Working Lives

A Jarrolds Story – and the circus (1950s-1980s)

Location: Norwich

Margaret tells us about her life working at Norwich City Hall then at Jarrolds, and being part of a circus family.

My working history starts as a teenager in New Costessey, near Norwich, in the 1950s. My first job was when I was 15 and still at school at Papmax crisp factory at the top of Gurney Road. I worked night times and weekends we used to have a big tin of Cerebos salt and blue waxed paper and a tiny spoon. We had 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. It was homework first and then sit and salt the crisps. Your fingers got sore.

Working at City Hall

I went to Notre Dame school after the 11+ and I was good at maths. In 1953 the careers office arranged for me to go to City Hall. They paid for me to go on a course, for a month, to learn to work the comptometer calculator which was really the first calculator. It was run by a local firm with a more modern machine called a Sumlock. At the end of the course I got a certificate and worked on the panel of four girls working in the cost office at the City Treasurer’s. I stayed there until March 1959 when I left to have my son.

We worked from nine to half past five, but we did have an hour and a quarter for lunch. So what we used to do, living in 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. At lunch we would run down, get the bus back home, have our lunch and come back to work again. All the journeys for 10d a day. This was until we could save up for a deposit and buy a bicycle and cycle to work. We used to pay for it over 20 weeks and we would leave the bicycle in the car park at City Hall.

There were five of us altogether, all ladies. When I started there one of the ladies in charge was 21 and I thought that she was ancient, celebrating her 21st birthday.

I was paid £2 6s 9d a week and after 12 months we had a test and became qualified machine operators and we got a big rise. 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.

The machine was big with very strong metal buttons 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.

It was quite a physical job, but I had this Sumlock machine which was a 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 other machine that we had for complex things was called a Marchant calculator, which was more like the calculator you have now. It was huge, and they used to do mortgages in those days at City Hall and we had to work out the amounts using the Marchant Calculator. Our main job though was to audit. Anybody in the department who had postage stamps or anything like that, the book had to be brought in every week, we added it all up and stamped it with ‘comp’ and with initials. Even the police force used to bring them in.

The other thing I had to do was 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 the calculations. That was one of my main jobs and the other was doing evening classes. They paid people hourly, but once a quarter. I had to check all those, all the down-casting and cross-casting and just hope that nobody was 10 shillings out, because if they were you had to go through everything! The same when you 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 back 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.


After I left to have my son I went to Jarrolds, round about Christmas time in 1959 and did the same sort of thing, 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 the different firms and I had to check everything before it actually went out.

We 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 do the men’s timesheets.

We used to work nine to five during the week and Saturday mornings, we didn’t have a half day on Wednesday. We had a proper canteen so we didn’t go anywhere at lunchtimes. I think that I got something like £32 10s or something like that a month. Not quite as good as the Council, but the work was practically the same.

It was a nice atmosphere and Jarrolds were lovely to work with. We got nice presents at Christmas time, perfume and in those days the men used to get cigarettes. It was nice. Mr Jarrold sometimes used to come over on a bike, with a basket on the front. Our boss, John Henderson, was the head of all the accounts side, used to come in a Ford Anglia, maroon with a grey top sloped up at the back, an unusual car.

That was my first stint at Jarrolds, I stayed there until I was expecting my daughter and left in August 1961. I had two daughters and in about 1967, I think, I went and just did mornings at Mann Egertons in Ber Street.

Mann Egertons

My husband worked at the council offices which by then were in Ber Street. I was at Mann Egertons for six years, just working mornings. I was doing the same sort of thing that I did at Jarrolds. Answering the phone as relief, doing the wages, stocktaking. 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. It was nice working there and over the six years I was there the work varied over time. I like when you’re 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 well, don’t you? We used to have some real fun, especially Christmas Eve with all the apprentices.

It was the men, not us, who were sacked if they got drunk. What they used to do was put all the apprentices in the tractors and land rovers for the rest of the day after they had their booze up at lunchtime.

They joined up with Nunns and went into Surrey Street, and when I moved over the men used to clock on with a little card. On a Thursday night I had to stay and collect all these cards and they always had a cheeky word for me.

Then I was made redundant in, it must have been, 1977 and I went to work at Parker’s Seeds, they’re not there now, but they used get a 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. I worked there answering the phone, doing the invoices and the wages, the same thing. I used to cycle there and did that for, it must have been getting on for a year. Then it was a quiet time and so he said, ‘Oh take a long holiday, all you ladies’. We weren’t very happy and  we wouldn’t go back again.

