- 1 MEMORIES OF LIFE AT SPROWSTON HALL BY MISS CATHERINE GURNEY
- 2 Childhood Health.
- 3 Electricity and Preserving things.
- 4 Laundry for the Hall.
- 5 Aeroplanes at Sprowston.
- 6 Surgery at home – the operation!
- 7 Bicycles – my first one!
- 8 St Mary’s Church and going to church.
- 9 Market Day in Norwich.
- 10 Father becomes Lord Mayor of Norwich.
- 11 Trivia
- 12 Sprowston School Treats
MEMORIES OF LIFE AT SPROWSTON HALL BY MISS CATHERINE GURNEY
As life begins to fade one looks back on its many years and wonders why things happened as they did. One is apt to think that one rules ones life, but circumstances are different and one finds that one has had to do what one had to, and not what one wanted, In fact one could imagine that some supreme power had all the time dictated what was to happen.
My Grandmother said “ The way will open” and one just waited for the opening and tried to have the will to seize at the time it came, of course one made a hundred mistakes from lack of force or energy but sometimes just from weakness of the flesh.
After all very few people, in this enormous world are distinguished. To have force of character, brains, real beauty of person or personal charm the rest of humanity gets by with mediocre lives often humdrum and undistinguished, yet here and there, there is a glint of something worth while and something better.
I can’t see there is anything distinguished or better in mine but I have been lucky in some periods with a chance to do a few things and see a few places. Sometimes I have jumped when the way has opened and sometimes I have rebelled at no opening and just the burden of the every day living and now as the flesh weakens and maybe senile dementia drives to the depths of despair I will note one or two facts to amuse myself rather than entertain my relations.
We were a family of seven children all born between 1905 and 1916, spaced with two to two and a half years between most of us. John, the eldest was a charming baby with deep violet eyes and brown rather than fair hair. Boys were very much favoured in the family, girls taking a very secondary place so when I arrived only thirteen months later no one pleased.
My mother at having a second child so quickly and then a girl who was extremely healthy, plain and with nothing to charm or recommend her. John proved delicate and constant nursing, so Catherine could be pushed to one side and fought for her rights as she got older with some determination. Rosamund the third came gracefully, a pretty baby with long limbs, blue eyes and fair hair, followed by two boys and then two more girls, but by the time the youngest arrived I was ten years old and put in the position of setting an example, giving way to the eldest and helping the younger ones.
I developed rickets early on although my legs were rubbed in Tidmans Sea Salt they never became completely straight and I had no strength in my ankles. This I resented and have never succeeded in walking as far and as fast as the others. With that and no sense of rhythm or music and continuing to be plain all through life one has felt that one had handicaps that were so easily overcome in the rest of the family. I am sure that I was a very tiresome child and when my Nanny complained to my Mother that “Catherine is the ring leader of all evil” from scriptural training I knew that I must be the devil and decided not to try for any worldly goodness for indeed if the devil I would be unable to achieve it.
One can look back really to a very happy childhood, the lovely sunny nurseries at Sprowston Hall just outside Norwich.
The splendid gardens almost a world on their own for short legs to explore and the kitchen gardens to be pillaged for windfalls, and masses of soft fruit in their season. Nanny was particularly fond of gooseberries and we would fill our little baskets for the eleven o'clock feasts in the garden. Usually by the swing, that hung from the large variegated sycamore tree and was shady and cool, on some summer days. One’s memory is always of brilliant sunshine and heat. Our other special place in the garden was by the aviaries. They had fallen into disrepair since my father and uncle had grown up but used to house cockatoos. There was a small pond and bamboo’s growing and the rest rather unattractive and wild. A large hedge divided the aviary from the kitchen garden and along this hedge we had our little gardens and there we could dig to our hearts content and grow exactly what we liked. We were very happy there each with our own plot, and, I suppose we produced the odd radish but I don’t recollect any very great triumphs. The other end of the aviary we had our sand pit, this was a place full of amusement as we could get water from the animals drinking trough, the other side of the fence or down to the earth below the sandpit. It was entirely our own bit of garden. I remember my father coming up one day to tell us that we had a baby brother.
