Sue recalls her childhood in the 1960’s, growing up on the marshes around Berney Arms and Halvergate. Sue now runs Goodchild Marine with her husband Alan. She is the daughter of Bill Lacey, who recorded his story for WISEArchive in 2017.
Life in the early days
I was born in my grandma’s house in Reedham, exactly where I live now, because my mum wasn’t allowed to be on the marshes when she was heavily pregnant. After a day, we went back down to Berney Arms, where we lived in a two-bedroomed house, about three miles from the Acle Straight. My dad was a marshman. Our nearest neighbour was probably three fields away. That was our only neighbour. We lived three miles from Berney Arms windmill where there was a row of cottages, and we were friendly with the people who lived there. We were not far off Breydon Water where, if you ever went anywhere, we went for our Sundays out. I had one brother who’s three years older than me. He was born at Cantley and in 1958, when he was just a year they moved to Berney Arms. I was born two years later.
We didn’t have any electricity, we didn’t have running water. As I recall, we had two bedrooms and you went through my parents’ bedroom to our bedroom. We had a lounge downstairs, very farm orientated lounge, not with carpets and things like that, it was very cobbledy. In the kitchen, there was just a sink and a cupboard, not like today where you have fitted kitchens or anything like that. There was no luxury at all, but it wasn’t a hardship, just where we lived. I remember there was a very old fashioned oven built into the wall, which I think was called a bread oven. We must have had an Aga because, when the new-born lambs were poorly in the winter and needed reviving, Dad used to bring them home and put them in the Aga. He would give them a tot of whisky and warm them up in the Aga before they went back with their mums. There was no toilet, no running water. We had a generator for electricity, and we had to wait for Dad to come home from work before we could have any electricity. As children, if you wanted to watch Blue Peter you just had to pray that your dad came home in time to start the generator to be able to watch the telly. In the winter he would come home a bit early to start the generator up.
We had to go to Brian Banham’s for drinking water. He was just before what’s now the Vauxhall Holiday Camp, on the left going into Great Yarmouth. On Saturdays we would go there, with churns in the back of the Land Rover, all the way to the Acle Straight. There was a hosepipe over a bridge, goodness knows where this running water came from, and we were allowed to fill our churns from the hosepipe. Two churns had to last us the week for drinking water.
We used well water to wash in and on a Saturday we would wash in a tin bath. There was one fire that used to roar to get warm, in the bungalow. There was only one fire in the middle and to heat water up there was a copper thing that you used to light a fire underneath to make the water hot. We had a bath once a week, my brother and I, one each end of the tin bath in front of the fire. Goodness knows if my parents ever bathed, I don’t know. I’m sure they must have done somewhere along the line. You used to strip wash didn’t you? Nobody considered that to be an issue. We’re far too clean now I’m afraid. In those days you didn’t think about it. For goodness’ sake, now everyone’s wiping their hands, washing their hands, anti-bac their hands. When you were lambing, you used to go out in the morning to the barn, lamb all day, putting your hands in not very pleasant places, to achieve a live lamb at the end of it. And you would just wipe your hands down on some straw or your trousers and eat your lunch. And that is what you did. And if you were a bit thirsty, I mean even the water in the dykes was clean so you would have a cup of water from the dyke. You didn’t go around with these bottles of water hanging on your hips. So you didn’t have any luxuries. The toilet was down the garden and you had two seats, one little hole and one big hole, for parents-sized bums and children-sized bums. It was very cold. I remember the toilet had an ivy over it and in the autumn it was beautiful and red.
Going to school
We went to school at Halvergate. You had to walk from where we lived in Berney Arms to the A47, as it is now. I think it was something like nineteen gates to get there. Must have been a good two to three miles. You had to go over and under and round and through, and over some liggers as well. If people don’t know what a ligger is, it’s a plank of wood that goes over a dyke. If my brother was being particularly mischievous, he would walk over it and boyng, and spring it, so when I was coming he would try and spring me off into the dyke. He didn’t succeed! When you think how tiny we were, going to school at that time, walking all that way, that was quite something. I can’t imagine that happening today. Today if you drive there it’s certainly two miles. We would climb over the gates. You didn’t think to open gates, you just climbed over.
