My working history starts as a young teenager in New Costessey near Norwich in the 1950s.
But as my mother was a member of a circus family, travelling around the country with a Wild West Show at the end of the War, my father helped booking sites and also had side stalls on the fair grounds, so packing up and cashing up procedures every night meant that as children we were involved in helping almost from the cradle.
These memories and details of my mother’s archive at the National Fairground Archive at Sheffield university appear later in this text.
My first job was when I was still at school at Papmax crisp factory at the top of Gurney Road where I lived in Costessey. Night times and weekends we used to have a big tin of Cerebos salt and some blue waxed paper and a tiny spoon. We used to have to spoon the salt onto the paper, twist it and do the whole tin for ten shillings. It took ages! My mother would help me – but ten shillings was a lot of money, people only earned two pounds a week.
How long did it take you to do that?
Several nights, really.
So was that quite a good job?
Yes, it was in those days, to have ten shillings.
How old where you when you started that?
Fifteen to sixteen.
Quite a nice after school job …
Yes, homework first and then sit and salt the crisps. Your fingers got sore.
And then after that?
After that, in 1953 the careers office arranged for me to go to City Hall. They paid for me to go on a course, which was held at the Royal Hotel in Prince of Wales Road for a month, to learn to work the comptometer calculator. It was run by a local firm with a more modern machine called a Sumlock. At the end of the time I got a certificate and worked on the panel of four girls working in the cost office at the City Treasurers. I stayed there until I had my son. I left there in March 1959.
So you were there for six years. And what were your working hours?
That was interesting, because we worked from nine to half past five, but we did have an hour and a quarter lunch, so what we used to do, living at Costessey, was pay 10d for a worker’s return on the bus that used to come from Costessey to St Gregory’s and St Benedict’s and go to work. At lunchtime we would run down and get the bus back home and have our lunch and come back again. We had all the journeys for 10d every day. This was until we could save up for a deposit and then buy a bicycle and cycle to work. We used to pay for it over 20 weeks after we paid a deposit, and we would leave the bicycle in the under the car park at City Hall.
How much were you paid then? Was the money good?
£2 6s 9d a week. After 12 months we had a test and became qualified machine operators and we got a big rise then. By 1957 when I got married I was actually getting £8 3s 4d a week, which was more than my husband was earning as an accountant at the City Hall. Complex machine operator’s grade, it was called.
What was the machine you were using?
It was a big machine with very strong metal buttons – a metal piece and the buttons were at the top. There used to be all the nines across, down to all the noughts and the ones. So if you had £9 9s 1d you had to hold all those buttons and if you wanted to do them 12 times, you had to push them down once and push them down twice. So you can imagine, if you had large amounts you were going like this …. The keyboard was the pounds and shillings and then the pence at the end.
So it was quite a physical job.
Yes it was. But I had this Sumlock machine which was lot better as it had little plastic keys that went down ever so easily. I could do that a lot quicker than the girls still on the comptometer. The comptometer was really the first calculator. The other machine we had for complex things was called a Marchant calculator. That was more like the calculator you have now. It was huge – it was up here and all the dials came up there… It was done electronically. They did mortgages in those days in City Hall and we had to work out the amounts and use the Marchant calculator. But our main job was to audit. Anybody in the department who had postage stamps or anything like that, the book had to be brought in every week and we had to add it all up and then stamp it with “comp” and with the initials. Even the police force used to bring them in.
So you did the accounts for lots of people?
There were four of us, and there was a lady (Audrey) who must have been in the Engineers (department). So there were five in City Hall altogether.
So you were all ladies?
Yes. When I started there one of the ladies in charge was 21 and I thought she was ancient – celebrating her 21st birthday. The other thing I always had to do, wages department did the teachers’ salaries. They were paid monthly and I had to check all these big sheets – all done by hand – and had to work out all the calculations. That was one of my main jobs and the other one was doing the evening classes. They paid the people hourly, but once a quarter. I had to check all those, all the down-casting and all the cross-casting and just hope nobody was 10 shillings out – because if you were 10 shillings out you had to go through everything! The same when we bagged up wages on Thursday for them to take out to the workmen on the roads and things. You had to count all the money when it came from the bank and when we’d finished we had to have nothing on the table – if you had a 10s note left it all had to come out of the bags and be done again.
How old were you when you first started working there?
Sixteen – because I went to Notre Dame after the 11 plus.
You must have been good at maths.
Yes, that was why the careers office recommended me to come and take that training course. When I was little … my mother was from a circus family and they had these different rides. There was always lots of money to count and my sister and I used to have to put pennies and halfpennies in packs of ten all on the table and my dad then could count up the money. In those days you had to pay purchase tax. You know what they call cloakroom tickets, where you tore them off and they gave you no. 1 and kept no. 1, my mother used to go and buy them from the tax office and they had to all be counted up with the money you took so they made sure you paid the proper taxes. Cinemas and everything had to do the same. And we also used to play cards a lot – rummy and 71’s up and things like that. I can do things in my head now that my husband can’t do. When we were first at Jarrolds, you see, on those tills – there were three of us on the till I was on – and you had to work it out in your head – not like it is now, not even in 1978. We had the drawer open … I worked on the magazine and sweets department a long time. You can imagine what it was like the day the Womens’ magazines came in – you know people would run in and want a Woman or Woman’s Own. You’ld take the money off them, ring it in and put it in the drawer.
