The young, the old and everyone else

Location : North Walsham

In December 1958 I left Hellesdon School aged 15. I had been attending evening classes for two nights a week for three months for shorthand and typing. This was difficult; I lived in Hainford six miles from Hellesdon and a mile from the bus stop. I wanted to stay on until the summer of 1959 and take my GCEs but coming from a large family of six girls my father wouldn’t agree to this. The teachers also wanted me to stay on but father said no. I believe this happened a lot in those days. The teachers were very good and arranged for me to meet a careers officer and I was sent into Norwich with names and addresses of two companies. One of them was Mann Egerton’s on Prince of Wales Road and they offered me a job in their advertising department as a junior typist. Mann Egerton’s had branches all over the east of England and the London area. I started work after Christmas 1958, working 8.45 to 5.30 with an hour for lunch, plus every other Saturday morning.

Mann Egerton’s employed hundreds of people in car sales, commercial vehicles, tractor and farm machinery, refrigerated vehicles plus woodworking manufacturing including school furniture. The advertising department was made up of different sections: the manager and assistant managers’ offices and our secretaries’ office, an artist’s studio and the circularizing department.

My training was very comprehensive. I used an Imperial manual typewriter for letters, memos to other departments and branches and advertising schedules which had several carbon copies to be taken; plus typing copy for adverts which the graphic designers in the studios had prepared for newspaper and magazine adverts.

Printing was very different in those days. The designers prepared the art work, this was sent to the engravers to have metal plates made and often put onto wooden blocks. These were then sent by post and rail to newspapers and magazines. We were always working to tight deadlines and at times the graphic designers arranged photo shoots with the latest models of car. The circularizing department had all customers on a mailing list and they were sent weekly used car lists. I was often required to go in and help. This entailed typing lists of all used cars: make, model, colour, price, mileage, typed onto stencils which were very flimsy, which was put on a duplicating machine. This was usually three to four foolscap pages long. Two of us checked all the information was correct and then hundreds of copies were run off and stapled together. The envelopes were printed on a stamping machine which contained metal plates with customers’ names and addresses. I used a very primitive photocopy machine and probably one of the first made. One lady was employed to keep copies of adverts in very large guard book. These had to be cut from the newspapers and magazines and pasted in an enormous book and this had to agree with the invoices when they arrived. And it also helped when they did repeat advertisements.

On Tuesday and Thursday evenings I went to Norwich City College for typing classes, I gave up shorthand, preferring the Dictaphone, a kind of small tape recorder managers would dictate letters on for me to type. On these evenings I went to tea with the secretary of the department who lived near the college.

When I started work from an old terraced house on Greyfriars Road a few yards behind the main building we also had to clock in, mornings and lunch time, and as the junior in the department I was responsible for making tea. In 1960 we moved to the main building overlooking King Street. At this time we still required to work every other Saturday morning but now we had a canteen; also a new junior in the circularizing department who took over fetching the tea. We didn’t have meals, just drinks, rolls and chocolate bars.

Management was very different in those days. The managers were all a bit aloof. And when the directors came into the department we had to stand up when they entered the office.

We had a social club on Magdalen Street and also netball, tennis and fishing clubs. I played in the netball team. I made lots of friends and we mixed socially visiting each other’s homes for drinks and nibbles and I also did babysitting for one of the graphic designers and his wife. For a short time we had a record department and had a visit from Billy Fury. Loads of people came to see him. Also a jazz club with sessions at the Grosvenor on Prince of Wales Road once a week. Each year a dinner dance was held at various places around Norwich.

In early days I caught the bus to work and walked a mile to the bus stop and home in the dark at night. Woods either side of the road for half of it and no lights. When spring arrived I cycled the eight miles each way, saving money and avoiding the worry of missing bus in the evening if I had to finish a late job which happened when the head secretary was off for a few weeks for an operation.

Health and safety was very different. When in the old Greyfriars House all we had was buckets of sand on each floor. When we transferred to the main building we did get one or two fire drills but very haphazard. Health and safety people today would have a fit.

At age nineteen, in 1962, for two reasons I looked for another job. One was pay I started at £2.50 a week with small annual increments but this was not good. Also I was going out with one of the graphic designers making life at work difficult: if I went into the studio to discuss anything with any of them the Assistant Manager assumed we were organizing our private life and followed me. This wasn’t the case we kept two sides of our lives separate. The graphic designer and I have been married for fifty-one years.

I applied for a job at Raleigh Industries and was lucky enough to get it as twenty-two people applied. In October 1962 I went to work for Raleigh Industries at their depot in Norwich on Cattle Market Hill. The atmosphere was very different from ME’s, so much more relaxed. It was much smaller with eighteen of us working there like a big family and no Saturday mornings. Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 and one hour for lunch. Cycles came in a large lorry from Nottingham to our warehouse, and spare parts. These were then sold to cycle shops in Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire. Cycle shop owners would come into the depot or ring their orders in. Currys and Halfords were our biggest customers and purchase tax was added to the cost, this was the forerunner to VAT. At the depot we had two vans, a larger one for long distance runs and the driver would stay out over night and the smaller van for the local deliveries.