There was one bus that went into Yarmouth at six in the morning and then came back at six at night. So there were only two buses and they were always full of workers going to the factories from the villages. You had Birds Eye in Great Yarmouth, you had Erie Resistor, and another couple of big factories in Great Yarmouth. At about seven o’clock in the morning, we used to catch that bus on its return trip from Great Yarmouth to Halvergate where it stopped. Then we would go and wait at a friend’s house until school opened and we’d walk to school. At night we would go back on the bus which was going back into Yarmouth to collect the workers and we would walk home. My dad worked where we lived, on the marshes, so he could accommodate taking us to the main road and then coming back. It wasn’t easy, I don’t think. It was hard work. He didn’t get time off for being a parent like today, it just didn’t happen. My mum was a teacher so she used to go off to work, but not when we were tiny, so that worked fine. She taught in various schools. I think she temp-taught, she wasn’t full-time at any school. After we moved from the marshes to Halvergate she taught me for a while. That was really hard because you weren’t allowed to call her mum, you had to call her Mrs Lacey.
When it snowed, well, you couldn’t get out. Full stop. You could walk wherever and when it was really really bad, and if it was really deep snow, Dad would put a tin sledge on the back of a horse and the tin sledge somehow took us to the A47 to get to school. Goodness knows how they kept the A47 clear or anything like that but I suppose they did somehow. We used to catch the bus into Halvergate. You didn’t have wet weather gear but you had wellie boots and a coat. End of. I don’t think you felt the cold like you do now. You didn’t think about it. Even now, I say to my dad, ‘Put some gloves on Dad’, ‘Gloves? Who on earth wears gloves?’ As if to say, ‘It’s ridiculous’. But my dad still doesn’t ever feel the cold, never. I do! I don’t know that I could go back to living like that, but you didn’t know any different when there was no central heating.
For entertainment in the evenings we had TV. You had three channels then didn’t you? BBC 1, BBC 2 and probably ITV or something. But you didn’t entertain. You hardly ever went out for a meal. I can remember, on the very odd occasion, there was a place called Nichols in Great Yarmouth which was a fish and chip shop and it was on three levels. The first level was takeaway, the next one was self-service and the third one was a restaurant. I think we probably only went two or three times but it was a real treat if ever you went there. That’s where Market Gates is now, in Great Yarmouth. And I can remember the petrol station we used to go to, a man called Tammy. So when you used to go out you saw people you knew. You made friends with people, because there was always a routine. The petrol, you went on the market to get some fruit, Woollies, we used to get corned beef from Woollies. I love corned beef still to this day.
On a Saturday we would go into Great Yarmouth to do the shopping. We didn’t ever buy meat because we produced meat as a farm. Dad would kill something during the course of the year, and we would live off that. We grew lots of our own vegetables so we were fairly self-sufficient and very very green. When I think about it now, when everyone’s concerned about waste products and what we do with our lives, and plastics, and so on, that never happened, just fifty years ago. So in my generation we’ve kind of ruined the world. We’ve taken that all for granted. Occasionally we went to Norwich Cattle Market in Hall Road on a Saturday, because obviously that was Dad’s life, the farm. Even now I can still smell the Norfolk Dumpling which was the restaurant there, and I can hear the stools scratching across the floor. Sometimes we used to take things to sell and sometimes we bought things. It was just a real busy hub. I don’t even know if it’s still there or if they still have any cattle markets now, locally. It was a real busy time and lots and lots of local people. You always caught up with everyone and, you know, it was just such a fun time. I can remember Dad telling us a tale about how he once came back from Norwich cattle market. He was pushing the pram with my brother in it, and my brother and pram went into the dyke but Dad saved the calf that he had bought that day at market, so the calf was more valuable than the children in terms of getting them out.
Dad bought stuff for his customers, like Suttons Executors who were Freethorpe based. They used to bring a lot of cattle in from Ireland, usually on a Friday. Mr. Sorrell was another customer, I don’t know where he came from, I think he was from Kent. I think some customers were North Norfolk people. People just owned marshes really and Dad looked after them for them. They would bring their animals away from their farms, wherever they were, and he would look after them in the summer months.
Surrounded by mud
I just really loved the life. Even now, I love my wellie-boot days, as opposed to my work days, I just love being out in the muck. Getting to our house, there wasn’t a track, it was just pure mud really. Most vehicles couldn’t get right up to the house. In the summer, you might be able to get the Land Rover up but cars certainly couldn’t get there. It was a tractor or a Land Rover effort. Now it’s very plush, there’s a concrete road, but in those days it was just pure mud. If you walked there in your wellie boots you’d often lose them and end up barefoot because they’d stay in the mud but you would carry on. We absolutely loved it.
