Before the advent of supermarkets, offering a wide selection of food, drink and other requirements in one large store, special products such as coffee or tea might involve a trip into Norwich to visit Dakin & Co at 9 & 11 Davey Place. Drawing near the shop you would surely have been enticed by the aroma of coffee roasting on the premises, permeating through ventilation grills set in the shop front.
William Howard Dakin's association with this wholesale and retail business in Norwich began when he came here around 1850. Outside the shop the model of a Chinaman, "Cha Lee", suggested to prospective customers the kinds of exotic teas that could be purchased inside. The shop eventually moved to 19 & 21 Bedford Street from where a 1959 price-list reveals a range of well-known products as well as Ninham's cake mixes. The shop closed on the 23rd February 1963.
The figure of "Cha Lee" has been undergoing restoration work and is normally stored, though not always on show, at Strangers' Hall Museum. The Bridewell Museum also has a number of items from Dakin's shop, some of which are on show, including a metal stand to display packets of tea in the shop window bearing the name "Dakin & Co", painted in red and gold.
Dakin was born at Gt Yarmouth on August 22nd, 1829, the son of W Henry and Susan Dakin, and received his education at Hingham Grammar School. At 11 years, he was apprenticed to Newman & Co, a tea merchant in Bury St Edmunds. Newman & Co was a London company with branches in a number of towns including Norwich, which was opened in Davey Place in 1830. It was to the Norwich branch of Newman & Co that Dakin came in 1850 as a partner.
By 1857 Dakin had taken over this branch and the business began trading as "Dakin & Co". The Davey Place building was able to be extended at the rear for storage, and the blending and tasting of the tea. In 1906 Dakin & Co took control of Ninham's in Ber Street, a company making baking powder and cake mixes. Acquisition of that premises allowed Dakin & Co extra space for the packing and labelling of tea sold to customers in the Davey Place shop.
Following William Howard Dakin's death in 1913, control of the business passed to his son, Mr J Howard Dakin, whose daughter married Leonard Moyle, to whom the business eventually passed. When the lease of the premises in Davey Place expired in 1953 the business moved to Bedford Street. In 1963 the Company was sold to F Lambert, tea merchants in the Haymarket, Leonard Moyle having retired, and his two daughters wishing to pursue their own careers.
Dakin was a handsome man, seemingly of energetic and cheerful character. In the later years of his life, still sprightly, it is said that he would jump on and off the trams that ran through the City. Clearly he was well liked and respected by his staff who, on his 70th birthday presented him with a silver jug and on his 80th with a silver salver.
As well as running a business, Mr Dakin was active in local affairs. He served on the Norwich Board of Guardians, and in 1876 he was elected a Liberal Councillor for Norwich's Eighth Ward, which position he held for 20 years. In 1884 he became Sheriff and in 1889 he served as Mayor. In 1893 he became an Alderman and a Magistrate.
As a Justice of the Peace, he supported leniency for the first offender, and the legislation leading to the First Offenders' Act. He was active in the work of the Police Court Mission, the City Mission, and the Income Tax Commission and served on the Board of Management of the Norwich Hospital.
As Chairman of the Workhouse Committee he campaigned for tolerant administration of the Poor Law and as a Councillor, he sat on committees for Health, and the Asylum. Connected with many City charities, his favoured one was the Eastern Counties Asylum at Colchester, and he was also on the Board of Visitors for the Norwich Asylum.
He became a teacher in the Old Meeting House Congregational School, later joining the Baptist Church in the Unthank Road, where, in 1863, he was made Superintendent of the Sunday school, a position he held for almost 50 years. At the time of his death, in 1913, he was a Senior Deacon of the Church.
In 1886 his wife, Martha, died at the age of 59. She had borne him eight children but only two sons, and a daughter succeeded him. In 1887 he married Anna Elizabeth who enthusiastically adopted many of his charitable causes which she continued to assist until her death in 1930, aged 94.
His daughter married F W Wheeler, LL.D who, for many years, was Headmaster of Bracondale Grammar School. His son, Mr J Howard Dakin, who worked alongside his father for many years before taking over the business, was prominent in the sport of cycling. His other son, Mr Herbert Dakin, ran his own clock and watch-making business.
The obituary notice from the "Norfolk Chronicle" of the 14th March 1913 tells us that on the day of his funeral "all the free business houses in Norwich were shuttered as a mark of respect and flags at the Guildhall and the Castle were at half-mast". He was described as a leading City merchant.
He is buried in the family plot in the Rosary Cemetery, Norwich, with his first wife, Martha, his second wife Anna Elizabeth, and with a son and daughter, William and Kate who predeceased him.
• Dr Jennifer Moyle, Great Grand-daughter of William Howard Dakin
• Norwich Mercury, Eastern Daily Press and Norfolk Chronicle, Obituary notices for William Howard Dakin, March 1913
Eastern Evening News, Obituary notice for Mrs Anna Elizabeth Dakin, June 1930,
• Patrick Palgrave-Moore, The Mayors and Lord Mayors of Norwich 1836-1974
• Joyce Gurney-Read, Trade and Industry, Box D-E,. 1959 Price-list for Dakin & Co, 1990
• Wilfred & Edward Burgess, Men Who Have Made Norwich,1904.