Working Lives

The Live Wire (1943-2010)

Location: Mile Cross

Ethel was born in the little village of Newbold on Stour near Stratford on Avon. After she lost both parents when she was about 11 or 12 she had various homes, before moving to Epsom in Surrey. She tells us about working in Surrey, meeting her husband, moving to Mile Cross and life on the estate.

I went to secondary school in Stratford on Avon, of course I’d lost my dad and my mother had gone into hospital and then I lost her. At first they took me to a home in Solihull and then to one just between Leamington Spa and Warwick. I left school and I think that I got a job in Leamington Spa before moving to Epsom.

This came about because I was looking and I see the job advertised in the paper and somebody had said that was a lovely area so I applied for the job. It was funny really because I hadn’t travelled on my own before that, and I went for the interview. Of course you had to go into London first, then cross the underground and from Waterloo to Epsom. When I came back I got to Paddington alright and then just as I was going through the barrier I said ‘Is this the train for Leamington Spa?’ And as it happened he was saying yes to somebody else and I didn’t realise that.

So of course I got on the train and I thought to myself, ‘This journey seems extra long’. So I went along to the guard and said ‘Excuse me please, can you tell me which side of Leamington Spa we are?’ He said, ‘My dear we are half way into Wales.’ The only place it was stopping was Gloucester, I got back to Gloucester and I got a friend to come and pick me up.

It was very late at night, more near midnight, I think, I remember when the guard told me that we were half way into Wales, of course I hadn’t been on my own before. I just broke down and cried.

I got the job and I worked in a hospital laundry and I lived in staff quarters. I worked there for ten years, I worked eight hours a day, but in the end did quite a bit of overtime such as working on a Saturday morning. It started off as overtime but then it became part of the working week. It was nice work and there were enough places to go. I went to a town a little bit away from Epsom, Leatherhead I think that it was called. There was a swimming pool there and I went there to learn to swim. And of course I had a bike then and I used to go out biking quite a lot, especially at the weekend. I was working through the week and probably got to the weekend and would have Sunday lunch, get my bike out and I’d ride for miles and sometimes do the same in the evening.

I liked all the jobs in the laundry, take for instance take the washroom. You’d first be sorting the stuff into different lots where it’s going to be washed. I might then go on the washing machines and I’d be in charge of two or three machines. You’d go weigh your load up, get it in the washing machine and then… the three machines lined up, you’d get them all going and then perhaps have a breather for one or two things.

You’d think to yourself, ‘Alright I’ll go and get three more loads ready’. You’d do that, and again maybe have a breather if one of the machines hadn’t quite finished. There was about six or eight of us working in the washhouse, we had a laugh together. We didn’t socialise after work because most of them had a family to go home to.

As I said I lived in the staff quarters, you had your own room with a wash basin. The bathrooms were further along and there was a little laundry room too. If I hadn’t had met my husband I’d probably have got myself a little flat and move there. But then of course I met him, on holiday one year. It was love at first sight and we were married 12 months later.

Well of course at first he was living here and I was living in Epsom we just had to get over and see each other. Luckily he had a long weekend off once a month, so one month he used to come to see me and the next month I would come here. Once we decided to get married I moved here altogether and lived with his sister. Then of course I was very lucky because he was a Norwich man and his parents moved to Appleyard Crescent when he was three years old.  He did his schooling just round the corner at the Norman Centre, he was lucky as he could do all his schooling there.

When his parents died he decided to stay in the house which was really good because when we got married we had a house to move into.

I was brought up a Methodist and I always said that if I ever got married I’d want to get married in a Methodist church. I told my husband this and he said. ‘Well, we’ll do that’. Because with his family not being a church-going family to me it was more important.

My husband worked for the Electricity Board (of course I called him my live wire ‘cos he worked there) actually just before the wedding he did have an accident at work and broke his leg.

They were laying cables and he was in a trench. The others were pulling it through and he was guiding it and then probably something happened it fell off….it was like a little track with wheels. He was watching and he’d put his hand up to stop and put it right and that. There was a big cable over this cable and it suddenly flew off and the cable came rushing back down the trench and hit his leg. Of course with it being an accident at work, they had to pay him his full wage until he got back to work. It was a bad break but he did recover okay.