Returning to Jarrolds

Jarrolds were advertising for someone in the cash office, so I applied. Mr Jarrold interviewed me and told me that the lady who used to do the job and had had a child had taken that particular job but would I like to work in the shop? 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 in at Christmas and then apply for a permanent job. I got a part time job in the magazine department and it went from there. I was part time and then when my children were older I went full time. My mother was 85 and  then came to live with us and so I went part time again and that was how I stayed there for so long. I loved it.

You had customers, you had friends, you got into a routine with 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.

I remember a time it was so funny. Do you remember the television programme ‘Are you being served’? They had this sketch where they moved the canteen tables round and every time they went in these people put them back again. That happened to us! We had a new lady start in charge of the canteen and instead of having our tables pushed together so that 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. 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 right up on the roof, where we could go out. When they did all the alterations and extended they took that in. I can’t quite visualise where it is now, I think it must be where the toy department is. That used to be nice, but they took that bit away and made a bigger canteen.

We had a quarter of an hour break in the morning and another in the afternoon, that’s the law isn’t it? 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 you took the customer literally to the other lady or man (mainly lady), ‘This lady would like a red handbag’ and they would take over and serve them.

We had a floor walker, a gentleman, Mr Catchpole, he wore a smart suit and he would walk about and keep an eye and make sure that the customers were happy. That’s a job that finished some time ago.

That job was slightly higher than somebody who worked the cash desk. You had the buyers who didn’t have to wear a uniform and 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 that you have now to do that. Mr Catchpole and other people from the office would stand with a little calculator near the till to work it out. What amazed us was when they started to have people come in on work experience, they would say, ‘Oh how do you do 10%?’ because they did so much on these little calculators that they didn’t even know what 10% of anything was. You see what you do is, if you remember, when the new VAT came in, 17.5%, so you do 10%, half of that is 5% and half of 5% is 2.5%. In those days I could do it in a flash and these people couldn’t even do 10%! Now the tills are computerised. My friend and I went on a course at City College, we knew that they were going to have these special tills so we did a computer course. They then trained the staff, in a room in Exchange Street, they took a few at a time and trained you to use these tills. They were surprised that these two old ladies were in there and they said that they’d have to give the old people special training, but we were already trained.

I didn’t really think about the change from doing things manually to using computers, 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 comes out wrong, if it comes to the wrong amount, you think, ‘It can’t be that’. One of the things you can do when you do a 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 realise.

I liked all the departments in Jarrolds, I did toys and then magazines, which was good for me because you started work really early in the morning and finished early. I think that I had to be there by 8am and I think that it was 8am till 3pm when I went full time. In those day we had cubby holes, people placed orders for the magazines. In the morning you had to go through each pile, cut it open and write the name lightly in pencil and put it in the cubby hole for the people to pick up. The problem, which  eventually led to them stopping this, was that they weren’t pre paid. People would order expensive part works and after the first six they would drop off and we would be left with them. It was called a ‘layby’. We took a lot of orders whereby people would pay for Christmas for a year of monthly car or photography books, so you had all those to put in cubby holes. I enjoyed that as well.

When I worked on the magazines department you can imagine what it was like the day the Women’s magazines came in, you know people would run in and want a Woman or Woman’s Own.

When my mum came to live with us and I went part time again I was what was called a floater. You go in in  the morning and go to Personnel and they would tell you where you were 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!

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 and then every year you got a percentage incremental rise so your money would go up. When I had to go part time again I was 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. For a year or so my wage was frozen and I didn’t get a rise. You had all these laws about equal pay.

Jarrolds was a good place to work. I remember one day, people will remember, we all got snowed in in Norwich, it would be the 80s wouldn’t it?. My husband tried to come and get me, he used to pick me up opposite John Lewis where the bingo hall is now. It snowed so hard that he couldn’t get there, traffic was 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. His mum lived up Aylsham Road so I had to walk up there, we hadn’t got boots or anything on, just shoes, which got 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’m frightened, my husband is trying to get me and he is going to pick me up outside the pub up the Aylsham Road near where the British Legion place is’ and she said, ‘But I’m 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. It was snowing so hard but there were plenty of people around.

