Working Lives

Growing up in Mile Cross (1920s-1990s)

Location: Mile Cross

Olive and Rosina grew up on the Mile Cross estate. They talk to us about their childhoods, what they think of the estate now, what it used to be like and their lives in this community.

Olive: I was born at my grandmother’s up the top of Kett’s Hill, in, well I’m now 87.

Rosina: No you’re 89, darling. I was born in 1929, there was a brother between Olive and I and we were both born in Appleyard Crescent at Mile Cross.

Olive:  We’ve got an older sister who lives in Australia and she’s now 91. Our mother came to Mile Cross and rented a house in Spynke Road before getting a house in Appleyard Crescent. I think the rent was about 9 shillings and a halfpenny, they didn’t buy then did they, in those days.

Rosina: Our youngest sister was born there too before Mum moved to Losinga Crescent because she wanted a four-bedroomed house. She then had our brother there. it was the only time she ever went away to have a baby, to a maternity home somewhere. That was the start of people having babies away, weren’t it.

Olive:  Appleyard Crescent was a passage house.

Rosina: It just had a passage between the houses, like in twos. We had a lovely back garden. Big garden, didn’t we.

Olive: Dad was keen on gardening, our dad was. He grew potatoes on one side. I can always remember dad, we had a path up in the middle and just a show of sweet peas, we called them, he always just had one line, lovely them days. We didn’t help with the gardening.

Rosina: My younger brother he was a keen gardener, weren’t he. Olive got married when she was 21 and Mum moved to Gowing Court, that was off Marshall Road. We were back to a three-bedroom then, she couldn’t afford the rent, but there was a big garden.

Our neighbours, tell her about the lady opposite, Olive.

Olive:   What shall I say? What about when she used to sing?

Rosina: Yes, she always was a singer, but tell about, can you remember when you used to go to the Co-op? Go on!

Olive: When I had to get the stale pastries on a Wednesday. Always had to hurry home from school, basket or bag, whatever tucked on my hand. That was the Co-op on Aylsham Road and that was yesterday’s pastries, you see, you got ‘em half price then. She said, ‘Don’t eat one on the way home’.

Rosina: That was Mum said that. She used to call you – ‘O, bring me some’.

Olive: I never ate one, you weren’t meant to do that. When I used to have to get the savoury ducks on a Friday for Dad I always used to have a little bit! Savoury ducks, well, that was like a beef mixture, kidneys everything.

Rosina : It wasn’t a pie, they just had it on a plate. Dad loved that. That was for Dad.

Olive: We got it from Barnes the butchers.

Rosina: There was one at the bottom of Aylsham Road and one at the top. They were brothers weren’t they.

Big families and sleeping in the bath

Olive: Dad was a Luton man, he used to have the friends, the family, brothers and that to stay when we were in Appleyard Crescent. They had to have the bedrooms didn’t they, we had a little square piece of floor to sleep on.

Rosina: Dad came from a big family, 13 children, boy-girl, boy-girl all the way down the line. He was the only one who left Luton. He came here and was stationed in the barracks and that’s how he met Mum.

I can remember sleepin’ in the bath! Really! Honestly I can remember sleeping in the bath at Losinga Crescent.

Yeah I slept in the bath with one of my other sisters. Mum put a blanket in the bottom and we had a pillow each, I only worried about that geyser! But that never ran.

Olive: But I say that never did us any harm ‘cos we’re still here aren’t we.

Rosina: And of course, we got spoilt rotten when they came, ‘cos they all had wonderful jobs. When one of the uncles came down we always went into the city and he bought us a Panama hat. Woolworths was where Marks & Spencer is now. There was an alley and at the back there used to be a pub. We used to have to stand outside and our uncle would bring a bottle of pop out and a packet of crisps. When he left Norwich he always gave us half a crown, which was a lot of money then! Mum would share it out for us each week for a little something extra. We had good times

Mother used to pay half a crown a week. No! Half a crown a month in case anybody was ill.

Olive: Couldn’t afford to get ill!

Rosina: She used to wrap the scarf, I always remember, we used to have – what was that….rubbed on our chest?

Olive: Used to be awful!

Rosina: And when we went to school she used to pin our scarves. They were big thick ones, she made us cross them and then she pinned them at the back. We really had to wrap up to keep warm didn’t we? We only had one room with a coal fire. The bedrooms were freezin’……and the white sheets! We did have a hot water bottle.


Rosina: We went to Mile Cross infant school. We learned our sums, they call it arithmetic, you were given sums to do. We did English. I took the 11+ but I didn’t pass. Olive passed half, I weren’t clever enough.

