Marshland memories (1961-2005)

Location : Norwich

I was being brought up on a farm with my family. The youngest of five children. And both sides of grandparents were farmers too. Both of whom were very interested in having their daughters educated which going back to the early 1900s was perhaps a bit surprising, in that sense.

It’s perhaps difficult to identify the very first thing I did but it was probably involved in haymaking with a small fork rather than the long pitch-fork which was the order of the day. Certainly, we helped in the harvest time, particularly I remember, with regards to the threshing of the corn, I particularly remember, when the big steam engines used to come up burning large pieces of coal – massive pieces of coal – which we used to get the residue off later on to burn on the fire – with wheels, that I should think, must have been about twelve feet tall – brought up to the farm. The elevator, the threshing drum and yes it probably was that. And, of course, the corn was threshed probably in the autumn or early spring after being stacked during the winter months. And the days when corn was cut initially by a binder I remember and the headlands cut by hand with a scythe or a sickle and put into sheaves. My father always referred to them as “shocks” although one reads in books, they were called “stooks” – what difference it makes. And, certainly, horse-drawn carts to collect the corn and I do remember, as I grew older, helping to put the corn sheaves on the cart – possibly not allowed today under Health and Safety rules (laughs). And, of course, the corn was quite slippery so one really had to be very careful and get it balanced out to get as many sheaves on as possible. Certainly, when the corn was threshed out from the threshing drum, that was a very dusty occupation – not that I remember too much about it apart from the clouds of dust and chaff that followed from that. So, very early memories of some of the activities.

I went to school at the local primary school which was at Tilney All Saints and it was a voluntary-controlled or Church of England school. Of whom – it was a large number of about fifty-two children or thereabouts, with three classrooms or three teachers taking two age-groups per class. I think the Infants class actually had three in it. Because my birthday being in February, I wasn’t permitted to go to school by the school until the Easter term so I had only one term that first year. And then missed a year actually because I had been taught at home so I was able to read and do simple sums when I went to school. And then progressed to … Mrs Clark(e) was our first teacher, followed by Mrs Twite, who was very severe and austere and (laughs) people had reservations about being in her classroom over the two years … and then, Mrs White, who was the Head Teacher, who took us in our last two years before I took the Eleven Plus and went on to King Edward VII Grammar School at King’s Lynn. And that would have been about 1955.

I left school in 1961. My ambition had been to go on to University but that was cut short and the Headmaster recommended, in the various financial circumstances finding myself in, to go into banking because of the relatively good salary. And other fields, for example, law and/or accountancy one would have had to pay a premium to have entered those professions at that time. Our local priest at the time, who was a fairly wealthy man and banked at the Westminster Bank, recommended my going to see his bank manager who sent me a very pleasant letter afterwards because I’d indicated I had interests in becoming an ordained priest. And it said that we realise that you need not have been so honest with us but in the circumstances we wouldn’t wish to take you on board. I subsequently applied simultaneously with Barclays Bank and Lloyds Bank and was interviewed for Barclays at Peterborough; initially offered a post until after the medical for some reason, subsequently, they withdrew their offer to start at Peterborough.

And so I went off to Lombard Street for an interview for Lloyds Bank. I think the thing that really helped me get the post, I was asked how I’d travelled and it was two days after my seventeenth birthday and I said, I had driven a car there (laughs) and had parked around the corner of Lombard Street – something that one couldn’t do now. And that was actually on an old bombsite, where the car park was, I remember. My mother, “master driver”, sitting beside me as we went to London. I think the interviewers were quite impressed to see somebody up from the “sticks”, the countryside, would actually dare to drive into London, not least, two days after having a driving licence, having driven to King’s Lynn on market day on the Tuesday on my seventeenth birthday which was quite an achievement.

I discussed at interview about prices of pigs and potatoes and the rural aspect because Lloyds had a policy of starting one off in one’s home town, which mine was King’s Lynn. It was a very interesting branch which, like many banks, were fairly tall buildings at the time. Around the Tuesday Market Place was Barclays, The Westminster Bank, The National Provincial Bank, Lloyds and opposite Lloyds, effectively, was the Midland Bank – the five banks in the area at that time. I mentioned that it was a tall building and one of the jobs I had as a very junior clerk was to test the fire escape system which was, effectively, looked like a long rope with a metal core with two slings. And one threw out the long sling to the ground and put the other sling around one’s shoulders or under one’s arms and then descended which was quite a frightening experience. One came down the front of the building, obviously, from about three storeys up – or the equivalent of at least three storeys up – and landed on a second ledge where there was some sculptures – I’ve forgotten what they were now – and then descended. Whilst I was there, this practice was ceased because somebody at another branch had put the wrong loop around their shoulders and had leapt and had a nasty accident – so we weren’t allowed to use that any more. It terrified me, anyway, because, I thought, if there was a real fire, would it burn through where this coil was fixed to the wall but, I mean, that was a sideways issue.

As a junior clerk, one of the things one had to do was had to do was collect the “waste”. It was referred to as “waste” and, effectively, this was used cheques or credit counterfoils. And then climb the stairs to top of the building to where these were processed mainly into statements and ledger sheets by machines – national cash machines, I remember – which were operated, principally, by the ladies in the bank. At that time there was a supervisor who happened to be male.

We were expected to conform to a certain dress code and it was recommended that we had at least two suits so that we could wear them alternately. And on a Saturday we were permitted to wear a sports jacket, I remember. In the hot summertime we were allowed to remove our jackets if we were in, what was called, the “machine room”, at the top of the building but when we came down to collect the “waste”, we had to wear a jacket. On arrival at the bank – I perhaps should have started with this a few moments ago to say – you were expected to wear a hat – bowler hats, I am pleased to say had gone out – but I did wear a hat but scandalised the situation a bit later on when I had a motorbike and wore a crash-helmet because it wasn’t “formal headgear”.