This was the fifth child Samuel Edmund, we did not know what to say and did not really believe him, and having told us he went away rather quickly so we probably said the wrong things.
Nanny had her own garden in the far corner of the kitchen garden where the bee hives used to stand. We all helped her work there and it was full of London pride and Ariba’s and we thought very beautiful. The bee hives had long since gone but shelves were there to hold the straw skeps as this was the days before wooden hives and the dreadful part was that the bees were burned out to get at the honey. Near nanny’s garden was the rhubarb bed and if we were not discovered it was delightful to bang the leaves with a stick and make holes. They were so lovely and large and green.
Down the path Rosamund had run at me with a four tine fork but only got me with one tine in the hand, it bled profusely but we washed it in the greenhouse water butt, that was full of nice little wriggley things and somehow I managed to conceal the fact from grownups, although I carried a scar for a good many years, it probably served me right for teasing.
One of the most interesting parts of the gardens was just outside the wall with the tool houses and potting sheds, the pig sty’s, the hot beds for the frames of early flowers , and the rubbish heaps for lawn mowing’s in summer and fallen leaves in the autumn. One would stroll along here in our first morning run, and according to the time of year we broke the ice on the water butts, looked in at the potting shed and perhaps found Twisty legs,
Mr Hoare who was the under gardener and much beloved.
There was a little fire place at the end of the shed where the men had their dinners, and then there was the shed for forcing of rhubarb and endive. Further on the pig styes that produced manure for the garden, somewhere along there we kept our bantams, coming back to the house we had to pass through the stable yard with its large quince tree and huge horse chestnut in the centre, then under an archway to the courtyard of the house. We had our own door, passed the stoke hole and the cellar steps into a vestibule where prams were kept and then up comfortable shallow stairs to the first floor where nurseries and schoolroom, and the only bathroom were situated, so we need have no contact with parents or guests.
The servant’s bedrooms were above in the attics, and as a treat we would go and see Elizabeth the head housemaid in her room, she was a dear, and the mother to all the younger maids, but she was firm with us and we got told off for miss-demeaners.
I once went to bed in my moccasins as my feet were so cold but I never did it again! The nursery, as time went on, overflowed with children and John was moved to a bedroom over the front porch.
We thought it a great honour for the eldest, but apparently he resented it and was terrified and lonely, later I had a bedroom the other side, it wasn't’ a particularly attractive room as no one gave way to children to make it special for them. Maybe I was older and just took it in my stride, perhaps I was older for John and I used to come down for dinner in the evening and I had to change.
One day I was late as John and I had been to the laundry where there was a carpenters shop as John was making a wireless set, I rushed through my changing, but the gong went, and then oh! Horrors the footman arrived at the bedroom door, and put down a bowl of soup. I was not to come down, John got away with it but then he did not have to change. Nanny said it was most unfair and she and I shared the soup and a rather delicious pudding so I felt a bit better. We certainly had to tow the line but there were many suprisingly understanding things that my mother let us get away with. I read a book called the wide, wide world about a little girl who was sent to an aunt in Canada as her parents had died, a tough life but she learnt to do lots of things. All the neighbours gathered together to do apple peeling. The apples were cut into rings and threaded on strings, fixed across a frame, when the frames were filled the whole outfit was put into a slow oven and the apples dried.
The apple rings were then stored in tins and could be soaked and used through to the next apple crop. I told my mother it would be a good plan if we did likewise and she let the carpenter make a frame and we peeled and dried and stored the windfalls, they took very little space in an old biscuit tin and it was great satisfaction to me. Did the cook ever dane to use the dried apple rings?
Another time I went to my mother and said I would organise a garden fete to make money for the soldiers in hospital, I must have been about ten at the time and we had a wonderful holiday as busy as bees, drawing posters, making things, touring the local village schools in the donkey cart and asking children to come, we borrowed a switch back from the cousins, got the land agent to run a concert party. Everyone in the house helped and lots from further away, It was a great success and daddy counted the money and we had made £22, there must have been a lot of background help behind the scenes, my mother wanted us to be independent and there were always enough of us to make our own plays, provided we came in, in time for meals, (the big bell sounded five minutes before lunch) we could do as we liked and off we went to the woods to build stockades or wigwams, or rode the donkey bare back down the lane, or delivered magazines, what I particularly disliked was being told to do the church flowers, it was quite a walk by oneself carrying the basket to the church, then getting the key and going in through the vestry.
