Former Chemist Shop, 59-59A High Street, Lowestoft, built for Robert Morris Chemist and Druggist in 1851.
Reasons for Designation
Former Chemist Shop, 59-59A High Street, Lowestoft, built for Robert Morris Chemist and Druggist in 1851, is listed for the following principal reasons:
* as a rare and intelligible example of a purpose built mid-Victorian chemist shop and house;
* for the rare and complete survival of the original shopfront;
* as an early example of an Italianate style shopfront, particularly suited to chemist shops;
* for the wealth of internal fixtures and fittings, dating from construction to the mid-C20, reflecting the evolution of the chemist shop;
* as a building which remained in use as a chemist for around 161 years and clearly reflects its history and evolution within its fabric;
* as one of numerous listed buildings along the High Street which contribute to the character of Lowestoft High Street and stand testament to its Victorian prosperity.
The name Lowestoft is Scandinavian in origin and may be translated as Hloover’s toft – the homestead of Hloover. The town relocated to the cliff-top from an earlier site, about a mile to the south-west, during the period 1300-1350, partly because of increasing maritime activity (especially herring-fishing) and the need it created to be closer to the sea, and partly because of the difficulty of accommodating an expanding population in-situ without building houses on valuable agricultural land. The area chosen for the new site was low-grade coastal heath, used mainly for the rough-grazing of livestock which became a more useful asset to the manorial lord as building-land. The main street is of sinuous alignment, following the natural curves of the cliff. The better-off members of the community lived along the High Street whilst the less affluent largely resided in a gridiron side-street area to the west. Lowestoft was thus a planned late medieval town.
The High Street was lined with burgage plots containing prosperous merchants’ houses for much of the medieval and early modern period, and the cliff-face was made usable by terracing. The cliff-top itself provided an area behind the houses for the storage of household goods and materials; and the first step down was multi-purpose, sometimes planted with fruit trees and used as an amenity area, but also functioning as a place for putting all kinds of household waste. The second and third stages down were mainly taken up with the buildings that serviced fishing and other maritime enterprise: curing-houses, net-stores, stables and the like. Access from the cliff-top to the sea was provided by footways known as scores (three of them widened for use by carts) – a word deriving from the Old Norse ‘skora’, meaning ‘to cut’ or ‘to incise’. These had originally started life as surface-water gullies down the soft face of the cliff – a natural process that lent itself to use as tracks.
The chief trade of Lowestoft and the source of its prosperity remained herring fishing until the C19. Then in 1827 the harbour was created, and in 1832 the navigation continued through to Oulton Broad, giving access to the River Waveney and Norwich. Samuel Morton Peto was brought in to construct the outer harbour, and he ensured the arrival of the railway in 1847 as well as developing the land south of the harbour as a seaside resort. The town was bombarded by the Germans in 1916 and suffered considerable damage from 178 enemy raids in the Second World War. Post-war reconstruction involved new roads being cut through the northern part of the town. In the later years of the C20 the fishing industry has almost completely declined.
An internal inspection of the 59-59A High Street for the purposes of this listing assessment was not possible. However, a research investigation of the building carried out between May and August 2018 by Historic England (Morrison 2018, see sources), provides an up to date account of the building and has provided the factual details for both the History and Details sections of this report. A greater level of detail is available in the original Research Report.
In June 1851 it was reported that the former premises of the National Provincial Bank in Lowestoft were in the process of being rebuilt for the proprietor, a Mr. Morris, Chemist. Relatively little is known of Morris’s early life. He was born in the village of Cratfield, near Halesworth in Suffolk on 25th April 1811 to William and Mary Morris, his father being a farmer. In 1841 he lived with Thomas Morris, 15, and Hannah Morris, 15, presumably siblings or cousins who assisted with the business and housekeeping. He married in 1841.
Morris was undoubtedly trading as a chemist on Lowestoft High Street by 1839, when he was listed in Pigot and Co’s Directory. Shortly before this, he may have had some kind of business association with a Lowestoft chemist named Robert Smith, who later became his brother-in-law. Robert Smith, chemist, advertised for an apprentice (‘a well-educated youth’) in county newspapers in March 1839. Smith and Morris married daughters of the fish merchant William Cleveland, who owned no 59 High Street until 1850.
