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The Milwards: Bringing Asian culture to the heart of Norfolk

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In the centre of Norwich, under the high roof of a Victorian roller skating rink, are huge sculpted figures which once guarded temples and wheeled wooden animals which rolled through Indian streets. There are towering intricately carved doors which led into courtyards where several village families lived and worked together; rugs woven in the dangerous mountain borderlands between Pakistan and Afghanistan; early 19th century prints by the first European to trek to the source of the Ganges; pretty printed tablecloths, bed linen and dresses, a camel saddle, coffee tables made from dark wood corn-milling machinery, huge cupboards, dainty jewellery, mirrors, boxes and bowls...

In every direction there are wonderful things beginning before you even get into the building, with ornate doorways set into the courtyard car park walls. Inside this is a curated space, part-shop, part-museum, packed with the stories of beautiful things created half a world away.

It also overflows with the story of Philip and Jeannie Millward, of Wramplingham, near Norwich, who founded Country and Eastern 40 years ago.

The South Asia Collection and Country and Eastern were founded by Philip and Jeannie Millward - Credit: Sonya Duncan

It began with a revolution. Philip and Jeannie were living in Iran where Philip was working for a big engineering and construction company, designing and building oil refineries, and Jeannie was working for the British Institute of Persian Studies, when the 1979 Islamic revolution meant they had to leave. Evacuated to a hotel in Amsterdam and waiting to be redeployed they were asked to go to Pakistan to survey some potential work – and use up all their holiday allowance.

“We did the survey and then travelled up through Pakistan visiting Lahore, Rawalpindi, Peshawar and the Khyber Pass ending up in the Swat Valley,” said Philip.

Travelling by local buses to remote villages they were bowled over by the talent of the traditional craftspeople........

© Eastern Daily Press

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