We had to sign in on arrival at the bank and if we were after 08.40, the bank manager was supposed to put a red line so that one’s name appeared below the red line, to be looked at when the inspectors came to call. When the inspectors came to call it was a quite an interesting situation because they always arrived unannounced; they used to arrive somewhere between eight and nine o’clock and, the idea was that the chain must be on the door; you look through the peephole to make sure and they’d handed the credentials and opened the door, rather than just letting them in – sometimes they were let in and that was very bad marks.

The bank’s door had two locks on it, held by different key-holders and the inner sanctum where the strong-room was, also had two locks on, held by two different key-holders so that was dissipating security measures.

The particular things I remember about there was, as Junior Clerk, one had to stoke the furnace in the basement. One opened the door, shovelled in the coke or coal and dashed upstairs because of the fumes that ensued. Again, under Health and Safety it probably would be frowned upon these days. And, then dashed down again and put some more in and dashed back up. The other thing in the basement was that all the ordinary waste paper was put into sacks down there but before it was taken off for incineration it had to be gone through. And one could hardly stand upright in this ‘vault’, as it were, to see if there were any missing cheques or missing money which was another job … which was done with a more senior member of staff than the junior member of staff because two people had to be there in the same way as when the manager opened the mail in the mornings, he had to have a second person present to make sure that there were no fiddles going on. It was very interesting in that sense.

One of the first trips I was asked to make was to go to the Post Office to collect the brand new notes which would come by Registered Post. And the rules were you went one way and came back a different way. And the routes were supposed to be varied but there were actually two routes there. And one of the first jobs I was given in this respect was to be the “carrier” of the money or the “collector” of the money and I was given, effectively a leather encased chain which went round my waist and down my sleeve. And the Bank Manager very kindly said to me, “Well if they take the money they will have to take you as well because it is all strapped to you!” (laughs) It was quite fun really when I look back. It was quite terrifying as you got older! And, so one walked down there … and two people went … if it was in excess of £3,000, three people had to go. This was in the 1960s.

Barclays Bank was the largest bank and branch in the town and they held excess coin which we had to trundle across the Tuesday Market Place and, generally, one person trundled out and that was a sort of strange wheelbarrow with a pair of wheels on either side and one in the front and one at the back on a sort of spring. And you had all this coin which was quite heavy to push across the Market Place. (laughs)..And I used to look around and think, I wonder if somebody did come to take the money, I, sort of, would be able to pick up a lump of it and swipe him with it.

Another thought is … again as Junior Clerk, my job was to go and test the fire extinguishers – something that we probably wouldn’t be able to discharge them in the river, these days. One had to carry them down to the river which it was not so much that it was far away but probably the pollution that might now be caused. And, of course, when they were discharged they couldn’t be reused until the glass case had been put inside them.

We went round to various banks to exchange the cheques from the local banks. It was called “local clearing”. “National clearing” was sent for in the post. And it was very interesting that during my time at King’s Lynn a branch of Martins Bank opened which was at the far end of the High Street towards the Saturday Market Place which was an extra long trek to take the cheques for clearing. The Trustee Savings Bank or the East Anglian Trustee Savings Bank was not a clearing bank at that time and the cheques were cleared through one of the clearing banks.

Our work was expected to be accurate the first time but I do remember having to type out letters with cheques on several times because the supervisor would only tell me of one mistake at a time that I’d made.

I think the highlight of that period was actually when I went on a training course at Hindhead in Surrey. And the bank had purchased several what had been large, principal hotels in Hindhead and Highcombe Edge, I think, was where we stayed and The Beacon was where the training centre and lectures were given. And that was quite an interesting thing. I mentioned already about having two suits – we were expected to dress for dinner in a dinner jacket, at least, so it was something else that we had to buy before we went. As far as I was concerned, the course … I felt I did fairly well and learned how to operate some of these magnificent machines which produced statements and later sheets although, generally, it was something that the ladies at the branch did but we were expected to know how to set these machines up.

The two things about going to Hindhead – I didn’t smoke and never have. I had been to boarding school (which I didn’t mention at the beginning) so I’d both been away from home. I felt that if I’d really wanted to smoke, I could have smoked in front of my parents which is probably why I didn’t, I didn’t need to go and do something … But I was told that when I went to Hindhead that those who didn’t smoke before they went, certainly did when they came back – for the first time away from home. No, I wasn’t encouraged to smoke. There were two bars at Hindhead, I remember – those of us who were under eighteen had to go into the soft drinks bar and those over eighteen were allowed to consume alcohol. We had some socials there and it was this that I find to this day that I find quite irritating. It was in a period of psychedelic socks and the brightest socks I had were a fawn coloured pair which I wore at this social and in my report at the end of the time I was accused of wearing “bright yellow socks”. And that really did aggravate me because it was at the social. We had to wear, obviously, dark coloured socks – either dark grey or black – with black shoes whilst we were in training but I would have thought, at the social, fawn ought to have been allowed but it wasn’t.

