Nostalgia: Souvenir from the Dr MacLaren factory in Norwich


It was a business that is rarely mentioned these days… but decades ago women all over the world were walking around with a handbag made in Norwich.

The company, D MacLaren Ltd, once produced thousands of handbags a day at its factory, Diana Works, on Mousehold Lane.


Thread sewing in progress at the factory.
– Credit: Archant Library

They were on sale in the city, in the county, across the country and all over the world – from America to Africa and Australia.

The man behind this business was Douglas Colin MacLaren, the son of Attleborough tailor Colin MacLaren. Born in 1909, he attended Norwich Grammar School and then joined the family business.


Knives of all shapes and sizes have been used to cut leather and plastic into shape,

Knives of all shapes and sizes have been used to cut leather and plastic into shape, made in this section where the gentleman works.
– Credit: Archant Library

After serving in the Royal Navy during World War II, he started a business in 1946 on Sprowston Road in Norwich with John Pelllegrini… employing just four people.


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Business exploded. They employed skilled workers with nimble fingers, a legacy of the city’s ancient weaving loom.


Skillful and nimble fingers at work - using welding equipment to attach colorful lightning bolts to shoe inserts.

Skillful and nimble fingers at work – using welding equipment to attach colorful lightning bolts to shoe inserts.
– Credit: Archant Library

Some worked at the factory and others at home… the number of handbags they produced took off. A MacLaren handbag was something to treasure.

John Pellegrini went to create Pell Footwear and the two companies shared a factory on Mousehold Lane before Pell’s moved to Mile Cross Lane.

Our photographs take a look at what was going on in the busy and bustling MacLaren factory in the early 1960s.


Attaching the frame to the handbag.

Attaching the frame to the handbag. Can you recognize this young man?
– Credit: Archant Library


Part of the

Part of the “Mac” Diana Works at Mousehold Lane, Norwich.
– Credit: Archant Library

In addition, they made shoe accessories, using high-frequency electronic welding equipment. In 1961, they were making no less than a million and a half pairs of shoe knots.

Much of our manufacturing went through tough times in the 1970s and Maclaren’s and Pells were bought out… then shut down.

I wonder if there are still a lot of McLaren handbags in use today?


Men prepare handbags to send all over the world.

The shipping department of the MacLaren handbag company where the handbags were shipped around the world.
– Credit: Archant Library

* Thanks to everyone who entered our contest to win a copy of the new book The Days of the Norwich Trams: Transforming Streets, Transforming Lives by Frances and Michael Holmes from Norwich Heritage Projects.

They received over 100 entries, including one from South Africa, and seven lucky readers will receive their copies of the bestseller.


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