Life within the Westminster Bank, Norwich

Location : Norwich

I was born in Norwich [in 1934], quite near the Blyth School in fact – in Tillett Road. I’d lived in Norwich, except for say about six months during wartime, when we went to live with relations. We didn’t like it, though, and we came back to Norwich. I was in the Catton area until I was about thirteen, and then moved into Thorpe – but I was born in Tillett Road and then went to Woodcock Road.

… and you were at school at the Jex School?

No – I was at the Blyth. It was separate. Boys and girls, and I think it was then that they had the scholarship to pass, but I don’t want to boast about that. We lost our Primary School in the War – at St Augustine’s. Where there was a swimming pool; there used to be a Primary School, St. Augustine’s School, but we lost our premises, same as we lost our church … and we eventually went to Bull Close and I think there is still a school there. Magdalen Gates – but we lost our premises. Norwich got quite a bit of bombing in the wartime. We did go to Derby, where our relations were, that’s all it was, during the wartime, but we weren’t happy there and came back to Norwich … but I wasn’t at school in that time.

Did you have brothers and sisters?

Yes – I had a brother and sister … one of each – older than me. I was the youngest, yes. I think one of each was enough for my parents … but then I was at home more than the others. My sister went in for nursing at Addenbrookes and my brother had two years in the Forces – you know, when boys had to go into the Forces.

… and you passed the Scholarship and got to Blyth School and you stayed on to get the School Certificate?

I didn’t stay on that long – I’d got the Certificate they had then- after five years at the older school I didn’t stay much longer. And then I went to work in a bank.

And how did you come to work in a bank, then?

Through our Headmistress. I had stayed on for a short time … and I did shorthand typing but didn’t get far in it because Maths was my main subject but – she sent two of us, and both of us joined a bank in the city of Norwich. We were both kept on there for some time – I did later go into a smaller branch.

Working for a Norwich City bank

So that was, sort of, a trial period, was it?

Well, I thought it was going to be a trial, but we were both kept on and … it sounds like I’m boasting, but I soon got on – as Maths was my favourite subject in school and so it came in handy in the ledger keeping I did spend so much time on at work.

What did that involve?

Keeping the ledger accounts of all the customers – entering all debits and credits and balancing their S/I, firstly doing it by machine – recording all enquiries that came into the office … to check credit against debit … and then to do customer statements. You know – you get statements from your banks – well we did that in machine … mechanical work. Well, then I got onto doing it into ledgers, which is done by hand, and in your mind.

Do you mean copying the figures out from the machine?

No – you don’t copy it out … it’s all ledger keeping. Ledgers of all the customers – they had about four, then later divided into eight ledgers. All done by head. If you did have, say twenty or thirty debits … one thing is the work you take in over the counter – what you do on the machines … then what you do onto the customers’ statements – like what you get from the bank … and then the other is to do it all in book. Book work. The customer’s work. You don’t check the stuff coming in, but you … it’s all account work … in the ledgers. In a way I did wonder whether I should have gone in for accountancy … but, still, I did go into the bank.

When you did the ledger work, was that like a first step in bookkeeping?

Yes – debits and credits for customers – as for the customers – and then of course, monthly, we used to have to take out the balances … it’s funny how I worked it out – with debit and credit batch sheets … that’s done on the goods that come over the counter. Actually, I imagine they still do it in Building Societies and Banks – to check the debits and credits that are taken over the counter … and then of course it was bookkeeping really.

And you found you’d got a good head for that?

Yes – I enjoyed bookkeeping. I was lucky to be able to do Maths in a way and if you did, say, get about twenty debits for one customer for one account … well you could use the machine for that but otherwise it was just head work.

Was it a big office? Were there lots of people?

No – not where I started … nothing like Barclays Bank Plain … but it was facing that. The Westminster is the Halifax on the corner and then it was the Westminster and eventually it went into the NatWest – the joining of National and Provincial with the Westminster – I think it’s just called NatWest now. It was really quite a smallish office … about twenty or thirty working there.

What were your impressions of it as a first job? Was it quite a friendly place to work?

Oh yes, I think so. Of course I had in my mind that to get on you’ve got to work – and I did … did my best at it … and I was lucky. I was glad to get off the machines – I hated the machines. They were just behind me, actually. You’d hear the noise … that is the only thing about the machine work. I’m glad I got on – because you use your brain more – on ledger work … much better … whereas the others were just like little tiny typewriters at the front of the machines … to print onto the statements like you get now from your banks … whereas the other was more mental work, in a way. The other one is like a typist – of course they had a typist in the same room – two, I think.

