Working Lives

The clicker and the seaman (1934-1980s)

Location: Mile Cross

Charles recalls his life in Norwich, working as a clicker in the shoe industry, and being at the helm during his time in the Navy.

Early days

I was born in Armes Street, just off Nelson Street, in Norwich. I’ve been in Norwich most of my life, apart from when I joined the Navy. I went to Nelson Street School which 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 got older. I started in Wensum and then went to the big one, Nelson Street, when I was about ten I should think.

I used to play football mostly, in the road. Football and all that sort of thing. There’s always something to do when you are that age. 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 are you going?’ Now they travel about, walk about all over the place, 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.

Working as a clicker

When I left school I was thirteen because my birthday is in January. I weren’t fourteen when 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? Thirteen! I was 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. They’ve got to leave school at the proper time and go to working age. You can’t leave till you’re sixteen now. That was a different thing altogether.

My first job was in the shoe factories, Clarks, Northumberland Street, Sexton & Everards was another one. Websters in Muspole Street. I moved from one to another. I was in the clicking room, making shoes. In the clicking room we used to do the linings. That was all made out and you cut the linings of the shoes. You cut the uppers with a clicking knife, cut them out on a big board, all hand work. 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, what do the stitching and all that kind of thing. You didn’t have to work really fast, just a nice relaxed pace. With the shoe making everyone had their little jobs and they all kind of get constructed together at the end. The others in the clicking room were older people. There were several others in the clicking room, that was a big room.

I worked about eight hours a day, sometimes longer. I don’t know whether they paid overtime or not. 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. At one time they started working on bonus and that sort of thing, you know, if you’d done a good bit of work. 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. The bosses, they were alright, but stern, if you know what I mean. They were running the business. They sat in an office, in a big separate office and you never really saw them. They’d come and walk around and check on you. No mucking about.

That was a different kind of life then. When you left school 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. It was simple as that. When you drawed the money they wanted it and gave you a little back, if any. 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. My mother used to pack me a sandwich for lunch.

Life in the Navy

I was a clicker till I was about eighteen, I think, and then I went and joined the Navy. That was during the second world war. 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 the tests.

When I was in the Navy I saw different places all over. Joined a ship but the ships didn’t go all that far, not then. Just travelled about locally. You didn’t travel abroad until you got a little older. So you had to do as you were told. That was a good life. I enjoyed that. You’re got a good old crew ha’n’t yer. Aboard ship. 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. If your friends was off with you, you’d go out with them. But that’s a good life though. Spent a lot of my life doing what I was told. Still, there you are, that’s it in’t it. I mean, you join the ship, you do as you’re told, don’t you. Know the skipper. Take the ship over, you take it over. Stay on the ship. I used to like that. I used to think that was great, taking the ship over, steering the ship in the wheelhouse. The Old Man is in there. The skipper. You know, in case you went wrong, he give you the orders.

The ship was 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 weren’t in charge of the ship, but you was in charge of the wheel in the wheelhouse, at the helm, we called it, steering the ship. I mean I know the skipper give the orders, but I mean you used to think that was great. I’m in charge of the ship!

Back from the Navy and into the building trade

I was in the Navy just during the war and when I came back to Norwich after the war, like my dad, I went into the building trade. He worked for Carters, Drayton Road, but I went to work at Gills as a labourer. They had a pretty big yard, Gills. They were building houses and all that. You just had to go where they told you to go and that was it. In them days. I thought it was very good. It was nice being outside. I was on scaffolding and all that sort of thing. That was good. Kept me very fit. It was very hard work especially when you’re scaffolding. 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 had to be careful. That’s a dangerous job working in that sort of thing. I liked it. That was a good job. I didn’t mind that, travelling about all over the place. See different places when you went where the work was wanted. That was alright. You get a good suntan as well. Had to be careful not to get burnt in the summer. When you’re working you couldn’t work with all your clothes on, could you? Not in the building trade!

The lads I worked with, we’d go and have a drink together, later on you know, dinner time. In the local. We used to in the Lord Nelson in Nelson Street, and the Little John pub was another one. That was alright.

I got married after the war. Couldn’t get married before the war, didn’t earn enough, and we stayed at my parents’ house. I stayed there and went to work there and everything from there. That was a pretty good life, I suppose, in them days.

How life has changed in Norwich and Mile Cross

Norwich and Mile Cross have 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 and your father went out on a Saturday night, down the road to the pub, the Lord Nelson, just down the road from where we lived in Armes Street. They used to leave me looking after the youngsters when they went out. I was the oldest. I had just one sister and the others were brothers, and every Saturday night I was babysitting.

Teenagers have a better life these days. Oh blimey, yes. Well, I mean you weren’t allowed out and going drinking or suffin’. None of that. That’s alright for them but it wasn’t in them days.

Our neighbours on Armes Street 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. If you’d have done anything wrong, cor blimey, you’d have known about that! You’d have been in trouble, blimey.

The local shops, gone now, were all right. There was a newsagents where you could buy sweets and things. 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.

Norwich is alright, nothing wrong with it. I’ve never wanted to move. I’ve had a good life, can’t complain.

Charles (b.1920) was talking to WISEArchive on 26th March 2010 in Norwich

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