Few firms in Norwood can boast of trading in the area for over 170 years. One that can is J B Wilson’s undertakers at 103 Norwood High Street. Not only is the history of this long-established enterprise a fascinating one, but a past member of the family is responsible for writing one of the most informative local histories of the area entitled The Story of Norwood.
The family’s connections with Norwood date from March 1830 when James Benson Wilson leased a tiny four-roomed cottage on the “east side of Elderhole road” which now forms part of Norwood High Street. From this humble house he set up business as a cabinet-maker, upholsterer and undertaker. When he retired his son, James Benson junior, took over the venture. Trade continued to grow, so much so that James acquired the adjoining cottage to house his expanding enterprise. He built a shop front on the small gardens of the cottages and in one building he ran his undertaking business, and in the other he based his cabinet-making, furniture and building operations.
When James junior died, a third generation of Wilsons continued the business and James Benson Wilson, the grandson of the founder, carried on the family traditions. Under his management the undertaking business flourished. When it came to the time for the fourth generation of Wilsons to take over it was decided to concentrate on this enterprise and the cabinet-making, furniture and building operations were discontinued. Eventually the business passed to a new generation of the family and James Benson Wilson (the fifth!) stepped into his father’s shoes as head of the firm. James was keenly aware of his heritage and was fascinated by the tales his family told of Norwood in olden times.
In the course of his work he met many elderly residents who would also relay their memories of Norwood in bygone days. Over the years he recorded these reminiscences and added them to his collection of old prints and photographs of the area. From this material he compiled a local history of Norwood which detailed the changes the locality underwent in its transformation from a small rural town into a sprawling southern suburb of London. Sadly James never lived to see his work in print as he died in December 1949 aged only 44. However, his work was not forgotten, and his brother, Harry, took over the manuscript which was published by the Norwood Society in 1973 as The Story of Norwood. It is still available.
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