Smith quit Lowestoft in 1839 to open a chemist shop in Colchester and in April 1839 Morris took over a property that had been occupied by Samuel Sharman Brame (1813-63), who was a qualified surgeon as well as a chemist. Brame continued to run a chemist’s shop on the High Street, but may have moved to new premises in 1839. Certainly his business continued to exist in tandem with Morris’s.
Lettering on the edge of the carboy shelf in the window of Morris’s shop front reads: ‘FAMILY DISPENSING CHEMIST EST. 1817’. There was no shop of any kind at No. 59 High Street prior to 1851, and so this must refer to the foundation of the business at a different address. A connection probably existed between Morris and some other chemist, druggist, apothecary or surgeon trading in Lowestoft before 1839, but this has not been traced. A cupboard door surviving in the shop at No. 59 High Street, painted with the arms of the Society of Apothecaries, may be a remnant from the early years of this business. The Morris family retained ownership of 59 High Street but by 1873 the business had passed to Mr William J Riches, a young chemist who had previously, in 1861, lived on Denmark Street. However, in 1873 Riches went bankrupt, his whole stock-in-trade was sold at auction and the shop was quickly taken on by another chemist, Thomas John Sale (1848-89).
In 1882 59 High Street was sold by Morris’s heirs. The building was bought by James Edwin Hart, an ironmonger in Clare, Suffolk but the business continued to be run by Sale until his death in 1889. Sale also ran a branch establishment in South Street, Clapham Road, Lowestoft. Sale’s widow was still residing at no. 59 High Street, ‘living on her own means’ with her household. This included Sale’s former assistant, James A. Nurse, who had been approached by Sale’s executors to run the business which was consequently renamed Sale and Nurse. Nurse purchased the premises from Hart's Son in 1893.
Nurse continued to run the chemist as ‘Sale and Nurse’ and lived above the shop with his wife Helen. When he died in 1924 the business was taken over by Edwin Christian Corkhill, who continued to sell ‘Nurse’s Cough Linctus’. Corkhill bought the premises from Helen Nurse in 1936, although he lived elsewhere. A ghost sign on the north gable wall of No.59 High Street relates to Corkhill's tenure.
Although having changed hands several times through mid to late-C20 the property continued to function as an independent chemist shop until 2000 when it became an Alliance Pharmacy. In 2006 Alliance UniChem merged with Boots, and in 2009 the shop was rebranded as Boots. The company announced closure in 2012 and the property was sold to the current owners.
The rear wing of the property occupies approximately the same footprint as it did in 1883, but its roof was completely rebuilt after war damage. A bomb fell to the rear of No. 58 High Street affecting an area behind adjoining properties, including No. 59. The north-east corner of the building was most affected. It is unclear how much damage was caused but a canted bay, evident on the 1883 OS map has been removed and a larger, rectilinear, single-storey flat-roof extension built in the same position, connecting the main building with a narrow outbuilding, positioned against the south property boundary. The brick outbuilding occupies the footprint of a C19 structure but is understood to have been rebuilt in the 1950s. It was originally detached but is now connected to the house by a space roofed in transparent corrugated sheeting.
The former garden of the property has been sold off to No. 58, leaving just a small, walled yard behind the property.
Former Chemist Shop, 59-59A High Street, Lowestoft, built for Robert Morris Chemist and Druggist in 1851.
Materials: built of white bricks laid in Flemish bond, with a slate roof and integral brick stack. On the upper floor mid-late-C20 metal framed windows face to the east. To the front are C21 unhorned timber-framed windows.
Plan: roughly rectangular in plan, located on a linear plot running east-west from the High Street.