Olive: I passed half the scholarship so I went to the Steward Central. That was in Duke Street.

Rosina: I always had a man teacher and I remember the teacher who took the top class before you went to senior school. I think how I remember is because there was a boy in that class that I liked. Nobody really was rich in those days but he came from a very very poor family and lived on Gresham Road, which was at the side of Mile Cross school. Well, he did something wrong every day and he always whipped his bottom. He always had to go over to the chair and oh I didn’t like that. I used to go home and cry about that.

He had friends but he always seems to do something wrong and got punished every time

When we were at senior school we had to learn how to do all the laundry. I never got an electric iron because the teacher wouldn’t let me have one, and that broke my heart. I used the old iron ones heated on the stove. The electric ones were sort of just coming out then. I used to go home and cry to my mother and she said ‘I’ll give you some ironing to do!’. I couldn’t say ‘No thank you’, I had to do it

That was when Mum didn’t have ironing boards they ironed on the table, and what she used to do, she used half of that table because they were all scrubbed with a chenille cloth over. She used to set you in the other end.

Olive: She plugged the iron into the light bulb fitting and that used to fling across the room as you ironed!

Rosina: Then we would do the socks and hankies and that sort of thing.

We used to have allotments, not the family, the school. Our Biology teacher, she used to take us once a week. She’d take different groups and if you planted anything she was pleased with you’d get a penny. And I would go to the Drayton Road shops and buy myself a stick of arrowroot. I remember that, yeah, she was a lovely teacher.

All the vegetables were used at school in cookery lessons.

We all came home for dinner ‘cos we had two hours 12pm – 2pm, long dinner breaks. We then went back 2pm ‘til 4.30pm.

I started swimming, they then turned the Lido into a ballroom, but the Samson was still open as a swimming pool. I went twice that’s all, so I never learnt to swim. And then that was turned into a ballroom and now it’s all flats.

We had six weeks summer holiday and we used to go down and watch the cutting of the hay and the buildin’ the haystacks. Off we went with a bottle of water and a bag of bread and jam. We used to go blackberrying didn’t we? Our dad would never come home without, he had blackberries in his cap. Yes we used to do all that sort of thing.

Olive: Yeah. Lovely!

Shopping, cooking and household chores

Rosina: I’ll go right from the bottom of Woodcock Road, that was across from Mile Cross. There was Mr M he sold just about everything, the straw, the rabbit all that sort of thing.

You went up a step to the grocery department didn’t you? Then we had a pub, that was called The Mile Cross. Then next to that was Thompson’s the fish shop.

Olive: And then two little ladies’ shop?

Rosina: Yes, the two ladies where we went on a Monday. That was a job I had to do. Go and get the pickle, ‘cos we were having cold meat. Johnsons that was called. Then you had Barnes the butchers, and the Co-op section. The fruit shop was first, then the bakery then the grocery shop, these were all in a row.

We used to go and get the sugar and the tea one side, the dry goods I call it. That was when they used to put it in paper, fold it and put string round.

On the other side you got like the butter and they used to pat it, and the bacon. You were there ages as it was all cut off fresh. You queued up for the people behind the counter to serve you. Yeah, that was the Co-op.

Olive: Mum didn’t have time to do the shopping.

Rosina: She had to do all the hand washing. There were seven of us in the end, weren’t there. Washing was like driven snow.

She did the washing in the kitchen sink. Everybody had a really deep sink. We only got hot water when we were at Losinga Crescent. We had an old geyser over the bath and Dad had to light it. That was the easiest bath we ever had weren’t it?

At Gowing Court the bathroom had the copper in it. You washed at the sink and if there was another one who needed to get washed at the same time Mother’d heat a kettle, put it in a bowl and stand it on the copper for us. I think that the oldest one got the bathroom and the younger one got the kitchen!

Olive: We had a gas cooker, Mum was a lovely cook.

Rosina: she cooked every night. On a Sunday morning she’d have a big joint in and we’d have it cold on Monday. She used to put shortcakes, buns, all in while the meat was cooking. She was a nice cook weren’t she.

We helped her, she’d let us mix up, course everything had to be done by hand then.

Olive: We always had a stir.

Rosina: When we were all here we always ate together at dinner time. Always had your dinner because everybody came home from work then in those days, cycled home from work.

I can’t ever remember going out to eat. Had a packet of crisps outside the pub!

We had our duties to do in the house. I can remember when Olive lived at home. Her first husband was killed, he was in the navy. You lived at home then, didn’t you, in Gowing Court.