When I started in (19)62 I typed invoices for bicycles and got delivery sheets ready for van drivers. The warehouse manager would come up to the office mid afternoon to collect these and when I handed them over he would say you’re worth your weight in dickey’s muck. After a time the person who operated the switch board and invoiced the spare parts left to have a baby and I transferred over. I learned to use a telex machine for sending messages to Head Office in Nottingham. I also learned to do wages; this meant going to the bank to collect money and putting the cash in envelopes. When we had a manager from head office covering for holidays he couldn’t believe this and insisted on going with me for safety reasons. We also put stamps on cards for national insurance and one night burglars came and stole the safe with the money and insurance cards in; also took our sack barrow and cheeky things made themselves coffee in our tea room and left chocolate wrappers laying about. The safe was found sometime later at the bottom of the river when police were searching for something else.

I continued to cycle to work. This became easier when I got married and we lived in a flat on Thorpe Road. On Good Friday we always did a stock take and the manager sent out for fish and chips for us all for lunch. In 1965 we bought our first house east of Norwich. It was a three bed house with garage and large garden for two thousand five hundred and fifty pounds and I travelled to work by train from then on. It was a lovely place to work and we were all devastated when head office decided to close us down in 1966 and deliver the cycles direct from the Nottingham factory. The shop owners who were like friends were also very upset. In 1966 I went to work for Royal London Insurance Company on Prince of Wales Road in the days when insurance was sold by an agent calling at people’s homes selling policies. I was employed as secretary to the branch manager, also had customers calling in to pay their premiums which we recorded in a large book and signed their cards and we kept the money in an unlocked drawer. On Wednesdays and Thursdays the agents paid in their week’s takings. I had a person part-time to help me check their figures and their salary was based on a percentage of their takings; different percentages for different businesses. I typed all the letters, answered the phone and took money to the bank to put in the night safe on the way home. As manager, keen gardener and would sometimes go home early, each Friday he brought in for me an enormous bunch of flowers and half a pound of raspberry ruffles In 1967 I started a family and my eldest son was born in August and in 1969 my younger son.

During the late 60s and early 70s I helped run the local playgroup where we lived and was also on the committee and treasurer. I had various odd jobs while the boys were young working in a hamper factory at Strumpshaw, at Little Plumstead Hospital as a cleaner in the evenings and out on the fields fruit picking.

In 1974 I was offered a job as a nursing assistant at Thorpe St Andrews Psychiatric Hospital, working 9 to 3 while boys were at school and Saturday am. Got job word of mouth from another mum in the school playground who was already working there. I could now drive and had a car to get to work and back. I worked mainly on wards 7A and 2 and occasionally on other wards. I really enjoyed this work. We wore uniforms of a pink dress and a cardboard hat which had to be held in place with hair grips. The job was bathing, dressing and toileting patients, handing out pills, making beds and generally taking care of them. We also took them into the city, clothes shopping. This could be tricky. I went alone once with a patient who was prone to running away and the staff in Debenhams were brilliant and left me in the changing room while they ran backwards and forwards, bringing the clothes to me.

Apart from the work side we also played games like bingo with them and took them for walks around the grounds. And on wet days we would play music and dance with them. A group of us took several elderly ladies to the Chinese restaurant at the top of St Stephen’s. On the way we went to the Trowel and Hammer pub for a drink, consequently with all their medication they were very sleepy and one of them fell asleep with her face in her omelette (laughs). The funniest thing about this was the other diners’ faces while pretending not to look at us. After two years on the wards I went to work in the rehab department which meant some of the more able patients came to us every day and got a small payment for this. I was in the bulb packing department with one male and one female nurse. The male nurse would take the fitter men in the minibus to do the gardens at the health centres in the summer months while we girls did handicrafts with the women. One patient actually taught me to crochet. We also used the minibus to take them on outings. Once during school holidays we were short of staff and there was only me available to run the department and the head of the department let me take my boys to work. The patients loved it; they played football, cricket and board games. They kept asking when the boys were coming again. It also was good for my sons. A colleague and I used to play tennis in the lunch hour there.

In 1977 my husband went to Burlingham Horticultural College and got a job in a large private garden in Wootton St Lawrence in Hampshire. I was very sad to leave the job at the hospital but friends and patients used to write to me; however the postman understood the addresses the patients wrote I don’t know. While in Hampshire I got a job at the AA’s head office in Basingstoke dealing with members’ subscriptions in the finance department. One week we handled a quarter of a million pounds in four days.

