Jarrolds Chemistry Department

Location : Norwich

Mr Bass describes starting work in 1938 at sixteen in Jarrolds’ Chemistry Department, and becoming an expert in cameras.

I was born in Ringland, Norfolk and lived with my parents, Richard and Ada Florence Bass. My father was a Baptist Minister in Stradbroke, Suffolk and, later, in Foulsham. I had one brother who died when he was five, and an older brother who is now 89.

After school, where I obtained the Cambridge School Certificate, I thought about joining the Air Force. There was not much work available at the time, not until after Munich in 1938. I saw men fight to get twopence. One man I knew took a six-foot diameter iron pig trough on his bike by rolling it four miles for a farmer who couldn’t get it on his truck. The man wanted twopence to buy a packet of fags and the farmer gave him a penny halfpenny.

Starting at Jarrolds

Jarrolds had taken over the business of Corder the chemist to set up their chemistry department. The chemist in charge was Mr Deacon, a proper gentleman who never lost his temper. I was sixteen when I saw an advertisement and applied for and got a job there. Mr Grant, the manager, asked me what 2½% of a pound was. I was paid 10/3d after deductions. I gave my mother ten shillings and kept the threepenny bit. From Ringland I could bike the eight miles to work in half an hour. The bike shed was 200 yards from the store.

Mr Deacon tried to help me get on in pharmacy, even giving me his old white coats, but the war intervened. He also gave me books about cameras. I knew how a Leica worked but Jarrolds didn’t sell them as they were rather expensive. Films were sent to Coe’s for printing although there was a darkroom at the store to process Jarrolds postcards. I took up photography and took wedding photographs with a box camera to earn a shilling. I did the printing at home and washed the film under the pump. Jarrolds gave a staff discount of twopence in the shilling for film.

In September 1939 Jarrolds bought reams of greaseproof paper to make a profit after the war. When the alarm sounded we had to go to the basement and sit between the reams. They thought the war would soon be over. Miss Cook was the dispenser and Olive Fields was the main assistant who was an expert in Yardley and Coty perfumes. Miss Cook made up an antidote to mustard gas but said it was no good and it wouldn’t help.

I worked from 9am to 6pm every day except Sunday and Thursday which was a half day. I took sandwiches for my lunch hour when I would walk around and, sometimes, I went to pump the organ for a Jarrolds man, in the church near Bonds.

A lot of customers had accounts but I wasn’t allowed to serve them. I had to get permission to accept a £5 note. Customers had to sign the note and put their address on it. We used the overhead ‘railway’. The cash went to the accounts office on the first floor. Molly Thirkettle (a distant relation) did most of it. She was very fast. Mr Footer was the floor walker. He would buy items like boxes of soap for the sale. Christmas was the busiest time. We had a 35 mm projector which hadn’t sold so each Christmas they showed Jessie Matthews’ films or similar for the customers. Eventually the projector sold for the reduced price of £35.

In 1938 King George VI opened City Hall. Staff were allowed to watch from the windows and I went outside to the Guildhall with my camera and noticed that the King looked scared stiff and frightened.

Once Prince Monolulo, a well-known tipster on the racecourses with his cry of ‘I’ve got a horse’, came in to promote his book. He would sell tips for threepence and give everyone a different horse saying ‘I’ve tipped a winner’.

Wartime service and then back to Jarrolds

When the war came, after the false alarm over Poland, everything continued as normal but some stocks were getting low. On the 13th June 1940 (Dunkirk) I went to the Octagon Chapel to sign on. I was sent to Uxbridge and pronounced fit for duty and for training as a wireless operator or air gunner, in three months’ time. I stayed on at Jarrolds till 3rd September 1940. I was the first employee to volunteer and the staff clubbed together to buy a gents toilet set costing £4/19s/6d, and they all signed a little book. I still have the set, unused!

During the war I served on the flying boats, including the Catalina, and I flew in Liberators and Lincolns. I was demobbed in October, 1946, as a Flight Lieutenant. I returned to Jarrolds and met Mr Grant, the manager, again. He said ‘We’ll do our best for you’. They were going to expand the chemistry department but not yet. I worked in the wholesale department with Mr Turner and stayed over Christmas selling books such as Rupert Annuals for 1s/6d. Mr Stone, a very clever man, was in charge and knew all about books. He was the first in the city to get Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

I did a sweep on the Grand National, backing a horse called Cahoo picked out by a girl. Not a chance! 100/1. I had an offer from the Air Force for an extended service commission for four years which I accepted, and got £500. By this time I was married. I’d met my wife in July 1945 when I was going along the Walk. She was with a girl I knew. ‘How’re you getting on bor?’ We were married on Boxing Day.

Jarrolds generates a lot of good will. It’s a happy store, always pleased to serve people.

A change of direction

In 1952 I joined the Police Force and ended up as Detective Inspector but that’s another story…….

Mr B (b.1922) talking to WISEArchive in February 2006.

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