You worked at the Council Office until 1959?
Yes, I finished in March 59.
You took some time off to have your son and what did you do after that?
I went to Jarrolds in 1959, round about Christmas time and did the same sort of thing. That was at the printing works. They did things like the catalogues – it was called the Brian Mills account. That was Littlewoods and Freemans and all these different ones. The estimators used to send out to different firms like that and I had to check everything before it actually went out.
That was still money and numbers?
Yes we had had Marchant calculators and comptometers there. Then there’s also the wages again as wages clerk – we used to bag the wages up every week for the shop and the factory and used to do the men’s timesheets.
Where was that based?
The factory, it is now, near the Courts on the riverbank at Fishergate – Magdalen Street area.
What were your working hours there?
We used to work during the week, it must have been 9 to 5, and then Saturday mornings. We had a proper canteen there, because the workmen worked shifts, so we didn’t usually go anywhere at lunchtimes. We always worked on the Saturday morning and I think I got £3210s or something like that a month. Not quite as good as the Council. The work was practically the same …. We finished at 5, so that was two and a half hours more.
You worked all day Wednesday, you didn’t have a half day like some people?
No not at the factory.
Did you enjoy that? Was it a nice place to work?
Yes, it was a nice atmosphere and Jarrolds were lovely to work with. We got a nice presents at Christmas time – perfumes – and the men used to get cigarettes in those days. It was nice. Mr Jarrold used to sometimes come over on a bike with a basket on the front. Our boss John Henderson, he was the head of all the accounts side, used to come in a Ford Anglia … maroon with a grey top that sloped up at the back – an unusual car. He used to come in that.
Jarrolds is a local store, isn’t it?
Yes, a family. It’s Norwich – they started off with a bookshop somewhere. It’s a long time ago now. So that was my first stint at Jarrolds. I stayed there until I was expecting my daughter and left in August 61.
Were you still living at Costessey then?
Yes. I lived on Kabin Road and my mother lived on Gurney Road – so I could cut through -and she looked after my son while I was at work. Then I had another daughter – I had two daughters. So that would have been about 1967 I think, when I went and just did mornings at Mann Egertons in Ber Street. My husband worked at the Council offices by then in Ber Street. It’s in the centre – when you come up Bracondale you turn right into Ber Street – where John Lewis is – right at the top end there.
What were you doing?
The same sort of thing. Answering the phone as relief and doing the men’s wages, doing stocktaking – that was what I did at Jarrold’s factory when the shop did the stocktaking. They wrote the price and how many, and we worked them all out for the shop even when I was at the factory. That was when there were panic times – stocktaking! I had to measure how much wire was on the wheels of wire – it was cars, land rovers mainly, tractors and lawnmowers. I did that for six years just working mornings during the week, but if I needed a day off for the children or anything I used to do Saturday mornings. I can’t remember how much I earned, quite honestly. I was there for six years, and it varied over the time I was there. It was nice working there. I like when you are in a shop or retail or wholesale atmosphere – you have the customers, you have the men who work there. We’ve always supported whoever was on the shop floor, the workers, the ones that run the business. You always treat them very well, don’t you? We used to have some real fun, especially Christmas Eve with all the apprentices.
What did you do?
It wasn’t us, it was the men. You were sacked if you got drunk. What they used to do was to put all the apprentices in the tractors and land rovers for the rest of the day after they had had their booze up at lunchtime. When I moved over, when they joined up with Nunns and went into Surrey Street, the men used to clock on with a little card. It wasn’t cancelled – they had a card when they used to go in in the morning. Then on a Thursday night I had to stay and collect all these and they used to give me sweets and all sorts – oil and grease and all sorts – and they always had a cheeky word for me. You’re trying to concentrate to be ready for tomorrow morning … so I used to work out the wages and the time and do invoices and things.
You were obviously quite a skilled worker you knew how to use all of this equipment.
Yes, when you do the comptometer, then when you have the Marchant and different things, you have only got to convert the way you do it, not the knowledge, do you?
So during your career did you learn any more skills or did you go on any more courses?
I took my English Literature again – no, English Language – because I failed it – and went to evening classes. I also used to go on Workers’ Education courses. Because we moved to Stoke Holy Cross in 1966, when Linda was nearly three, and they had Workers’ Education courses at local schools. A lady I got friendly with, Sybil, and I always went to whatever was on. They had history of Norwich and had a very good one on education. Things like that we always went to, and from that I took the English Language again, I’d already got English Literature, and then Sybil and I – she was a nurse at the hospital – she wanted to learn to type so we went and did a typing course.
Was that provided free?
Yes, Framingham Earl school we used to go to for the typing one. Couldn’t have been anything to stick in my memory – I don’t think we paid. You do now, don’t you? It’s very expensive.
