End of the 'Roll'
Mark Saunders meets Jeff Evans - Swindon's 'Mr Carpet' - who has retired after 50 years
Normans Carpets is a name many a Swindonian will link to quality, service and reliability.
From its start after the war it became a stalwart of the growing town in the decades that followed, carrying much the same kudos as such well-known names at the time as McIlroys and Woolworths, both also sadly gone today.
If you grew up with imperial measurements rather than metric it is quite possible you have stood on some of the immeasurable square yards of Normans carpet sold in Swindon - and, most probably, it was sold to your parents or grandparents by one Godfrey 'Jeff' Evans.
And this month Mr Evans - or 'Mr Carpet' as so many people still refer him - retired. Or as he likes to humourously describe: ".... I 've come to the end of the role!"
That after just shy of 50 years of serving the people of Swindon - hundreds, probably thousands of customers - and even the odd member of Royalty.
The last seven as the face of EuroCarpets at Cheney Manor, the company that Geoff helped build up after Normans closed for good in 2003.
Jeff, as he is known, came to Swindon and starting working at Normans in 1961; a date that could well make Jeff, 74, the longest-working salesman in the town.
Jeff was born in Marlborough and went to school there. He is very much a cricket fan and remembers keeping wicket at school and says “Godfrey is a famous cricketing name, a wicket keeper for England back a long time ago”.
That is Godfrey Evans CBE, whose test career ran from 1946 to 1959.
He then went to the Secondary Modern before going on to Victoria College where he gained an RSA in shorthand, typing and book keeping.
“One day I went into the milk bar there, which was opposite the town hall. And one of my friends was there.
"I said: 'What you doing then?' and he said 'I'm in the Merchant Navy now.'
“So I went home and said to my mum and dad I’m going in the Merchant Navy; they said that`s ok son.” And he did, after initially being told he was too short to be a deck hand he trained as a caterer.
Today Jeff stands at six foot two inches.
His first ship was the Carnarvon Castle. It sailed to South Africa; the first port of call was Tenerife and then Madeira to take on fruit and tomatoes. The journey continued to Cape Town with an overnight stay, then to Port Elizabeth, Durban and Mombasa before returning to England.
Jeff says: "I thought I would change my ship, I went to the shipping office and they gave me the Andes; now that went to South America!”
He eventually left the Merchant Navy and came ashore. Jeff passed his driving test and bought a V8 Pilot.
“It did 16 miles to the gallon, petrol then was three shillings and fourpence a gallon”.
Jeff then moved to Swindon and worked for Normans for 30 years before finally finishing his career at Eurocarpet. A lifetime in the business that has seen a lot of changes.
"The quality isn't half as good as it was," Jeff pointed out.
“You get a lot of cheap stuff now; I was brought up on Axminster, which would last you a lifetime”.
By Royal appointment
You may not expect Swindon to be the first port of call for Royalty when choosing a new carpet, but Normans reputation was such that they were asked by Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips to carpet their house at Gatcombe Park.
The couple’s Royal wedding in 1973 was accompanied by the gift of the house and land by the Queen. But it was not until 1977 that Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips moved in after a major renovation and refurbishment.
And it was up to Jeff to see that Her Royal Highness was one satisfied customer when it came to carpeting the new royal residence.
Jeff proudly keeps an old black and white photograph of the fitting gang holding up a roll of the 15ft wide, top quality carpet used for the job.
"I can’t remember any Royal introductions, but it was nice job to be put in charge of," he said modestly.
Not that The Princess Royal was Jeff’s only brush with the aristocracy.
His most unusual sale when he worked at Normans was to Lord Suffolk at his home near Malmesbury.
“After measuring the stairway to the dome he wanted carpeting, the Lord said he had to go to Oxford and asked whether I would I like to go with him. And I thought, why not?
"Next minute, we were outside a big shed, which after he rolled the doors back there was a plane in there.
"I then helped push the plane out and we flew to Oxford!
"We landed, someone came out and handed him a small parcel and then we flew back”.
First shop in the Brunel Plaza
As Swindon grew the Brunel Shopping Centre and Plaza were built, eventually completed in 1978.
Normans was considered prestigious enough to be the first shop to move in, leaving Cromwell Street before it was demolished.
Normans eventually shut in 2003 after relocating from the Plaza to Bridge Street in the early 1990s.
It was at this time that Jeff moved to Eurocarpet - and previous Normans’ customers followed.
"It was always nice when people asked for me," he concluded.
"I've met so many lovely people during my time at Normans and in the last few years here. Some of which say 'You served my mum and dad. They told me to ask for you'.
Very much a sports fan, he says:
“I used to walk along the canal to get to the football, we watched Morris Owen play”.
Jeff has just been given a gift of two Jack Russells by his wife to keep him ‘occupied’.
We wish him the best.
|Normans, Cromwell Road, Swindon - FlickR|