The Clicker and the Seaman

Location :

C … where were you born?

Armes Street.

Is that Norwich?

Yeah, just off Nelson Street.

So you’ve been in Norwich all your life?

Yeah. Well, until I joined the Navy.

Then you went a little bit further away …

My schooling days and that, we were born in Armes Street and went to Nelson Street School.

What are your memories of being there? What was it like to be at school?

That was quite good as a matter of fact. Two schools there, Wensum View and Nelson Street. Used to go from one to another you know, as you get older … You’d start in Wensum and then go to the big one, Nelson Street.

How old were you when you went to Nelson Street?

About ten, I should think.

And then you left there when you were ..?


And then you went straight to work?

Yeah. Well I left before then because my birthday is in January.

So you left when you were thirteen.

Yeah, when I left school I wasn’t fourteen was I, then. I went and started work. I won’t fourteen I started work. And when I told them, they said, oh that don’t make no difference there ain’t much in it. They didn’t bother then, did they?

Where was your first job?

Shoe factories.

Which one?

Clarks, Northumberland Street, Sexton & Everards was another one. Websters in Muspole Street …

So you moved from one to the other. What kind of jobs did you do there as a thirteen year old boy? What was your role? What were the main jobs that you were doing in the factories?

Well, you couldn’t leave school till you were fourteen, can you? Although you do leave sometimes … to work in the shoe factories, of course, that’s where I always worked, in the shoe factories when I lived in Armes Street …and there was one in Nelson Street.

What did you have to do there?

Clicking room I was in.

Clicking room. What does that mean?

Shoes. Making shoes. In the clicking room we used to do the linings … cut the linings of all the shoes.

So you were cutting the shape …

Cut the linings … that was all made out and you cut the linings of the shoes.

That’s one of the things you realize with the shoe making, everyone had their little jobs and they all kind of get constructed together at the end.

That’s it.

So did you work in lots of different parts?

I didn’t, because I was a clicker.

How many years were you a clicker?

Well, all the time since I was fourteen. When I left school. I went in the shoe factory and when I was working then at fourteen for a while anyway, but well, I was a clicker …

How many years were you a clicker for?

From fourteen, fifteen, sixteen and up to …

About eighteen, I think.

And then you went into the Navy.

I went and joined the Navy then, yeah.

When you were 18.


That was a good life.

What year was that. Was it before or after – was that during the second world war?

Second world war, yeah.

So you joined the Navy when that was going on?

Yeah, that must have been going on. That’s right, yeah.

So what was your job in the Navy? What did you do in the Navy?

Seaman. I was a seaman in there, As a matter of fact I progressed a little bit. If you started as an ordinary seaman and if you wanted promotion you had to go for it and work it out. Leading seaman, petty officer. I was acting petty officer for a while. You had to keep a-going, learning and all that, and you could pass your tests.

How many years were you in the navy for?

It was the war.

Just during the War. So you left in 1945.

Something like that, yes.

And then you came back to Norwich? And what did you do when you came back to Norwich?

Where was I, in the shoe factory? Sexton and Everards, Clarks in Northumberland Street.

So you just came straight back and you went straight into the shoe factories?


So what was it like to work in the shoe factories? Paint me a picture of what it was like every day, what you would do … you’d come in the morning, you’d clock in, and then your day went on …

I was a clicker in the clicking room. I used to do the shoes, the linings … I used to cut the linings in the shoe room. Cut all the different linings.

You’d come in in the morning, get straight to work. How many hours a day would you work?

Oh, about eight hours a day, sometimes longer. That depends.

Would you get paid overtime for that?

I don’t know whether they paid overtime or not. But in them days it was a different thing altogether, you’d just do as you were told. And that was it. No argument or nothing. That was just it … you couldn’t ask for more wages because …

What were your managers, your bosses like? Were they nice or were they quite hard?

Yeah . They were all right. But stern, if you know what I mean. They were running the business.

So they were very focussed.They weren’t your friends.

Yeah, that’s it, they were in business

Did they sit in an office, in a big separate office and you never really saw them?

That’s right, yeah.

So they’d come and walk around and check on you.

That’s right, yeah. Oh yeah. No mucking about.

