As Jarrolds celebrates 200 years of being part of Christmas in Norwich, we meet Antonia Visiers and Lynn Ritchie of the store’s toy department to find out what was on childrens’ wishlists in days gone by – and what they’re hoping to find under the tree this year.


How long have you worked in the toy department at Jarrolds for?

‘I’ve worked for Jarrolds for 38 years – I joined the company on a YTS youth opportunity scheme and I started on childrenswear,’ says Lynn, who is the sales manager of the third floor, which is home to the toy department.

‘I’ve looked after luggage, linens, gifts, Christmas and a bit of fashion as well, but I always feel that my home is upstairs with toys on the third floor.’

‘I’ve only actually been working on the toy department since March, so I’m still fairly new to it and it’s my first Christmas,’ says Antonia, who is a toy buyer.

‘I love it, everyone’s really friends and you kind of get to be a kid again.’

Great British Life: A vintage Jarrolds Christmas brochure. Photo: Jarrolds archiveA vintage Jarrolds Christmas brochure. Photo: Jarrolds archive

What presents would children have received in years gone by?

‘I think a lot of girls would have played with dolls and doll’s houses and it would be train sets and toy soldiers for boys. Marbles used to be very popular,’ says Antonia.

‘Toys used to be quite gender specific, but we don’t put that label on things now,’ says Lynn. ‘Toys were more likely to be wooden and made to last so that they could be handed down.’

Are there any toy crazes which are particularly memorable?

‘Teletubbies was a phenomenal one,’ says Lynn. ‘We had queues round the store for them and it was the same for the TY Beanie Babies – I can remember handing out raffle tickets to people outside so they were in line to have one and the deliveries had to have security.

‘[The handheld electronic pet] Tamagotchis was a big one and Furbies too – they have been relaunched this year. You get a lot of playground crazes. More recently, L.O.L Surprise! Dolls have been a popular one. Quite a lot of them seem to be TV-led.’

Great British Life: A vintage Jarrolds Christmas brochure. Photo: Jarrolds archiveA vintage Jarrolds Christmas brochure. Photo: Jarrolds archive

When does Christmas start at Jarrolds?

‘I started buying toys for Christmas back in June, so you’re about six months ahead, and you’ve got to get the orders in early, otherwise you’re not going to get the stock,’ says Antonia.

‘Probably August/September is our biggest intake of stock – you want to have most of it in by October,’ says Lynn. ‘Really, October half term is the start of Christmas. You’ll find that a lot of children come in and start making their lists.

‘And then Father Christmas arrives at the store on December 1.’

What presents are children putting on their wishlists this year?

‘I genuinely think it’s Lego that’s our biggest pull,’ says Lynn. ‘And it’s not just children – the larger sets like the Technic and Architecture collections have a big following of adults. You hear the children say “that’s the one daddy wants for Christmas”.

‘It’s now very much about collecting too,’ she continues. ‘Jelly Cat soft toys have got a massive following.’

‘I always say we’re a traditional shop with a modern twist, so you have all those traditional pieces that you might be looking for, but you do then have bits and pieces of the trends that come in and out.’ says Antonia.

‘I definitely think our customer, the grandparents and the parents, buy what they had when they were younger, so all the classic games like Monopoly and Twister are so popular still,’ she continues.

‘We still have the call for some traditional dolls, but play is slightly different with the screens that children have now,’ says Lynn.

‘There are a lot more things like Glowpads and technological drawing pads,’ says Antonia.

‘But there is still a call for more traditional toys such as Spirograph – our customers are still buying into the lovely idea of the children sitting down and doing activities that aren’t just on a screen,’ says Lynn.

‘I think that quite a lot of children get money as a present now,’ she adds. ‘Then when we get into January they come in to spend it.’

Great British Life: A vintage Jarrolds Christmas brochure. Photo: Jarrolds archiveA vintage Jarrolds Christmas brochure. Photo: Jarrolds archive

What were the best ever Christmas presents you received as a child?

‘I loved my spacehopper,’ says Lynn. ‘But I think my best ever present as a child was my bike. Christmas was so special to me, because that’s when you got all your toys – you'd get your Christmas annual and you got a big toy and then other bits - now children get toys throughout the year. I sometimes hope that that specialness will start to come back again.’

‘I used to love Barbie when I was little and I had a big pink Barbie Beetle that I was obsessed with,’ says Antonia. 'As I got older and more into technology, I got a Nintendo DS for Christmas and I loved it, I played with it all the time.’

What is the best thing about working in the Jarrolds toy department at Christmas?

‘I just love Christmas time, the store comes into its own,’ says Lynn. ‘The third floor is magical. It’s the heart of the store because we have Father Christmas, who comes and visits us every year. It's lovely to see how excited the children are.’