Then I was made redundant in 1977 … when did we move to where we are now? It was thirty one years ago – so that was 1976. It must have been about August 1977. I then worked at Parker’s Seeds – they are not there now – they used to get on contract with farms to grow absolutely perfect seed, harvest the seed and then sell it. They used to buy seeds and seed potatoes from Scotland as well. So I worked there, answering the phone and doing the invoices and the wages – the same thing. I used to cycle there and I did that for, it must have been getting on for a year, and then it was a quiet time so he said “oh take a long holiday, all you ladies”. We weren’t very happy, so we wouldn’t go back again.
That was when they were advertising for someone in the cash office at Jarrolds so I applied and Mr Jarrold interviewed me and he said the lady who used to do the job and had had a child had taken that job they had advertised, but would I like to work in the shop? I said … well, you know, I wanted the money. It was just before Christmas and I had got three children … so I worked in the toy department “temporarily” and it lasted for about 16 years … not all in the toy department. You can go Christmas time and then you can apply for permanent jobs. I got a part time job in the magazine department and it went on from there. I was part time and then when my children were older I went full time. Then my mother who was 85 came to live with us, so I went part time again and that was how I stayed there for so long. I loved it.
You loved it – why did you like it so much?
You had customers, you had friends, you got into a routine where you had the same tea breaks and lunch breaks with the same people. You used to have a chat and put the world to rights and have a laugh and chat in Norfolk dialect. That was one of the favourite things we liked doing.
What would you do, just talk to each other in the dialect?
Yes. Another time it was so funny, do you remember “Are You Being Served”, which was a shop, well, they had this sketch on where they moved the canteen round, the tables round, and every time they went into the canteen these people put them back again. But that had already happened to us! We had a new lady start in charge of the canteen, Connie, and instead of us having our tables like this one pushed against that one, so six or eight of you could sit round, she separated us all up, so every lunchtime when we went up we put them all back together again. We won in the end. It was almost identical to that. We did it so seriously! Before that we had a little garden on the top of Jarrolds – older people would know. There was a little garden patio area where we could go out – a few pot plants – right up on the roof. When they did all the alterations and extended they took that in. I can’t quite visualize where it was now. I think it must be where the toy department is. That used to be nice, but there were so much staff there and all the changes that they took that bit away and made the bigger canteen.
What hours did you have, what breaks?
We had a quarter of an hour in the mornings and another break in the afternoons, that’s the law isn’t it? You can’t be stood there – we did have a chair but it’s not comfortable sitting at the till really. In those days if someone came up to you and said “where are the handbags?” you didn’t say “over there”, you said to whoever you were with, “I’ll just take them” and took the customer literally to the other lady or man (mainly lady): “This lady would like a red handbag” and she would take over and serve them.
We had a floorwalker, a gentleman, Mr Catchpole, who would walk about and keep an eye and make sure the customers were happy. That’s a job that finished some time ago. He wore a smart suit.
Would that position be slightly higher than somebody who worked the cash desk?
Oh yes. You had the buyers who didn’t have to wear uniform and then Mr Catchpole would be above that again. A very important position. When you had sales, 10% or 15% off, they wouldn’t trust you because you didn’t have the tills you have now that do it. Mr Catchpole and other people from the office would stand with a little calculator near the till and work it out. What amazed us was when they started to have people come in on work experience, YTS children. They would say “oh how do you do 10%?” because they did so much on these little calculators they had in those days they didn’t even know what 10% of anything was.You see what I do is – if you remember, 17 and a half percent it was when this new VAT tax came in. So you do 10%, half of that is 5%, and half of 5% is 2 and a half percent. In those days I could do that in a flash and these people come in couldn’t do 10%! That was one of the things I remember, how they used to have people like Mr Catchpole and people from the office in the toy department and they would say a 10% off day, they still do that. I mean you didn’t have that on the tills to do it – now they are computerized. That was the other course my friend and I went on – when we knew they were going to have these special tills, we went to City College and did a computer course, so we knew. Then they trained the staff – they had a room in Exchange Street and took a few at a time and trained you how to do these tills. They were surprised that these two old ladies were in there and they said they’d have to give the old people special training, but we were already trained.
Which department did you prefer in Jarrolds?
I liked all of them. … you know, it was panic stations and I had to change, then I went there and did toys and then when I went full time I applied for the job on magazines – which was good for me because you started work really early in the morning and finished early. I think I had to be there by 8. We already had done that when I was part time, on the buyer’s day off and things like that. I think it was 8 till 3 when I went full time. In those days we had cubby holes … people placed orders for the magazines, so in the morning you had to go through each pile, cut it open and write the name lightly in pencil, and put it in a cubby hole for the people to pick up.
They prepaid for those?
No, they would come by – what you just said is why they stopped doing it – because people would order expensive part works and after the first six they would drop off and we would be left with them so they eventually stopped doing it. It was called a layby, you said. Lay-bys, yes, we laid by for people. We took a lot of orders where people would pay for Christmas for a year for a monthly car book or photography book, so you had all those to put in the cubby holes. I enjoyed that as well.
