Young people and the Chamber

Around the Norwich Chamber’s inception in 1896 the city faced a number of difficulties specifically affecting young people, and it was immediately apparent to the founding members that it was important the Chamber assist in tackling these issues.

Of course the primary issues concerned that of education and of skills training.

Known for his philanthropy, founding Norwich President Jeremiah James Colman, along with his wife Caroline Cozens-Hardy, established a school for the children of employees when the factory moved to Carrow Works in 1857.

This followed a previous school at the Stoke Cross Mill and both boys and girls were in attendance and upon its opening JJ Colman wrote to employees stating:

“The value of a good education is impossible to overestimate. In these days of progress, that man is sure to be left behind, who has neglected the cultivation of his intellect while he who strives to improve his mind stands a fair chance of raising himself in the social scale.”

When founded workers were expected to pay a small fee to educate their children there, however by 1891 the fees were abolished meaning vacant spaces were opened to others outside the workforce.

JJ Colman believed that free education was in the best interests of the children.

Notably the establishment of the first Colman school was twenty years before primary education was made compulsory in the UK, and Colman’s strong belief in welfare schemes was a driving force in the Chamber.

By 1910 the issues surrounding young people had become more specific. A Mr Lions from the Board of Trade spoke passionately to the Norwich Chamber’s AGM of the evils of so-called ‘blind-alley occupations’ and that of ‘exclusive boy labour’.

This referred to the circumstances under which boys of 14 were employed for jobs which consisted of a single simple task in a large-scale division of labour. By the age of 19 the boys were no longer hired for these occupations with the jobs given to a new group of 14 year old workers on lower wages.

The £50 spent on their public education had been essentially thrown in the gutter as their experience was so specific and uncomplicated that it was useless. Thus their jobs quickly become obsolete and generations of young boys were left unskilled and unemployed.

Mr Lions noted that:

“On entering the labour exchange when asked they responded that they could ‘do anything’, which meant they knew nothing of any value.”

The Norwich Chamber campaigned vehemently against such practice in order to change attitudes and develop employment opportunities. Working alongside schools and employers the members worked to improve the skillset of young boys, giving their employers’ incentives and the boys aspirations.

A similar such scheme related to office workers. Since its formation the Norwich Chamber offered prizes and certificates for evening literacy and commercial classes in partnership with the Norwich Education Committee.

Members were encouraged to donate prizes and ensure their clerks could leave the office in time to make the classes. The accredited qualifications were also looked very favourably upon when considering staff promotions.

World War I led to unprecedented changes in the workforce, as over 60% of students in peacetime were over 17 their general enlistment saw a decrease in numbers.

At this time classes in French for commercial travellers were implemented and promoted by the Chambers.

It was of course the language of Britain’s wartime allies in France, but also the language of many of the elites of Russia and Britain’s Balkan allies. The need for such business fluency was heightened by the loss of the markets controlled by the enemy.

The inter-war years saw the establishment of the Norwich Chamber Juvenile Employment Committee in April 1924.

The primary objective of this was to give careers advice to 14-18 year olds and to prospective employers in order to develop employment prospects and create long-term career opportunities.

This was shortly followed by the founding of the Great Yarmouth Junior Chamber of Commerce in 1928.

In 1931 there were calls for a counterpart Norwich Junior Chamber: “To interest the younger business man in the problems confronting industry generally and equip him for his proper place in the industrial world.”

However it was, at this stage, still felt that such an organisation would unnecessarily duplicate the work of the Round Table organisation, established in Norwich in 1927 and which many Chamber members had joined.

A Norwich Junior Chamber of Commerce did eventually follow in 1960, followed by a King’s Lynn counterpart in 1968.

It was the Norwich Junior Chamber of Commerce who presented the Norwich Chamber with the President’s Board detailing the eminent names connected with the Chamber’s history.

This has been restored and updated as part of the Norfolk Chamber’s 120th celebrations and now hangs pride of place in the boardroom.  

In 1976 the Great Yarmouth Junior Chamber received 10,000 tulip bulbs from the Dutch town of Zwolle. These were planted in St George’s Park and the Chamber arranged an exchange with the Zwolle Junior Chamber, for which they received the ‘Doulton Minton Trophy’ for European co-operation.

Together the Chamber’s also organised the area branch of the National Schools Public Speaking Competition for that year.

To celebrate their Golden Jubilee in 1978, the Great Yarmouth Junior Chamber hosted a ‘champagne and bloater breakfast’ at the Star Hotel. At this they presented a cheque of £230 and a cake to the children’s ward of the Great Yarmouth hospital. In collaboration with the Zwolle Junior Chamber an exhibition of East Anglian art exhibition was sponsored in the Dutch city.


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