Author Ellee is set to talk shop at Cathedral event

Ellee Symour (centre) with friends from left: Wendy Gates, Fiona Diviney, Susan Williams and Nita B

Ellee Symour (centre) with friends from left: Wendy Gates, Fiona Diviney, Susan Williams and Nita Bhugobaun. - Credit: Archant

Local author Ellee Seymour of The Shop Girls will be speaking in Ely later this month following the sell out success of her recent book launch.

Author Ellee Seymour signs a copy of her book Shop Girls

Author Ellee Seymour signs a copy of her book Shop Girls - Credit: Archant

The Shop Girls describes a golden era of retail in an elegant ladies department store in Sidney Street, Cambridge called Heyworth’s which closed 49 years ago, and had all but faded from living memory.

Her collection of memoirs from shop girls, staff and friends of the Heyworth family cover the 1940s-60s, the early lives and wartime experiences of shop girls, describing how as young women, they fought for their country, kitting out the heroic crew for the Dambusters’ raid, as well as visiting a German prisoner-of-war camp. It ends with the youngest shop girl describing the American GIs in Cambridge and the swinging 60s scene.

The shop girls only stepped foot inside the store when they started working behind the counters, forging life long friendships; they could not afford to buy the quality garments, where high class clientele included the Marchioness of Cambridge, related by marriage to the royal family, as well as gypsy ladies who bought their young daughters the frilliest and most expensive dresses.

Herbert Heyworth, who took over the business from his father George, was an entrepreneurial figure who regularly hired private planes from Marshall’s Airport, Cambridge to fly his friends, and even his shop girls, to Paris for the day.

The four lead shop girls, from left: Irene, Eve, Betty and Rosemary

The four lead shop girls, from left: Irene, Eve, Betty and Rosemary - Credit: Archant


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Ms Seymour’s researcher Paula Jeal discovered that Herbert had had a secret first marriage and son called Paul Hales who is now 70, and for the first time in his life, Paul discovered the truth about his real father after meeting Ellee while writing this book.

Ms Seymour, who lives near Ely and was born in Wisbech where she trained as a journalist, said: “The book launch at Heffers in Cambridge drew a few nostalgic tears from the shop girls, as well as Paul as he heard his father’s story unfold before him, a father he never knew or met, who died in 1969.

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“I was astounded that tickets for the Heffers launch sold out six weeks before the event, and they also sold out of books on the night, the first time, they told me, this had ever happened at an author event. If you enjoyed Mr Selfridge, you will really love The Shop Girls.

“I feel privileged to have an opportunity with Topping bookstore to tell this wonderful story in Ely, where I will be joined by some of my shop girls, including Rosemary who lived in Ely while working at Heyworth’s.”

The sell-out book launch audience

The sell-out book launch audience - Credit: Archant

* Ms Seymour will be speaking at Ely Cathedral Centre on Saturday, October 25. Tickets can be reserved from Topping: http://www.toppingbooks.co.uk/events/ely/ellee-seymour/

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