Then when my Mum came to live with us and I had to go part time again I was what called a floater. You go in in the morning and you go to Personnel and they tell you where you are going to be that day. It was quite interesting … I went from being in the cash office to using the washing up machine in the restaurant! In those days we had cream sort of satiny blouses with brown waistcoats and brown skirts, and I had to roll my sleeves up. I had to run to get the bus when I left off and the inside of my coat even used to smell of washing up. What happened, people who were already floaters went on strike, sort of thing, and decided they wouldn’t do the dish washer. The new ones who had then gone on, we had to, not very often, if there was Barry he used do it, but if he was away we used to get lumbered. But then they were lovely people working in there. We used to have a laugh. There were would be Barbara making up … they have pastry cooks and cooks and this one who pretties up desserts and salads – a special name I don’t know what it is. I had a laugh with her. I didn’t mind. Then you’d be on the till perhaps. (They’ve changed the names now. Below Decks wasn’t there.) I used to be on the till of the one on the fashion floor sometimes. Sometimes my husband’s workmates would come in and say “didn’t know you worked here”. I said, “I have been here for years”. That was all different – the tills were different. Everything is a number. For a doughnut you press a number, for full meal you press another number, so that’s how they keep tabs on the storeroom stock they need.
What did you think to the change from doing everything manually to using computers? You obviously saw the change.
I suppose with going on the course – I think it was for three months or something my friend and I – I didn’t think much about it then really. Some things I can still do quicker in my head. The thing is, you know in your mind when you have been used to it if something’s wrong and if it comes to some amount you think it can’t be that. One of the things you can do when you do discount is if you touch the wrong discount button you can make a glaring error. But if you can’t do things in your head you won’t realize.
How much were you paid at Jarrolds?
We had money every time, it was always confidential. Because when I took over in the magazines you didn’t get an enormous rise when you went on full time pay. Basically you got £5 more than the basic rate but then every year when you got an increment it would be a percentage so the money would go up. When I had to go part time again I was then earning a higher wage than a part time person, so after I had been a floater for a little while, because you got equal pay, I had to go on menswear, and then for a year or so my wage was frozen. I didn’t get a rise. Because you had all these laws about equal pay.
Because Jarrolds is such a local store, was it quite a good place to work?
Yes, customers were nice. I had one incident, this lady was really rude to me. She was a lady who came in a lot. Later in the day her husband came in and apologised and said she wasn’t well and he didn’t agree with her. Another time, he was a vicar or someone said he had given me £20 and I had only given him the change from £10. So I was taken into the office and questioned and the till emptied but the till came right. Eventually a couple of days later he rang up and apologised and said it was his mistake. That was a horrible, horrible day for me.
Another day people will remember is when we all got snowed in in Norwich. My husband tried to come and get me. You know, opposite John Lewis (it’s a bingo hall now) he used to pick me up there and it snowed so hard he couldn’t get there. The traffic was all at a standstill so he had to go home. I came back to Jarrolds so I could ring him from there. It was so eerie because everywhere was white and everyone was rushing. But there was no contact with people – you know what I mean – so I went back to Jarrolds. His mum lived up Aylsham Road opposite the bingo hall in flats there, so I had to walk up to there. We hadn’t got boots or anything on, you’d just got shoes, soaked through. When I got to Magdalen Street – it was so eerie even remembering it now – there was this lady came up to me and she said “I am frightened, my husband is trying to get me and he is going to pick me up outside the pub up the Aylsham Road up near where the British Legion place is”, and she said “but I am frightened to leave where the lights are”. She said, “Are you going up that way?” I said, “Yes, you can walk with me” and we eventually met him and she went. There were plenty of people about, you know what I mean, it was as if they weren’t people, it was snowing so hard.
So I went to stay with some aunts – they were really, really elderly and all they had got was cereal – so I had cereal when I got there and cereal in the morning and then I walked back. There used to be Bishop’s shoe shop near the swimming pool in St Augustine’s, so I bought some rubber boots and walked the rest of the way to work. This is the funny part – when I got to work I had to buy a blouse – the book buyer was in charge of us – so I had to go up and buy a blouse. They were these yellow satiny ones. I then went up to the stock room later on and got these sweets and stacked them up in the lift and came down and when I put them down someone had used felt pen on the plastic and I then had another blouse covered in purple pen! So the book buyer went up and said no way is she buying another blouse we can give her one. So that was quite a memorable day.
In the meantime, my daughter worked at County Hall then, and they used have lifts to Bungay – she was married and living in Bungay. This boy used to give four of them lifts. So they were all staying round at mine – my husband had a house full of people. They all got home. He found them socks and that and they all went out and played in the snow and got wet so by the time they had all finished my husband had run out of socks, so what with the blouses and the socks… then after a couple of days the buses started running on the main road and we just went back to work. Customers were still coming in the shop – you wouldn’t think they would, but I suppose they came in to have something in the restaurant or perhaps they had important things to do.
What year was this?
Oh gosh, I can’t remember. It must have been … Bernette married in ’82 so it would be in the eighties wouldn’t it? She got married in ‘82, didn’t she, because she was 20, and born in 1962.
You said you had buy a blouse? Did you have to buy a uniform?