The pews gave strange and frightening creek and I would rush to the sanctuary and clutch the altar for safety, seize a vase and rush to the vestry which was also safe, the vases were brass with narrow necks and I am sure the arrangements were lopsided for my mother’s only comment would be that they did not match very well. Luckily the bogey man, if there was one, never got me but it put me off church flowers for life.
Best of all were outings with my father, he would come into the schoolroom at the end of tea and ask if anyone wanted to go shooting, Rosamund never cared to, so off we went at dusk walking alongside the small covers seeing an owl or a door beetle flying, and perhaps come back with a pheasant or two for the pot.
We might go of a morning to the woods to do a bit of cutting, later we might go for a whole day to his house and laboratory on the broads, getting a boat at Wayford Bridge and him doing the long row to Longmore point, of course there was always the Sunday walk round the farm and through the woods home, but then the bailiff was there and lots of leaning on gates and farming talk.
Like all children we had our colds and coughs and more serious illnesses, Dr Long, a children’s doctor from Norwich came out to see us when it was necessary, he would look out of the window and say “ is that a blackbird or a thrush singing” you made a wild answer as you did not know but immediately felt better, “ well nurse “ he would say “I think she might get up and go for a good sharp walk and then back to bed“.
He believed in outdoor air at any price, the remedies seemed to be a steam kettle with friars balsam to relieve the chest and a horrible smell it was, or we were rubbed with camphorated oil, our tonsils painted or perhaps a dose of epipectuana but I can’t remember what that was for, we had our doses of syrup of figs or milk of magnesia and in the spring a good tonic malt and treacle or an iron tonic.
The operating theatre was the spare room, number 3, and there Samuel had his mastoid operation and others had adenoids and tonsils removed, not very antiseptic and I don’t suppose the doctor, did more than remove his coat, there seemed to be no side effects, no after effects and no particular treatment.
A cousin at Walsingham was to have her appendix removed, she got the carpenter to make a long narrow table, the surgeon came in his carriage from Norwich 27 miles, Violet came from the upper story in her dressing gown, the butler was horrified that she should walk down, and insisted on carrying her. The doctor removed his top hat rolled back his cuffs, I presume the local doctor gave an anaesthetic (was it Dr. Sturdee?) and that was that, there must have been a nurse somewhere about, well she lived to nearly 90.
I saw the table that was used at her house at Wimborne in the potting shed! Rosamund had an operation for glands in the neck, she was very ill indeed but the treatment was to live in a tent in the garden, she must have been about 12 at the time.
Electricity and Preserving things.
It is difficult to understand or indeed remember what life was like without the amenities that we think of our necessities, around 1911 electricity was installed at Sprowston Hall, an engine with enormous fly wheels was put in a shed and rows of huge batteries alongside for storage, one could hear the engine chug chugging and it must have been quite a major work to start it up. The house was wired while we were away on holiday at the seaside and the parents doing a tour of Canada.
There were lights in the house but the engine could not produce enough power for any thing else, although I think nanny had an electric kettle in the nursery but it must only be used occasionally and with great care, electric fires were unheard of and we still used the flat iron heated on the fire. The nursery had a coal fire but I think in the drawing room, wood was burned and certainly in my father’s billiard room where he sat, there was a huge coal stove, in the kitchen and somewhere a boiler for heating the water, refrigerators had not been invented, and so there was a large larder with slate shelves to keep food cool. Under the shelves were crocks to hold the eggs, which were stored in water glass, eggs were cheap and plentiful.
