THE HEAD of a family firm at the heart of Bognor Regis is celebrating 60 years of working in the town.
Norman Reynolds retired officially at the age of 60, but the 80-year-old still has a hand in running Reynolds, attending open days and the chairman’s meetings.
During his tenure, the father-of-seven (and grandfather of 15) has seen many changes – not least the changing fashions of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
Mr Reynolds started with the family firm in September, 1953, after he had completed his national service and first ran auctions, getting paid £2 and 10s a week. He remembers the four-storey building on the High Street as very different to its current incarnation.
“It was very old-fashioned, with a lot of wood panelling and Edwardian china display cabinets. To make it light, there were wells right through the shop to let the sunlight in.”
The auctions may have ended in 1972, but Mr Reynolds said they were an important proving ground for the family firm’s newest recruit. “My first job was to be an auctioneer, to go and clear the bad debts. Luckily my father was always known as Mr Gordon, so they called me Mr Norman. I told people I was Mr Norman, and they didn’t know I was a Reynolds, or they wouldn’t give me any money!”
Reynolds, which was founded in 1867, remains the biggest furniture store in Sussex, and during his time at the helm (he became director in 1962), Mr Reynolds has seen the removals department close as needs changed, as did its soft linens and china departments.
When he first began work, he lived with his parents at the back of the shop, which opened onto Belmont Street. He recalls the kettle always being on in the workshop, to steam the sides of coffins made on the site; the insides were then waterproofed with pitch.
“On the top floor we had a pram department, so one of our mottoes was we served the public from the cradle to the grave,” he recalls.
The accounts department sat on high stools with sloping mahogany desks, while the women who made curtains and loose covers for furniture worked at a long Victorian table.
Mr Reynolds was known for his interest in local history, and the family collection of images of the town’s development have always been of great interest. Sadly some records have been lost in fires and wartime bombing, but much of the collection is now with the West Sussex Records Office, which holds copies of the images to be retained for future generations.
“I have always collected prints and old Bognor postcards,” he explains. “I have a terrific collection and when the glass slides started to deteriorate, the records office took them to make doubles.”
So as the grandfather of 15, what advice would he give to those hoping to become part of the family firm?
“Hopefully there will be someone to follow on after Dominic (the managing director), Matthew (the firm’s chartered accountant) and James and Matthew (who head up the funeral service).
“I made all the children go and do the trade elsewhere before they came back into the business, to get new ideas – and I think my grandchildren ought to do the same.”
:: We’ve reproduced just a fraction of Mr Reynolds’ collection in our Looking Back special this week.
Do any of these pictures spark memories for you?
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