Working Lives

Entertainer and all round worker (1942-2013)

Location: Norwich

Dot married young during the war and had five children. She worked in many well-known Norwich companies, including shoe firms, Caley’s, Mackintoshes and Sainsbury’s, the first supermarket in Norwich. Living conditions in her childhood were ‘like Dickens’ but  everyone was friendly in those days. She loved to sing and supported herself while in a group by working in a hotel so she was free on Saturdays. At 88 she would still go singing when she could get a band.

Entertainer and all-round worker

I turned 14 years old in the February and I left school in the March and I was taken on by Sexton, Son and Everards who were shoe and boot manufacturers. Their factory was based at Oak Street in Norwich. I worked there for a few months and this was where I met my husband. But the building was bombed in the WWII blitz, so I was then out of a job.

I got a temporary job at Caley’s the chocolate factory, which had premises in Chapelfield, Norwich. I was only there for a couple of days when that was also bombed [on 27th April 1942 in the Baedeker raids].

My husband was serving in the RAF and was due to be sent to work overseas, so we got married and I carried on living at home with my parents. My husband was posted to India and I then found myself expecting a child, so it was whilst he was out there that our son was born. By then my Dad who was only forty years old had also joined up, and after serving for only three months he was likewise posted overseas to India. So I became the mainstay at home to support my Mum. On top of everything else she had difficulties writing, so I composed all the letters to our family and friends. But somehow we got through, and after two and half years Dad came home and after the war finished my husband Terry finally came back.

After the war in Barrack Street

We all lived together in this little house on Barrack Street – my parents, me and my husband and our son. Barrack Street which was a no-go area, and the houses were all formed around yards. The yard we lived in was straight out of Dickens. We lived up some stairs with one bedroom, Mother’s and Father’s bed one side, and our bed with the three of us in it on the other. The ceiling was held up with boards. There was no water in the house, just the tap down in the yard. No electricity, no cooking facilities, nothing. I have been told that I fell out of the bedroom window when I was two years old and was picked up for dead. As children living there I was the eldest of the family and can remember the house and all the poverty. The people around us were also poor, but we all had relatives close by and many friends. So no matter how deprived one was, people in those days were all friendly. They never saw you go without, and they’d all help and share. I must say that even in those very poor days I still had a very happy childhood. I’d even run round and about with no shoes on at times. Yes, they were happy years, surrounded by good people who all knew one another. That’s how life was in those days, all friendly. And all those people, more or less, were moved out when they cleared the slums.

When we were all moved out my husband found a job and we got a house of our own. We were thrilled, and moved to a little house in West Earlham. I thought it was a palace! By this time we had two children as my oldest daughter had been born whilst we were living with my parents. My husband found work as a coach driver but some of his shifts were late at night and his workplace was at the Boundary north of Norwich. He only had a bicycle to get there and back on which was not always safe at that late hour. So we decided to move closer to his work and found a house on Mile Cross. We now had five children – three sons and two daughters – so I could not go out at work in these first few years whilst looking after them as toddlers. But then I decided as my youngest son was five years old and about to start school, I would return to work so we could better ourselves.

Working at Mackintosh Caleys and Haldinsteins

I managed to get a job back at Mackintosh Caleys as it was then known. I worked on a conveyor belt and I really enjoyed my life there with the other girls. We were all friends together which was lovely, and we all used to go on outings together. I remember at lunchtimes we would trail down St Stephens to the market. We would have our lunch, a cup of tea and a roll, and off we’d go again. This job was only part time, so that I could be home in time for my children getting back from school. They all had their little jobs to do to help me out when I came home. I worked there for quite a few years and was happy, and my husband- well he worked hard also. My children were all growing up fast, and I had been at Caleys for about six years when they then stood us off, all of us part timers were stood off! They would normally let certain people go, and I was always one of the lucky ones to remain in my job. But this time they stood the whole lot of us off.

So I got another little job in a shoe factory called Haldinsteins which was on Queens Street in Norwich city centre. I worked there for a few years as my family grew up.