Exterior: the three-storey frontage is framed by simple pilasters, without capitals or bases. The pilaster to the left is fitted with a bracket for a hanging sign and that to the right with a smaller, lower bracket possibly a modern fixture for a hanging basket. The shop front, incorporating the house door to the right of the shop window and shop entrance to the left, is original to the building, dating from 1851. The upper-floor windows have raised moulded surrounds with moulded brackets beneath the sills. They contain C21 unhorned timber sash glazing, each with four panes. Small rectangular ventilation grilles are positioned just below the first and second-floor ceilings. The symmetrical shopfront has a wooden surround, with pilasters flanking each of the two doorways. These pilasters are decorated with husks, suspended from capitals carved with shallow acanthus leaves. Above the capitals are decorative scroll brackets carved on the face with curling acanthus. These punctuate the horizontal fascia, which would have been painted with the owners name. Atop the brackets, corresponding to a moulded cornice, are square blocks carved with oak leaves and acorns.
Above the cornice sits a blind box labelled ‘HurnS NorwicH’. This refers to George and Daniels Hurn’s cloth and rope making factory, Norwich, which was established in 1812 and was certainly manufacturing roller blinds by 1866. The blind box appears to date from the mid-C19. The name plaque incorporates a loop which enabled it to be opened by means of a long pole with a hooked end. An awning or canopy inside the box would probably have been imprinted with the name of the proprietor but it is not known if this survives within.
The shop window comprises four arched panes of plate glass separated by mullions in the form of fully articulated colonnettes formed of clustered roll mouldings and terminating in capitals and bases carved with miniature stylised lotus or palmette leaves. The vertical dimension is broken only by the internal carboy shelf, which is positioned approximately centrally and is edged with an inscription in black lettering on gilt ground ‘FAMILY DISPENSING CHEMIST EST.1817'. This is masked externally by a chamfered glass strip suggesting it may have been renewed at some point. The spandrels of the windows are filled with coloured (amber and blue) glass that must have enhanced the effect of the show carboys, which would have been filled with coloured liquid and backlit at night. At the top of the window is a groove for shutters. The wooden stall riser incorporates a small moulded panel beneath each pane of glass. This seems to be a feature of other Victorian shop fronts in Lowestoft. The panels contain modern vents, airing the cellar. The mechanism for raising the shutter survives in the cellar but the shutters themselves have been removed.
The house door and shop door are divided vertically into two panels, each with an arched head, imparting a strong vertical emphasis that mirrors the treatment of the display window. Each door incorporates a letterbox. Above that for the shop is a notice about prescriptions. A boot scraper is set into the wall to the right of the house doorway. The doorways have tiled thresholds and plain rectangular overlights. The front portion of the building, which is one room deep on the upper floors, is covered by a double-pitched slate roof running parallel to the High Street. An integral stack with two moulded terracotta chimney pots rises through the north gable. The rendered north gable end displays a faded ‘ghost sign’ partly obscured by the roof of No.58 High Street which was rebuilt in the 1950s. The ghost sign reads: ‘E. C. Corkhill M.P.S’ and probably dates from around 1925. The rear (east) wall is of red brick painted over and retains the scar of a double pitched roof which once covered the two-storey rear range.
The rear wing is at least partly post-war in date having been almost entirely rebuilt following bomb damage. Built of brick the rear wing covers approximately the same footprint as it did in 1883 but its roof at least was rebuilt. A slightly sloping concrete roof with two raised roof lights has replaced a former double pitched roof which is evident from scars on the southern boundary wall.
The brick outbuilding was probably, originally, a water closet, it occupies the footprint of a C19 structure but is constructed in rustic flettons laid in stretcher bond, with a corrugated sheet asbestos monopitch roof and a large north window suggesting it may have been rebuilt in the 1950s. It was originally detached but is now connected to the house by a space roofed in transparent corrugated sheeting.
Interior of shop: the shop is entered through a small lobby with a part-glazed inner door, with arched panels like the exterior doors, but with decorative detailing to match the mullions of the shop window. A shallow cupboard behind this door once contained folding shutters but these no longer survive. The inside of the display window is protected by a glass enclosure, a feature which has often been removed from historic shops. The remainder of the shop front is lined with mirror backed shelving, cupboards and wooden drawers with glass handles for dried and powdered chemicals (known as the drug run). This is divided into bays topped by arches with mid-C20 gilt lettering to south and east, as follows: ‘National Health Insurance Dispensing’, ‘Poisons’, 'Pure Drugs and Chemicals’ (to the south) ‘Insulin’, ‘Surgical Appliances’ and 'Toilet Requisites’ (to the east).