We all had a job and one thing what can stick out in my head is on a Sunday morning we had to….’cos you see we used to eat all in that one room you see. We only ever had what they called a living room then, never called it a dining room. And the kitchen, well you don’t eat in there. We all had a duty and Mum asked me to put two milk bottles out. Milk bottles used to sparkle on the step. Olive had just polished the floor and something she said to me as I went through and I went like that to her and the water went on the floor. I had to go to my bedroom for the rest of the day. Honestly ‘til teatime. It was no accident, no, I purposely did it! I don’t know what it was that she said to me.

Playing in the parks and cycling to Cromer

Rosina: We would play out with our friends, mostly in the street.

Olive: I took her out to the seaside.

Rosina: Oh you must hear this one…

Olive: On the back of my bike, upright bike, they used to have these sort of woven baskets didn’t they?

Rosina: You tied it on with string.

Olive: Yes on the back of the bike. I took her right to Cromer and back, we got sunburnt. I often think of that ‘cos I think to myself ‘You couldn’t do that now’. Nobody could ride a bike on that road now, with the traffic, ‘cause there wasn’t much traffic then.

Rosina: I was only about three at the time. Olive is 9 years older than me so that’d make her about 12.

Olive: We just went down on the sand. I don’t know if we had anything to eat or drink or what we did! Mum didn’t know where we were. Got a damned good hiding when we got home

Rosina: ‘Cos I might have been killed. Olive has told me this story lots of times, She had a metal carrier on the back of this bike. The sides of it, pieces came down and screwed on the back wheel. That was where the box sat, with me in it!

Olive: Dad bought me the bike, 12/6d. Twelve shillings and sixpence.

Rosina: We spent hours in the park, Waterloo and Wensum parks. Mostly Waterloo was our park, ‘cos that was just down the road from us, hours and hours!

On school days we weren’t really allowed to be out long after tea. We weren’t allowed to even go out of Mother’s sight were we? We could play on the grass verge. When we lived in Gowing Court that was nice weren’t it. There was a boy who rode a motor bike, but it didn’t have no engine in it. He used to run it and jump on it!

We used to have good times, we did. We played marbles, well I did anyway. We can’t grumble we had a good Mum and Dad.

Life on the estate

Rosina: The estate was good and neighbourly. Everybody’s garden was tidy. It was lovely to see all the washing blowing on the line. Everybody had a big line, ‘cos all those houses had big back gardens. When we moved to Gowing Court our garden there came to the bottom of the one at Appleyard Crescent.

Olive: My brother was friendly with a girl who lived in Appleyard Crescent and he used to wave to her and blow a goodnight kiss to her.

Rosina: Everybody knew everybody, but you called everybody by their surname. I mean if you went to call for a friend you always called their parents by their surname.

I had a friend who lived just at the top of Gowing Court and I had to wait in the porch. You weren’t asked in to wait. She was still, perhaps, washing up. See, big family again. They all had their jobs.

Everybody that I know of had big families.

Mum mostly shopped in Magdalen Street in Norwich. She always went down there to the Maypole. She used the Co-op as well, but that was the only time she really went out. We went with her to the Maypole and the Home Stores and Perks.

Perks was a grocery shop, oh and they had the Dolls’ Hospital there. That was a beautiful place where they’d put the eyes back in, in the real china dolls. Oh, spent hours standing at that window looking. I never had one fixed there, but we all had a doll didn’t we, yeah. We didn’t want for little things like that. Didn’t get big presents like they do now!

As I said before we were all poor, nobody was rich, I had a friend who lived on Bolingbroke Road and she was an only child and of course her ribbons in her hair were always….her mum used to wash ‘em at night and wind ‘em round the rolling pin. She used to wear something different every day. And, course we were going in for morning prayers the teacher’d go ‘Oh you look lovely today’. We were all kept clean, but Mother couldn’t afford to change us into something different every day, could she?

Mum knitted, she did sew but she used to knit. She knitted lovely, I can always remember her knitting herself a suit, in a sort of boucle wool, she looked lovely in it. She washed it and the skirt dropped and she knitted me and my sister a cardigan with the wool. I can remember that vividly, it was a sort of brown with fawn in it.

When Dad was at work at the Gas Works, he belonged to what you called a draw. He paid in so much money each week and then you had the vouchers to go and spend. You could spend them at Prices and Tylers shoe shop.

Olive: There was that other shop in Magdalen Street on the left hand side, sort of in the middle, what used to sell the cottons and all that. If you wanted a reel of cotton and there was this wooden floor…

Rosina: Oh, Peacocks!