Good times at Sainsbury’s

My eldest daughter after leaving school started working in Sainsburys on St Stephens in Norwich. I believe it was the first supermarket to open up in the city centre. She said to me one day ‘Mum why don’t you try and get a job here, they want part time workers’. So I went and had an interview, but I had to go up to London mind you for the interview. I was accepted and started working upstairs and behind the shop floor where all the preparation for cooked meat, and cheeses was done. We had to pack it all up and take it down to the sales areas. Oh I loved it there! I used to work 9 ‘til 4 Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday one week and the same hours but on a Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, alternate weeks. In fact I was in overall charge when I was at work. I got on very well in my job and I think they accepted me there. I was really happy and it suited me fine ‘cos my children were all grown up by then. The pay was also very good, and there were lots of little perks. So things were great.

A love of singing – the glamorous grandmother – and the band

As a family we used to love getting out and about. As I’ve loved to sing we would visit different pubs and clubs that had music on. Anywhere that had music being performed really. And as a family we would go to Butlin’s for holidays. And it was on one of these holidays to Butlin’s that I won a talent competition. I was a grandmother by then as my oldest son had got married and had a little girl. So I went in for the nightly glamorous grandmother competition, and I won it three times in row! I was invited up to Brighton with all its bright lights for a national final. And because of my singing I entered another talent competition in Yarmouth, and you know what – I won! Afterwards a gentleman came up to me and said, ‘I gotta’ get up a group and I’d like you to be my lady singer, would you join us?’ and I replied, ‘Well I’ll have a go.’.So we had a try out and I got on quite well with it. A while later there I was singing and getting paid for it. The group was called ‘Cat’s Eyes’ and we went all over the place performing. I loved it, just singing, performing and entertaining people. But I was still working, and by this stage was full time, so it was proving hard going.

Although the band work was paid it was not enough to give up my day job entirely, and I felt I needed to change jobs to one where it was not necessary to work weekends. So I got this cleaning job at a hotel, one where I’d only have to work ‘till three in the afternoon with no weekend work . It was at the Hotel Norwich on Boundary Road in Norwich. I was a chambermaid cleaning the bedrooms during the day and singing in the evenings!

Things were fine but I’d got a four bedroomed house of my own and all my children had now left home. So some friends persuaded me to move to a tower block in the city. All was well for a while, but another friend of mine told me about a job at May & Bakers which was a chemical factory on Sweet Briar Road. It seemed like a good move, so I applied for the job and again got it. I was at May & Bakers for about five years initially filling pills and packaging them. When that work was slack we were moved around a lot, filling in at other departments, doing things like making chloroform, various powders, and a lot of other chemicals. I was still singing in the evenings but my daytimes were becoming quite boring, so it came as a relief for me when all of us part timers were made redundant.

We were now performing and doing gigs all over the place, but then our band leader developed heart trouble and we all decided to give him a break. Then Peter, our drummer decided he was going to go back to Kent, where he originated from. I then thought to myself, ‘Oh well, perhaps I’ll give up now also as I’m getting on a bit’ and so left the band. But me and my husband still went out and about and visited places where we knew there was music and singing taking place. We went anywhere that I knew where I could get up and sing, as I still loved doing it so much.

My husband and I took cleaning jobs at Wroxham in holiday homes, on Saturday mornings. We did this for seven seasons and after that work finished we went on to cleaning boats instead.

Then I got an job at Mills & Reeve solicitors cleaning in the evenings. I was nearly 70 when I worked there. And I was there for a few years, and was lucky as I had the bosses’ offices to do. I think they were very happy with me and I found satisfaction in the job. When I left Mills & Reeves to go and visit my son in New Zealand they threw a party for me. I believe I was the only employee they’ve ever thrown a party for. I have travelled greatly, I’ve been to New Zealand four times, Singapore, Los Angeles, and many places on the continent. I can’t name them all – Greece, Spain… and I’ve sung in many locations around the world, but especially in Benidorm.

You know I still go singing when I can find a band and I still enjoy it.

Maude (Dot) (b. 1925)  talking to WISEArchive on 13th November 2013 at Doughty’s Hospital, Norwich

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