Fond farewell to Felixstowe's Zena who ran two local shops with husband

Colin and Zena Bamberger, taking a rare break.

Colin and Zena Bamberger, taking a rare break. - Credit: Bamberger family

A well-known Felixstowe woman, who along with her husband owned and ran two popular shops in the town, has died at the age of 86.

Zena Bamberger and her late husband Colin were well-known in Felixstowe, running prominent stores for more than 65 years, and both loving life by the seaside.

Dainty Homes in Felixstowe in the 1970s

Dainty Homes in Felixstowe in the 1970s - Credit: Bamberger family

Dainty Homes, as the business was best known, employed 28 staff in its heyday, stocking 5,000 different items of haberdashery plus 5,000 rolls of fabric for curtains and dressmaking as well as offering carpets and flooring.

Both stores were on Hamilton Road and the couple also owned a third shop, just over the border, in Colchester.

The couple met at a dance at Felixstowe Pier Pavilion. In 1953 after attending one such dance on the evening of Saturday January 31, Colin dropped Zena at her home in Manor Terrace.

Whilst driving away along Langer Road, he couldn’t understand why the streetlights were going out, one by one, in his rear-view mirror.  As he reached the Ordnance Roundabout he realised.

The huge flood wave actually touched the back wheels of his car. The great Felixstowe flood that night claimed 41 people’s lives. Zena would recall how people were rescued in dinghies from their bedroom windows, in the darkness, on that bitter winter’s night.

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Having survived the frightening ordeal, the couple married in Felixstowe and took on the family business branching into flooring as well as loose covers and curtains.

Colin Bamberger Remnant Shop Felixstowe

Colin Bamberger still at work, inside the Remnant Shop on Hamilton Road, Felixstowe - Credit: Bamberger family

Zena stayed at home to raise their three young sons but also helped Colin by making curtains. No small feat, when one order alone was for 300 pairs! The couple even found themselves fitting lino on their honeymoon such was their dedication to the family business.  

Originally the seed of a business came during the war in 1944 from Colin’s mother Betty Bamberger, who began by selling lace doilies, antimacassars and other table linen from the stairwell of her upstairs flat in 1A Hamilton Road, using her lounge as a “showroom”.

Clive Bamberger Felixstowe

Clive Bamberger, owner of Saxon Upholstery, with the original bike his grandmother used for the business when it launched in 1944. - Credit: Bamberger family

Once the business had raised enough money, she rented her first shop in Hamilton Road. Colin took over the family firm and through many hours of hard work expanded it to become, not just one but two prominent shops in the town centre. 

Colin Bamberger didn’t take a holiday for 27 years. However, he and Zena did have a beach hut at Brackenberry which became the family’s headquarters each summer.

Zena was a keen fisherman, and on her homemade catamaran would catch lobsters and crabs and cook them on the tiny hut stove. Zena became a founder member of Felixstowe Musical Theatre performing and taking on many back-stage roles. She died as the much-loved President of FMT. The society is still going strong today some 50 years later.

The couple were also great bowlers and Zena was a popular member of Trimley Bowls Club and Colin played for an Ipswich club. Both were accomplished and won many trophies and Colin also played for Suffolk.

Once their boys were old enough they helped with the business. Richard, their eldest son, sadly died in 1979, but he had worked as a fitter for Dainty Homes and helped at the Remnant Shop, as it become known, computerising the books. 

Clive, their middle son, took on the upholstery side of the business. Robert, the youngest, managed Dainty Homes in Colchester. Colin never did retire from the business he’d built up and tragically died at the age of 84, at the Remnant shop in Hamilton Road in 2012.

Today there is only one shop left, renamed Saxon Upholstery, run by Clive Bamberger. Over the past 38 years Clive has had many unusual requests.

“This shop was Dainty Homes and changed over to become Saxon Upholstery in 1982 when I took over to carry on my father’s business making bespoke blinds and curtains as well as upholstery.

"In the past I’ve made seats for aeroplanes, helicopters, boats, classic cars, winnebagos and even a light ship! We have work that is displayed in the Victoria & Albert museum and I’ve also made curtains for Royal visits.”

They continue to supply local people and companies. “For example, the chairs at Seckford Hall Hotel, The Felixstowe Pier and Manning’s Amusements are all ones we’ve worked on.”  He also once covered a purpose built armchair for Theoretical physicist, the late Stephen Hawking. 

The future of Saxon is hard to predict because of the lasting effects of Covid-19 and the high street footfall.

Clive said: “The one thing that Saxon and any tradesmen do have on our side, is that they’re not Click & Collect.  If you’ve got a family piece that you want to recover, you can’t order one on your computer.  You have to take it to someone like Saxon and have it done.” 

Clive would like to thank his loyal clients in Felixstowe and the surrounding peninsular for their support over the years and for the heartfelt messages of sympathy he has received since his mother’s recent passing. She died on 18 November after a short illness.

He said: “I hope that everyone can remain positive and healthy during these most difficult of times.”