In the spring so they were stored for winter use, other crocks contained runner beans pickled in salt, sugar came in sacks of I cwt, soap for the household came also by the cwt in long yellow bars that had to be cut into squares, and put on the kitchen mantlepiece to dry out, really dried they would be stored away and would last ant time. Nothing was paper packeted as, now, and for a big house had to be bought in quantity, the shops were always pleased to deliver and I expect in those days they came in vans drawn by horses. A small boy carried heavy cans of milk the half mile or so from the farm, it was good milk straight from the cow, never cooled or sterilised but good and creamy, butter too was made at the farm, fruit and vegetables came from the garden, the only fruit bought might be oranges or tangerines at Christmas or the occasional pineapple for dinner parties.
There was no means of freezing fruit so everything was eaten in its season, I’m not sure that bottling had come in, in those early days, but around 1930 when I house-kept for my brother I learned to bottle, churn butter and make Gervais cream cheeses, and we sold what we could at rediculously cheap prices.
Laundry for the Hall.
Those early days before the 1918 war we were all very young, the ways of life changed so rapidly that what is here today is gone tomorrow, one thinks one is up to date and finds one is ten years at least behind the times, I click away on my old typewriter and find it is a thing of the past, many more and easier ways of writing, but my mind turned to washing and the sun is shining and the washing, swings in the breeze, but that would be out, although we country folk still think a good dry in the wind is preferable to all other methods.
How long ago when every house had a copper, true it was the only means of heating water, but it took the place of the washing machine which incidentally must be more expensive to run, In the old days at Sprowston Hall the laundry was about a mile from the house and at least two or three people worked there, I think I the head was Mrs Golden at the time, but there must have been changes. The washing was packed in large wicker hampers and taken in the cart to the laundry, as the household numbered about fourteen people there was a considerable amount of washing besides the bed linen, so many aprons and starched caps, so many cotton dresses, all the numerous nursery stuff, the white starched table cloths and napkins, and menswear with starched collars, starched shirts for dinner parties.
It was not to go to the laundry and see the great tubs of rainwater, the large coppers for boiling, the long tables for ironing and the stove in the middle of the room, with its rack round the chimney to hold the irons as they heated, there was always a clatter of work at the beginning of the week, boiling the linen, hanging it out to dry or putting it through the mangle, a lot depended on weather condition and drying. Later the endless ironing and so many more frisland embroideries and even the ladies might have starched collars to their blouses, at the end of the week the hampers were filled and taken back to the Hall.
With careful unpacking and sorting and checking the lists, In one house there was an upstairs floor to the laundry and there an immense roller was cranked back and forth to iron the sheets laid out on long tables, this must have saved the hardest part of ironing, but it all must have been hard work in the hot steamy atmosphere. Later probably much later the home laundries were given up and the washing went to the laundries, the laundry van would come round and by this time there was far less washing to send, for the fashion in clothing began to change and thicker clothes went to the cleaners. The next phase was the big laundries doing industrial washing for hotels factories, or now along the coast for oilrigs, meanwhile we again wash at home and all made easy with electric washing machines that will do most of the jobs needed, and materials are so much easier to handle.
Never again to light the copper, never again to turn the mangle, the iron will heat itself and keep hot, and you can watch telly while you work, its all splendid progress but I think our grandmothers or great grandmothers would be surprised?.
Aeroplanes at Sprowston.
Air travel is so easy nowadays and gets quicker and quicker, just nip across Siberia from Tokyo without a stop and you have arrived in London, executives dash across the world for conferences and only see the inside of the boardroom, this is still a new of life and a rather exhausting one without the excitement and romance and effort, how quickly life as changed.
The turn of the century when cars had only just started, the 1st world war when horses were still in use and airfields had only just come into existence, Sprowston was still a rural community; Mousehold remained a wide open space of fields, not a house in sight.
I saw my first aeroplane in 1911 and we drove up in the wagon and stood on the road to look over the hedge and see the aeroplane being got ready for the flight, double wings held together with bamboo struts and someone turned the propeller by hand to start the motor, and the engine sprang into life, and the staff rushed for safety and the plane slowly rose and sailed away disappearing into the distance, a miracle of science, later in 1914 the wide flat fields were turned into an aerodrome and the young pilots were trained.