I went to stay with some aunts, they were really really elderly and all they had was cereal. So I had cereal when I got there and cereal in the morning and then I walked back. There used to be a 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, a yellow satiny one. I went 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 who was in charge of us went up and said no way is she buying another blouse, we can give her one. So that was quite a memorable day.

We had to buy our uniform, Jarrolds tried several times to get the tax office to give us a tax allowance because it was essential. I don’t think that it ever worked. When I first went there you could wear anything blue, so I had a blue denim pinafore dress with a blue jumper underneath. Then it was brown, a brown skirt and brown waistcoat and these very straight blouses in heavy cotton which were brown and white. They weren’t very successful. So then we changed to the various yellow ones over the years, and then they went to navy and white. Now they seem to wear a lot of trouser suits.

We eventually got three weeks holiday. We had a Christmas break and the sales were always in January. Now they open Boxing Day, Sundays and everything but they didn’t  then.

The shop would shut Christmas Eve, quite early say half past three, 4 o’clock but we had to stay behind and put all the sale stuff out so we didn’t get away very early on Christmas Eve. The first day of the sale they used to queue right round, all round London Street 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 queueing for. The floorwalkers and the managers would stand there and just let a few in at a time like they do in Harrods.

We always used to have an annual Christmas lunch, at the Lido and then they were at St Andrew’s Hall. We lived all over Norfolk so you didn’t see people, only when you were at work. So it was just nice to go there and have whichever Jarrold was the chairman thank you for what you’d done over the year.

I stayed at Jarrolds until 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. So when I was 58 they froze my pension and I took early retirement.

Spare time, life outside of work, fruit picking

When I wasn’t working when the children were small, in the 70s, we lived at Stoke Holy Cross and we all used to go strawberry picking, blackcurrant picking, green bean picking, and then the machines came in and took over didn’t they? They shake the poor blackcurrant bushes to death, don’t they? The beans used to be pulled up and stripped, on the machines. The ladies of Stoke lost their income really. Lots of people with children did this, you had all these uniforms for Brownies, Guides, Cubs and Scouts to buy. On just your husband’s wage, he had to run the car, bills still had to be paid, so when there was something like that it was handy to be out there in the fields. You had baskets for the strawberries and blackcurrants and got paid so much a basket.  They had trays for the beans. The blackcurrants were sold to make Ribena.

It was mostly women who did this, and the young boys in the 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 to help fill the baskets.

We had an acre and a half of garden and 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 live with us for eight years.

I used to fit in my evening classes. I used to go on Worker’s Education courses at the local schools. We moved to Stoke Holy Cross in 1966 and I got friendly with Sybil and we used to go to whatever was on. They had history of Norwich and a very good one on education and from there I took English Language again. Sybil wanted to learn to type so we went and did a typing course at Framlingham Earl school, I don’t think that we paid. You do now don’t you? It’s very expensive. We moved from Stoke to Bramerton in 1976.

My parents, the circus and family history      

My mother was a member of a circus family travelling around the country with a Wild West Show at the end of the War and my father helped booking sites and also had stalls on the fairgrounds. So the packing up and cashing up procedures meant that as children we were involved in helping almost from the cradle. There was always lots of money to count and my sister and I used to have to put pennies and half pennies in packs of ten all on the table and my dad could then count up all the money.

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. The circuses had orchestras with them then and they both played in these different circuses. My grandmother and my 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 and had his own circus. People always laugh, their surname was Shufflebottom. His parents had potteries up in Lancashire so it was quite a big family, an important family.

My grandmother was only 18 when they were married and she kept having children. She had my Uncle John and two years later she had twin girls, so Uncle John had to go and live with his grandmother. She had a brother and a sister who never married, he was a warden and became governor of Lancaster Prison. So Uncle John lived with them all and he became John Potter instead of John Shufflebottom. People wondered if he is John Potter Shufflebottom, why not the rest of them?

When my mum was born there were already three children, then twins again so my mum was sent to live with Uncle John Potter and her grandmother until she was three. She wasn’t thriving so 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! She had 13 children and finished up with 10 altogether that actually survived. 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.

Mum got married and her husband died within a short time because he caught some sort of consumption when in the trenches in the First World War. She then married his manager who managed all the fairground rides.

Her first husband was John William Waddington whose father was an inventor and he invented and built these big fairground machines. 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. Mum and John William didn’t have any children of course, they weren’t married that long.