Coming back to accuracy (that) I mentioned earlier, that there were two bank savings accounts: one was called the deposit account and one was called the savings bank account and these were entered up manually and people had passbooks. With a deposit account, I think, they had to give seven days notice and the interest was slightly higher than with the savings bank. And at the end of the year, of course, we had to work out how much interest people had earned on each of these accounts. And this was done collectively as a group but even as a junior clerk one was involved in some of it. Some of the older records, of course, were in very great copper-plate writing and, in fact, one had to practice writing before one was allowed to enter anything – or enter the headings in these great tomes of records because, as I said, they were manually …

I mentioned about the general clearing that had to go on – we had to list all the values of all the cheques and at that time we had two – one of which was quite a primitive machine – it was a Burroughs Adding machine which had a handle that you pulled to operate it – the other one was a National Cash one which was an electric one. And the supervisor at the time was very scornful of any junior clerk or others that needed to use the machine. He was able to add up in his head the three columns of pounds, shillings and pence and very quickly. And we shuddered if we had an error because we knew he would find it (laughs) so we used to find it before he went home.

The other thing about errors, of course, was that an error of our making, we had to stay until it was absolutely accurate and there was no overtime paid for this. The one time I remember being paid overtime was … or on two occasions when there were postal strikes and as the … those who were earning less were given the opportunity – although it was on a rotational basis – to actually take the cheques for national clearing from King’s Lynn to Cambridge, calling (that sounds like railway stations! [laughs]) at Downham Market, Littleport, Ely and Cambridge on the way. And being sort of entertained, briefly, by the managers of those branches who were holding the cheques. And, of course, this was done after seven o’clock at night. How things have changed in this – when I was at school and used to have a taxi on occasions, there was a firm at Terrington St Clements called the Eggetts and Mr and Mrs Eggett operated this taxi. And quite often I’d been taken to school by Mrs Eggett. She took us on one, possibly two trips to Cambridge or the various clerks that were going and obviously back again and somebody suddenly decided that it wasn’t appropriate for a lady driver to be taking these young men and so her husband had to do it when it came … but we did get overtime for those journeys which is quite interesting.

I then transferred after having been to Hindhead and having made, I suppose, some progress in … Oh, just before then I managed to, somehow, contract Rubella. The only significant thing was, I think, was the manager of the branch had carried it in because his daughter had Rubella, at that time. The fact that I had known her at the High School was neither here nor there. I transferred to the Wisbech branch of Lloyds which again had one or two interesting characteristics. My first morning, duly arrived in good time, rang the doorbell and a lady appeared and I said, “I am a new employee here”. “And I am the Queen of Sheba”, she said to me. “Slam”, went the door in my face. She didn’t know I was coming; she was the cleaner so she shouldn’t have been letting anybody in and I didn’t have a key. Subsequently, she apologised but I hadn’t minded; I’d understood. It transpired that her husband worked for my uncle in Wisbech which was quite a laugh, in that sense (laughs). I found the manager of the Wisbech branch not as helpful or as friendly as I found the one at King’s Lynn. One of the reasons for my move was my parents had retired by this time and moved to Wisbech and Lloyds liked their junior clerks to be working at their local branches because they felt they didn’t pay us enough for the standard of dress and other things that we were expected to maintain at that time. It wasn’t just dress, it was generally how we lived so that was really why I got to the Wisbech branch.

Whilst I was there, I became a sub-branch clerk out at, I think it was, Outwell, by the canal and Barclays Bank was the other side of the canal. Little story about that – that the guard – if we had less than three thousand pounds, a clerk plus a guard went out – by this time, one was, sort of, a cashier or sub-branch clerk, I think, it had the grand title for a little while. And on one occasion, I noticed the guard kept looking in his mirror and then, fortunately, the cars that had following us all the way from Wisbech, turned left over the bridge of the canal, just before we arrived at the branch. And the guard then said to me, “He’d given this chap plenty of opportunity to overtake us and he hadn’t”. He began to wonder if we were really being followed. On arrival at the sub-branch, the guard would go in leaving the clerk with the – or the cashier – with the money in the car, to go and check the branch – that nobody had broken into it overnight or that nobody was hiding in to it.

Couple of opportunities there, I remember, one was – if we had these brand new notes that I’ve mentioned already about – which we’d collected from the Post Office, which were in a sealed package – if somebody wanted new notes, we’d have to break the seal open, obviously, and count the whole lot of the notes – and this was in the day of ten shilling notes – and, of course, they stuck together when they were new. And somebody came in the middle of a busy time and several people were even waiting outside and asked for thirty pounds of new ten shilling notes so I had to count these five hundred and make sure I’d got the right number before I could issue any and duly handed this thirty pounds over only to find that he left a ten shilling note behind – and had gone. However, that was sorted out at a later date.

Another time that I was there, that I was somewhat annoyed, that we had a system of somebody could bring in a third party cheque and have it cashed on what was called ‘an exchange’ – it’s a practice that ceased at a period of time after that. And this particular farmer brought in a third party cheque; wanted cash; I knew the rules that said that couldn’t be done because of the amount; I went and checked. The manager had left the branch to come out to the sub-branch and spoke to the deputy who advised me that I was correct and shouldn’t cash it. The farmer left in a huff and the guard said to me afterwards, “You know that’s a particular friend of the manager’s. You better tell him when he comes”, which I duly did and what really annoyed me was that, fair enough, he said I should have cashed it and he went off to see this man and, I think, take the cash and deal with it. When I got back to the main branch in Wisbech, he said to me, “Well, I told him that you were only a junior clerk and didn’t really know what you were doing and that was why you hadn’t cashed it”, and it was that, that annoyed me. I must say that the person to whom I had spoken, his deputy, was quick to point out that he had advised me not to cash it but I felt that the damage was done, in that sense.

