Lown & Co. Coal Merchants

With acknowledgement to the Lown family and the Yarmouth Mercury dated 31st May 2019 that published this information in its obituary to John Lown (1930 to 2019).

Spanning over 110 years the Lown family and their coal merchant business have been an integral part of the history of Martham.

The business was started when Victoria was the Queen in 1890 by James David Lown (1867 to 1948). James was known as Jimmy and when he launched the firm it also sold greengrocery, confectionery and meat as well as coal. The business operated from the railway station in Rollesby Road. Jimmy’s sons James (born 1899) and George (born 1904) joined the firm after the first world war. In the beginning they delivered coal by horse and cart before buying their first lorry in 1928. The company was diverse, running a pork butchery by The Green as well as being involved in the market gardening trade. The coal business side grew taking over firms like Miles of Catfield. In Kelly’s Directory of 1937 an entry reads “Lown J. D. & Co. coal & coke merchants”.

As its founder James (Snr.) grew towards retirement his son, James Jnr. (b1899), took more of a lead role in the firm and in turn his son John started work for the firm in 1944 when he was only about 14. John was to spend most of the next 50 odd years with the firm. James Snr, the founder, died in 1948.  John and his family represented the third generation of the family business and they lived in Black Street at the time before moving to Hemsby Road. John married Irene (Rene) Wacey in 1949 and they had five children who all helped out in the business as it entered into its halcyon days of big deliveries arriving by train that had to be manually shovelled into hundredweight sacks. After the second world war John’s cousin Roy Grimes joined the firm. Another of his cousins, Myrtle, had married Gerry Nichols and he also joined the firm so that by 1953 all three of them owned and ran the family business together. The firm became the largest independent coal merchants in East Anglia. The area served stretched north from Martham to Mundesley, down through Norwich and on to Belton.

The railway station closed in 1959 and Lown’s moved to a yard at the north end of Hall Road at its junction with Hemsby Road. Their house there had the yard to its south and west side and expanded onto land previously used as piggeries and for market gardening. With the railway gone, coal came by road and they bought a couple of bulk-tippers often travelling to the coal fields of Derbyshire or Nottingham to buy supplies. There would also often be four or five lorries, full of coal, parked by The Green at 7am waiting to drop off their loads.  At times the firm offered more than 15 different types of fuel and ran a fleet of 10 lorries with a workforce of 14.

Model of Lown’s coal lorry. Photo courtesy of IMS Vintage Photos.com

In 1990 the company marked its centenary with an open day. A man from the National Coal Board presented the firm with a miner’s lamp to commemorate 100 years of trading. The years that followed saw the demand for fossil fuels fall with customers moving towards cleaner and more environmentally-friendly options. John Lown retired and the steady decline in business resulted in Lown’s closing in May 2004.

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