Obituary: Town's 'true institution' and business owner dies aged 93

Colin Chambers at the shop which bore his family name for nearly 50 years, just before it closed in

Colin Chambers at the shop which bore his family name for nearly 50 years, just before it closed in 2011 - Credit: Archant

A community stalwart who spent his entire life working and supporting the town he was born and raised in has died at the age of 93. 

With a beloved pet dog always by his side, Colin Chambers, the former proprietor of W. F. Chambers & Son, was a familiar sight in Dereham and has been described as "a true town institution". 

From singing in the choir and selling am-dram society tickets, to sitting on the Chamber of Trade and founding the historic society, the great-grandfather served his community in many ways through the decades. 

The former W. F. Chambers & Son shop

The former W. F. Chambers & Son shop - Credit: Supplied by family

Colin Arthur Chambers was born on June 28, 1928, in Dereham.  

The younger of two brothers born to William and Florence Chambers, the family lived in Monchy House overlooking the town’s railway station.  

His father had arrived in Dereham a few years previously to take up a post as marketing manager at Hobbies, a large employer in the town at the time.

A few years later, the family moved into Oakdene, the home they had built on Quebec Road. 

Colin Chambers always had a pet dog by his side

Colin Chambers always had a pet dog by his side - Credit: Supplied by family

A young Mr Chambers attended the Theatre Street junior school before passing the entrance exam to Hamond's Grammar School in Swaffham in 1939.

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His attendance at the school and subsequent membership of the Old Hamodians Association were badges of honour to him for his entire life.  

The only time he lived away from his beloved birth town was during his years of National Service with the Royal Air Force (RAF) just after the Second World War. This was a period of his life that gave him great pride and included training to be a wireless fitter. 

Before joining the RAF in 1947, he had worked for Dereham’s iconic manufacturers, Jentique and Metamec.  

Colin Chambers and his wife on their wedding day

Colin Chambers and his wife on their wedding day - Credit: Supplied by family

In 1948, he returned home to Dereham to discover that his father had left Hobbies and bought a town centre shop and printers, naming it W F Chambers and Son. The building still stands today and is currently empty after restaurant Prezzo closed its Dereham branch last year.

It was to become the very heart of the town for over half a century, his son, Peter, explained. 

He said: “The shop thrived and became a destination for almost the entire population of the town. Daily newspapers, books, toys, cards, fishing tackle, stationery, art supplies, and gifts filled the shelves and even with the closing of the print works the importance of the shop to so many, staff and customers alike, continued. 

“His indefatigable desire to improve, or indeed preserve the best of Dereham, never left him. As a young man, he sang in St Nicolas Church choir and sold tickets for the Amateur Operatic Society. Later life saw him become an active member of Round Table and subsequently, Rotary, 41 Club, and Probus. 

“He also sat on Dereham Chamber of Trade and helped found another of his great passions, the Dereham Society, for which he was founder chair. He served roles from secretary to the president and was instrumental in the formation of the Dereham Town Quiz, an institution for many years.”

Colin Chambers and his wife living in the flat above the family business

Colin Chambers and his wife living in the flat above the family business - Credit: Supplied by family

The shop also held fond family memories as the flat above is where Colin first lived with his young family. 

After marrying fellow Dereham resident, nurse Anne Downing, at St Nicholas Church in 1954, the couple moved into the property above the shop. Here, their eldest children, Tricia and Christine, spent the first years of their lives.  

They eventually moved to Elvin Road, and raised their four children - Joanne and Peter had come along by then - while hosting and entertaining an ever-growing circle of family and friends. 

Colin Chambers

Colin Chambers - Credit: Supplied by family

In 1993, Mr Chambers sold the shop to Balfour News. 

“A decision he would only make on the condition it safeguarded the jobs of most of his staff,” Peter added.  

“The shop continued to trade under the Chambers name until it closed in December 2014.” 

Founder chair of the Dereham Society, Colin Chambers

Founder chair of the Dereham Society, Colin Chambers - Credit: Archant

During retirement, the couple travelled around the globe and learned to play bowls.

The couple, whose youngest daughter died in 2016, remained married for 68 years and were inseparable until his time at Lincoln House nursing home in nearby Swanton Morley.  

Colin Chambers

Colin Chambers - Credit: Supplied by family

Mr Chambers died on May 19. A memorial service will be held at St Nicholas on Monday, June 13, at 2pm. Donations for the Royal British Legion and Dogs Trust may be given at the service.