I mentioned about going to the Post Office in King’s Lynn. To go to the Post Office to collect these vast sums – and some of them were in those days – sometimes as much as ten thousand – as I mentioned already that anything over three, we had to have three people – and there was only one way, really, of getting to the Post Office from the Lloyds Bank at Wisbech which was across, at that time, the one and only bridge. The other bridge you had to go up to Guyhirn and come back (via) Rings End and so on, so that was not going to be a possibility so we used to have to go to the Post Office – we couldn’t fulfil the rules and regulations because we had to go one way and come back the same way – there being only one way. Interestingly enough, again we were close to the Midland Bank and the National Provincial Bank – Barclays never seemed to need to go to the Post Office – they were a big enough branch to hold a lot of money, I think – and whenever the Midland Bank were going, four police would appear and stand at each of the corners of the bridge. We used to look out the window and, from time to time, because we overlooked the river and this bridge – so we always knew when they were moving money (laughs) because it was a similar process when taking money to the Post Office of old notes or excess of what the branch was allowed to hold which was the reason for this – part of this exchange of money. And the National Provincial which was nearby, I think they were as discreet as we were and went across if they ever needed to go across, and came back- but that was one thing that struck me as a little odd at branch.

On a particular day, which I was advised that all sub-branch clerks had managed to do, was to come back to branch only to find one had come back with an empty case, having left all the money in the sub-branch which one was not allowed to do. So one then had to get the guard and go out on an extra journey and fetch it back. Well on a particular occasion that it happened to me, the manager had decided to initiate a cash check of all the cashier’s money to see that all was correct and I suddenly realised I’d got an empty bag. So I had to go back but again his deputy reassured me that it was something everybody did.

And on another occasion, this particular manager at Wisbech, wanted to be particularly friendly with the staff – he was always, “Mr. with his surname” and we were always called by … or at least, he called us by our first names, generally. And on this particular day I suddenly became aware of somebody saying, “John, John, John” and I thought there was nobody of that name in the branch – never having been called – because I always used my second name – only to discover that it was me that he was referring to which probably didn’t endear me to him.

And the other interesting thing, though, having mentioned about these cash cheques – to make sure that no fraud or embezzlement by his bank clerks was going on – I hadn’t realised that a particular friend of the manager who had been dismissed just before I arrived and I’d gone to replace him because he had actually been involved in taking money that wasn’t his, so I was probably on to a hiding to nowhere, anyway.

Eventually, in 1963 which was really only two years later, I really felt that banking wasn’t for me – my ambitions being either to be a teacher – to go to university and be a teacher – or to go into the ordained ministry. So I left the bank but I thought what else should I be doing? In the meantime, I had got an opportunity to go to selection conference for the ministry and the priesthood. And I had a sister who was a nurse and I duly went to the local hospital and was duly interviewed by the Matron who was quick to point out to me, she didn’t approve of male nurses – which was a good start! The training school at Wisbech had previously been under the auspices of Addenbrookes at Cambridge where their policy was not to take male nurses anyway for student training to become State Registered Nurses. The Wisbech School of Nursing, by this stage, had actually had its own training school but for the State Enrolled Nurse training and therefore ‘pupil nurses’ which was a two year course, rather than three year course – so the Matron had a bit more freedom. However, I must have impressed her because she was prepared to say – and this was a Friday – could I start the following Monday because they had a training school going in. And that was held at the Clarkson Hospital, Wisbech which had originally been a Workhouse, which had both a tower and a bell above it which used to call inmates in for whatever purpose, going back in time. Anyway, I started off there.

But alongside this, I was obliged to tell her that I had this interview for selection for the Ministry and she was quite prepared for me to go off for a week after only being there two weeks. This must have been February – yes, I joined on the 1st February because my birthday occurred whilst I was away. But she was prepared – she said that I could make up the week at the end of the training course. But her reaction to male nurses was that they had only two useful purposes: one was as theatre superintendant; the other was a tutor – and I became neither of those in my nursing career. However, she did feel that, with the history of my education, previously, that I ought to be training for the State Registered Nurse training as a ‘student nurse’, rather than a ‘pupil nurse’ but was prepared to give me a try to see if I was suited or if it suited me, or whatever.

And I duly went off to St Albans for this selection conference – the initials were CATCM – Central Advisory Training for the Christian Ministry, I think. However, the selectors decided that I ought to follow my vocation as nursing rather than the Ministry at that time. So, I continued at Wisbech for the next month – one or two interesting things there. The Assistant Matron was actually the Nurse Tutor. I caused a bit of interest – I was the first male nurse they’d had in the hospital and training – so there was some interest there. A couple of things that strike me about that, which was a small hospital, in the centre of town, which had its own theatres and Outpatients, children’s ward, a medical ward – female medical, female surgical and male medical and male surgical ward. So it was not a particularly large hospital. The area for the elderly – or the older people – was actually at the Clarkson Hospital where – which had become termed a ‘geriatric’ hospital which still upset local people because they felt it was the Workhouse.

The thing that amazed me there, was that on the male surgical ward, the butter was not only in the fridge but was in a locked container in the fridge, with a padlock – and only Sister had the key! If you didn’t remember to ask Sister to unlock the butter before she went to tea, it was very difficult to butter the bread when she came back because the butter was too hard (laughs).

Matron, herself, wore a black uniform and it was only when she retired that I really learned what her name was because I am sure that she signed all letters as ‘Matron’, rather than using her name. At that time, (she) wore a black uniform, with a white – I’ll call it – a bonnet, hat, with her famous strings underneath – and was an Irish lady – and possibly why she was interested enough to take me on when I expressed an interest in going to the Church because she was very much an Irish Roman Catholic. A fine lady – had heels which must have been about an inch – a statutory inch and a half high – and she always let you know when she was coming down the corridor – so you could always be busy when she got there.

