Working Lives

A member of today’s Mile Cross community (1945-2010)

Location: Mile Cross

Betty remembers growing up in Sprowston, pinching apples, decorating chocolates, and frying fish, and talks about living in Mile Cross today.

Childhood in Sprowston

I grew up in Sprowston and I must admit I was happy because a lady who lived near my mum used to think I was wonderful. She used to look after me quite a bit and then my mum had twins; one died and, as the house wasn’t big enough in Valpy Avenue, we got a brand new house on Ranworth Road and I lived there until I was sixteen. I have six sisters and two brothers. We used to sleep top and toppen’, you know, at the bottom and at the top and what not. There were only three bedrooms and one bathroom. We had a garden and my father grew vegetables after a fashion.

I went to Henderson School. During the war we didn’t get bombed. My father put an Anderson shelter in the garden and we used to have to sleep there… only the children. He and my mother slept indoors. Houses around me got a direct hit and what not. I think people were a lot better in them days than they are now. I think people are a bit selfish. I mean, when someone got bombed, up near where we lived, my father and my brothers got all her furniture out and put it in the road. No-one pilfered it, you know, things were different than they are now. I think there was more of a community spirit then.

We used to play out in the street. We used to play penny up the wall or whatever you call it. And we used to have a swing round the lamp post and if my father caught us we all got a hiding. We used to go from Ranworth Road to Dereham Road, that’s called The Loke, and we used to go over there and get apples from the people who lived there. Sometimes we got caught for pinching apples and ‘course the police came round. Well, that was a sin then weren’t it and, of course, I got a good hiding. I always got told off the most because I was the eldest. We used to play outside nearly all the time. We didn’t have a telly, we used to have Radio Rental.

Starting work

I went to work when I was 14 and the only time I went to the cinema was when I worked at Macintosh’s, well it was called Caley’s then. I never did see the end of any film because I had to be in by ten o’clock and I had to come out of the cinema at half past nine to get home or I’d get a good hiding. The cinema was down the Haymarket, the nearest one to Caley’s, on the edge of Chapelfield Gardens. The cinema was where Top Shop is.

I applied for a job at Caley’s when I first left school and I had an interview. They used to have Cadbury block, a bar of chocolate with six different things in it, and my job was to wrap them by hand. From there I went on to decorating the chocolate. We used to sit on the conveyor belt and we had a tin cup with a load of loose chocolate in there. Well, there was more on me than in the cup, and then, when you think now, it isn’t very hygienic, you put your finger in the cup and you used to do a scroll on an orange or three lines on something else. We didn’t have gloves, we used our fingers. I loved being at Macintosh’s. I was there till I was about eighteen.

When I left I got myself a flat up near the railway station and I worked in the fish shop on Timberhill, Valori’s, as a waitress, and then I started to fry fish. I can always remember Mr Valori asking me ‘How do you know when the fat is hot?’ Like a fool I stuck my finger in it and he said ‘Good job that’s not hot or you’d have lost your finger’. I was there about a year. We used to do waitressing and we used to have parties up there and things like that. I had a lot of good friends at work.

I think the biggest thing in my life was when I went to Boulton and Paul. My husband was apprenticed down Colman’s and we got a Colman house. We lived in Dereham Road when we got married, and that was a funny old house and I had my daughter and I didn’t really like it down there. The next thing we knew we had been allocated a house in King Street and we moved there. I got my first telly then and I can always remember. There was a football match on and my husband got all the neighbours in to watch it. That was good. I never had a car till I met my second husband. He had a car. I used to ride about on a bike. I biked from Lakenham to Boulton and Paul. I walked when I lived in King Street and I used to bike and I got knocked off my bike and I had a broken shoulder. No-one wore helmets back then.

I didn’t go to work straight away. When my daughter was three my mother-in-law said that she would have her so I went to Boulton and Paul and I loved it there, I really did love it. In the wartime they used to make planes, bits of planes and bits of things like that but that’s more a steel factory and there’s a woodworking shop. It was a big place based on Riverside Road in Norwich. I walked to work from King Street. When I first started there I was in the canteen and I had a uniform. I used to look after the staff and then, one day, I was asked to go and work in the office.’ ‘Oh’, I say, ‘I ain’t very brainy’. ‘Yes, you are’ he said, ‘you’re very good, you are’. So I give up working in the canteen, they used to have Workers’ Playtime there, and I worked up the office and did the wage sheets.

