Residents Recollections – Agriculture

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Residents Recollections – Agriculture

A collection of letters and emails from past and present inhabitants of Sprowston.

Alan Notley

Now living in Western Australia.

I was born in Catton in 1928, my father and mother lived in rooms rented from the Bullock family on Back Road. This cottage was still there when I visited Catton in 1984. After I was born my parents moved to a dwelling above the stables at Russell Steward`s House on Spixworth Road. I can just remember going around with Mr Greaves the gardener when he watered the conservatory. It was not long before we moved again to share Wilks Farm, Barkers Lane, Sprowston, with my Uncle Fred and Aunt Winnie. The old farmhouse which belonged to Dixon the Dairy Farmer had been divided into two cottages. My Uncle Fred had a field on North Walsham Road where he grew flowers for market.

I can remember buckets of Pyrethrum and Scabious in the shed where they were packed in boxes to go to Covent Garden Market in London. On occasions Uncle Fred took me with him on his horse and cart to Thorpe Station to put boxes of flowers on the train to go to Covent Garden.

After a while my Uncle Fred moved to another property at St Faiths and the other half of Wilks farm was occupied by Mr and Mrs Seaman, who had a milk round in Old Catton and Sprowston. I think the milk was purchased from Dixons Dairy and Mr Seaman just delivered it. I remember when he took delivery of a new milk float which I thought looked like a Roman chariot, he would arrive home early afternoon from his deliveries and Mrs Seaman would then work in the Dairy cleaning milk churns and ladles ready for the next day. My father was a gardener with the Norwich Parks Department (the family were all gardeners; grandfather was head gardener at Old Catton Hall for the Buxton Family). My father applied his gardening enthusiasm to Wilks Farm, planting Weeping Willows and other water garden plants around the pond in the farmyard to create Japanese style garden. All very successful until in a dry summer when the water level was down he dug mud from the pool in an attempt to make the water deeper and broke through the clay lining and all the water disappeared!

It was country living with a large vegetable garden, fruit trees and chickens. When my brother was born in 1933, the doctor suggested that he needed goat`s milk, and so we had goats with a large billy with horns that terrorised me. My first school was at Sprowston, one vivid memory still was the day when the brick yard chimney was to be demolished by explosives. This was to occur in the late afternoon and the older children were to assemble in the school yard to watch. Us young ones were let out early and told to go straight home. I think I ran all the way, looking behind my left shoulder, waiting for the chimney to fall on me. The programmed demolition did not work and it was not demolished still some days later. It would have been 1935 when I was at Sprowston Elementary School, As we were all taken to an aircraft hangar at Mousehold, (Salhouse Road) for a Silver Jubilee party? I still have the Silver Jubilee mug which we stood in line to receive. On Sprowston ponds, there was one on the field behind Wilks Farm and remember going there in the summer to paddle and bathe in the somewhat muddy water. I remember that Wilks Farm had stone floors. Lighting was by oil lamp and our first radio built by my Uncle Jack, it was powered with wet acid batteries which were taken to the local garage near the Blue Boar PH to be charged. My other memories of Wilks Farm are finding a flail and a broken muzzle loading shotgun in the old barn, also seeing the fires on the experimental farm land when they were burning dead cattle after an outbreak of foot and mouth disease (Church Farm) and my father taking me to see a steam plough which operated day and night. As a child I suffered badly from catarrh an chest infections and the doctors told my parents it would continue whilst they continued to live in Wilks Farm, what with its stone floors and no dampcourse. They Moved to Spixworth in 1936/7

This meant school at Old Catton. My link to Sprowston was renewed during the War in 1939. I was with other children from Spixworth were due to start school in September 1939. Our parents refused to send us to school until air raid shelters were provided. We started school at Sprowston Secondary School, Recreation Ground Road, after Easter 1940. It was at this time there were frequent air raid warnings and much time was spent in the air raid shelters. On one occasion we returned to our class to find that the School had been strafed with machine gun fire and there were holes in the windows and ceiling, lead from the bullets embedded in the wooden desks. School with Mr Gage as headmaster was breath of fresh air after the stern discipline of Old Catton School, we were treated as adults and expected to behave that way.

I remember Mr Allward who was a retired teacher from private school in Perth, Scotland, who came back to teach us as the younger teachers had joined the forces, telling the class: “You young men will very soon be in the forces defending your country and you young ladies will be soon working to support the war effort. You are not children any longer and I will expect you to behave like adults. You are no longer required to put up your hand and say please may I leave the room.”

Lunch every day was in the school hall with those cooked meals prepared by Mrs Elphinstone. The teachers were at the table at the head of the room and after lunch, the table tennis tables would be set up and Mr Gage would challenge the older boys for a game. I last saw Mr Gage in1950 shortly before I left for Australia; he was in a wheelchair crippled with arthritis as a result of spending many days in the wet damp air raid shelters with the schoolchildren and doing the same at night, as an Air Raid Warden when the shelters were used by nearby residents to the school. Although it is many years ago and I now live on the other side of the world in Western Australia, I have good memories of those childhood days at Sprowston and the excellent guidance for life by Mr gage and his teachers at Sprowston School.

Alan Notley May 2001.