Did you have a dress code when you worked there – or a sort of uniform – or did you have to look particularly smart … ?

We had navy blue overalls to put on, and I suppose they were to help to protect your clothes from dirt. Yes … overalls, we had. To wear over our clothes.

What would that be protection against? Ink?

Well, I suppose, yes – ink and general dirt … on our clothes … our daily living ones. Of course I never wore my best clothes then but just decent clothing, which the overalls protected from ink etc.

Do you remember what sort of hours you worked?

Well, of course I think things may have improved now, I don’t know, but at the beginning of the month we had no end of dividend credits to be posted to customers’ accounts, so sometimes the hours at work could go on to six o’clock. And then at the end of the year they had to balance out the debits and the credits to agree. Well, they could go on until way past six o’clock, but otherwise … yes, we had reasonable times – half past five, or six.

Did you work weekends … Saturdays?

Only counter work, really and if you did any ledger work it was very little – it was mainly just counter work … serving customers.

Seems like it was quite a nice job – as a first job.

Yes, yes … I was happy there.

How long did you stay there?

I wasn’t early in getting married, and eventually I was transferred to the Orford Place branch of the bank in which I worked before it became the NatWest Bank. There is a Barclays near there now – there was a vet’s behind us in Orford Place. I don’t suppose that you knew it when there was a big car park – where ‘Curls’ is now – of course in the wartime we had quite a lot [of bombing]. Debenhams is very different now – it was quite circular, the buses went around it. We did get quite a bit of bombing in Norwich. Anyhow, I had transferred there for a time before I was married and continued for a short time after I was married, but gave it up when I had my family. I wasn’t young, between 35 and 40, when I had my family I think. So I was with them all that time.

Why did you move to a different branch?

Well, they wanted a limited number of staff to start the branch and people trained for the necessary posts. They only had four people to set up this branch, for convenience to customers. Of course it’s gone now … as I say its joined the NP – and the National Provincial had one at the end of Surrey Street, I think. So the branch went eventually, but I think it was just to set up another branch for the convenience of customers.

Were you more or less doing the same work there?

Yes – to a certain extent – I was about the third one … quite near the junior part really. I didn’t do much junior … where they had to go get the cheques … from where they used to have a local exchange. Do you know the bank work at all?


They used to have to go and get the cheques from other local branches – they used to call it a local exchange.

So if there was a cheque to come over to you …

… from other branches, it means that … the customers … it’s hard to remember now how they sorted into all the different branches … we had the two branches then, and I was off Junior work then. The youngest person used to have to go to Bank Plain – and they had all the local branches go there and take what was sorted out into all the branches of the different banks – in Norwich centre.

So you carried the stuff?

The junior people, yes. And exchange them over. It was done by some special payment form. I didn’t do it very much but to get it to balance up – for the amount of the cheques – all of the branches had to do it. It’s so long ago now!

When you were in that second branch, in the more senior position, what were your duties there?

Counter work and ledger-keeping. On the counter work there were two over me – the Manager and the next person … he was only a year or so older than me but he was more on the counter and I was more or less ledger work still.

Would there have been a chance if you’d wanted to progress? If you had stayed there, would you have had a chance to learn more about bookkeeping and accounts?

Well, I wish in a way, that I had gone in for accountancy, but I didn’t. When you join a job you don’t know what the work entails to start with – I liked ledger keeping and I was lucky that it came fairly easily to me. I don’t know … I did think a lot about ‘shall I change my job’ … but I didn’t. I was there all my life until I got married.

So, when you got married, did you say you carried on working a little bit … ?

I was just there for a short time, and then I had my family, didn’t I – a girl first and a boy.

The housewife’s life and bringing up a family

Would you like to tell me a bit about what it was like … you know … your work at home as a housewife. Has life changed?

I don’t know if things have changed that much – we’ve got much better washing machines and things. We use the washing machine quite a bit, and I’m glad my husband gets up quite early on a Monday morning and puts it on – but I only usually do it one day a week.

I think that’s improved – I think our parents had a rough time with the old mangles … we had a kitchen table – at Woodcock Road this was before I was married – where they had the mangle fold down somehow. Of course they had to have quite big things where they would rinse the wash in, and they’d put it through the mangle – but of course the washing machine does so much of it now. The only I do by hand are pants, and socks, and things like that.

… and you used to help with that?