What was it like in the clicking room? Were you working very very fast all the time?

Oh, now with a clicking knife. Cut them out on a big board. The uppers.

So was it one of those wheel things – click click click click … is that why it was called clicking?

That was all hand work, mine.

Why was it called clicking again? Was it the clicking noise?

The clicking room?


Why did they call it clicking?

All you had was a knife and you used to cut all the uppers out, different sizes and all that. The uppers and then that moved on to the ladies in the wassaname rooms, the … what do the stitching and all that kind of thing.

So did you have to work really fast?


Just a nice relaxed pace?

Well yeah, they did at one time they started working on bonus and that sort of thing, you know, if you’d done a good bit of work and all that. Otherwise you just got your ordinary payment which was nothing really, not in them days. You’d just get extra money for working over the top.

So if you got an extra number, if you worked really fast, really efficiently, they’d recognize you.

Yeah. In them days, of course, there wasn’t no such thing as timing then. Well, you’re too young to go there, you’re too young for the work, they didn’t bother in those days. I left school well, thirteen years old when I went to work. And I said to the factory, well, I’m only thirteen. They said, that don’t make no difference.

Thirteen! You were still a child.

You can’t do them sort of things now, the bosses, oh that’s alright, that don’t matter about that, the age, but of course they can’t do that now.

No, that’s child labour.

They’ve got to leave school at the proper time and go to working age.

Definitely, you can’t leave till you’re sixteen now.

Yeah, that was a different thing altogether, wo’n’t it.

How many people worked in your room? How many people worked in the clicking room? Were they all boys about your age, doing the same sort of job?

Older people.



How many of them were there? How many would be in the room?

Well, several. They were big rooms in the factory. We was in the clicking room, that was a big room.

Yeah, so how many?

We done the uppers. Cutting the uppers, which I was learning then until I passed out. Then I was a clicker.

So then after the war you went back to a different shoe factory. What job did you do in your next job?

I didn’t go back into a factory did I, when I came out in the war. I went … just went to work, oh, building trade.

I went to work at Gills, Gill the builder.

Gills the builder.

Where was that based?

There place was on … their depot … they had a pretty big yard, Gills. Oh … I wonder if that was Waterloo Road, but it isn’t …

Was it north of the city?

Yeah. I lived in Armes Street off Nelson Street.

What did you do there? What did you do at Gills?

Gills was a builders.

What did you do?

I was a labourer.

OK, what kind of … were you building houses?

Yeah, they done houses and all that.

So you were working every day on site doing bricklaying …

Yeah, you just had to go where they told you to go and that was it. In them days.

Did you enjoy it?

Yeah, I thought it was very good.

Nice being outside?

That was. And scaffolding and all that sort of thing. I was on that an all. That was good.

I bet it kept you very fit.

Oh yeah.

Very hard work.

Oh yeah. Well yes, especially when you’re scaffolding, that was hard work. When you’re doing the scaffolding you get every time you come to the first floor you have to put your boards down you know and then get on and start the next one and the next one.

You have to be … it’s quite dangerous work. Did you ever get any injuries?


Always very careful.

Oh ah, yeah. Mind you, as you say, you had to be careful. That’s a dangerous job working in that sort of thing. I liked it.

How many years did you do that for?

A few years.

Not that long?

No, not too long.

And what did you do after that?

I went in the building trade, with Gills, I worked for them. That was good job. I didn’t mind that, travelling about all over the place. Yep, that was all right.

You get a good suntan as well, don’t you?

Yeah, cor, blast yes.

Have to be careful not to get burnt in the summer.

When you’re working … you couldn’t work with all you clothes on, could you? Not in the building trade!

Keeps you very fit and very strong.

Yeah, I liked the work, building, ‘cos you used to travel about a bit. See different places when you went where the work was wanted.

Yeah, that was a good change of scenery wasn’t it? Different to sitting in a factory where you’ve got the same four walls around you all day.

Well, yeah.

Did you like the lads you worked with?

Cor yeah, lovely. You all work together, don’t you?

Do you have any memories about them?

Oh yeah, that’s pretty good. We’d go and have a drink together, later on you know, dinner time. In the local.

What pub did you use to go to?