John William’s family are quite a family really. His father also invented the telephone exchange for Hull. He lived in Hull, and until a few years ago when they were sold off they always had white telephone boxes. As he put the exchange in they were one of the first people to have their own telephone exchange. He must have been a clever person.

Margaret Shufflebottom archive, Sheffield University

There are two archives at Sheffield University, what they call the Margaret Shufflebottom archive, they put Waddington in brackets, although by then the name was Bird.

My mum gave an interview to Brian Steptoe, he writes books. He is a fantastic photographer and goes around fairs and different things taking photos to include in his books. When mum died Brian 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 told her that there was loads of stuff here because Mum had always been one to cut 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 Dr Vanessa 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 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 that the name Shufflebottom is sort of important in that there’s a lot of them still working and a lot of my cousins and their children still have got things at the coast.

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’s always says. ‘For goodness sake, ring me on my mobile!’ I say, ‘You’ll be in a meeting’.

They have got lots of my photos, loads and loads and they are all on the computer. The Lottery Heritage Fund gave them £80,000 several years ago to put it all on the computer. You have got the education for circus and showmen’s families in this country and 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 online, these education things, books, and everything. She was made an MBE, Vanessa was for all her work in doing this. It is an important thing, education, even for circus and stage children. I’ve been to different things when they have had them up here, they do very well.

My cousin Harry has got these businesses, pizzas, all different things, He sent his photographs in pizza boxes, he sent them like that. He had his photographs back but I left mine there. They are 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, 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 down trodden in this country compared to what it is in other countries.

They have now got a lot of money and extended it a lot and got more computers and on the 6th December they’ve got 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 haven’t seen Vanessa for a year or two, she’s a lovely person though.

Apart from the war years Norwich was ‘home’ to all my mother’s siblings and their families. Armes Street, Waterworks Road, Dolphin Bridge and Barn Road were some of the winter addresses for the Bishop, Freemans, Webbs, Shufflebottom and Parkins families. My mother had her winter quarters at Costessey.

When my mum married John William her elderly grandparents, aunts and uncles were all in the shoe trade. My Uncle Walter had a little shop in Heigham Street. 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 Wilmington Lane in Dartford.

Of course the war went on too long and the doodlebugs came so my father sent my mum, 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 until the war was over but in the meantime of course with all the bombing Father lost all his rides but then became the advance man for my uncle’s circus.

My youngest uncle had by then got his Wild West circus so we travelled round with them. My mother still made sure that we went back to school in Dartford. That was quite interesting living with the circus.  I remember helping counting the money, there was a really lovely atmosphere.

We came back to Norwich eventually and I passed the 11+ so I was going to live with my mum’s cousin but within the year my sister passed it as well, there was only a year between us. So my mum and dad went back to London.

But it really was a lovely atmosphere. They had four girls who used to do the dancing and dress as cow girls, there were 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, Rosie, my Aunt Ellen’s daughter 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.

My Aunt Emmeline married someone who had a boxing booth and she had four children. My cousin Harry has all different things near Weston- Super- Mare, and was the one who sent his photographs in pizza boxes.

Mum’s family had this dark red curly hair, you know lovely auburn hair, except my mum who had fair, mousey hair and Uncle Wally who had bright red straight hair.

Mum was 38 when she had me and 39 when my sister Marian was born, so most of my cousins were about eight years older than me. My mum 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 and baggy and she made that for him. She must have been in her late 60s early 70s, she never lost that skill.

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.

There‘s also some film of her. My cousin, in Southampton, has been trying to find it and so am I. We have been in touch with the War Museums and things. He rang me up and said that there is a picture of my dad. In the war they commandeered horses and my uncles were only about 17 or 18. In the First World War they had to work in the forests down near Southampton dragging the logs to wherever they went. My mum was still alive and they rang up and said it was my dad and the others working in the forest and described it. Mum said, ‘Oh no, that was me, it was freezing cold and I had a big coat and a hat on and I was taking the boys their lunch’. That’s actually her, but they were never able to find out where they had got it form

It was a programme about the First World War. A man at the logging camp said, ‘Do you want to come and see what they 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. She nearly passed out so he told her that they were floats of sea planes and for years she believed it, until it all came out that they had to make thousands of wooden coffins for people who were killed.