There were many accidents and some amusing encounters, my Father saw a plane, as he thought in trouble and ran across a field or two, where the big Sprowston housing estates now stand, to his amusement the plane was alright and a lovely young lady descended putting up her parasol and walking away, a young man was taking his fiancee up for a joyride, another time a plane landed upside down and he was full of admiration for the pilot who sat nonchalantly on the wing smoking a cigarette with not a shake in his hand, later they got to France and I think it was more dog fights than the bombing, we think of nowadays.
Silver zeppelins along the coast, they looked like giant cigars and I can remember looking out of a window to see one, my father was outside and a great shout from him to draw the curtains and shut windows.
It may have been that a bomb was dropped on Thorpe and we drove up in the pony cart to see the crater, it was on the edge of a wood and had done no damage, there was a nice big hole and we were at that age that longed for souvenirs, we searched for something to take home in triumph and at last whoever was with us suggested we put shrivelled worms into a matchbox which was all we could find. This may seem simple and amusing and just the little things that are remembered by a child of eight and so long ago but there was the other side over in France when the flower of young manhood was laying down its life in the trenches, it was a war to end a war or so we were told but now alas we know a bit better.
Surgery at home – the operation!
Lately I was in hospital after a stupid accident to my leg and everything is in a state of hygiene, order and cleanliness, which for some reason put me in mind of a cousin who once told me of her appendix operation that took place in the early part of the century, my cousin has been dead these thirty years or more and appendix operations must have been in their earliest days, Violet lived at Walsingham in a big house and I suppose the local doctor diagnosed the appendix and the surgeon was duly called for.
At any rate Violet had time to get the local carpenter to make a long narrow table for her to lie on, the surgeon had to come from Norwich in his carriage and it must have taken him two hours or more, imagine him in a long coat and top hat, meanwhile a room was prepared for the operation with the table conveniently placed in the best light, presumably the local doctor was the anaesthetist, Violet came down the stairs from her bedroom at the top of the house and the manservant seeing her said you can’t walk to an operation and picked her up and carried her, supposedly the surgeon took of his overcoat and rolled up his sleeves. Oxygen was administered through a mask and the operation was entirely successful, was a nurse in attendance alas I never heard any further details but Violet lived to a ripe old age, determined and active and the kindest of friends and what is more she showed me the operation table which then resided in her potting shed.
Bicycles – my first one!
What a huge number of different types of bicycles there are now, they all go faster and faster with less effort and are built for sport rather than a means of necessary transport, one is full of praise for the marvellous endurance tests they achieve, at the turn of the century it was another thing, so few cars and not everyone could afford a cart or carriage for transport, so the penny farthing came in but I don’t think I ever heard of a woman attempting to get on with her long and sweeping skirts, eventually the good old push bike was invented and became the poor man’s transport for many years.
I was not given a bicycle until I was nearly eleven and then it was my pride and joy, my mother more or less taught me to ride, along the garden path, then got bored with holding me up and gave me a big push and told me to get on with it. By the end of the afternoon I could manage rather inelegantly.
There was a lovely hollow in the road by the footpath to the church and if you went down it fast enough you could free wheel to the other side, it was good to have freedom and to be able to go off on ones own, almost better to be out of an evening with father. Things seemed to happen near the Blue Boar Plantation, a lady coming the opposite way suddenly swerved across his path, nearly knocking him off, I was behind and ran into his back, and he said “Damn” in a loud voice, I was really shocked that he could know such bad words, for although we said it in the schoolroom and were told not to, I had thought it a bit private to us, perhaps we were very innocent. One kept one’s precious steed cleaned and polished and looked with envy at our governesses who had an acetylene lamp that smelled awful when it was lit but gave a very good light, it must have been before the days of torches, I think her bike was very elegant with a skirt guard so that the long skirt did not get caught in the chain and wheels, we did not need those luxuries, but my brother and I used to go to Norwich together and had the terror of riding down Magdalen Street and avoiding getting stuck in the tramlines. I had to contend with two fears, the one of loosing him if I did not go fast enough and the second of falling in the tram lines, thinking back I am sure he would have come to my rescue!
