William Kirkland (1848-1937)
Robert Burns Kirkland (1899-1975)
Including Kirkland Drapers Shop, White Street, Martham

William Kirkland was born in about 1848 at Barr, Ayrshire, Scotland and his parents were William & Ann Kirkland. He grew up with his parents living at Gregg towards Craig Malloch, Scotland but by the time he was 22 he had moved to Norwich and was already employed as a draper whilst lodging at 42 St Miles Street, Norwich in 1871 and at Pottergate Street, Norwich in 1881.

William married Lydia Brown on 27th September 1890 at Gorleston-on-Sea and by the following year they were living at No1 Stone Houses, Black Street, Martham – shown left. William worked for himself as a draper.  

William & Lydia had the following children who were all born and baptised at Martham.

  1. William who was born and died in 1891 aged only two months.
  2. Annie was born on 1st February 1892 and baptised on 10th April 1892.
  3. Jessie was born on 9th July 1893 and baptised on 6th August 1893.
  4. Lydia was born on 2nd February 1895 and baptised on 31st March 1895. Married George Fowler in India in 1922.  Emigrated to Canada and died there on 3rd June 1933, aged 38.
  5. William was born in 1896 and baptised on 3rd September 1896. He died on 31st March 1930, aged 33.
  6. Henry was born on 20th September 1897 and baptised on 31st October 1897. He died on 8th July 1913 when he drowned at Bawdsey, aged 15.
  7. Robert Burns Kirkland who was born on 25th January 1899 and baptised on 9th April 1899. He went on to run the drapers store started by his father. See below.
  8. John was born on 20th March 1901 and baptised on 21st July 1901.
  9. Edward Charles Brown Kirkland was born in 1902 and baptised on 14th December 1902. 
  10. James was born on 5th May 1905 and baptised on 4th June 1905.
  11. Ena Louise Brown Kirkland was born on 28th April 1908 and was baptised on 1st May 1908 but died during the same month.

The census return of 1901 tells us that William and Lydia had moved to Selwyn House, 28 The Green but Lydia died there in 1910 and she was buried at St Mary the Virgin at a family plot at section H, plot C7. William used the bay window at Selwyn House as a display point for the clothes he sold at his shop and he still lived there in 1911 according to the census. This arrangement continued through to at least 1921 when Kelly’s Directory listed him as being a draper at The Green, Martham.  William died on 27th December 1937 and was buried in the same grave as his wife, Lydia, at St Mary’s section H, plot C7.

Kirkland burial plot at St Mary the Virgin, section H, plot C7

Robert Burns Kirkland (1899-1975)

Born at Martham in 1899, by the mid 1920’s Robert had joined his father in their drapers business. He represented the family firm ‘on the road’ as a commercial traveller in 1924 when he married Madeline Mary Jane Page. Robert & Madeline went on to have at least three children who were all born and baptised at Martham:

  • Doreen born on 29th April 1925.
  • Kenneth born on 1st June 1926.
  • Robert born on 2nd December 1929.

Robert was taking a larger part in the business as his father moved towards retirement and by the time William died in 1937 the store was operating out of new premises in White Street where Whittaker Carpets is today and Robert & Madeline were living next door at the Old School House.

Robert was an active sportsman and represented Martham at both football and cricket in the 1920/30’s.

1921 Martham 2nd XI football team.
Back row L to R: Bob Kirkland; Billy Pitchers; Charlie Alcock; Albert Nicholls; Maurice Gallant; Frank Gilding. Middle row L to R Harold Jeary; Ted Chapman; Ted Kirkland; Arthur Hodds. Sydney Jeary with ball.
Martham Cricket Club 1932

In 1956 Robert & Madeline took a ten week trip to the USA. They left from Southampton on the SS Flandre and arrived in New York on 10th July 1956.   They returned from New York on 1st September 1956 landing back at Portsmouth on the Ile De France having travelled tourist class. This trip was to visit their daughter Doreen who had married USA citizen Frank Hoffman at St Mary the Virgin in 1945.

Robert died on 13th July 1975 at Great Yarmouth but was living with Madeline up until then at the Old School House.  Madeline died in 1983 by which time she was living at Gressenhall.  Kirkland drapers business closed with the death of Robert and the building on White Street was taken over by Whittaker Carpets that had been established in 1969 firstly at Cobholm, Great Yarmouth and then at Rowan Road, Martham operating out of a garage. Whittakers moved into the old Kirkland shop in 1975.

Kirkland Drapers Shop

Kirkland Drapers, White Street c1940

My thanks to Patricia Sutton & Barbara Warnes for providing the following information.

In 1871 William Kirkland had arrived in Norwich from his native Scotland and at 29 was working as a draper at St Miles Street and ten years later was living and working as a draper at Pottergate Street, Norwich.  Having married Lydia Brown in 1890 he started in business as a door-to-door draper around the Martham area. The business he started was to become the forerunner of one of Martham’s oldest established businesses.

He started off the business in the Martham area as a ‘packman’ which is the old word for someone who travels about selling his wares. He supplied ladies and gents clothing, drapery and haberdashery to people, cycling from one village to another. He visited people in their homes selling for cash or on credit.

When William’s son Robert Burns Kirkland (who was born in 1899) became old enough he joined the business and expanded the range of goods they sold. Things went so well that Robert had a shop built in White Street which he later expanded and it still stands today and is now Whittaker’s Carpet shop.

Looking north on White Street. Kirkland’s Store is on the right. c1925.

As the business grew Robert found it necessary to employ more staff and at one point there were three assistants in the shop and two vans used to cover a 10 mile radius from Martham as far as Stalham in the north to Halvergate in the south.

The type of goods sold ranged from ladies, gents and children’s clothing, shoes, rubber boots (essential for the farming community) to soft furnishings, rugs, carpets and linoleum amongst others.  

Shop opening hours were from 8.30am to 6pm with Wednesday being half day. In later years this changed from 8.45am to 5.30pm. The shop was exceptionally busy on Saturdays with customers coming from all around to purchase their needs and in those days most of them either walked or cycled as most did not have a car.

The pricing system used was a code which had letters that represented numbers, one set was for cash sales and the other slightly more was the credit price. These letters would mystify most of the customers and some of the staff as well until they got used to the code.

With the shop and the rounds, staff were kept very busy indeed and got to know their customers quite well, knowing their personal tastes and sizes which was important when you were sending someone out in a van to the middle of nowhere.

Robert had a liking for advertising locally and the examples below appeared in carnival programmes and other local publications:

1936 seasonal advert

1937 advert from the Carnival Programme
1938 advert from Carnival Programme
1940 advert from Carnival Programme
1936 Carnival advert

William died in 1937 but Robert continued trading until he retired in December 1970 when the shop closed.

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