We had to put out the chairs for visitors, in those days – only two per bed – which really identified that only two per bed could be there because people had to sit on the chairs and then put the chairs away which always seemed a waste of effort, I’m afraid – and these days, certainly, people have to go and collect their own chairs.

There was a thing about flowers – somebody reminded me only yesterday – about did I know the story about red and white flowers which I would say no Ward Sister would allow only red and white flowers to be together because it was a symbol of death. And if such flowers were brought in, I always felt it was a sign of Whitsun, anyway – you put them in churches – red and white at that time – but they would find a different coloured flower to go with them or they’d put them in two different vases.

The thing I remember was black tulips, too. I wouldn’t have thought that men were so fussy about their flowers but one gentleman had black tulips brought in and created a little bit of a fuss – or more than a little bit – because the tulips got put on the wrong locker and somebody else had tulips of a different colour and that was not quite right at all. We were not supposed to put a name on the vase but I think we did after that. That was sort of by the by, sideways. Wisbech also had some private beds – two or three private beds.

Matron, whether she really wanted to get rid of me, I am not sure, but said that she knew of two hospitals of which I could enter as a student nurse and she would contact them on my behalf. One was at Banbury where I hoped to go because by this time I felt I want to be away from home and the other one was at Bury St Edmunds which was nearer. I hadn’t realised until much later that Matron actually had briefly been Matron at Banbury Hospital and knew the people there very well and she obviously knew the Matron quite well at Bury St Edmunds. I went there for an interview and was duly accepted. The only question I remember being asked at interview, amongst a whole range of questions, was by the Assistant Matron (Matron being on holiday) was, “Was my birth certificate correct?” – which I could only laugh because I assumed that it was accurate at that time.

And just a bit on uniform – Matron’s uniform stood out because it was a green uniform. Again she had – wore a hat with her bows, with strings underneath and that was because the matrons were allowed to use – choose the uniform from where they had trained and Miss Clark had actually trained at King’s College, London – a lady who is still alive, in her nineties, currently living on the south coast of England and a tremendous matron she was, too. I got on very well with her.

Couple of little stories, I suppose, I remember a girl who was in the set behind me asked how to sterilise the thermometers and somebody, rakishly, told her to boil them and she duly did and had to go off to Matron’s office because thirty of the thirty-six broke which cost one and sixpence each which she had to pay for and I think Matron very generously said, “What happened to the other six? Why didn’t they break as well?” – or so I’m told.

We entered the training school – this was 1963 – and we had an eight week – it was called Preliminary Training School (PTS) – which was at Batt House in Bury St Edmunds in Westgate Street, very close to the Greene King brewery. I think it is now back to being a private house. One of the duties there was to, strangely enough, polish the letter box and door knob – although I don’t remember ever doing that – I think I was given the heavier job of the … there was like a prefabricated building within the garden of Bat House – which was our theory classroom – and one of my jobs was to manage the polishing and the polishing machine in there. And one of the jobs of the tutors, when they came, was to make sure that the letter box and door handle were sparkling. We certainly learned our cleaning duties there and in the practical room which featured on Batt House. [Note from contributor: Batt House had been given to the Hospital by a consultant of the name Batt.]

The girls on the PTS, all lived in Batt House, together with some of the girls on night duty – or the more senior nurses on night duty – and one the Senior Night Sisters also lived in Bat House, which was interesting. At the end of eight weeks, those of us who’d passed out of the … it was probably a bit later than eight weeks – we had an exam at the end of eight weeks which we had to pass. I happened to get top marks, much to the principal tutor’s annoyance – as a mere man – for bed-making. She said it was a far higher mark than she would have given me and quickly ripped open my carefully folded hospital corner sheets.

At the end of that period, we were able to have a party – or we went off, I think, to the Chinese restaurant where the restaurateurs hid behind the pillars to watch us try and manage to eat the food with chopsticks, for the first time. But we did have – one of our number was from Hong Kong – so she had given us advanced training in the use of chopsticks. When we came back to Bat House, I remember very clearly that – because comings and goings were very strictly controlled and the nurses had to be in by nine or half-past unless they had special pass – which happened throughout their training – and nobody had got the key or the special pass, although it was our night of our party – however, the windows that were onto Westgate Street – one was able to open with a penknife – which I duly did and sent one of my colleagues in to come and open the front door. We had to be very quiet, though, because we knew that the Senior Night Sister was sleeping upstairs and although we had already been out we came in and sat and, I suppose, talked for another hour.

Talking of passes, as a male student nurse we had … when we went on holiday, we had to get our holiday pass from Matron’s office but we were not subject to the same restrictions of going out during the week, in that sense. And, as I said, the female nurses all had to get a ‘late pass’ – I think they had two a month, or something, otherwise they had to be in by half-past nine.

We had no television facilities for the male nurses, where we were housed but we were allowed to go to the female nurses’ home to watch television until ten o’clock – it didn’t matter if you were in the middle of a programme – the doors were locked at that time and all male nurses had to leave – so it was a bit pointless going over there because you couldn’t see the end of the programme. The doors to the sitting room were also locked although some nurses, if they were late and hadn’t got a pass, used to come into the sitting room through one of the windows but couldn’t get any further.