We got married 25th August ’79 and he didn’t go back to work until after the Christmas.

After being part of the gang laying the cables he was asked to come off that and he went to the depot. It was actually where B&Q is now but then it was called Boundary Park. He did jobs round the yard, cutting the grass, doing the flowerbeds, different things like that. Sometimes perhaps he’d have to go in the buildings and clean up and that and sweep round the grounds.

He actually did 42 years with them, because he wasn’t too well, his 42 years were up when he was only 63. They said to him he could go if he wanted ‘cos he’d done his years. So he did finish at that time but he wasn’t feeling so well ‘cos the emphysema was starting.

After he finished work he sort of picked up quite a bit and we got away on a few nice holidays. We used to go to Yarmouth in the caravan, Scotland and Blackpool. Oh we went to Tenerife for the Christmas and by February he couldn’t really get out because of the pain in his back. And of course the mobility problems didn’t do anything good to his chest. We had 28 years of lovely marriage and he died when he was 77, so he was actually in the house for 77 years. He was born down Greyhound Opening and then as I said his parents moved there, to Appleyard Crescent when he was only three months old.

My first impressions of Mile Cross was that it is a nice area. When I first moved there it was a friendly road, everybody spoke to you. But people either died or moved away from there. In the end there wasn’t hardly anybody left that was there when I first got married.

I’ve noticed over the years, there were a lot of people when you’d got out, ‘Oh, morning….morning, Mrs So and so, lovely day isn’t it? It’s nice, I think I’m going to perhaps go down Sheringham for the day…’ or something like that, and you’d be standing there talking to them. Now since then a lot, those ones that were there, as I say, they’ve either passed away or moved from the area. The younger families have moved in and they haven’t seemed to be so friendly.

Working for Wensum Clothing

I worked for Wensum Clothing in Northumberland Street. I decided to work, to get a little extra bit of money. Then the arthritis started up, I think that I was near my 57th birthday. I had to stop working because of that and I never ever started again.

I was there about ten years, I was on sewing machines, doing sewing machine jobs. Pressing in the press room. In the despatch, where everything goes when it’s finished. We made men’s suits, a few ladies things but mostly men’s suits. They were ready to wear suits, for Austin Read, Marks and Spencer, Aquascutum and other outlets.

In the end I worked in the despatch, that was sort of liking getting stuff in. You’d sort it out alright, ‘Oh these are Marks and Spencer’s’…..they’d go along rails, you sorted them out in numerical order and that and set them out. Such as, say, a pair of trousers had 57 on it you’d then match it up with the jacket 57

There were different floors, one for trousers, and another where they made the jackets. Then they all had to come down and there was one bit where they pressed the trousers, another where they pressed all the jackets and then they came in to me and I had to sort them out. They then opened another warehouse on the other side of the city, so I had to sort out all their orders and they had a van and the driver he used to come over and get them and take them over there. You’d be putting tickets on them saying what size they were, brush and bag them.

I believe a few hundred people worked there, because there was the cutting room, jackets, trousers and a basement where they supplied all the stuff, materials and that.

We both liked gardening. At our house in Appleyard Crescent we used to grow flowers. We laid a lawn all the way round that made it better and the kept the flowers round the border. It was lovely sitting out in the garden and sometimes, perhaps come the weekend one of us would get the dinner on and the other was weeding out in the garden. That was nice.

My husband had a lap top, I bought it for him within the last three years of his life. Of course we had a computer upstairs but that was a bit cold up there. He had a trapped nerve which affected the use of his hands but he found the lap top quite easy to use. He got some enjoyment from it, he would sit and play games, like solitaire on it, have a look at the internet.

Once I went round the Norman Centre and tried some courses to use the computer, but each time I got home it was too much for me. By the time I got home I was all on edge and I couldn’t relax. I think that it was trying to keep up and do the speed. You’d be going through the programme that evening and of course the others would get it all finished and I’d only be a little way through it.