Olive: Yeah, and you had to walk on the wood floor and if you were the only one in, do you know what I mean, you’d be clippety cloppery just to get a reel of cotton!

Rosina: Ever such a narrow shop, that sold everything, Peacocks. That’s still Peacocks now, my granddaughter love Peacocks.

Youth clubs and dance halls

Rosina: I used to go to the youth club at the school on Middleton’s Lane. Working at the Silk Mills I met a lot of friends from Horsford and St Faith’s who all went to Middleton’s Lane. I used to go to night school there, play table tennis and kiss and tell with the boys.

I only had one school boyfriend. He took me one Sunday afternoon to the woods, and I was late home. Of course I had lipstick all round my face when I came in. I was ordered straight up to bed. I suppose I must have been about 14, no ‘cos I went to work at 14, Must have been about 11 or 12. The woods on Boundary Road were all woodland and cornfields, you see, with the golf course behind it.

I don’t think either Mum or Dad were strict. You just got punished in that sort of way, up to your bedroom, might have had a smack on the bottom once or twice but that’s all. We had to be pretty well behaved didn’t we Olive?

Olive: Yes, we had to be.

Not being evacuated, Working at the silk mills and getting married

Rosina: I met my husband at the dance hall, the Lido. Olive used to take me there on Saturday nights when her husband was away, Mother would only let me go when Olive took me.

I can remember having a red two-piece; a skirt with pleats all the way round and then like a sort of little red bolero and white blouse. I had that on when I met my husband, when I was only 17. We used to go on a Saturday night when the Americans were there didn’t we?

Olive: Yes.

Rosina; it was lovely! We jitterbugged and Olive used to throw me over her shoulder and through her legs and over her head. This was during the war and the Americans were stationed where the airport is now at Horsham St Faith’s.

Olive: Was it 1/6d Rosina?

Rosina: To get into the dance hall, yes. And I only earned 15/3d

I worked at the Silk Mills, do you know the Falcon on Cromer Road? They were there, I think it’s a big tile factory now, It had a massive drive to it. I was a winder. That was like skeins of wool on like a big wheel. We used to have to keep them runnin’ onto a bobbin what they then used for the weavin’.

All my friends started at Frank Price or Boots the chemist. My mother said that she weren’t going to let me go in a boot factory and ….oh I wanted to work at Boots the chemist. I just fancied it, I liked the smell of it when I went in there. They didn’t pay enough, so I said ‘What am I going to do?’ she said ‘you best take yourself, young lady, to the Silk Mills and get a job there’. I daren’t go on my own, I had friend who wasn’t as old as me but I asked her to come up with me.

I cried all the way there, and there I was, I can always remember, a big drive up to this factory. Oh, and it was so noisy ‘cos the weavin’ machines, were all in this one shed. This car passed us and when I got to the top near the factory, this man jumped out and he said that he could help me. He was a foreman on the pirn winding, he was.

I said ‘Oh my mum has sent me here for a job, but I don’t want to work here’. I said ‘I’m frightened’. I just didn’t want to go into a factory. So he said ‘We’re ever so friendly, really lovely, friendly crowd here’. So I went in and got the job. I went up there on the Saturday morning and I had to start work Monday.

I worked 9am ‘til 6pm, and Saturday mornings 8am ‘til 1pm We weren’t far from there, Mum lived in Gowing Court so I walked to work.

I actually lived on Mile Cross ‘cos I got a house, rented, when I first got married. I got married when I was 18. I didn’t have to get married, but I met my husband when he came back from the war. He was eight years older than me and we just fell in love and got married.

The only way to get a house was if you had children, Well, I fell with my son, I’d only been married three months. I was 19 in the March and I had him the following May.

 They were starting to build West Earlham and they were building steel houses, beautiful houses. They all had radiators, I can always remember what the rent was: 26/3d a week, and my husband was earnin’ £5.

He worked at the Gas Works. When he came out of the forces he just went on the building sites, you know, took whatever jobs there were. Then he went to the Gas Works and ended up being an engineer and blacksmith.

We couldn’t afford the rent on the steel house so we got an exchange to a flat.

My husband’s youngest brother and his wife had three children, twins and another boy. His wife was very ill and had to go to like a convalescence place out near Cromer. Her sister had the baby and I had the twins, in two bedroomed flat!  They had to share a bedroom with my son. Then Welfare got me a house on Boundary Road…..My youngest sister went to Blyth secondary and was friendly with this girl whose Mum lived on Boundary Road.

