Working Lives

Life within the Westminster Bank, Norwich (1950s-1970s)

Location: Norwich

Patricia describes her work at the Westminster Bank in Norwich during the 1950s and 1960s and her subsequent life as a housewife and mother in Thorpe St Andrew. 

Life at the Bank

I was born in Norwich in 1934 and, apart from six months during the war, have lived here all my life.  I managed to pass the scholarship and went to Blyth School for Girls until I was 16.  I stayed on for a short time after getting the School Certificate to learn shorthand and typing but didn’t get far because Maths was my main subject.  Then the Headmistress got me and another girl a place with a bank in Norwich

We went on trial first but we were both kept on.  As I said, Maths was my favourite subject and it came in handy when I worked on the ledgers.  At first I was put on the accounting machines – entering debits and credits, ensuring accounts balanced, recording everything that came into the branch and then preparing customer statements – all done mechanically by machine.

Then I got put onto ledgers which are done by hand and in your mind.  We had about four big ledgers, later it was divided into eight and it is about account work.  I did wonder later whether I should have gone in for accountancy but still, I went into the bank.  Ledger work is like bookkeeping putting together all the debits and credits coming into the bank and doing things like calculating monthly balances from the debit and credit batch sheets.  I imagine they still do it in Building Societies and Banks to check the debits and credits coming in over the counter.  I enjoyed the bookkeeping and especially the Maths – if you had say, about twenty debits for one customer for one account then you could use a machine but otherwise it was just head work.

I worked at the Westminster Bank which was on Bank Plain opposite Barclays.  It eventually became NatWest after merging with National and Provincial.  Our branch wasn’t very big only about twenty to thirty people worked there.  It was quite a friendly place for a first job although, of course I was there to work.  I was lucky – I got off the machines and I was so glad.  I hated the machines; they were so noisy.  So I was pleased to get on because you use your brain more on ledger work, it was much better.  The machines were just like typewriters – you pressed the keys and put in the figures and it printed out a statement just like the bank statements you get now.  Ledgers demanded mental work while working on machines was just like being a typist.

Most days we worked until about half past five or six o’clock and on Saturday mornings when I did a bit of counter work.  But at the beginning of the month, we had no end of dividend credits to be posted to customer accounts so we often had to stay until well after six.  Then at the end of the year, we had to balance out all the debits and credits and that could go on much much later.

We had to wear navy blue overalls to protect our clothes from ink and general dirt but when you went on the Counter, you had to wear decent clothes – not your best but decent and look smart.   My wages were about £5 a week to start with.  It was enough to live on and, of course, I gave my mother some when I was living at home.  £5 was a reasonable wage then and one of the first things, I saved up for and bought was a bicycle.  I was a very keen cyclist but then I  had an accident and was in hospital for seven weeks after being run over by a motorcycle and sidecar.

Later I was transferred to another branch in Orford Place opposite Debenhams; there’s a Barclays near there now.  It was a new branch set up there to be more convenient for customers and initially there were four of us working there.  I was doing much the same work as at Bank Plain, a bit of counter work but mainly ledger work.  We had a junior, one of whose jobs was to go to the ‘local exchange’ in Bank Plain where all the cheques from different branches were sorted and exchanged and then cheques drawn by customers of our branch were brought back and entered onto the system.  It’s hard to remember exactly how it was all done, it’s all so long ago now!

Thinking back I wish in a way I had gone in for accountancy but I didn’t.  You don’t know what a job entails when you first start.  I liked ledger keeping and I was lucky it came fairly easily to me.  I did think a lot about changing my job but I stayed with the bank until I started my family.

Home and family

I was the youngest of three children, when I was very young we lived in Tillet St and then moved to Woodcock Road.  However, in 1947 we moved out to Thorpe.  It was a really bad winter with lots of snow.  My father had a business selling groceries from a van travelling around the different parts of Norfolk.  That year was really hard and he had had enough of it weighing out all the groceries in the ice and snow so when my brother left school, he took a shop in Thorpe not far from where Sainsbury’s is now . My brother worked in the shop but while I never worked there I did the books for him. We lived over the shop for a while, then he had a place built at the top of the hill.  My father died when he was sixty five and even though my brother was working there, my mother didn’t want to keep the business and it was sold.

I wasn’t early in getting married, about 35 and I carried on at the bank for a short while but gave it up just before my daughter was born. I had two children; a girl first and then a boy.

When we first married, we had a semi-detached in Thorpe and we persuaded my mother to move into a smaller place nearby on Hillcrest Road.  My father had died before I married and my husband sadly never met him.  Then, when our daughter was about start school, we moved into this house.  My husband’s people moved into a house just at the bottom of our garden and his mother used to spend a lot of time with our daughter – taking her to school, which was just nearby and looking after her.  She used to go to my mother’s on Saturday mornings.

We were very lucky to get this house because our first house only had two bedrooms and with two children – a girl and a boy – we needed three.   A typical day was spent getting the children up and ready for school and looking after the house.  I sometimes think about the difference between doing the washing now and how it was when my mother had to do it.  We’ve got much better washing machines now, my mother had a hard time with the old mangle.  We had a kitchen table in the Woodcock Road house and the mangle sort of folded down into it.  She had a big tub to do the washing and the rinse and then she’d have to put it through the mangle but, of course, the washing machine does all of that now.  Our parents and grandparents – all the washing they had to do and all by hand in a day and so many had big families too!

I enjoyed being at home, I had more than enough to do.  I did go back for a bit – an office on Duke St near the roundabout.  But I didn’t stay long, it was so monotonous.  Maybe I felt I could do better, perhaps learning some different kind of work or something.  Anyway, I gave it up.   I did the garden and when the children were young, I did quite a lot of knitting –and both grandmothers also did a fair bit. I did a bit of art – it was another thing I enjoyed at school, we had a very good Art teacher at Blyth School, Miss Miller – she lived until she was 100.  I also like embroidery – my mother was perhaps better.   When you have all that and the house to keep up, I don’t think you have much time to concentrate on work.

Looking back

At the time we got married, women weren’t encouraged to work but the Manager at Orford Place said there was a pay increase coming and it would be backdated so advised me to stay on for a bit.  Nowadays, you expected NOT to give up but to go out to work, bring up the children and also do all the housework, washing and ironing and such like.

Things are very different now.  Our children have both got degrees but our son is more or less at home, his wife can earn more – she is something in education.  He has got the one boy.  Now we do the garden to keep it in good order and we do a bit of light sport – I’m no good at sport really and it’s some time since I played tennis but we go out and play table tennis and twice a week badminton.  I think some activity is good for you, we see children at the primary school nearby being driven to school, I think it would do people a lot of good to walk.

Patricia (b. 1934) talking to WISEArchive on 24th May 2011 in Thorpe St Andrew.

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