She had quite a life didn’t she, very varied. I’d love to be able to see that bit of film.

Steam yachts, racing cars, the organ and Thursford

I have got post cards and pictures that they had then of the steam yachts. My father had them, 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 and in the middle was a steam engine with an organ at the top. 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, more though in museums, because there is so much moving them.

The organ is worked by big pieces of cardboard with holes in them. The blowers blow air through and makes the drums go. Some years after the war he took it to Thursford, so if you go to Thursford we can hear my dad’s music being played. I have taken my children and my grandchildren up there to see it, but not recently.

My father had you know, bumping cars, like dodgem cars, but in those days they were racing cars. They had big chrome things on them on the side and in these ones the electricity was under a metal track. They were called Speedway or Autodrome and they had that near Dartford. Because of the blackout they had to put tilts all round it and he ran 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 could still play records. There was a St Dunstans nearby, 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.

As I said earlier the circus is fairly downtrodden in this country compared to other countries. They keep on about these animals, but can you imagine, when I lived at the circus and when we first stayed in Norwich, they used to come to the Hippodrome every year. One of my aunties trained Pekingese dogs and they did all these tricks where they go between your feet. You can’t say, ‘Oh no you can’t do that anymore’ they’d still do these little tricks. There were all sorts of laws with fairs. They have a showman’s guild and you have to abide by the laws or they take you to a showman’s court.

My Uncle Wally who had the circus married Ciceley Rosaire, she was actually called Dorothy. When they got married they went to church on elephants. You know the Windsor Wild Life Park, her brother Denis was the one 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. They had lions, tigers, monkeys and chimpanzees, they had everything. There used to be a weekly magazine called Picture Post and there are pictures of them with the elephants. It’s quite famous and you might pick up a paper or a book at anytime and suddenly see this picture.

I used to love my Uncle Wally. You can imagine being a little girl, he had got all these lovely horses, he was like a film star. When I went to his wife’s funeral he was really old and he thought that 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, before getting herself ready to go to school. They used to finish school when they were about 13 or 14.

There used to be side shows, freak shows and flea circuses, but they always had the western shows, and did the knife throwing and so on. They all had stage names, my cousin Florence was an only child and her dad Uncle Richard they were the Colorados. Uncle Billy, they were the Dakotas. They all dressed differently, it was like a trademark. Uncle Wally was always theatrical so he always wore white satin with white leather boots with red inlaid in them. He even wore his big white Stetson into his 80s, he died in his 90s. My auntie used to wear a skirt, ever so short with fringes. She was a big lady, Italian, she had lots of black hair, really long and a cowboy hat and this very short skirt and red inlay on her shoes. She was quite spectacular. Uncle Richard always wore brown leather and Uncle Billy had chaps which were furry things that went over their trousers. They used to make a lot of these things themselves, they would not go to the shop and buy them.

Vanessa rang me up and said that somebody from Scotland had got Uncle Wally’s stage clothes, he had bought them at an auction. It didn’t sound quite right from the description and he was going to send a photograph. They turned out to be my Uncle Richard’s brown leather ones.

Strange coincidences

You get these strange coincidences, we live in Bramerton but we go to a Loddon vets. We went there with an animal, a cat I think, once to Mr Evans. Do you know, he did his training at Rosaire’s circus on animals, the whole family used to go to Edinburgh and do the circus for Christmas. He said that monkeys especially suffered from the cold. The circus  would stay while the monkeys were at the veterinary hospital. Because they’re like children, they are your life aren’t they? There wasn’t cruelty, just the opposite.

People write to the local paper and say, ‘Is there anybody related to the Bishops?’ It’s amazing how many people speak to you and then they ask you, ‘Can this person speak to you, because they have already been in touch with me’.

This lady from Guildford got in touch with me, her first cousin only lives in Blofield. She is my second cousin and a few weeks ago we went and saw her. We’ve both got daughters called Bernette and they are both almost exactly the same age. We look alike, she’s short like me. We live at Bramerton and she lives just the other side of the river. Neither of us knew about the other one.

Margaret (b. 1937) talking to WISEArchive in Framingham Pigot on 23rd November 2007.

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We are very grateful to the National Fairground Archive, University of Sheffield for giving us permission to publish two photographs related to Margaret’s family. More can be found about these linked circus and showmen families at National Fairground and Circus Archive – The University of Sheffield.