Yes. They tried to get the tax office to give us a tax allowance because it was essential. I don’t think it ever worked out like that. Jarrolds tried several times to get a tax allowance for it. When I first went there you could wear anything blue, so I had a blue denim pinafore dress with a blue jumper underneath. Then we had this brown – we had a brown skirt and a brown waistcoat and these very straight blouses in heavy cotton that were brown and white. They weren’t very successful. So we then changed to the various different yellow ones over the years. Then they went to navy and white. Now they seem to wear lots of trouser suits. When they first let the buyers wear trouser suits ….!!
What do you think of Jarrolds now? Do you still in go in there?
I go in there sometimes. I stayed till I was 58 and my knees went. When they put the carpets down – you are standing on carpets and your ankles are going, aren’t they? When we were on hard floors I don’t think we had such problems with our legs and knees. When I was 58 they froze my pension and I took early retirement
I think you had quite a good time there.
Oh yes, we used to always have an annual Christmas lunch. They used to be at the Lido, then they were at St Andrews Hall. We lived all over Norfolk so you didn’t see people only when you worked, so it was nice just to go there and have whichever Jarrold was the Chairman thank you what you’d done over the year.
Did you have an annual vacation?
Eventually we had three weeks. When they gave us three weeks we always used to have to take it between the sale and the end of March – you know, the extra week. The sales were always in January. We always had to stay behind. The shop would shut Christmas Eve, quite early, say half past 3 or 4 o’clock but we had to stay and put all the sale stuff out, so we didn’t get away very early on Christmas Eve. Obviously with the first day of the sale they used to queue right round, all round London Street and everything as there was furniture reduced and things like that. The first few people, they would bring them hot drinks and maybe ask what it was they were queuing for. The floorwalkers and the managers would stand there and just let a few people in at a time like they do in Harrods. It used to be like that.
When did they start the sales?
Oh as soon as Christmas was over. We did used to have a Christmas break. Now Boxing Day they open, Sundays and everything – but they didn’t do then.
How about when you weren’t working? What did you do then? Just in your spare time.
We had an acre and a half of garden, we did a lot of gardening. We used to go to the coast with the children. When you have got children and you live in the country you have to take them wherever they want to go … and then I had my mother there. She lived with us for eight years. It was mainly a case of going home. I used to fit in my evening classes and I always liked to have Tuesdays off as my friend did, and we used to go out on the buses and the trains on a Tuesday. I have Thursdays off now … because when you are retired you‘ve got dinner to cook every day. My friend retired and went to Lowestoft so we meet at Beccles on a Thursday and have a pensioners’ lunch there and decide what to do. Nice to get away from the cooker for a day.
Is there anything else you want to tell us about your working life?
Not really, no. I mean I always enjoyed it. When I wasn’t working when the children were small, we lived at Stoke Holy Cross and we all used to go strawberry picking, blackcurrant picking, green bean picking – all these – then the machines came and took it over didn’t they? They shake the poor blackberry bushes to death, don’t they. The beans used to be pulled up and stripped, you know, on the machine. The ladies of Stoke they lost their income really.
Lots of people did that when they had children did they?
Yes, when they went from Brownies up to Guides or Cubs up to Scouts you had all these uniforms to buy didn’t you? On just your husband’s wage – he had to run a car and things like that, the bills still had to be paid – so when there was something like that it was handy to be out there in the fields. How much did you get paid for that? It was just how hard you worked. Like, the strawberries you had baskets, you got so much a basket. They had trays for the beans and we had baskets for the black currants. They sold them to make Ribena and things. It was mostly women who did that? Yes, and young boys in holiday times, but now they have lots of rules and aren’t allowed to do it until they are 15 and get permission. In those days, your children would come with you on their days off school or anything and help fill the baskets.
And when did that stop?
It must have been in the middle 1970s mustn’t it. Because we moved from Stoke to Bramerton in 76.
So how about your parents? They used to work at the circus, you said.
Yes, my mother’s maternal grandfather and her paternal grandfather were both musicians and they left home – people in those days ran away to the circus. They had orchestras with them then, and they both played in these different circuses and eventually my grandmother and grandfather met and married. That’s how it came about. That was in the days when Buffalo Bill was in this country and my grandfather thought that was lovely and he became England’s Texas Bill! He was quite famous, he had his own circus. People always laugh, their surname was Shufflebottom. His parents or grandparents had potteries up in Lancashire so it was quite a big family, quite an important family. My grandmother was only 18 when they were married and she kept having children. She had my Uncle John and then two years later she had twin girls, so Uncle John had to go and live with his grandmother. She had a brother and sister who never married – he was a warden and then became governor of Lancaster Prison. So when the twins were born Uncle John had to go and live there and he became John Potter instead of John Shufflebottom. So people wondered why is John’s name John Potter Shufflebottom, why not the rest of them …?
When my mum was born she had got three children, and she then went on and had twins again. So my mum was then sent to live with Uncle John Potter and her grandmother until she was about three. As she wasn’t thriving the doctor said “she just needs to be with her brothers and sisters instead of these elderly people”. My mum’s first memory was of her dad picking her up and carrying her on his shoulders to see her brothers and sisters. She must have been about four by then.