I liked working in the office. I used to smoke and that’s when I decided that I’d give up because there was three of us in the office and they were always handing cigarettes about, and then they used to have them back and I got so I couldn’t stick it. I thought I’m getting out, I’m smoking 30 a day. So I decided to give up and I’m the only one who kept to it so they all give me ten shillings each. I worked nine till five with an hour at lunchtime. We used to either go up the canteen or we went out. Fridays we used to go out. I’m still friends with the girl I went out with. We would go down the Chinese and have a Chinese meal and that was lovely. I made a lot of friends down Boulton and Paul. I’m still friendly with two or three of them and I think that’s marvellous. Proper friends they are.

I was at Boulton and Paul twenty four years. There was a very good atmosphere and everyone got on and worked hard. Mind you, you had strict bosses. I seen some funny old accidents whilst I was there. There was one bloke there, a big girder fell on his legs and took them completely off. He had to go to hospital and the gangrene set in so in the end he had artificial legs and sticks. He come back to work afterwards. He’s dead now but his wife always send me a card at Christmas. At Christmas we used to have drink and a sandwich. We all brought something for the food and we used to have some drink. Our bosses used to perhaps bring in a bottle of sherry. We never used to have whisky, it was always sherry. We used to have some good times. Every year we had a firm’s dinner and dance up the Norwood Rooms. Everyone got dressed up and I had my hair done and I had a long dress. I also went to my second husband’s, because Jewson’s used to have one.

Then I decided that I’d had enough. I wanted to go part time but then doing wages they wouldn’t let me, so in a huff I give my notice in. I regretted it afterwards. I asked if they would reject my notice but they wouldn’t so I went on to Jarrolds.

At Jarrolds I worked down office equipment so that weren’t too bad. I was only a cleaner but I was there 18 years. Jarrolds is very very strict. You had to go by the book. Everything was done by the book. [The owner] was a lovely man and I liked his wife very much. I used to clean the offices out from 7a.m.-11a.m., that was enough for me. We used to go to the Jarrolds Christmas do, everyone had one. By then, when my daughter was sixteen, she had gone to work at Boulton and Paul. She worked in the accounts. She was about three or four maybe when I first went there.

Lakenham then and Mile Cross today

I’ve had a good married life – better than anything really. I’ve been here, in Miller’s Lane, for four years. I used to live in Theobald Road in Lakenham. I lived there for 40 years and it changed quite a lot during that time. I liked it when I first went there. We belonged to the County Hall social club and me and my husband used to go dancing every Saturday night down County Hall, and we used to go to all the do’s and all the Christmas do’s they had there. We had some damn good friends. I can’t regret the life I’ve had with my husband, that was marvellous. We both practically liked the same things. I met him because my sister was mad on his friend, and when my marriage broke up I used to work in the Kingsway pub opposite where I lived, to get some extra money. He used to come in there and he said to my sister, ‘I’m going to marry her one day’. Well, I didn’t know all this till after we were married. One Saturday night -’cos I never had a lot of money – my sister said to me ‘I’ve fixed up a date for us tonight. You ain’t got a lot of money, you might as well have a free night out’. So that’s what we done and I went with him for five years before I married him. She married his friend. I don’t regret a day of it.

He worked at Jewson’s, on the counter. He’d been there since he were a boy. He used to work at Jewson’s down near the river somewhere. When it closed down they went to Cringleford. When he was 65 he just walked out and no-one said ‘Have a nice retirement’. Three others bought him a bottle of champagne and some champagne glasses and in the end he had a party and we had a lovely time. But now I don’t even drink.

