Bakers & Larners - looking forward to the next 250 years

PUBLISHED: 09:15 23 November 2020 | UPDATED: 09:15 23 November 2020

Christmas at Bakers & Larners  Picture: Joshua Dyball

Christmas at Bakers & Larners Picture: Joshua Dyball

Joshua Dyball

A planned year of celebrations, community events and charity fundraising didn’t quite turn out like that but Bakers & Larners of Holt is looking ahead to a bright future

The Bakers & Larners store front in Holt in the early 1900s   Picture: Bakers & LarnersThe Bakers & Larners store front in Holt in the early 1900s Picture: Bakers & Larners

For two and a half centuries Bakers & Larners has stood, literally and figuratively, at the heart of Holt life.

The much-loved Holt-based business which celebrates its 250th anniversary this year, is also at the heart of a far larger swathe of Norfolk.

It has not been an easy year in which to celebrate such an impressive anniversary, with the pandemic forcing part of the business to close for three months and then the devastating fire which destroyed its Budgens supermarket in Holt.

And yet the response to the trauma of both reveals just why Bakers & Larners has survived so long and is now pivoting from celebrating the past 250 years to looking forward to another 250 years at the heart of community and county life.

An archive picture of Bakers & Larners staff    Picture: Bakers & LarnersAn archive picture of Bakers & Larners staff Picture: Bakers & Larners

Nine generations of the Baker family have been involved in the business, which has had its headquarters at 8 Market Place, Holt, since 1770. The building was a shop for about 40 years before then. Over the last 250 years that shop developed into a business which offered everything from blacksmiths and brewer to beauty and building supplies.

In the middle of the 20th century it was largely an agricultural supplies business but today it is a renowned Holt department store including food hall, fine wines, garden centre, kitchen and cookshop, restaurant, perfume and beauty, home furnishing and ladies and menswear, plus Budgens supermarkets in Holt and Aylsham and CT Baker builders’ merchants in Holt, Aylsham, North Walsham and Stalham.

Michael Baker, who died last year, has been credited with reviving the fortunes of the business. He took over as managing director in 1974, the seventh generation of Bakers to run the business, and expanded from having fewer than 20 staff to more than 275. He had been a chartered chemical engineer but returned to Norfolk to reinvigorate the family firm - and over the next 45 years also contributed to local politics and organisations and helped raise considerable sums for charities.

He oversaw the purchase of the Larners store in 1977 and acquisitions continued with the builders’ merchants, Betty’s department store which specialised in clothing, furnishings and furniture, and Budgens supermarkets to serve the people of Holt and Aylsham. By 2011 Holt had the biggest Budgens in Britain.

A delivery truck in 1928   Picture: Bakers & LarnersA delivery truck in 1928 Picture: Bakers & Larners

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The programme of 250th anniversary celebrations was originally divided into three sections – for customers, for the community and for staff.

But they had barely begun before the pandemic hit, and what should have been a jubilee year became darker still when the Holt Budgens was destroyed by fire on the evening which, before coronavirus, had been set aside for the staff party.

However, the company again responded to the devastating blow quickly with the Post Office moved to the main department store within days and then a temporary replacement supermarket to serve shoppers while the original is being rebuilt, constructed by companies which assembled the Nightingale Hospitals earlier this year.

Norfolk art prodigy Keiron Williamson painted this owl to help Bakers & Larners raise money for the EACH   Picture: BRITTANY WOODMANNorfolk art prodigy Keiron Williamson painted this owl to help Bakers & Larners raise money for the EACH Picture: BRITTANY WOODMAN

“We always said it would be a very memorable year and it certainly has been that,” said marketing and communications manager Louise Cowell.

Continuing a long history of helping local charities, the 250th anniversary celebrations included raising £25,000 for East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices (EACH). “We had so much lined up to help us raise the money,” said Louise. But Bakers & Larners is determined to honour this pledge, with fundraising continuing and an impressive £12,000 already collected.

A unique piece of sculptural art painted by Norfolk prodigy Kieron Williamson to support the EACH appeal is expected to raise £1,000s more when it is sold or auctioned. Kieron painted a stunning picture of Morston Harbour across the front of 1.6 metre high owl, which has been on show in the department store and affectionately nicknamed Molly Morston.

“It has been an incredibly challenging year. I don’t think the business has seen anything as challenging in its 250 years but we will come through it,” said Louise. “We have been the lifeblood of the community and we can look to the next 250 years.”

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