It was quite safe to leave your bike anywhere, not like nowadays when it would probably be stolen, if not securely chained up, I can’t remember what we did in Norwich, perhaps we just wandered about for we seldom had more than a few pennies in our purses, but of course everything was so much cheaper and there were only three prices in Woolworth’s, a penny, threepence or sixpence , for sixpence you could get a string of pearls and the story was that if you looked carefully you might find a string of real ones and somebody had!
Most of the delightful shops of those days have gone now. We had a long cycle home after our outing and woe betide us if we were back late for lunch.
St Mary’s Church and going to church.
We went to the exhibition in St Mary’s Church Sprowston, but sadly arrived just after it had been closed, but it put me in mind of the familiar church of so many years ago, there was something friendly and perhaps almost cosy about the church in those days, was that feeling engendered by the walk up the aisle and over the grating that covered the pit in which was the central heating, heat rose up and warmed your legs almost to the waist, someone had lit the boiler the day before so the church was really warm, we sat in the front pew on the right hand side and just underneath the pulpit, we were allowed to draw when the sermon started and sometimes my Father forgot the paper and so let us draw on the end flyleaf of a hymn book.
I gained really bad marks one Sunday by attempting to draw a picture of the vicar, never must you draw a clergyman in his pulpit, all my life I have remembered this, and I have never tried again. To the right in the side aisle was a wonderful and very bright stained glass window, perhaps in memory of a Stracey, perhaps it is there still, we knew all the people who sat in the middle aisle, the Coleman`s, who walked from Oak Lodge, the Gowing`s from White House Farm who filled a pew, and then the Cozens Hardy`s, from the Coltishall Road, who had a huge monkey puzzle in front of their house, he was Editor of the Eastern Daily Press and miss Cozens Hardy always sat very straight holding her elbows so I tried to do that to.
My Father read the lessons so we had to pay attention and although someone had given me a prayer book the pictures in it were dreadfully dull and rather few.
At Christmas we all made decorations and holly wreaths, and sometimes when I was a good deal older I was sent by myself to do the altar flowers, my mother had forgotten it was her turn. The walk to the church did not worry me but getting from the vestry to the altar scared me stiff, the vestry was safe and inside the altar rails but in, between was beset with peril and sometimes the woodwork seemed to give out a sound, or was it a ghost? No wonder the two brass vases did not always match.
The walk from church was pleasant, a nice path along the side of a field, and we looked for all the wild flowers we could find, then onto the road where there was a big “dip” now all flattened away, across the road and into the park where the horses would be standing under the chestnut trees for their Sunday rest head to tail and snubbing each other. A metal gate into the garden and so home, why does one remember those days as full of sunlight and bright flowers, I don’t think anyone drove to church, cars were hardly on the market and you did not take the horses out on a Sunday except for special purposes so there was always time to meet friends outside the church and no rush to get home to cook the dinner.
Now the pleasant country road and rural church is surrounded with a housing estate, and a field side path swept away, and although there are so many people living around, the congregation is probably less, and it is certain that the church is less well heard.
A small girl and her mother came to see me, her form at school was putting up an exhibition of antiques and could I help, at first I thought they wanted me as a real antiques, for the show!
Then it transpired I was what is now called bygones, in fact things not in use any longer, but how little remains, the copper that stood in the back kitchen is now a small pond in the garden. Who would be lumbered up with a mangle? And then I remembered the iron that still resides under the stairs and I got down and pulled it out together with the shoe, what was the shoe for they asked, to keep the iron clean as we probably heated it on the kitchen fire and the shoe protected the white linen, then I found a tiny lamp, bought at Woolworth's. When everything there was a penny, threepence or sixpence, this little lamp could stand on the stairs and just give enough light to get up them in the dark, there was no electricity except in larger houses and they usually had an engine and made their own and then you had to be careful and not to use it to freely as it might run out, we had an electric kettle but this had to be used with care, otherwise it was only for lighting.
However I found a candlestick and remembered how the candlesticks were all put out in the hall by a table with their matches ready to be lit when you went up to bed, in the bedrooms there were tall candlesticks on the dressing table and perhaps on the mantlepiece, a jug of hot water was on the wash-hand-stand, now that was a real antique, and somewhere I have a jug and basin, and how pretty some of those china jugs, a cold night and a stone hot water bottle was put in our bed, but perhaps fifty years earlier a warming pan would have been brought up filled with hot coals.