Well the Lord Nelson in Nelson Street, you know Armes Street and Nelson Street. And used to go into … the Little John Pub was another one. That was alright.

Did you live in Nelson Street, Armes Street, all your life?

Yeah. I was born there,

… and you lived in that same house?

Yeah, in Armes Street, that is just off Nelson Street. Well I was there at school anyway. I went to two schools, Wensum View and Nelson Street. You started Wensum View young and when you got older you moved to Nelson Street. And that was it, you left school then, thirteen, fourteen. You couldn’t do that today, leaving school at thirteen.

Do you have any memories about what it was like to be a child? Your childhood in Norwich, the friends you had, and what you got up to in Norwich when you were younger? Before you started working.

Well, not a lot to do, was there, you know what I mean … playing about and all that sort of thing.

What did you used to play?

Well, football mostly.

Just in the road?

Yeah. Football and all that sort of thing. There’s always something to do when you are that age, anyway.

One of the other things we are quite interested in is people’s memories of how Norwich, and this area of Norwich particularly, has changed over the years. Do you have any comments about that?

That was a different kind of life than that is now. When you left school and that sort of thing you had to go to work and where they tell you, you’d go. I mean your mother wasn’t worried about what sort of work you had to do, as long as you get to work. Cos they wanted the money. And it was as simple as that. When you drawed the money they wanted it and gave you a little back, if any.

You used to come home and give it straight to your mum.

Yeah. Well, yeah. You weren’t allowed to keep it. You used to give it in and then they used to give you a little bit back again. Well, that’s how it went in them days.

What did your dad do?

He was in the building trade.

The same company? For Gills as well? Did your father work for Gills?

No, he worked for Carters. Drayton Road.

They’re still about.

Oh, yeah.

How do you think Norwich and Mile Cross, this sort of area, has changed over the years?

Well, yeah it has changed a hell of a lot really, don’t it? You know, there weren’t a lot going on in them days. When you went to work and you finished, and that was it. You know. Your mother went out, and your father went out on a Saturday night down the road to the pub. Left you with the children. The Lord Nelson, just down the road from where we lived in Armes Street, the Lord Nelson is on Nelson Street, just on the end there, in Armes Street. So they used to leave me looking after the youngsters when they went out.

Were you the oldest? How many younger brothers and sisters did you have.

Just one. The others were brothers.

Every Saturday night you spent babysitting?

Yeah, when they went out.

And your mum and dad went to the pub and you had to babysit.

Yeah, that was down the end of the road. Nelson Street, so we weren’t far away, but that was it. And I was the eldest, so I had to look after them while they went down the corner there, to the pub. Lord Nelson.

So you think Norwich has changed for the better now, because younger people have more to do?

Oh yeah.

Do you think it’s a better life for teenagers now?

Oh blimey, yes. Well, I mean you weren’t allowed out and going drinking or suffin’. None of that. That was alright for them but not for you. You couldn’t … I mean they can now. They can all go drinking now, can’t they. But not in them days.

So you had to be at work all day and you came home on a Saturday night and had to do some jobs and then babysit.

Babysit when they went out.

So you had to be busy all the time.

That’s right. Used to have to look after the children, didn’t you. When I was the oldest, looking after children. While they went out.

What were your neighbours like on Armes Street?

They were quite good really. Well, they all knew one another in them days, in the streets and what have you, Armes Street and Nelson Street. They knew practically everybody, in them days.

So you couldn’t have done anything naughty. Someone would have told your parents.

Cor blimey, no you’d have known about that! (Laughs.)You’d have been in trouble, blimey. I mean you had to look after the children didn’t you, while they went out.

So were there local shops. Were there a lot of them? A of those have closed down now, the businesses that were in this area.

Gone now … They were local shops then. The corner shops. Quite good though. They were all right.

Was there a newsagents you could buy sweets and things?

Yeah that’s it.

Where you get your sweets from, yeah. When you had enough for sweets.

As I said, when you went to work you handed your money over to your mother and that was it. She just gave you a bit back and that was it. Said, buy your sweets. Ah well.

Did you get married before or after the war?

After the war. Yeah. Couldn’t get married before the war.

