Diss historian Dennis Cross takes us on a walk through Diss history as he looks to sell his calendar for charity
Awash with the vibrant bustle of life, every black and white image offers a frozen window in to the familiar outlines and long-trodden tracks of our town.
Shaped by the flow of time and the very lives of those who were captured in these moments, Diss has expanded around its ancient Mere over the past century, with few having seen more of that development with their own eyes than Dennis Cross.
“I remember as a youngster, I once saw a train come in to Diss station filled with circus animals,” said Mr Cross, who has lived in Diss all of his life.
“They transported livestock on the trains ever since the station opened in 1849, so I suppose it wasn’t all that different to bring the circus animals in by train.
“I still remember the elephants arriving trunk to tail and, as they were unloading them, one of the bakery vans had left its door open.
“Before anyone knew it, one of them had stuck its trunk in there and stolen a loaf of bread.”
“Having the railway really made Diss at that time,” added the 72-year-old.
“It helped move newspapers and mail, as well as animals for Norwich cattle market, and it brought employment and allowed people to go on excursions to Great Yarmouth for the day, to name a few benefits.
“One of our photos here shows an Eastern Union train in 1905. They were one of the prestige locomotives of their time.
“The area around the station, just off Victoria Road has grown a lot, with many houses having been built in my lifetime.”
If railway lines were the arteries of the town, delivering a flow of people, livestock and the occasional mischievous elephant, the market was the beating heart of Diss in the early 20th century, as Mr Cross remembers.
“I have a photo from 1910 showing a busy market next to the church,” he says. “There was a real social focus around the market, with gatherings of people and farm workers coming in and out of pubs, which were countless back then.
“I could name probably 20 in the space of the few streets around where this photo was taken, but the market was massive for bringing people in to the town.
“Horses and carts were going up and down the road all day, and the road surface was just compacted horse muck.
“Shops stayed open until 10pm on Friday and Saturday because many workers didn’t get paid until the end of the working day on Friday.
“Garnham’s shoe shop is here in one of these photos, and that gives you an idea of how the shops displayed their wares.
“Everything hanging outside the shop to catch the eye of the passer by. I believe that building is now Weavers restaurant.”
Another focal point for the people of Diss in the early part of last century was the Mere, around which the town sprang up like plants at an oasis more than 1,000 years ago.
One of the photos featured shows an extraordinarily frosty winter in 1911, which caused the Mere to freeze over with ice several inches thick. It was deep enough for people to host a party on its surface, with an ice skating race taking place around its perimeter.
“Every few years, it would freeze, but rarely to the extent it did in this photo. The last major freeze I can remember was at the end of 1962, when the ice was seven inches thick and I was busy clearing the snow away on the surface so that we could ice skate.
“The building in the rear of this photo was actually a hospital back then and treated a lot of First World War veterans during the conflict.”
In another of Mr Cross’ photos, women of the town take part in a fundraiser in 1911 on Mount Street as part of Alexandra Day.
In another, children can be seen playing in a wheelbarrow – a sight you would struggle to see on the streets of any town today.
Despite certain simple pursuits of town life fading away or evolving, Mr Cross, an avid collector of old postcards depicting Diss, has always been accepting of change.
“There have been a great many changes and it’s nice to look back, but you have to keep moving forward,” he said.
“Ways of life move on, little shops slip by the wayside and bigger chains move in, but I would never want to go back to when I was younger.
“Look at everything we have now, with radio, television and the explosion of the internet.
“It all changes and, while it’s easy to look back with a sense of nostalgia, we should also enjoy moving forwards.”
Mr Cross has a calendar filled with interesting photos of Diss in years gone by, which he is selling this Christmas to raise money for cancer charity The Big C.
You can get a copy by calling Mr Cross on 01379 651897, or visiting Diss Garden Centre or Premier Convenience Store.