them at the top of market place.
It ties in with the town’s ambitious £3.1 million funding bid to revamp that part of Diss, and the Corn Hall.
It is the culmination of a year’s work for Peter Hyde, who has run Diss Ironworks, currently in St Nicholas Street, since 1973. Although he has now retired, his son Matthew is carrying on the family tradition, allowing him time to do the research necessary.
He has collaborated with social historian, Prof. Alun Howkins, for the exhibit titled The Heritage Triangle - Shops and Shopkeepers.
Researching publications, like the Diss Express and simply speaking to people has led to a fascinating insight into some of the shops which used to, and still, trade in that part of Diss.
Mr Hyde said: “If you don’t get around to doing it, then memories will fade and it will not get recorded. It is something I have wanted to do because I have worked in Diss since the 1970s.”
The exhibition is not just about listing shops and when they traded, but there is also a social history element, with Mr Hyde very keen to explore the people behind the shop fronts.
Although Mere Street is generally considered the prime shopping area of Diss, if rents and rates are anything to go by, Mr Hyde said it was actually the Heritage Triangle area that used to command the best shops. “The top of the town is where the quality traders used to sell their wares,” said Mr Hyde.
“This is picked up on with some of the shop fronts when you look at the quality of the buildings and the detailing.
“It still has that wonderful uniqueness about it. It is still full of independent shops and not full up with chain stores.
“The fact that is hasn’t really altered in 100 years is another good way that it be an attraction to visitors.”
Some people today lament that Diss is not what it was. But Mr Hyde’s research on the subject has given him a long term view. He said there has never been a true ‘golden age’ for trade in Diss, save perhaps for the late 1700s, when the hemp, linen and cloth industry was building up.
“Shops come and go, like they do today. I don’t think things have changed that much. There are businesses in the yards like Amandines and the Natural Foodstore which have been here for 30-odd years.”
He described the Heritage Triangle bid as a “once in a lifetime opportunity”.
A book compiling the research is also in the pipeline.
When and where
Visit the Corn Hall Stables
Gallery to see the exhibit
It runs until June 28 and is open during Corn Hall box office hours: 11am – 4pm Monday to Friday and
11am - 2pm on Saturday
On Saturdays Peter Hyde will be there in person answering any questions. He will be there from 11am-1pm
Items of interest include Bobby’s empire of shops at the bottom of Market Hill and the Waveney Temperance Hotel and Restaurant where you could not get a beer, but could get some of the best and cheapest food in Diss
Visitors can share their memories at the exhibit