It was very interesting in nurses’ homes because, as a male nurse, one was permitted to go in, as I said, to watch the television but normal visitors – there was a visitors’ room opposite, in this particular nurses’ home, the front door – where they had to wait until whoever they’d come to collect was there. In one of the other nurses’ homes, Bloomfield House, which was also in Bury, which was near the Bus Station, if I remember – they had a warden rather than a Home Sister, who was very careful. Again, there was a sort of dining room where we were expected to wait – sometimes we used to go into the kitchen and get into trouble for that, because we might see the girls in their dressing gowns. The fact that they had to pass through the dining room in their dressing gowns, was neither here nor there.

Somebody in my set and I were invited to a May Ball at Cambridge, at Addenbrookes and my colleague, Dorothy, duly obtained permission which meant that it went on to two o’clock, so we weren’t going to be back till three. However, that was agreed, strangely enough. My mother lent me her car to drive over there and to drive back. And Miss Jennings, who was the Warden at Bloomfield House, where Dorothy lived, waited up until she saw that she was safely in. We still had to be up, of course, for duty the following morning, which meant being at breakfast at seven o’clock. If you were after ten past seven, you got sent to Matron’s office because you were late, although we weren’t on duty until half past seven, I remember, but that was so we had a substantial breakfast. And before breakfast, the Night Superintendant or Senior Night Sister would come and say prayers before we actually went on duty.

The other thing I remember, was that we always had – as a male nurse – we had white coats, which, of course, were starched in the laundry – very stiff. And we always had to have a spare one with us, in case we had to go to Matron’s office for some reason because, even if you had only been on the ward ten minutes, you couldn’t go to Matron’s office in the coat you were wearing on the wards – you had to have this new one. The girls had to have these stiff, white aprons. So they had to be carefully placed somewhere in the linen cupboard so nobody else went with them.

Just picking up some of the naughty stories, really, from there … An inventory was done either by Matron or one of the Assistant Matrons, on a regular basis, and in the hutted ward areas which were at different levels, coming down, I remember, for the inventory, the metal bedpans – we had to account for the right numbers. Sometimes they got passed from one ward to the next to make sure the numbers were correct.

A story that I remember very clearly being irritated by was in the middle of supper on night duty and Night Sister came along and said, “Oh, we need to go round the block because an intruder has been identified by a Staff Nurse” – or, I think, perhaps, a third year student at the time – who was a very sensible person who wasn’t going to be phased in the usual way and being something of … well, perhaps having a sense of humour with this Night Sister, who I didn’t particularly like. We went up at the end which was the area where the Convent grounds came out to the hospital – Convent of St Louis – and we went up to end of the wards and I happened to say, “You’ll see a man come round the corner in a minute but don’t worry it will only be Freddy”. I’d hardly said the words and Freddy came round the corner – it was so strange (laughs). Anyway, we proceeded around to the entrance of the ward. And one side where the boiler house had been but was no longer, was used as a soiled linen area and, I’ve forgotten, the other one would have been the coal-hole, I expect – and this Night Sister opened the door and out he jumped. No it wasn’t the man; it was the biggest black cat I’ve ever seen but it really scared her quite a bit. Following this episode, this particular Night Sister who had to go and do rounds from ward to ward and across … used to take … she needed to be accompanied by a junior nurse each time, from one ward to the next, down the ramp and even across to the main block because she was so nervous going around.

Interestingly enough, my accommodation was in the St Mary’s Hospital which had previously been the Workhouse. I only learned later that the reason I was lucky enough to get a room because at interview Miss Rae wasn’t sure if there would be an available room, they had turned out two of the male student nurses because the Night Sister from the St Mary’s Hospital actually had discovered young ladies, probably student nurses, in the wardrobes of one of the male nurses’ bedrooms. They weren’t allowed to stay there any more so I got a room. The Matron who was Matron Williams of St Mary’s who had been in the Queen Alexandra Royal Army Nursing Corps and wore an enormous veil-type headwear, was on holiday when I arrived, but came out with the Assistant Matron, along the corridor – about my second week there – obviously heard female voices and much to my annoyance, the Assistant Matron who was with her flung wide the door without knocking and came in and it happened to be my mother and an aunt. So I shot out the corridor and said, “Matron, can I help you?” I guessed who it was. “Oh, no, it is alright”. However, matrons in those days had their own personal maid and this matron was no exception and she lived in a bungalow in the grounds and so I said to Matron’s maid, “I had never been so affronted in my life. My parents would always have knocked at the door.” I was ill shortly afterwards, an assistant matron came up and she knocked at the door so I knew the message got through.

One other occasion which … we were on the first floor, I remember, which was above the kitchens, in this corridor through … we only had one bathroom with a toilet and then through the door was where the female staff of St Mary’s slept – which was interesting because the door wasn’t locked but because it was not the main hospital it was felt that nobody in town would know that men and women were on the same floor, as the staff but there we go!

As I said, that initially we had no … there was a television in the lounge but we were not permitted to use it at that time – subsequently, we were able to watch the television.

One night I was on night duty and one morning there was suddenly a tapping at the window and I was on the first floor which was quite high up so I was a bit alarmed as I woke up, thinking doesn’t somebody know there’s people are on night duty here and like the female nurses who went to a Night Nurse’s home, we had those same rooms and as I was leaping out of bed so I saw a ladder and a window cleaner appear. He was lucky he wasn’t pushed off his ladder! (laughs)

There was a small courtyard down where the – well, I think the term was ‘inmates’ at one time when it had been the Workhouse – this was a part three accommodation area – and they walked round so many times in the open air and so many times the other way in the open air in, the local people called, either Union or Spike suits and caps. And there was a man in a wheelchair, he was allowed to sit in his wheelchair – bathchair-type – under a corrugated tin roof and side pieces but otherwise they were out in all weathers.