Anyway we got in touch with the council and said that we knew that they were movin’ away and we got the house because of the twins. They were with me for a long time, about 9 months, and then that was when I had my other son in 1961. ‘New house, new baby’ that’s what my mother told me. That’s why she had so many! Everywhere she moved she had a new baby! You see I went 13 years, 13 years between my two boys.

Olive told me every day I weren’t pregnant – and I was! When I went to the doctor and told him I thought I was pregnant, he said ‘Think! You are!’ I always remember that.

We really supported each other. There’s only really one sister who moved away weren’t there. She’s our older sister and is two years older than Olive. She met her husband who was a librarian at the Lazar House. She was living with an aunt and the cousin came back from the library saying what a good looking man was there. So what did our sister do? Up and put her coat on and went….She’s married 63 years. But then of course he went to war didn’t he and she lived with his mother in Lewes and worked in a bank. They then emigrated to Australia.

We are still in touch and she came over for three months and went back on Boxing Day and she was 90 in the January. She do speak really nice English she do. Yeah. Still as English as the day she went.

I was bridesmaid to a girl when we worked at the Silk Mills, he was an American and she went to America to live. I don’t know of any Americans who stayed here.

There were two sisters who lived on Suckling Avenue and they were evacuees in Canada and both married Canadians. Our mum wouldn’t let us be evacuated. I was at school, I mean, Olive you was older weren’t you? I wanted to know why my friends were being evacuated and I weren’t so, ‘Not letting my children be evacuated!

Changes on the estate

Mum and Dad went into a flat on Bowers Avenue and I suppose that weren’t really till after Mum and Dad died that that went downhill. My youngest son he took us round, gave us a tour of Mile Cross didn’t he Olive, and we were shocked! Cars in the garden. Must have been oh, over 14 years ago.

It was really scruffy, that really was. We overlooked the bowling greens you know when we lived at Losinga Crescent, we were so proud of everywhere. The council looked after the communal areas.

On Boundary Road when I lived there there were masses of trees, then they were all cut down and widened it all We also had dog track on Boundary Road where B&Q is now.

I don’t know why it changed. I suppose the lifestyle changed didn’t it? People just didn’t seem to bother, that really went down it did. I think that when they started to build these new estates like West Earlham and Tuckswood so many people went into places like that.

They were more up to date weren’t they, more mod cons. Mile Cross just went down, it did. I mean at one time the Woodcock Estate used to be the roughest, when we were being brought up weren’t it? That was really the roughest estate, Mile Cross was really up market.

It was a lovely estate when we lived there it really was, trees all the way up Suckling Avenue.

Olive: Well, it went on a lot of years after that and then all of a sudden it went to pot. Different ones moved, you know went further afield, and that was that weren’t it? Same as we did.

Rosina: And a lot of people died off didn’t they? And they built those places off Soleme Road I think. They built a lot of places for older people, to sort of retire into.

Changes in Norwich

Olive and I used to walk miles, we never went on the bus, Olive, right? After I lost my husband we walked everywhere. We were really interested in the Riverside, we used to go down every Sunday just watching it change.

Before I was ill we used to go down to Morrison’s didn’t we, have a Sunday lunch and walked over the new bridge. We saw all that built.

And now there’s lots of luxury apartments and night clubs! Clubs and everything now. I think the last time I went down there was to the cinema when we went to see Calendar Girls.

Olive: Oh that’s right, yeah. My daughter took me to where her son has moved to, I wouldn’t want to live there, All new places. Out on….

Rosina: Dereham Road.

Olive: And she came down and she said ‘I’ll show you where he’s moving to’. Well, I wouldn’t want to live there. This tiny little road, just the two cars. I don’t think two cars could pass actually. Never seen anything like it. You know if you’ve got children, young children you wouldn’t dare let ‘em out of the door.

Rosina: Well they’re like rabbit hutches.

Olive: Also there’s no neighbourhood. You know no community.

Rosina: In Mile Cross they didn’t all look alike?

Olive: No.

Rosina: Well they did a bit. They were mostly passage houses weren’t they?

Olive: But then we had more space didn’t we?

Rosina: We had a happy childhood didn’t we?

Olive: I think, when you think of it, I think that we were brought up well. We were fed well, plain living’ and that sort of thing.

Rosina: It was a good estate to live on.

Olive: Like I said, we’re still here so it couldn’t have done us any harm could it? That’s how I think of it. We’ve seen the bad days and the good days.

Rosina (b.1929) and Olive talking to WISEArchive in Norwich on May 5th 2009.

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