I worked 9 to 3 while the boys at school. The office was very large and split into sections with our section employing six of us and the whole office contained about forty people. I was only there about three months because the family couldn’t settle in Hampshire and the schools were not good and we returned to Norfolk.

In Bacton, when we returned I became a home help with Norfolk County Council. This was a very satisfying job and I had several people to look after in the village and sometimes covered for colleagues as far away as East Ruston and Cart Gap where one man lived down a track and in the sugar beet season I had to leave the car on the coast road and walk about quarter of a mile across a muddy dirt track, sometimes in awful weather but he was so pleased to see me and have some lunch. He did eventually have to go and live with his son and daughter- in-law. One of the women always insisted that on Monday when I had a long day that I eat some lunch when I arrived and wouldn’t take no for an answer. When I was cleaning or preparing vegetables for lunch they would tell me very interesting stories from their young days and the women were good cooks and I had cakes with my coffee every day. And one man in his 90s, when I got there one morning said: “Jean, you’re a married woman with two sons, can I ask you something?” I was rather concerned as we did sometimes have to watch the old men. But he had sewn up his trousers whilst still wearing them and sewn them to his long johns and I had to cut him free. I made so many lovely friends.

1980 we moved to North Walsham and I started looking after the elderly people here, making more friends. Home help job was housework, preparing meals, shopping, laying fires, collecting pensions and paying bills, washing and where there was no washing machine I brought it home. Our house often looked like a laundry. And in those days I felt people were looked after probably better than they are today.

Unfortunately being out in all weathers my health deteriorated and I seemed to have a permanent chesty cold. I went on a refresher course for typing and learned to use a computer and a word processor and was lucky enough to get a job in the contracts department at Anglian Windows. I typed letters and estimates for noise contracts with London boroughs and M.O.D. airfields, plus organized schedules for surveyors to go out and measure properties in the area that qualified for new windows to combat noise. I sent letters to home owners concerned, also typed letters for other managers in the department and input the window sizes onto a computer ready for factory to produce.. Anglian Windows were making people redundant. Although they said my job was safe I wasn’t sure, several of my friends had gone, so I decided not to hang on.

I then temped for an employment agency and was at the Health Authority office based at Thorpe St Andrews hospital for a few months where I had worked on the wards earlier in my career. The Health Authority got into financial problems and all temps had to go. At this point I decided to go self employed and went on a course to become a child minder. I had always had an affinity with children. This turned out to be very good. I met some really lovely people and I still keep in touch with the families concerned. It was so much fun watching the children develop. One little girl asked me to draw a dinosaur; my drawing is terrible and she said “Jean, I don’t think it is a dinosaur it looks like an elephant” and I had tried so hard. This also kept me in touch with young people through Mother and Toddler Groups and dancing classes. When I picked up the older children from school there was spelling tests to do and French homework which they could do much better than me; which probably gave them a lot of confidence. After a few years I picked up a virus which I couldn’t shake off and was left with post viral problems and had to give it all up.

After several years I decided to go back to work and I knew a woman who ran an agency and she found me a job two afternoons a week caring for a lady with mental health problems. We hit it off immediately and it was not too tiring so I took on a part time job as a receptionist in town a few hours a week and a wages clerk at a home for people with learning disabilities just outside town. In 2005 I retired but I must say have thoroughly enjoyed my working life. Things could have been very different if I had stayed on at school. I would never have met my husband or had my two sons so I think everything turned out for the best.

The best bits were probably looking after the children. The child minding business was really good. I ran a business from home. I had several children each day. One little girl who I am still in touch with came from 7.30 in the morning to 5.30 in the evening and she was like part of the family. Yes, we spent a lot of time drawing and painting and playing games and the children were really very good I have to say. One child I had from 7.30 in the morning to 5.30 in the afternoon, 5 days a week. She was my main earning. I had another family where there were twins and an older sister and I used to pick them up from school, bring them home and the children all got on so well together. The oldest child who had the twin sisters, she wouldn’t play with her sisters but she would take the other little girl that I looked after and sit her down and read her stories. The older girl was the one I used to do the homework with.

The childminding was done in my own home.  had all the equipment here. I had to have the home changed for safety reasons, with all the cupboards locked and safety cover for electrical sockets, and glass film over the windows so that they didn’t break the glass and hurt themselves. The greenhouse had to be boarded up so that they didn’t run in the garden and cut themselves on the greenhouse glass.

The rest of my family were quite happy to do it. Yes, in fact the little girl who I had each day, she would twist my husband and my sons round her little finger (laughs).

I still see some of the children. In fact one of them has just passed her degree at University. I have been in touch with her since – she’s not sure what she is going to do. She doesn’t know whether to go on and have a year’s break or whether to do a Master’s; she’s still deciding!

Jean (b. 1943) interviewed in North Walsham for WISEArchive on 20th October 2015

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