My grandmother went on like that – every time she missed a year having a child she had twins the next time! But one twin from one lot – my Uncle Billy’s twin – was a little girl and my Aunt Ellen’s twin was a little boy and he got croup and the little girl kept cuddling and kissing him and the two of them died of croup. So instead of having 13 children in the end she finished up with 10 altogether that actually survived. She didn’t have very good eyesight, so my mum more or less brought up the littlest ones. My Uncle Wally, the youngest one, was 10 years younger than her, and she didn’t leave home until she was nearly 30, my mum didn’t. She got married the first time and then her husband died within a short time, because he caught some kind of consumption when in the First World War in the trenches, and my mum then married his manager who managed all the fairground rides. Her first husband was John William Waddington whose father invented these big fairground machines and built them. They had one called the Steam Yacht. My mum and her first husband travelled all over the country with them and my dad was their foreman. When John William died and mum married him of course they didn’t have any children, they weren’t married very long
Except for the War years Norwich was “home” to all of my mother’s siblings and their families, as their grandparents and uncles and aunts settled in the Heigham Street area of Norwich. When my mum married John William her grandparents then were elderly and her aunts and uncles were all in the shoe trade. One of them had a little shop in Heigham Street – my Uncle Walter. Every winter time they’d all come and stay in Norwich with their caravans and then the war came and they got stranded in London – Dartford – so we went to school in Dartford.
My father then bought as well as the Steam Yacht – you know what bumping cars are, like dodgem cars – they were like that – but racing cars in those days had big chrome things on them on the side and in these ones the electricity was under a metal track. Instead of having the bar go up doing that, they went like that, so they were called Speedway or Autodrome. They had that near Dartford and because of the blackout they had to put tilts all round it and he ran all the electrics off an old car. He took the tyre off and put a belt on to work everything so they still had the organ working and they could still play records. There was a St Dunstans near there, that was for people who were blinded in the war – they all wore blue uniforms and a red tie – and they used to hold dances on father’s track. So a lot of people will remember that.
The organ is worked by big pieces of cardboard with holes in them, the blowers blow air through and make the drums go. He took that some years after the war to Thursford, so if we go to Thursford we can hear my dad’s music being played. It flicks over like that – it’s folded all up at the side and flicks over and a pile that side as it goes through. I have taken my children – not recently – my grandchildren – we have gone up there so they could see it at Thursford.
Of course, the war went on too long and the doodlebugs came so he sent my mum and my sister and me to live with his sisters in Leeds. His father had worked on the railways in charge of a goods yard at Leeds and then he was promoted to Peterborough, but his sisters still lived in Leeds. So we went up there for a few years till the war was over but in the meantime of course with the bombing father lost all his rides.
We came back to Norwich eventually and I passed the 11+ so I was going to go and live with my mum’s cousin, but within the year my sister passed as well (there was only a year between my sister and I) so my mum stayed and my dad went back to London. But between coming back from Leeds and to Dartford and coming to Norwich my father became the advance man for my uncle’s circus. My youngest uncle by then had got his Wild West circus and so we travelled round with them. But my mother still made sure we went back to school at Wilmington Lane in Dartford. That was quite interesting living with the circus.
What can you remember from there?
The same sort of thing – helping counting the money and purchase tickets. There was a lovely atmosphere – they had four girls who used to do the dancing and dress as cowgirls and two men who sang with them, and obviously my uncle and aunt. He used to do all the knife throwing and shooting and things. Another cousin of mine, my Aunt Ellen’s daughter Rosie – Mum’s family had this lovely dark red curly hair, you know that lovely auburn hair – except my mum and Uncle Wally. My mum had fair, or mousy, hair; Uncle Wally had bright red straight hair. So my cousin Rosie then inherited it and she used to have to stand and be shot at and have knives thrown at her. She eventually married and went to Australia so I never saw her again.
Most of my cousins were about eight years older than me because my mum didn’t marry till late. She was 38 when I was born and 39 when Marian was born. My mum was trained as a tailoress in Leeds so she used to make things for the circus. Even when she was quite old my Uncle Wally wanted a clown’s suit, I can remember that, you know the big check – really big – big and baggy; she must have been quite old when she made that for him. She must have been in her late 60s early 70s … she never lost that skill. She could cut things out … I was very proud of her and that’s why I am so glad that there is her archive – people all over the world access it. My husband is a computer expert but we haven’t had our computer working to go on line for about a year now. He has signed up – has been waiting for the Post Office – so we have signed up so I shall be able to go on line again
People write up to the paper and say “is anyone living in Norwich related to the Bishops”, which was my maternal grandparents, and they had a huge family. I just write and they come and see me. They’ll be able to do it on their own, won’t they?
Armes Street, Waterworks Road, Dolphin Bridge and Barn Road were some of the winter addresses for the Bishop, Freemans, Webbs, Shufflebottom and Parkins’ families, and my mother had her winter quarters at Costessey.
What where these Steam Ships?
