Please note: This article was written by Mike Ling in 2003 so some of the current references may not be so current!
Photograph 1 shows Fred Randell standing before his ironmongers shop in the Market Place prior to the rebuilding of the property in 1897 and is part of the building that we now know as the 'Drugstore'. The shop was established early in the 19th century and James Randell is thought to have had control of this and the foundry at Northrepps from 1820 until his death... an invoice dated 1868 indicates that his widow was then trading at North Walsham, Northrepps and Cromer as M. Randell & Sons and, upon her death, her son Fred took over.
The move of the foundry and works to North Walsham occurred around 1865, and was situated between Reeves Lane and Swafield Lane (now Bacton and Mundesley Roads) where Salisbury's now stands.
For much of the 19th century, the pig iron for the foundry came up the North Walsham and Dilham Canal to be unloaded at Swafield Wharf and carted to the "St Nicholas Works" foundry. In this era, farming implements were almost exclusively made of cast iron and Randells made innumerable items including water carts, blood carts (used by butchers to spread blood onto the land), ploughs (such as the famous Norfolk "Cornish" Plough invented by Cornish of Walsingham), wagons and even one-off items for individual farmers. Incidentally, Cornish Ploughs were also made by George and Fred Ling of Saxthorpe foundry (cousins of the author) and one of their ploughs is displayed on Corpusty village green.
Fred had a brother, Horace, and for a time the business continued as F & H Randell. The partnership ceased sometime in the 1890's and, in 1897, Fred formed the limited company F. Randell Ltd. He continued actively in business at North Walsham, Stalham and Cromer until his death at 80 in 1918. Fred's son Frank, "The Guv'nor", controlled the "St Nicholas Works" from 1888 to 1939 and was the man who really built up the business and foresaw the benefits of mechanised farming.
Randell's ironmongers shop was rebuilt in 1897, and was extended westwards to include what had been a grocers shop occupied by a Mr Walker (probably Albert Walker who then moved to become grocer and cycle agent), to give the present frontage of 38-39 ft. The new shop was one of the first in the district to be lit by electricity. Photograph 2 was taken around 1919 and shows a wonderful array of items, including a number of delightful oil lamps.
Across the Market Place was the Ironmongers Showrooms, which later became their Garden Shop and is now the Norwich & Peterborough Building Society.
An 1897 report on the estates of Frank Randell describes warehouses, workshops, stabling and two cottages on Grammar School Road. Part of this site is now occupied by the Cat Pottery' and originally included tinman's and whitesmith's shops.
Frank Randell had four sons and they each specialised in different aspects of the business. Frank Victor Randell ran the ironmongery side in North Walsham and Cromer and, on his death in 1954, was succeeded by his son Michael. John Randell took care of the agricultural side and greatly expanded the tractor and combine harvester part of the business (in the 1950's they were selling 100 combines a year), which necessitated the phasing out of the manufacturing activity. Fred Randell managed the electrical engineering business and converted numerous country houses and public halls to electricity. This department was later run by Frank Dixon and Tony Randell, second son of Frank Victor, and boasted of supplying a generator to a North Sea Oil Rig!
In 1931 the Company acquired a similar agricultural engineering and ironmongering business in Reepham and William Randell, the 4th son, took over the management. On his retirement in 1963, he was succeeded by his son Reginald, who had developed a very sought-after skill... numerous speedway motorcycles from several countries have made their way to Reepham to receive the expert attention that only he could, and can, give.
In 1963, Dalgetty Franklin Ltd acquired the assets of F. Randell Ltd. and traded as F. Randell & Co. in the very capable hands of Geoffrey Broom. Sadly the business closed in the 1980's and, in 1990, the St Nicholas Works were demolished in preparation for the new Somerfield Supermarket.... now, of course, Sainsbury's.
However, the name Randell continues; Tony Randell, great grandson of Fred, formed Randell's Agriculture Ltd. at Horstead and Dereham, and the Company now has, as managing director, his son William. This Norfolk family has a remarkable and enviable record in that its name is still part of the agricultural engineering field after six generations.