I remember the postman used to come to Berney Arms. He would get off the train at Berney Arms, come to us and then to the neighbour across the fields and then back to Berney Arms. That just wouldn’t happen now. It was really, really a lovely life. Of course my dad knew the neighbours. There were other children in the cottages right by the Berney Arms pub. The pub was really, really busy when we were busy. I can remember the Hewitts, they had children, somewhat older than us. They used to go to Burgh Castle to school but we used to go to Halvergate. I’m not sure why we didn’t go to school at Burgh Castle. A lot of river people and locals would go to the Berney Arms pub. You didn’t go to the pub every day but once in a while, you’d say’oh come on, we’ll go’, and that was lovely to see Irene and her husband who ran the pub. It was always always busy because there were a lot people, a lot of marshman who worked down there and there was no other social life.
Schoolfriends didn’t come to the house, because once you got home that was it, you were home. We lived in this one house at Berney Arms, then we moved into a bungalow a bit further into the marsh, when I was seven, and although we were probably only three miles from Halvergate village, we were on our own, there was nobody else around. It was just this one black bungalow in the middle of the marshes. The one time people did come to us was for our birthday party. My brother’s birthday and mine are a day apart in August. We used to have a party on the marsh and all our friends used to come on the middle day. I don’t know what they thought. I suppose they thought it was exciting because it was something different. You know, not many people had a party on the marsh. I don’t know what they would say now.
When we lived at Berney Arms odd people used to come by. Presumably they were out for a walk at the weekend, or something like that and they would come in and have a cup of tea with Dad. I have no idea who those people were. Dad was talking the other day about some rugby brothers, and he said ’Oh, their dad used to come and have a cup of tea with us when we were at Berney and they’re famous rugby players now’ but I don’t know who they are, the Norfolk rugby players. Dad also mentioned a horse racing man, who has horses, and he said, ‘Well, he used to come as well, for a cup of tea’. So people that Dad had known for years and years used to just call in. I suppose our house was open door, you know. There was never any question about that, it was just an open door.
We didn’t see any health visitors or the like. They would have never known how to get there, and, for sure, they wouldn’t have walked all that distance. I think my nanny and granddad only used to come over at Christmas because it was just such a trek for everyone. Nobody used to want to come. I think that’s probably why now I love my own company. It probably comes from my childhood. I’m just content in my own space, I don’t need lots of people around me. I clearly love my family but I also love my own time. I like to just lose myself doing my own thing.
We always had dogs everywhere, and horses, just pet ponies, used to be around.
We had a horse that we used to just hack around on. Once, when we lived at Halvergate, we were on the marshes and my horse kicked my dad so I drove to the village to get somebody to help Dad, but I probably wasn’t old enough to drive. My dad had a Land Rover and we could drive Land Rovers as soon as we could touch the pedals. We had a Massey Ferguson that my brother and I used to drive and one of us used to feed off the back. Once I did run my brother over and break his leg. We were feeding and I think he fell off the back and then I ran over him, something like that. That was just part of life. It weren’t a big drama, just dealt with it, you know, and I didn’t mean to do it. I can’t remember what happened. He probably got squared up and sent home. He obviously went to hospital and got sorted out. I can remember another time when Dad was hay-carting and we were living on the marshes. Peter and I were helping, because you always did. If you had to hay-cart, that’s what you did, you never thought of it as a chore, it was just what you did. We were on top of the hay, on the trailer and as we came round the corner to go to the black bungalow, the hay all tippled into the dyke with us. When I think about it now, and I think how molly-coddled life is now, How lucky was I to be able to live that freedom, I would do it again tomorrow.
As a child, I used to help my dad. When the vet used to come and check the cows over, I can remember sitting on top of the pound with my pad and just writing the number of each cow down. You’d earn some money for doing that, probably pennies, but you felt ultra important as a young girl. Life was hard for the family, lots of physical hard work, but that was just the norm. You didn’t have to do your ten thousand steps a day because you just did it naturally. There was no obesity in our family, for sure. You had staple good meals, you just had proper food, meat and veg. Porridge for breakfast, a proper lunch and a proper supper. We had a cow so we made our own butter. We didn’t ever need to buy milk, as we always had a Jersey cow to milk. That was scrummy milk, real full fat, scraped the cream off the top, delicious. Not like the water you have now.
Halvergate Sunday School
We didn’t join any clubs or groups out of school- we didn’t know they existed. We used to go to Sunday School at Halvergate, so we had to do the walk six days a week. Never missed. I loved my Sunday School. loved it, and even now if I see my Sunday School teachers I think of that as a real special time. My grandparents were staunch Methodists and, if we were at Granny’s at Reedham, we used to have to go three times a day on the Sunday, we used to have to attend three services. But when we lived on the marshes with my parents we just went to Sunday School once on Sunday morning. We moved into Halvergate when I was nine and my brother was twelve so that was when we became civilized, in effect. We had running water and flushing toilets. We hadn’t even known the world existed like that.
