People’ s Draper Who Founded A Retail Dynasty

At Aldiss this year we are celebrating 125 years of trading in the county. Here are some memories from Tim Aldiss about his remarkable family and the development of the Aldiss brand.


He was “the people’s draper”. From modest beginnings, the son of a canny Victorian businesswoman, William James Aldiss became the owner of most of Fakenham town centre by the time of his death in 1933.

Today, exactly 125 years after he opened his first shop on Norwich Street, Fakenham, in 1892, the family name lives on in 100,000sq ft of retail space in Fakenham and Norwich, specialising in quality furniture at affordable prices.

William James was, in the words of his grandson, Tim Aldiss “a dynamic workaholic, who never took a holiday”. His mother had a business in Swaffham, lending son HH the money to set up shop in Dereham and William James in Fakenham.

“He bought just about everything that came up in Fakenham, and made a great success of the drapery business and his property investments,” said Tim. “He was working right up into the 1930s and oversaw a new frontage on the store, which read among other legends ‘Aldiss – the people’s draper’.” And, in the best drapery traditions, William James’s eldest son Val, Tim’s father, was born in Fakenham above his Norwich Road shop.

William James ran the Aldiss company from 1892 until his death in 1933 when Val, who had joined in 1923, became managing director. He bought Betty’s of Holt in 1947 and the Aldiss family kept the original name. It was subsequently sold in 2004.

Tim started in the company as a 16-year-old in 1956, becoming a director in 1967 on the dictat of his mother (“she insisted father make me a director, and he had to give in!”). Having become managing director in 1988, and overseen the move to the current superstore site on Oxborough Lane, Fakenham, Tim became chairman in 2000, with the company now run by managing director Darryl Simpson.

 Mr Tim Aldiss

But Tim still likes to keep a trained eye on the stores. “I still find it very difficult to walk into one of the stores and see someone waiting,” he said. “I go barmy!”

The Aldiss tradition of astute business expansion has continued down the years, including the opening of the Norwich store on the Hall Road retail estate in 2003.

“It’s very gratifying that through our former managing director Paul Clifford and now his successor Darryl Simpson we have been able to keep the same Aldiss family values alive in the company today,” he said.

Tim also makes a point of highlighting the new directors now in place; alongside Darryl.

“Aldiss has appointed Tim Summers as Finance Director. Tim has been with the business for more than 20 years as Company Secretary and is a key part of maintaining continuity in the business. “In the spring of last year we also welcomed Tina Barkway as Trading Director and Victoria Jackson as Buying Director.” Tina and Victoria have a wealth of retail and buying experience and Tim draws the comparison with the buying and sourcing of products today against when he first started in the trade.

Aldiss directors

“Back then, commercial travellers would visit Fakenham staying one of the local hotels, with all of there samples in a suitcase. Today it is Victoria and Tina who have the suitcases, visiting suppliers, factories and tradeshows all over the world, including Germany, Holland, China, Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam.”When questioned on the make up of the Aldiss management team Tim is quick to make a point: “Out of our main board of eight directors four are female – I guess we are ahead of our time on this one.

8th March 2017

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