On another occasion, I had overslept. I’d gone to bed extremely tired that morning at eight o’clock when I came off duty – I’d gone straight to bed – and suddenly there was knocking on the door and I thought, “Oh, my goodness me”, and hadn’t realised it was, by this time, half-past eight and I should have been on duty at eight o’clock at night and Night Sister from St Mary’s had come to wake me up. And I thought, “I wonder whether the night superintendant knows I am not there yet”, not fully appreciating the system. I was on Children’s Ward at the time and went straight to Children’s Ward and before the nurse could tell me that Night Superintendant did know, she appeared behind me. I was duly chastised, not for being late on duty, strangely enough, but for not reporting to her office first – and I didn’t want to get the senior nurse into trouble so I hadn’t gone to her office. Of course, they … telephone communication, one had to go via a switchboard and not use internal telephone numbers in case it woke people up at night and, of course, the switchboard operator very kindly – or the night porter, who’s the switchboard operator – had let Night Sister know which did stand me in good stead for my nursing career later on because if I wanted to know anything, I went to the switchboard.

The other particular note – I was on Children’s Ward on night duty the night Kennedy was shot. And, of course, that night somebody had heard it on the news – we weren’t sure if it was true and the only place in the hospital that had a television was Children’s Ward in the Dayroom. So, consequently we thought we would get everything done ready for the ten o’clock news and Night Superintendant came on as we were more or less finishing and she stayed, and she stayed, and she stayed. I thought, “Oh, my goodness me, haven’t you got somewhere else to go?” And eventually she said, “Well aren’t you going to watch the news?” She had come to watch the news, herself. She was, dear Miss Watson, who was … well, I got on well with her, anyway – so well, that Matron never read me her reports – they were only read to you if they weren’t very good or needed to improve. It was very interesting.

I nursed from 1963 until 1986 and then took on the care home. I was actually made redundant. I was back at King’s Lynn, strangely enough, as a Director of Nursing Services and we had a restructuring and the post disappeared so I was actually made redundant. And I thought well I would do some, either private nursing or some agency nursing. Certain members of the family had other ideas and jobs appeared in the paper and so I duly applied for one of them and, actually, was appointed, first of all as … we were called “Officers in Charge” or “Deputy or Assistant Officers in Charge” at St Edmunds at Attleborough and I went there as a Deputy, first of all. Six months later, the vacancy arose for the Officer in Charge and I applied and was duly appointed.

It was actually a residential home, in those days but, effectively, we were not allowed to give nursing – if we needed nurses, the District Nurses came in, not withstanding that while – there’s a dichotomy these days: what’s nursing care and what’s social care? And if I mention the dichotomy of bathing, some people have medical baths – need to be given by nurses and some have social baths. And the important thing these days is, who pays for it? If it’s a medical bath, a nursing bath, it comes out of the National Health Service; otherwise it comes out of the Social Services’ budget. So much for the two coming close and working together; and this is a dictate by Government, I think, as much as anybody else.

Having completed my training successfully at the West Suffolk Hospital, midwifery at that time was not an option for male nurses, although a second certificate was required – most of the female nurses would have taken either CMB Part One (the Central Midwife’s Board examination Part One) and then became … and the second part … became a State Certified Midwife – and, in fact, the consultant to the Male Surgical Ward, insisted on having a SCM on his ward – he didn’t like male nurses, I think.

The various other trainings open to male nurses – the favoured one was the Registered Mental Nurse and I completed three months training of that during my general training so I was able to go and do a shortened course of training which was a three year’s training, reduced to eighteen months if you were already on the Register – because I had done three months, I was able to do it in fifteen months. It was very interesting because I completed my fifteen months on 31st March 1969 and had a Charge Nurse’s post at Newmarket Hospital on 1st April 1969 – taking my RMN finals in the June of 1969. So I had actually got the post and then had to take the exams which I was terrified I might not pass ‘cause I’d have felt really foolish having got a promotion.

My older daughter was born later, in 1969 and I completed a First Line Management course in the September. From there, I came back to Bury St Edmunds as a Charge Nurse on a pioneer unit for – mental illness unit, in preparation for the new hospital, from where I was able to obtain, actually, an Assistant Matron’s post and I was called an “Assistant Matron” – not anything else at that time – and was the first male Assistant Matron that they’d had at Manor Park Hospital in Bristol. Three months after being appointed the Salmon Recommendation for Implemented – had to apply for a job again and I became a Nursing Officer. I continued there until 1972 which was after our second daughter was born, and went to Peterborough as … well, from a 7B Nursing Officer to a 7A Nursing Officer – in charge of night duty at Peterborough. From where I applied and actually became the Senior Nursing Officer of night duty at the Norwich Hospital – as I’ll call it because it included the West Norwich, the Norfolk and Norwich, Whitlingham Hospital and the Jenny Lind – the Jenny Lind which has now become the Colman Hospital. From night duty … I was an 8B there, for what difference a grade makes – I became an 8B, actually, on day duty at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital.

A little aside: my office on night duty had been at the West Norwich hospital, the Hospital Engineer said to me when I was appointed to Norfolk and Norwich – bit of a snooty scenario – he had never known anybody to move from the West Norwich, as he saw it, to the Norfolk and Norwich before. What there is to say about that, I won’t go into!

And then, eventually, was re-graded as an 8A. I also as Senior Nursing Officer at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, had responsibility for the Colman Hospital – Caroline House was open first – subsequently, Priscilla Bacon Lodge – I was there when they cut the turf for that – and also had responsibility for Dereham Hospital, in that remit.

