A very different working world

Location : Thetford, Bury St Edmunds

Well I went to grammar school and I left when I was 17 and then I went to Norwich college for a year. And did a secretarial course, which I really enjoyed – it was quite fun.

And then when I finished there I got a job in Bury St. Edmunds, at an opticians called Wigram & Ware – they're still going. I got £4 a week – and it was advertised in the paper. I just applied and I got it. And out of that £4 a week I had to pay National Insurance and tax and then I had to pay my bus fare from Thetford to Bury and back every day. And then I had to pay my mum some keep money, so that didn't leave a lot of money left for bits and bobs. I'd been there about a year, it was quite a lonely job because it was just the optician and me, there weren't anybody else working there. And it was quite an interesting job. And he did offer to put me in for training to become an optician. I got into the technicalities quite well but then I was offered a job in Thetford, where I lived. And it was a pound a week more, and of course I could walk to work.

Responsible work at the Thetford builder's, undertakers and china and glass shop

So I left and went and worked in Thetford. I worked in a company which was called Boughtons, which is no longer going, it's now Carters' Builders. On Station Road in Thetford. They were a builder, and an undertaker, and they also had, fine China and glass shop, at the front which is now an opticians called Donnellys'. I worked, I did all the office work – there was just me. I did all the office work. I did the shop, and when the boss wasn't there I did the undertaking as well! I enjoyed it very much. I had to do all the wages. And that was quite a job because there were six trades: carpenter, plumber, brick layer, plasterer, painter and decorator, a joiner. Each of those trades had, six levels, of, workmen. Starting with the apprentice, aged 15, who got one and seven pence three-farthings an hour. Up to the master craftsman, who was 22 or over, and he earned quite a bit more per hour. And I did all the wages, for all six trades, all six ages of the trades, plus all the labourers; and you work out 46 and a half hours at one and seven three-farthings an hour, plus three hours at time and a quarter. I did all that, there were no computers, they had no adding machines, there was nothing. I then went down the bank, on a Friday, and I drew the wages. Came back, put them all in the envelopes, paid the men and woe betide me if I was a penny out! I typed all the accounts, I typed out all the estimates. I typed out all the funeral bills. I interviewed people, what they wanted at a funeral, if the boss was out. I served in the shop. And I had to learn all about fine China and glass, five pounds a week!

Did you find that difficult interviewing people who were bereaved?

No, I didn't, I found that the most satisfying part of the job because people came in, desperate sometimes, in a condition of great, bereavement or despair and I gave them, to the best of my ability, what they wanted, exactly what they wanted, met their needs. And on average, then in Thetford there were two funerals a week. We were the only funeral undertakers in Thetford. And the chap who was the apprentice coffin maker, aged 15, was David Turner. Who now runs a very successful undertakers, he's a lovely man. And he knows his job inside out. I then progressed to six pound a week and then to seven pound a week.

I got married while I was there, and I stayed there until I had … In those days, in 1964, when you had a baby you left work and you stayed at home, so that's what I did. Two children, and when the second one was five, and at school, I then went back to work. I worked then in a family firm. And I worked in the office there. Then I retired. Have some time at home, so I left work.

Learning on the job

When I started at the opticians, obviously there was no training because there was just the optician there and he was busy seeing his clients so I just had to get on with it, just feel my way in. When I went to Boughtons, the lady I was taking over from, stayed for one week. So that, for one week I had the lady with me, showing me what to do. And then after that, that was it, I was on my own. And that was it, no more training at all. And nobody really, to ask, I mean the manager was very, very good, very kind but, he was so busy. He was relying on me to do everything. And there was absolutely no training in the shop whatsoever. I learnt very quickly about fine china and glassware, and I know very fine stuff from not such good stuff. And I learnt that just by doing the job picking the pieces up, unpacking them, packing them, pricing them, washing them. I had to wash all the china and glass in the shop, periodically, and polish that. So I had to do the window displays and everything that went on. Meanwhile I was also cleaning up, tidying up. Everything that needed to be done I did. But I enjoyed it there very much indeed. And when I left, they were very kind to me. There was no question of continuing work after a baby because it just wasn't done. These days it's the norm but in those days, when you had a baby that was it.

What about eating, did, did you sort of bring something in from home at lunch time?

When I was at the opticians in Bury I had to catch the half past seven bus in the morning to Bury, which went around everywhere, Ingham, Barnham, you name it, it went there. We got to Bury at quarter to nine, just in time to start work at nine. And then at lunch time I just used to go down to some shop or . There was no facility to have a cup of tea or to eat or anything, where I worked. And I just took a sandwich and ate it where I could in Bury. If it was nice I sat outside – if it wasn't so nice I just had to get … In those days, those facilities weren't provided. And then, the bus went at a quarter to six, arrived at seven o'clock in the evening. Then I had to go home. When I worked at Boughtons of course, it was just a matter of walking to work, walking home at lunch time and back, which was marvellous. When I was married, I continued working … do all the housework. I worked Monday to Friday, Saturday morning – Saturday afternoon used to do all the housework, washing. There was no washing machines of course and just used to do the housework …

You didn't really get, by the sounds of it much leisure time at all?

There wasn't any leisure time. I know it sounds archaic, and we're only going back to 1962 when I got married but, it's a different world. When a woman got married then, didn't expect any leisure.

Changes from single to married life

What about before you were married, when you were single was you able to go out, were you able to go out to the pictures or anything?

When I was single we used to have a cinema. Which had three different programmes a week, Monday Tuesday Wednesday, change, Thursday Friday Saturday, change, Sunday. So if you wanted to, you could go to the cinema three times a week in Thetford. For one and six pence. Every Saturday night there was a dance at the Guildhall. Children – well sort of a teenagers' club. We were members of that club. Oh we were out every night of the week when we were single. But when we got our little house, and we married, that's when the hard work started. But we were happy, we wanted it and we were happy together and we didn't mind. But when you got married in those days, you didn't expect to have any money, or any time – not like these days. We didn't have a television. My husband worked in a television shop, but we didn't have a television. We didn't have a washing machine, we didn't have much.

So it made it hard, so you had to go shopping every day like that to keep the food fresh I guess?

Yeah, we used to shop on the way to work or on the way home. Call in the bakers on the way to work, call into the market on the way to work, we used to manage like that. But we considered ourselves very fortunate to have our own little house and to be happy together. Which we were.

Working conditions in the sixties

What were the working conditions like?

Well in the opticians where I worked, the working conditions were not too good because it was a very small building in the Travis in Bury. And I was in that little entrance place where the customers came in. And then they went through to a tiny little room, eye test and that was it, so I was on show to the public, all the while I was at work. And it was not very pleasant really I didn't like that aspect of it but you just had to get on with it do your work, without thinking about it. When I moved to Boughtons it was slightly better because the office was behind the shop, but it was quite cold. In fact very cold! Things were very different then. There was no facilities at all for staff. Not like these days. It was cold, not very pleasant really. There we are, that's how it was for everybody. I think people working in factories they were better off in some ways because they had a canteen. They had toilets, they had the washroom facilities and all that. But I never knew anything like that. Everybody was the same then. As I keep saying it was a different … well it was only 50 years ago. But it was a very different world.

Lot of legislation now, employment legislation isn't there?

Absolutely.

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