The bay labelled ‘Poisons’ corresponds to a blocked doorway from the hallway of the house, confirming that the shelving and cupboard arrangement is secondary, and probably mid C20 in date. The door may have been blocked when Corkhill lived elsewhere and possibly rented out the accommodation over the shop. Some older elements were incorporated into the remodelled scheme of the shop, notably a cupboard in the south-east corner which has a concave door fitted with a canvas painted, with the arms of the Society of Apothecaries, depicting Apollo and bearing the motto ‘Opiferque per orbem dicor’. A newspaper article of the 1950s reveals that this was originally positioned near the floor in the opposite corner, but when the shop was remodelled it was decided to place it in its present position, after being ‘cleaned by an expert’. The drawers and panelled cupboard fronts may also have been reused, while much of the shelving and mirror glass was renewed. All of the woodwork has been stained to match.
The remodelling extended to the rear of the shop (previously a consulting room or dispensary), which is lined with stained wood panelling. This is in a modern style, and could date from the 1950s. Behind this is an unpanelled room, perhaps used as a dispensing store. From this room steps lead down to the single-storey rear addition (now a utility room), which replaced the canted bay shown on C19 maps. A door in the south side of this room leads into a long corridor which connects the front hall of the house with the outbuilding to the rear of the property. This door is now blocked from the other side.
Interior of house: the front door of the house opens directly into a long, narrow vestibule bypassing the shop. A doorway on the left, which once opened directly into the shop, has been blocked. Straight ahead lies the enclosed main staircase with, to its left, the back corridor which bypasses the dispensary store (with another blocked doorway) and leads to the rear of the outbuilding.
The cellar opens off the right side of the back corridor and is entered via a straight flight of steps aligned beneath the main staircase. Restricted to the area beneath the shop front and the house vestibule, it is subdivided by a single brick wall, corresponding to the wall above, which incorporates a small arched opening of unknown purpose at its west end. The larger space under the shop has been reinforced with props beneath the wooden joists, possibly to support the weight of heavy shop counters and display cases. Under the stall board of the shopfront is a wooden mechanism, possibly dating from 1851, which once allowed the shutters to be raised and lowered. It comprises three wooden wheels connected by an axle, affixed to a simple frame and equipped with levers. Since the shutters and the ropes and/or chains have been removed it is difficult to work out exactly how this would have operated. The cellar may have survived from the previous property on the site, as mentioned in 1838.
The main staircase rises in a single flight to the first-floor accommodation and has simple stick balusters and a moulded handrail. The landing is lit by a roof lantern consisting of polycarbonate sheeting. Some modern wallpaper has recently been removed revealing a décor in black, brown and cream, and layers of florid green wallpaper. The first-floor landing is at a lower level than the rooms opening off its north side, which are accessed by steps. The moulded architraves of the doorways are of the same type throughout, but the mouldings of the panelled doors vary. A substantial down-pipe runs through from floor to ceiling. To the east, a broad archway leads to a small kitchen and a large room which may have been the C19 drawing room. Like all other rooms, it has lost its original fire surround.
The other rooms on the north side of the landing were originally bedrooms, perhaps for servants. From east to west they are now a long, narrow water closet/shower room, followed by a former consulting room. Neither has a window; before war damage they may have been lit by skylights in the pitched roof. The consulting room is now lit by a large raised roof lantern and has a chipboard floor. At the west end of the landing steps lead up to a small upper landing, giving access to the two front bedrooms and the stairs to the second floor. This has stick balusters and a chamfered and stopped newel post. On the upper floor are another two bedrooms, with access through a modern window to the flat roof over the rear range.
The room divisions of the house conform broadly to those listed in the advertisement of 1882. The six bedrooms were the four front rooms on the first and second floors, plus the two poorly lit rooms on the north side of the first-floor landing although the water closet/ shower room is thought to have partition walls. The drawing room and dining room, with their sea views, would have been the large east-facing rooms on the ground and first floors. The kitchen and scullery may have been on the ground floor, next to the dining room. The original purpose of the present-day first-floor kitchen remains uncertain. It may have been a bathroom or stock room, while the consulting room would have been positioned between the shop and the dining room.