Steam Yachts. I’ve got post cards and posters that they had then. They were really big and must have had about 20 people sitting on wooden benches and they had nets all the way round. There were two of them, in the middle there was a steam engine with an organ at the top, and one would swing one way and the other one would swing opposite. Whenever you have older people talking about the fair that is nearly always the thing they say, they used to swing them right high and make the girls scream, you can imagine. There are a few about still, in museums though more, because there is so much to moving them. Nowadays they have the dodgems on a thing that folds up but then everything had to be pulled down and put together and everything hoisted in place.
They are quite a family really. John William Waddington’s father was this inventor and he invented the telephone exchange for Hull – he lived in Hull. Until the last few years when it was sold off they always had white telephone boxes. Because he put this exchange in they were one of the first people to have their own telephone exchange. He must have been a clever person. There are two archives – what they call the Margaret Shufflebottom archive (although the name by then was Bird) and they put Waddington in brackets …So she’s got the Margaret Waddington collection at Sheffield University and the Shufflebottom collection. When mum died and she had then given an interview to somebody who was writing a book and he got in touch with me and said “they are very interested at Sheffield University, would you agree to me giving your number?” and of course Dr Vanessa rang me up. I said there is loads of stuff here, because my mum had always been one to cut out pieces from the newspaper. There’s a weekly newspaper called The World’s Fair and they sponsored this thing at the university. In the end she came down for two days and I said I’ll pick out all the personal letters because you know what families are like – aunty this has had a row with aunty that – and you don’t want to stir. So we looked at all of them and she took it all back on the train. I suppose the name Shufflebottom is sort of important in that – there’s lots of them still working and a lot of them have got things at the coast, a lot of my cousins and their children have. When they found out that I had presented mine they let theirs go as well, so quite a few families have got their archives there now. So Vanessa thinks a lot of me – she always says for goodness sake, ring me on my mobile! I say, you’ll be in a meeting … They have now got a lot of money and extended it a lot and got more computers and on 6thDecember they’ve got the people from the government and that going to declare this new archive open. I can’t go because I’ve got to go into hospital on the 3rd.
I have been to different things when they have had them up there, they do very well. They have a lot of my photographs – loads and loads of photographs my mum had. They are all on the computer – the lottery heritage fund gave them £80,000 several years ago to put it all on computer. Because you have got the education for circus and showmens’ families in this country and its also EFECOT which is the European one. There’s a lot more circuses and things on the continent than we have here. It’s an art form on the continent. So it’s all on line – these education things, books and everything and obviously the computers to do with it all. She was made MBE, Vanessa was, for all her work in doing all this. It is an important thing, for education, even for circus children and stage children. … I haven’t seen her for a year or two – she’s a lovely person though.
How did she track you down then?
This man came and interviewed mum – Brian Steptoe – he writes books. He is a fantastic photographer and goes around fairs and different things taking photographs and he writes books and puts his photos in them. He came and interviewed my mum and he rang me up and said if I would agree for her to get in touch with me, so that’s what I did. Then I rang some of my cousins and they gave some of theirs as well – the other families. Quite a few families.
My Aunt Emmeline married someone who had a boxing booth and she had four children. I was actually there when they got it. My cousin Harry has got pizzas and all different things near Weston Super Mare. He has got these businesses. He sends photographs in pizza boxes, they are safe – he sent them like that. He had his back but I left mine there in my name and if anything happens to me they will be in my son’s name. That is all done properly, all legally, it has to be signed and no money ever changes hands. You can’t say “I want to buy this photograph”, or “will you give me £20 for this pile of photographs?” They won’t entertain that at all or have anything to do with it. It’s an archive for education to keep it alive really because circus is fairly downtrodden in this country compared to what it is in other countries.
They keep on about these animals … but you can imagine, when I lived at the circus and when we first stayed in Norwich, they used to come to the Hippodrome. There was a theatre just down here, called the Hippodrome, and they used to come every year. One of my aunties trained dogs – Pekingese – and they did all these tricks where they go between your feet – my aunty, whenever it was she had these little dogs, and you can’t say “oh no, you don’t do that any more”, they’d still do these little tricks.
Were there many animals at the circus you were with?
There were in the end, because my Uncle Wally who had the circus married Cicely Rosaire she was actually called Dorothy – Cicely Rosaire – and that was a big circus worked mainly in Kent and places like that. When they got married they went to church on the elephants. You know the Windsor Wild Life Park – her brother Denis was the one who was in charge of the animals when that was founded, and he was famous for elephants. When they came to Norwich they would bring them to the railway station and parade them when the circus was there and different things. They had lions and tigers and monkeys and chimpanzees – they had everything.
You get these coincidences … we live in Bramerton but our address is Framingham Piggott – we go to Loddon vet’s. When we went there with an animal once to Mr Evans – I think they were cats – I said “my mum was circus family and she knows what she’s doing” and he said “who?” and I said “Rosaire”. Do you know, he did his training at Rosaire’s circus on animals, because the whole family always used to go to Edinburgh and do the circus for Christmas. You know what Edinburgh is like for theatre. He said that if the monkeys especially – they suffered from the cold – and one of them was ill they would stay there at the veterinary hospital. Because they are like children, they are your life aren’t they? There wasn’t cruelty, just the opposite, more cruel to you because your whole life had to revolve around them. And then when my Uncle Wally and Aunt Cissy got married they went on the elephant … There used to be a magazine called Picture Post. It came out every week and was all photographs, it was like a news thing. They had their photographs with their babies and it must have been her one of her sisters or brothers, with them on the elephants and the babies pushed in the prams for the christening. That is quite famous; you might pick a paper or magazine or a book up anytime and suddenly see this picture.