Changes to the estate

There used to be a launderette, that closed. And there used to be a butcher’s shop but that closed. I did notice that there was one or two times I tried to sort of keep in with the butcher and buy things. But he was saying once, it seems as if a lot of the people are going off to Asda buying a bulk of things, buying the meat products up there and it’s taking business away from him. So I said to my husband, ‘Well, I’ll buy all my meat stuff round there’. But two or three times I asked him to order something and when I went round to get it none of them knew anything about it. So it didn’t seem as if they passed the message on. I believe it closed down last year.

Asda was built in the ‘80s I think. I remember that they built the sports village. If I want to go swimming I’ll go over to Riverside, near the football ground. I actually haven’t been over since I’ve had my legs done. I’ve been a little bit cautious about getting in the water for the first time. It is quite a way from here but you can get a bus into the city and one down to Riverside where Morrison’s is and then walk through. I would make a day of it, come out of swimming and come out, have a bit of lunch in Morrison’s, get one or two things I need and make my way home. The one up the road was nice and handy, just up the road, I used to go up just about every day. It became privately owned and I carried on going but of course it was getting a bit too expensive and we hadn’t really got so much money…….


We had Christmases at home then one year my husband said to me, ‘I’d like to be somewhere warm for Christmas’. ‘Well’, I said, ‘at the weekend we’ll go down the travel place and see what there is. What’s stopping us?’ So we did do that and every year after that we did go away. Been to Benidorm, I think that we went there a couple of times. We had a Christmas dinner there too!

Last Christmas I was at my friends, which was really nice. I was in hospital, I had this other leg done. She came to see me and said, ‘oh, you’re coming to me for Christmas.’ So that was four days, she came to pick me up on Christmas day and we had a nice dinner. Her family came over on Boxing Day,that was lovely. Then on the next day she brought me back.

Now I do social things with the church; this evening we’ve got a prayer meeting.

On Thursdays at church they have their drop-in, of course that’s the same time as they have their coffee morning here. So what I do, I go over to the coffee morning here, buy some raffle tickets, sit there for a bit and once they’ve done the raffle I go off to the church for their coffee morning.

They then have little service at half past twelve till one and perhaps tea and coffee afterwards. On Wednesday I went for a walk in the afternoon and somebody came for me to pick me up and take me to St Catherine’s for the Lent course. This next week it’ll be at our church – Mile Cross Methodist Church.

It’s a good church community and the vicar is a nice lady. I’m going to be putting flyers through some of the doors, it’s our thing for Easter.  This fellow, the organist he says, ‘do you think you’ll be able to manage to do a few leaflets for us?’ I said that I would do Suckling Avenue, so what I’d do is maybe on my way up to church on Sunday, deliver half of them, then when I come out of the service and come home I can deliver the other half.

I remember my husband saying to me once, he said, ‘Look if I go first I don’t want you to sit around and mope. I want you to go out and enjoy yourself’. So since then I’ve just kept that it in mind and I’ve been getting these things done and going places. ‘Cos I know that he’s there looking down on me and he would be very glad to think that I’m making a little bit of a life now.

I mean as soon as the nicer weather comes I shall probably go down the seaside for the day. Now in July I’m going on a three day trip to the Cotswolds and Bath. I’m going on another one which is to the Derbyshire Dales and the Peaks, for five days. So that’s nice.

I’m going up to the Royal Albert Hall to see Prom Praise. My friend’s coming with me, actually I’m treating her to it for her birthday. They had one at St Andrews Hall last week which I went to and my friend came over.

As I said we lived at Appleyard Crescent all that time. Well then it was getting to be a bit too much for, since getting arthritis in both my legs. Since then I have had two knee replacements done. The first while I was at Mile Cross, about 12 months ago and then last November I had the other one done. And with not having stairs to climb it’s been nice, a smaller place.

Since I’ve been here I’ve been very happy.  We have bingo a couple of times a week and of course on Thursday we have the coffee morning. I wouldn’t move away from Norwich because it’s a lovely city.

Ethel (b.1943) talking to WISEArchive on 19th March 2010 in Norwich.

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