Yes – as a child … but oh I think we are much luckier now – women – than what our parents, or even grandparents had. The washing they had to do in a day – by hand. The machines are an asset – we are very very lucky that way now. They do no end of our work and it can … I won’t say make you lazy … but it is an asset. Of course your husband can help in a way – as I say, I’m lucky he gets up … just Monday morning, usually, one day a week and puts it on the go … sorted out the night before. I think it was a terrible job – the wash that people had to do – particularly … it’s funny how in the old days they used to have quite big families … why? (Laughs) I mean, there were nine in my mother’s family!

All that washing!

Yes! Perhaps they never had the time to teach their children – but of course you can help a child because they have queries about the homework but oh!, I think it is such an asset.

Did you enjoy your time at home, looking after the family, or did you miss your work?

Well, actually, I did take on work again … it was near Duke Street … near the roundabout – and to hear the noise of the traffic … . There was an office there. I didn’t stay very long. No, I found I had enough to do at home and so I gave it up.

The noise of the traffic … you didn’t like it?

Oh, it was so monotonous and it felt … perhaps learning some different sort of work or something … I felt I could do better. I enjoyed gardening, you know – helping in the garden and I suppose to a certain extent I do sometimes do art. Of course it was another thing I liked at school – we had a good teacher – she lived till 100, Miss Miller who was our Art Mistress at the Blyth School … so I liked art and I did some of that. I also did embroidery and, when they were very young, I did quite a bit of knitting … and my mother was alive then and she did some – and your [my husband’s] Mum did as well, didn’t she?

We’ve got these children up there – our children … it’s funny how they both got degrees but our son is more or less at home – where his wife can get more, she’s working in something to do with education. Things have changed! He’s got the one boy, who they had first, and the two children were married in a short time of each other and … when they were children I did some knitting and of course both the grandmothers did a fair amount – and when you’ve got that I don’t think you’ve got so much time to concentrate on work. I think it was very very different then. Of course, you’ve got the house to clear up and so on.

Did you live in this house then?

We were in a place on Hillcrest Road … actually I moved into Thorpe … ’47 I think we had a bad [winter] – a lot of snow. Mind you we loved it as children – don’t most children? We don’t get the snow now – the climate’s changed a lot – but that year, my father was the only one in his family to keep on a family business – on the road when he was doing it, and he’d had enough of going round to different parts of Norfolk in the weather we had. He had a small van … well, a biggish van – the second one he had … and groceries had to be weighed out then. Biscuits and sugar – he didn’t do fats … but he did this on the road and he’d had enough of it that year so when my brother was about school leaving age he took the business on – at the top of the road here. It’s now a Newsagent, and you know Sainsbury’s out here … well that I think in the last six months … or maybe a year … when my father had the shop up there. I don’t think it had affected him, but I should imagine it affects a lot of people now. You get crowds there, with the big car park – it’s changed.

He took on the grocery at the top of the road – there’s a small shop – two shops … it was a butcher’s and a grocer’s … now it’s a newsagent and a cafe or something. I forget what it is beside it – right on the corner, the diagonal. Well, he took on the grocer’s shop there and so we moved into Thorpe and we lived over the shop to start with. Then we had a place built … or my people did … opposite, and it’s at the top of the hill on the other side.

My father was very good at art as well, and good in the garden. He had quite big ground there – 86 I think it was and he made a picture of it but I’m afraid it’s just grass and what have you now. Anyhow, R. and I … when we married … he’d never met my father (he’d died) … so my mother was in a house up there (we’d got her gradually into a smaller place) at Hillcrest Road – at the top of the hill here – we had a semi-detached house there, to start with – and then we came here.

It was just about the time when our daughter was, at five, due to start school, so we bought this. The primary school is just up here. It was such an asset – this came up for sale – my husband saw it was up for sale. We bought it and moved here and we’ve been here ever since.

And your groceries … you were handy for getting your groceries? Did you use your family shop?

At Sainsbury’s – my father had died and the shop had gone. He had left it. My mother was in her sixties (he was sixty-five) and she didn’t want to keep on the business after he died, although my brother was in it … but eventually she sold the shop. So my husband never knew my father … it’s a pity, that.

So, could you tell me what a typical sort of day would have been … if you were at home with the children … I know there’s never a ‘typical day’ but … what sort of things you might have done as a mother and housewife.

Well, of course to start with … this lane has become more busy now … but we saw them to the school when they started and then it was only about two and a half years between our two children.

What was a normal day like?

At Hillcrest Road, seeing after the children … it’s a pity … I had to have them at the hospital and of course we had to take … (in the middle of the night when our son was born) – and my husband had to drive me there and we had to take her up there – but that’s a long time ago now when I had the two children.