These are now so antique and you may see them adorning the walls of pubs with horse brasses and other rarities, I searched the house for an ink bottle, can anyone remember dipping their pen in the ink? We used to do it at school and I am afraid might be caught making tiny blotting paper balls dipped in ink to throw at friends or enemies, then in the garden one always dug up the remains of clay pipes, somewhere I still have a box full, but mostly the shafts, I expect a clay pipe with shag made a pretty good smoke, was it a killer in those old days or just a bit of comfort as you dug and double dug the garden.
Progress such a wonderful and pleasant thing, and I hope my little girl will giggle with her little friends about the strange ways of the past, with her microwave food, let electricity do everything for her, and in time she will laugh at all the new inventions, that are sure to change the way of life of the next generation!
Market Day in Norwich.
Saturday was market day in Norwich and from early morning cattle were driven along the road, we loved to go and watch them, but deplored the small boys who rushed around shouting and beating them with sticks. They may have come from many miles away, starting well before dawn, we used to take our little buckets and spades to collect the droppings for our small gardens, it was easy to scrape up as the roads had been given a new surface called “Tarmacadam” and we were told the tar came from a lake in the West Indies.
It was a great improvement on the dusty surface of all the bye-roads, cars were just beginning to appear and as some could go fast as thirty miles an hour they could blow up a lot of dust and there were no windscreens in those days, we used to try and persuade someone to take us to the top of the drive after dark to see the lights of the cars coming along the main road but they could not have been very bright as they had to be lit with a match.
The road to Norwich was full of interest and sometimes, we would walk as far as the mill and go to the shop near by to get 3d worth of bran for our rabbits, that shop is still there and sells bread, it was a long walk for short legs, but always full of interest.
We crossed the park which is now a golf course and came out on the road where there was a deep dip that is now flattened out, then we came to the Home Farm where the herd of red poll cattle were kept, crossing Blue Boar Lane there were two houses called “ Belle View “ which still exist, and then the Blacksmiths shop, we might see a horse being shod if we were lucky and the other side of the road, a wheel might be having a new metal tyre fixed.
Petrol was sold there at 1/6d a gallon, further on we passed the Monkey Puzzle Tree growing outside the carpenters flint cottage, and then the Wood Farm came up, but no time to stop there, and there were open fields, on that side, for the rest of the way until we came to St. Cuthbert’s Church.
The other side were several villa’s “ Egbert” and “ Osbert “ were two with names, if school had finished children would be playing in the road, hopscotch, hoops, whip tops or skipping ropes, it all depended, on the time of year and the road was a good safe place to play!
We had no time to climb up to the mill, but it was a famous landmark. With luck who ever was with us might buy 2d worth of sweets to help us on our return journey and hurry us along as dusk was beginning to fall, we clutched our bag of bran and looked out for our father who might go past on tall bicycle and wave to us. All that is more than 70 years ago.
Father becomes Lord Mayor of Norwich.
In 1911 things and events stick tenaciously in one’s mind the picture is implanted and never lost, that year my father became the first elected Lord Mayor of Norwich, some merchant in the city presented my mother with a coach and this of course, she finally gave to the City of Norwich and I expect it is hidden away to this day, we as children were allowed to drive with our parents in the coach from Sprowston to St Andrews Hall to receive the King who then went onto the Royal Norfolk Show at Carrow.
The coachman Orris was dressed in knee breeches and cocked hat, and the groom and footman also splendidly attired, stood on the small platform at the back, myself resplendent with a hat with a feather, and was my father in his mayor robes or did he put them on later?
It was all very exciting and we as children waved to everyone as we passed, this was the occasion when my father was knighted, which did not mean much to us! For having driven in state we namely were sent home in the pony cart!
There were other excitements too and this may have been before the new King’s visit and in fact the evening on the day of the Coronation, a massive bonfire had been erected somewhere on or below Mousehold Heath, and we as small children were invited by two young officers to watch from Britannia barracks which high up looked directly down on the city.
