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Preserving Norfolk’s advertising history

PUBLISHED: 10:33 10 September 2018 | UPDATED: 10:33 10 September 2018

Back when a mustard bath was a popular way to revitalise (Colman's, 1907) (photo: History of Advertising Trust)

Back when a mustard bath was a popular way to revitalise (Colman's, 1907) (photo: History of Advertising Trust)

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Tucked away in a small village, a trust is working hard to preserve a unique part of our shopping history

It’s felt like a turbulent year for Norfolk businesses. Famously local companies Robinson’s and Colman’s Mustard are shifting their production elsewhere. Robinson’s, one of Britvic’s brands has been based in Norwich for more than 90 years, while the iconic Norfolk Colman’s Mustard, now a Unilever brand, has been made in the city for more than two centuries.

Meanwhile, other closures are changing the face of the high-street around the UK, with the loss of Toys ‘R’ Us and Maplin, and store closures for Mothercare, Marks and Spencer and House of Fraser.

Many of us grew up wearing Start-rite - a reminder of Norwich's shoe making heritage (Start-rite, 1976) (History of Advertising Trust)Many of us grew up wearing Start-rite - a reminder of Norwich's shoe making heritage (Start-rite, 1976) (History of Advertising Trust)

With competition from the online sector and changing consumer habits, it’s certainly a tricky time to be a retailer. The Centre for Retail Research has predicted that nearly one in 20 stores in Norfolk will close within four years.

Change is natural in business, but this is fast-paced and has been dubbed a crisis in the retail sector, or ‘hell on the high-street’. In the wake of job losses and fears for the local economy it is easy to overlook history and heritage – but what happens to a brand’s history when it closes?

Catalogues were saved, along with a Geoffrey the Giraffe costume (Toys 'R' Us, 1986) (History of Advertising Trust)Catalogues were saved, along with a Geoffrey the Giraffe costume (Toys 'R' Us, 1986) (History of Advertising Trust)

When a company shuts, merges or relocates, its legacy can vanish with it. Original advert proofs, artefacts from decades ago and notes from creative sessions can all end up in the skip, lost forever. Digital records can be wiped at the touch of a button.

It’s your history that is gone. Adverts tell a story of our lives much more vividly than a history book ever can. Just one glance at a Hovis ad or hearing a jingle from your youth can instantly transport you back to your childhood home, aged seven with grazes on your knees. For me, it’s that catchy Vitalite song that rewinds time.

In Norfolk, we have a team working to look after this very personal and entertaining heritage. Hidden away in Raveningham, near Hales, is the History of Advertising Trust (HAT), set up in 1976 to preserve and protect the heritage of UK advertising history. It is a treasure trove of artefacts, reels of film, radio recordings, magazine clippings, proofs of adverts and of course, a massive digital collection.

The archive houses collections from Hovis Bakery, Vimto, KraftHeinz, ITV, Unilever, Colman’s, Norwich Union and Start-rite, with many dating back to the 1800s. HAT makes the archive available to students and researchers, and the adverts are even used in film and television, such as in historical dramas, to create an accurate period feel.

Richard Powell, director of HAT, explains why adverts are so important. “It’s sad and worrying when businesses close, but many of our great British brands remain important and cherished by society. They give us memories, creative insight and historical context as well as a real understanding of a particular time and place.

“The trust currently holds over three million items and we will be making sure that we work with businesses into the future, whether they are thriving, relocating or unfortunately closing, to ensure that those beloved household names are protected and celebrated.”

HAT has just saved the Toys ‘R’ Us collection which includes the large Geoffrey the Giraffe costume, photographs and sales catalogues featuring toys going back to 1986, that many customers over the years will remember fondly.

It’s reassuring to know that though businesses may die, this social history will live on.

For a trip down memory lane, you can look at more adverts from the trust online here: hatads.org.uk

Kate Blincoe writes on behalf of the History of Advertising Trust and is an author and writer for many local and national publications. Follow Kate on Twitter @Kateblincoe.

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