We had various reorganisations throughout my nursing career and almost facing redundancy at … well, my job was merged with my boss’s job – my boss got the new job – the Director of Nursing post at the Norfolk and Norwich – and I was appointed, after interview, as a Director of Nursing Services at Queen Elizabeth Hospital at King’s Lynn, which was “QEII” at the time. Then a further reorganisation in 1986 meant that the Director of Nursing Services post at King’s Lynn disappeared and I was formerly made redundant and so went and applied … went to Social Services first, as the Deputy Officer in Charge, becoming the Officer in Charge six months later, when the vacancy arose.

The home, when I went, was for 56 residents. There had been a new block of twelve beds onto the original 44. The home was originally built in about 1968, I think and was actually built on what had been the turkey auction rooms – turkeys treading from there to London for the Christmas market and the geese having their feet tarred in that area.

In 1968, I understand, the greatest disability anybody had was “a resident” had “a walking stick” but by the time I went, people were on walking frames and some people in wheelchairs and so the dependence increased during that time. The staffing had not necessarily increased with regards to the increased demands being made by the residents but we did eventually reduce the beds – I think when I retired, we were down to 45 beds at St Edmunds.

Did we do any nursing care? Officially no – the District Nurses came in and supervised or did that – but we did have the situation of people becoming so ill that they were on syringe drivers if they were having regular doses of morphine and similar things like that. We did have some people who came in on oxygen which was very close to whether they were nursing care or not. And for a while, I was told that I had more people transferred from St Edmunds’ nursing homes, than any other home in the county but I think we took people who were in a … whose health was much less good than anywhere else in the county at that time.

In 1990, I was seconded to go to Heathfield in Norwich which was quite interesting – I won’t go into too much detail there – for three months and was actually there nine, before returning to St Edmunds, where I remained until I retired. Whilst I was there, of course, we had responsibilities for the kitchen, the catering and ordering of supplies. I remember, shortly after arriving at St Edmunds, I went and chatted to the cook who would not do the ordering – she was not paid to do that, she told me – but, in fact, gave me the list for me to order the things. However, a little naughty story really of – I was also given the job of ordering all the general supplies for the home and how do you know what’s needed? Well, I looked down the previous order list and duly ordered something similar. There was a little story about toilet rolls – because I ordered the amount – and instead of having a gross, we had twelve boxes with twelve dozen in each – so where do we put them then and why did we have so many? – because the Officer in Charge who was there when I went, had done the order the month before – she didn’t know what to order because it was always done by the Deputy – who had retired and she ordered this quantity and I had repeated the order – so we had them for … which was just as well because they went up in price during that year (laughs) – so we had a good stock … toilet rolls were a very difficult thing to order because if you weren’t careful you ended up having ordered only four and not the quantity you wanted …

After I retired in 2004 – at the end of February – by April I was being asked if I would go and the Assistant Manager – her title had been changed from “Officer in Charge” to “Manager” by the time I retired – to help at another home, for them to bring up some of the paperwork that was suddenly required – about three or four sheets to thirty sheets by the time I retired, to satisfy what is now the CQC (Care Quality Commission) – it was the “Inspection Team” at the time – and I think they changed their name three times before I retired – so we just called it the “Inspection Team”. And, yes, sometimes they came unannounced because we had one or two when I was at Harker House in Long Stratton. Normally, one was given a month’s notice which meant an awful lot of work because you had to prepare a sort of long report and off-duty sheets and all the rest of it. It was much easier if they turned up unannounced and took you as they found you, I discovered.

At Harker House – one notable thing – they had a wing of seven beds for people with dementia – we had a gentleman in for a fortnight who came in – having a closed garden – and it was relatively secure unlike St Edmunds where we had people with dementia mixed in with everybody else – we didn’t have a separate unit. And this gentleman managed to leap over a six-foot fence and go home, on his first day!

Then after my three months, it was then extended and so I was there about nine months. Interestingly enough. I was asked if I would actually go and be a temporary manager at Magdalen House in Gorleston which was a very interesting experience and I could talk about that for several minutes. For various reasons, I was actually there eleven months before I finally retired from there.

Something I didn’t mention, in 1982, I was ordained a deacon; in 1983 I was ordained a priest. And for a while when I was at Attleborough, I was actually a part-time chaplain at Wayland Hospital, also in Attleborough.

So you did fulfil your very first ambition?

Yes and I have been involved, obviously, in the parish of Hethersett and, initially with Ketteringham but then it changed – it was Great Melton and Little Melton parishes and I am still involved with that – taking funerals and so on.

So looking back on your very long working life, which bit of it did you find most interesting?

In the various ways, I think each section was interesting. I think, perhaps picking up the Social Services element – suddenly having to be responsible for the “whole” – I mean, in the hospital they had hospital secretaries, a full administrative team – Social Services had – it’s now called HR which was its personnel department, and so on – but when I was at the Norfolk and Norwich, one had direct responsibility for recruitment and that was before Personnel and HR had been developed in that way – but to suddenly find one was responsible for appointing cleaners, the cleanliness of the home – which to some degree, one had the responsibilities as a Ward Sister or Charge Nurse but it was different – you know, really, the ‘buck’ did stop there, although there was a hierarchy structure and one’s line manager would come in and look around and chat to residents, chat to the staff and see if all was well – and in some ways that was almost more closely regulated, quite apart from the formal Inspection Team which was actually set up whilst I was in St Edmunds – and the Inspectors, at that time, used St Edmunds to come and try their skills out – even if they wouldn’t like to admit it now!

John (b. 1944) interviewed in Norwich for WISEArchive on April 16th 2015.

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