We climbed the steep cold staircase to the Officers room where they had kindly laid out a feast of goodies, but insulted me by asking my nanny if she thought I ought to have bread and milk. At that age when I was all of four and in a blue silk frock with medals for the Coronation.
We looked from the windows as the light faded and saw the massive pile of the bonfire, burst into flames and little people who looked black dancing and rushing around, my father and mother had to hurry back from London, where they had seats in the Abbey for the Coronation ceremony as the Lord Mayor had to light the bonfire.
The other excitement of that festive year was a Garden Party at Sprowston Hall and after the guests had gone we were taken to the tea tent and given our first Ice Cream! Delicious and made in a cylinder packed with ice and somehow you turned a handle to rotate the gorgeous mixture of cream, fruit and sugar what would “Mr Walls” say to that?
We hear so much about Antique Road Shows and all the joys of taking some special treasure to be looked at, and valued, and to find your possession is worth a prodigious sum of money, and, if you don’t wish to sell, must be insured for a large sum. Possibly very few of us have these secret hoards of excitement and delight, but many of us have little treasures hidden away in some drawer or box that dates back a generation or two.
Of course a flat iron still stands in a cupboard, but I got rid of the heavy stone hot water bottle as it seemed too cumbersome for comfort, several brass lamps are around the house and these date from the time Sprowston Hall first put in electricity around 1911 with their own engine to make it.
They must have been bedside lamps, and one has a screw half way up so that the stand could be bent to bring the light closer, however, perhaps more amusing is an old envelope that contains a little case pricked with holes, neatly ribboned and embroidered with a rhyme on either side, this little case held small sticks of sticking plaster and the words embroidered on one side “if pin or knife should thee offend, this little case relief will lend”, and on the reverse, “may you never feel a wound too deep for this to heal”. Had some little girl made it for a favourite uncle? Where did it come from? In the same box was another envelope saying Bolshevik Money and contained a note printed in Russia at the time of the Revolution around 1918 and sent back from Poland, by an aunt who was doing relief work with the Quaker contingent who did valuable work both in Poland and later in Russia near the Siberian border, living in railway trucks.
Turning away from small treasures, my eyes light on a tin lamp with an opaque glass shade bought at Woolworth's, nothing in those days cost more than 6d, it is still so useful to give a wee light on the staircase when we have a power cut. We have progressed so fast and so far that now all is machinery or time saving, nothing is done by hand, and when the machine breaks down or the telephone ceases to ring, and the electricity goes off, can we still warm ourselves with a fire of sticks or heat a real kettle.
Sprowston School Treats
Going back before World War One I think I can remember happy things about Sprowston School, they seem so unlike anything that would happen, now that I begin to think they are figments of imagination. The school was in Tusting close or somewhere near there and seemed to me, a very happy place, we would go for “Empire Day“ which shows how long ago it was.
All the children stood in a big circle and the flag was solemnly raised on the flag pole and broken, then we sang the National Anthem and “ Land of Hope and Glory “ and other patriotic songs. The British Empire was glorious and would go on forever or did we just not know what it was, the ceremony finished with a sweet scramble, such fun but were they nicely wrapped and the ground disinfected first? Did anyone get tummy ache?
The next memory is the school outing to Sprowston Hall, the traction engine went to collect the children and pulled two farm wagons, the children in their best, those long shorts for the boys, and best neat linen for the girls and there must have been a few teachers with them to stop them falling out of the wagons as they waved flags and shouted. The park had been got ready with swings on iron chains put up in the trees and a track prepared for the races tea was in the stable yard under the chestnut tree that stood in the middle. The tea was very simple thick slices of bread, butter and jam and lots of sticky buns, but it all went down very quickly, there were lots of helpers to hand round, and strong tea was brewed in the coach house. Later there, two prizes for the races and these may have been money, a threepenny bit or a sixpence, or maybe a penny for a third prize, even a penny would buy a paper packet of sweets.
Tired children, and the long ride back in the wagons pulled by Puffing Billy with smoke belching from his funnel, he was a beautiful engine with all his brass work polished. We used to go with my father to see him on Sundays and had a great affection for him.
More pictures to follow.