You were too young, weren’t you?

Didn’t earn nothing, anyway.

Then you got your own house. Or did you stay at your parents’ house?


You stayed at your parents’ house?

Yeah, where they lived, yeah, I stayed there and went to work there and everything from there. Shoe factories. But that was a pretty good life I suppose in them days.

It was hard work.

Yeah, but it had to be done din’t it.

Yeah, I suppose so. Everyone complains about work, but it is nice to be busy and fill in your time.

Oh ah.

Do you miss working? Did you miss working when you retired? Did you find it hard to retire or were you excited about retiring?

Oh I liked to go to work. Oh yeah. Well, I mean you had to really, didn’t you. You couldn’t go nowhere to get any money, can you? You had to go to work and that was it. Of course, your mother took most of it anyway and give you a bit.

Did your mum used to make you lunch to take to work?

Lunch, yeah.

Did she use to pack you up …

Yeah, a sandwich.

So you like living in Norwich, you never wanted to live anywhere else?

No it’s alright, Norwich.

It’s a nice city.

There in’t nothing wrong with that.

You never fancied moving anywhere else?


What kind of places did you see when you were in the Navy?

Different places all around the place, all over.

All around the world?

Well, not the world, no, just so far, you know, all around the countries and so forth.

All round Europe?

Joined a ship but the ships didn’t go all that far, not then. Just travelled about locally, near enough. You didn’t travel abroad, until you got a little older. Time you left school then. So you had to do as you were told.

It still must have been an adventure. Going to live on a ship and working …

Oh ah. Now that is a good life. That’s good that.

You enjoyed that …

Yeah, lovely. You’re got a good old crew ha’n’t yer. Aboard ship. You know. And you can go ashore, you know, when that was your duty. You couldn’t just go when you liked. You had to go when it was your duty. If you was on duty you had to stay on board ship and when you were off duty you could go ashore. You couldn’t go just when you wanted. Only your friends was off with you you’d go out with them. But that’s a good life though, yeah.

You did a lot of your life doing what you were told…

Yeah. Still there you are, that’s it, in’t it.

But you had a good life. You can’t complain.

That I can’t. No, that’s pretty good. I mean you join the ship you do as you’re told, don’t you. Yeah. Know the skipper. Take the ship over, you take it over. Stay on the ship. I used to like that. (Laughs.) I used to think that was great, taking the ship over, steering the ship in the wheelhouse.

Into where? What’s that?

On the ship where the big steering wheel is in. Where you steer the ship.

The Old Man is in there. The skipper. You know, in case you went wrong, he give you the orders.

You steered the ship.


How big was the ship. Was it a huge ship?

Yeah, fairly big. Most of them were on the, what do you call it, trawler size, some were a lot bigger than that. I used to think that was good – to think you was in charge of the ship. Although you won’t in charge of the ship, but you was in charge of the wheel in the wheelhouse, at the helm, we called it, the helm, steering the ship. I mean I know the skipper give the orders, but I mean you used to think tha was great. (Laughs.) I’m in charge of the ship! There you are, that’s alright. A good life, I know.

Do you have any other memories you would like to share? Any other thoughts about your life, you know?

No … nothing much when you went to school, you couldn’t run about like most of ‘em do these days. I mean you couldn’t go home and then run off out again. And get about. They’d say, where you going? Now they travel about, walk about all over the place now, don’t they … when they finish school they don’t come home till late. Well, you weren’t allowed none of that. … ho ho ho good lord.

What do you think about the children round here, do they tend to be well behaved? How do you feel about the younger people that live round here that are out after school?

Well, they’re used to it now. They didn’t know nothing else, did they? Not in our days. Do as they like now, mostly, don’t they.

How do you feel about that, do you think that’s a good thing?

Not really. I don’t think youngsters should travel about all over the place. Cos they … anyway. Do you? I don’t.

No. I think it’s good they’ve got an opportunity for a bit of freedom that they can socialise with each other and have fun, so they’re not just having to be at school and at home. But at the same time if they don’t have enough to do, then sometimes they can end up doing unadvisable stuff.

You’ve got a nice sunny spot here haven’t you. Lovely. Are you happy here?

It’s good, isn’t it.

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