So was it your generation your circus connections kind of stopped?
Not my generation. My cousin Florence lives in Leeds. They all had not actual circuses then after my grandfather died, but they had sideshows. There used to be freak shows and flea circuses, but they always had the western shows and did the knife throwing and so on and all had their stage names. Florence was an only child, they were the Colorados. They were all dressed differently: Uncle Wally was always theatrical so he always wore white satin with white leather boots with red inlaid in them. They used to make a lot of these things themselves, they would not go to a shop and buy them. My auntie used to wear a skirt – ever so short with all fringes. She was a big lady, Italian you see, Rosaire, and she had lots of black hair, really long, and a cowboy hat and this very short skirt with all the fringe and red leather inlay on her shoes. She was quite spectacular. And then Florence’s dad was Uncle Richard – they were the Colorados. Uncle Billy, they were the Dakotas.
This would be the knife throwing?
Yes. There are all sorts of laws with fairs. They have the showman’s guild and you have to abide by all the laws or they take you to a showman’s court. My mum had what they call grounds in various places even after she lost her rides and she used to share. They would put their show on there and she would be in the paybox or whatever and she’d get a percentage of what they took for her grounds. All her brothers at different times did come to Norwich. People remember Uncle Wally was in white and Uncle Billy always had chaps, which were the furry things that went over their trousers. My Uncle Richard, who was Florence’s dad, they always wore brown leather. Vanessa rang me up and said somebody from Scotland had got Uncle Wally’s stage clothes. He bought them at an auction. It didn’t seem right because he described them, and was going to send a photograph, and they turned out be my Uncle Richard’s brown leather ones. It was like a trademark. My Uncle Wally even when he was in his 80s (he died in his 90s) used to still wear a big white stetson.
When I was a little girl … you know what a shooting break is – you see them in western films. It’s a car with like a pointed front and all wood on the back. He always drove one of those as well. I’ve got a toy one – I saw it in a shop in Lowestoft and thought I have got to have that! It’s just a toy – it’s about that big and has got a leather top and everything like he had.
I used to love my Uncle Wally. You can imagine being a little girl – he had got these lovely horses. He was like a film star. When I went to his wife’s funeral, he was really old, he thought I was my mum. He kept saying “oh Margaret you were lovely to me” and he wouldn’t let go of my hand. Because my mum brought them up you see, with her mum being partially sighted she used to have to get them ready for school and take them to school with the horse and cart, and then get herself ready to go to school. They used to finish school when they were about 13 or 14.
There’s also some film of her. My cousin who lives in Southampton has been trying to find that and so am I. We have been in touch with the War Museums and things. He rang up and he said there is a picture of my dad. In the war they commandeered the horses – my uncles were only about 17 or 18. In the First World War they had had to work in the forests down near Southampton dragging the logs to wherever they went. They rang up – my mum was still alive then and said it was my dad and the others working with the horses in the forest and described it. Mum said “Oh no, that was me, it was freezing cold and I had a big coat on and a hat and I was taking the boys their lunch”. That’s actually her, but they never were able to find out where they had got it from. It was a programme about the First World War. You know what it was they were doing? A man at the logging camp said “do you want to come and see what we are doing?” and he took her in this big barn and there were all these coffins … they had to get the bodies off the continent. And because she nearly passed out he told her they were the floats of seaplanes and for years she believed it, until it all came out they had to make thousands of wooden coffins for people who were killed. So she had quite a life didn’t she, very varied. I’d love to be able to see that bit of film. Every year my poor Uncle John used to have to go before this board to prove that his mum still needed him because she had all these little children and he was the only wage earner, my Uncle John and Uncle Billy. So they had to go … and they accused him of trying to dodge the draft as they say now and he had to prove my grandma needed him – which she did.
It’s strange because all I do … people write up to the local paper and say, “is there anybody related to the Bishops?” And there was another, a lady, Freeman, one of my mum’s aunties married a Freeman and they all still lived in Heigham Street – her Uncle Walter had a shop. It is amazing how many people you speak to and then they ask, can this person speak to you because they have already been in touch with me. Then this lady from Guildford who got in touch with me, her first cousin (which is my second cousin) only lives in Blofield. A few weeks ago we went and saw her. I haven’t been very well, so I haven’t been again, and her husband hasn’t been very well. We’ve both got daughters called Bernette and they are both almost exactly the same age. We look alike – she’s short like me. But we are two generations away, aren’t we. Because this lady from Guildford who is her first cousin – she’s lived there for about 12 years. We live at Bramerton near the river and she lives just the other side of the river. Neither of us knew about the other one.
That’s great … is there anything else?
I’ll probably think of hundreds of things afterwards.
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