In Lakenham I had a top flat and I   an old dear lived underneath me, and she was lovely, but it’s like everything else when you’re old and you die, you get teenagers in, and there was just drugs and I couldn’t stand it. I just couldn’t stand it. That’s when we put in for this house. Mind you, we waited two years. I’m glad we got this because I’ve got two bedrooms, no-one else has. This was the warden’s house and I got a lovely kitchen and everything else. I’m the only one here’s got a washing machine so I’m really, really lucky.

Changes through the years

Norwich has changed a lot. For a start St Stephens was only a little street. You weren’t allowed to go up it but you were allowed to come down it. The shops were lovely. When I lived up Dereham Road I used to go down Peacocks and we were always down Magdalen Street. They used to have sawdust on the floor and Frank Price’s used to be in Botolph Street. That was a big store more like Jarrolds is now, and they used to have the money things in a round thing and you put your money in it and it went all round to get your change. I bought my clothes mostly from C & As.

Curls was where Debenhams is but that got bombed out. There was a big crater there. And then Marks and Spencers bought them out and kept adding other little bits to it, and then Woolworth’s was there until they moved up to St Stephens. I used to like going to Woolies. I used to get a lot of bargains down there. I used to buy my kids and my grandchildren clothes down there, including Ladybird.

Gentleman’s Walk wasn’t pedestrianised back then. Back’s, the pub, was in the middle of the Walk and I used to go in there with my first husband. When T was a little girl we used to go to the city Saturday mornings to do the shopping and we used to put her in the children’s room and go and have a hot toddy. The children’s room was in the pub at the back. I bought her a signet ring and she left it in the toilet and someone pinched it. Funny the things you remember, things keep coming back to me.

I think Norwich has changed a lot. I used to go out but now I wouldn’t never go out at night times because I feel it’s more dangerous. We had a break-in here the other week.


We used to get three weeks holiday a year at Boulton and Paul. We went on holidays. I used to go Brighton way a bit. We went to Jersey when my daugher was five years old and I thought that was marvellous, that was my first impression. We only went for a week because we couldn’t afford any more and then we used to do down Brighton. Nearly every year we went down Brighton. We stayed in this hotel and there was a teacher there and he told me that my daughter would be very intelligent, and she passed the scholarship. She went to the Hewett.

Living in Mile Cross today

Here at Millers Lane I have a lot of good friends. I’m friendly with people here and I’m a person that, if I’ve got something to say, I’m going to say it, but a place like this you’ve got to be careful what you say, and I ain’t. I can’t be!  I’m on the committee now and I do speak my mind I must admit. Lots of people my age don’t speak their minds but they moan about things but won’t do anything about it. The committee arrange outings; you’ve got to order a coach and pay for that, and take the residents out for a meal or just go down to Yarmouth for the day or Lowestoft or Bury St. Edmunds, but a lot of them don’t go. We start going out when it gets a little bit warmer and we have a lot of do’s in the room. We have Johnny Cleveland who’s marvellous on the organ, and we have Christmas dinners here.

I don’t know much about Mile Cross because I’ve always lived on the other side of the city until four years ago. I did miss it when I first came here. I like my place at Lakenham and we done a lot to it. We had all new doors put in and all new windows and everything and a unit from one wall to the other, and ‘course when I left it I just left everything in it. It was a council house but I bought it. If it hadn’t have been for the neighbours underneath me I’d still be there. I still see someone from Theobald Road. We generally go out for lunch once a fortnight, up the Co-op.


We went down my daughter’s at Christmas and there was 16 of us down hers on Christmas Day. She got four grandchildren and she’ll have another one in July. She had twins my daughter did, and my son has got a little girl, and now they’re having another one in July.

I don’t do babysitting now. I can’t even lift my grand-daughter up, she’s so damn heavy.

When my daughter was little her nanny who lived at Wreningham looked after her when I was out at work. When our daughter Tina went to school we never had anything. I used to go to work and leave my back door undone and my next door neighbour used to look after her when she came home from school and we never had problems.

She was a child carer for years and years. She had some funny little kids, and yet some on them have been marvellous; some on them she still keep in touch.

I’ve had a good life really, I suppose, I’m seventy eight so I ain’t done too bad.

Betty (b.1931) was talking to WISEArchive in Norwich on 25th January 2010.

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