Well, I suppose, just general house work. Seeing after washing the children and … actually his [my husband’s] people moved into a place at the bottom of the garden and she apparently always wanted a daughter and she used to come take my daughter – before school age, before five, they start at five now at primary school. And I suppose just washing the children and seeing after them. I used to get her ready beforehand and his mother used to come and take her (she apparently always wanted a daughter) during the week We used to take her to my mother’s on Saturday mornings who also had a place just up the road. My father had died by this time.

Your daughter was very popular with the different relations!

Well, yes – she used to go with his [my husband’s] mother but … we were very very lucky to see this place was for sale when she was due to start [school] because then we had the two children – a boy and a girl – and only two bedrooms in the semi-detached house. At the top of this hill, the top of Thunder Lane. We were lucky to move her because it is three bedrooms – well, four now. One of them is very tiny and it’s, oh, wool and odds and ends in that room. But we eventually had a piece added to this place and it improved the place a lot because our back door to the kitchen was outside. There was a garage and we joined the garage onto the house and built another bedroom over the top and we thought if it came to it we could always make out of it a bed sitting room. If it worked out in the family – we’d never put it up for sale, though – and of course it stopped draughts coming in the back door and joined it all together.

It looked rather a big building when you come in – but, as I say, we put on a sun lounge at the back of the garage and I think, well, you’ve got that bit more room – when you’re having the coffee or what you want then and it stopped the draughts coming into the back – into the kitchen.

Of course we do have our meals out there, when it’s just the two of us. We’ve got a round table – and even when we have some of the family here we perhaps manage on this … it’s a small kitchen, but plenty big enough for me, really.

So, when you were bringing up the family – when you were at home – did you start doing some art-work as well, did you say?

Oh, that was quite a bit later. I did it at school but haven’t really done much of it, no. I shall have to come to it again. I like embroidery – my mother was perhaps better. That is tapestry on a canvas. […] my daughter has done some lovely tapestry.

Do you feel you’ve covered everything you want to say about working in the bank and at home?

Well, the week is pretty well the same at home, and I don’t mind it. We are thinking now that we might get a smaller place … […]

Just looking back on everything you’ve done – what would you say gave you the most pleasure?

I enjoyed my work when at school – but I enjoy gardening now. Of course we do have a certain amount of light sport – I’m no good at sport, really, and it is some time since I played tennis but we do go out, like this evening, to play table tennis and twice a week we play badminton. I think it is good for you – a certain amount of activity … and of course I do like gardening … I’ve got some seedlings out, you know … and we try and keep the garden in good order … .

We do both drive, but I think some activity is good for you, to a certain extent.

Can I ask your husband. Are there any areas that you think we haven’t covered that we might have done about your wife’s work at home and …

[Mr.T.] I think at the time we got married women were not encouraged to carry on working. Your manager said, don’t stop straight away because there was a pay-rise coming through which was going to be back-dated, so that’s why she stayed on a little while after we got married. Otherwise they weren’t encouraged to stay on. Whereas nowadays …

You’re expected NOT to give up work.

[Mr T]. They go out to work and the children …

Women are expected to go to work, bring up the children, do all the housework, washing and ironing and suchlike.

[ Mrs. T.] We do have quite a number of parents drive here and by about half past two, anyway, we’ve got cars along here. I think it would do people a lot of good if they walked even. Not right the tots perhaps! Well, we had to walk, I had to walk to go down to Bull Close, even. St Augustine’s was a bit nearer. Activity for the parents with children is good for them. So many sit in the car there, 20 minutes or so. It’s up to them. We were lucky, we moved here just as our children. We had an allotment and they used to go across the allotments over the road here to a place, off Spinney Road, wasn’t it? to the grammar school anyhow.

Some more memories

Can you remember what your wages were?

I think it was about £5 a week to start with. I won’t say it was high, but it was enough to live on and of course I gave my mother some when I was at home then, but as I say, I never worked in the shop, but I did the books for my father. My brother worked in his shop. My sister didn’t either, she went into nursing.

Was that quite a good wage in those days – £5 a week?

Well, I suppose it was quite reasonable. Actually, I did have an accident, I was a keen cyclist and that was one of the first things I saved up when I was out at work to buy cycle. And I bought a new one from I believe it was Wilmot’s then, in Prince of Wales road. Anyway, I got a cycle, and I had an accident and I was in hospital […] for seven weeks. Someone went over me with a motorbike and sidecar.

[Mr T.] The address of the bank she worked in was 69 London Street, and when I joined the airforce as a boy, I was in the 69th entry. [Laughs.] And then we got married in 1969.

Well, thank you very much for opening this window to the past for us.

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