I remember a really nice time with Sunday School. They had an anniversary in July, and you had to learn something called The Bit, I’m not sure why. It was a poem. You had to learn it off by heart. You weren’t ever allowed to take your piece of paper in, you had to absolutely nail it. I can remember walking for hours round fields just learning my Bit. Walking around, memorised it and memorised it and I absolutely loved doing that. The anniversary was always held in Halvergate in a massive barn, and it was three sessions in one day. I don’t suppose there’s even one Sunday School around here now. Then you used to get taken out for a treat by the Sunday School people. We used to go to Gorleston in the morning, and then to Lowestoft beach in the afternoon, and then back to the Pleasure Beach at Great Yarmouth in the evening. To me, that was the world, absolute world, to be able to go out for a day without your parents and have all these treats.
Never went on holiday. Never knew people did such things. It just wasn’t in our world. But you didn’t miss it, didn’t know it happened. I suppose our one treat, when we lived on the marsh as a family, was when we used to go to the Royal Norfolk Show for one day. It was very agricultural then. It’s far too commercial now; it’s just a whole different ballgame. We used to go there and take a picnic and meet my auntie, and that was probably the only day out we had a year, but I don’t think we felt at all deprived by that.
Since I’ve got older I’ve done a lot of work with the Girl Guides and I absolutely love it. As a child I didn’t know there was clubs or places to go or groups to be part of, because you just were on the farm. If it was sheep-dipping day, which was a massive lot of hard work, you knew you had to help your dad. Dad probably had, I don’t know, two hundred sheep, something like that. He was also looking after everyone else’s cattle and marshes on his level. A level is just an area of marshes. He also had some of his own marshes, to try and up his income. He’d got some cattle and calves and sheep and a couple of horses that he used to let us play around on. You didn’t have horses that were all rugged, with pretty headdresses on, and riding hats, or anything like that. You used to just play and it was just, it was just good fun, good fun. I think we had some pigs as well when we were at the bungalow. I seem to recall some Nissen hut things with pigs in them as well. We were surrounded by dykes, but they weren’t big enough for rowing boats. Fleet Dyke was the big one, and my brother and I used to make rafts out of cans and strap bits of wood to the top and we would paddle up and down with a bit of wood, somehow, goodness knows. Highly dangerous, I’m sure, but we used to have fun during the summer. We didn’t have accidents. If something happened they just stuck something on us and said ’get on with it’, and you know, we just did.
Snakes and coypus
There was always wildlife around. There were always ducks and geese and birds and rats and mice and all those things. They were just part of life. In the feed sheds, sometimes you would squeal a bit because you’d put your hand in to get some feed out for the animals and they would all run up your arm. Not very pleasant. I can remember snakes, and owls. You’d see grass snakes quite often, and coypus. They were a big problem. There was a person called a coypu catcher at that time. We used to earn money from coypus because you could trap them in a long, I don’t know, probably three foot long cage, about a foot square, and the coypu would go in and you’d catch them and they would be killed and you would earn so much money per tail.
That was pocket-money so we did that. I used to be fascinated by the coypu’s teeth because they were long, orange hooks. We used to collect them as well. Pretty gruesome when I think about it now. Coypus caused a lot of damage. It was horrendous. They just ate away at all the dyke banks and burrowed in so the dykes would collapse. I’m not sure where the coypus originated from but presumably they’re extinct now. I’ve not seen coypus for years.
There has been an increase in people walking and birdwatching on the marshes, I think probably more when Weavers Way was established and people knew where they could walk. There’s much less freedom now that’s established, and I suppose, rightly so, but in my time, as a child, we could walk anywhere and no farmer would be offended. Dad always taught my brother and I to walk dykeside so we always had to walk next to the dyke so if there was a bull and cow and calves, or whatever, we could escape if they came for us. It never fazed us because we were brought up with it. If we were close to the dyke, we could jump if we needed to, to get away from anything that was a bit ferocious. We never had to.
My mum passed away when I was nine, when we’d just moved to Halvergate. I left Acle school at fourteen and went to work in Great Yarmouth in a cafeteria. I loved that because it was busy and you were talking to people all the time. Then my dad said ’You need to get yourself a proper job, Sue’. How boring, but I think with the hardship he’d gone through, and it was a hard life, he wanted better for me. He used to get paid once a year and he had to make that last all year. There was very little money. So at sixteen I went to work for the civil service which was the most dull, boring life in the world. I enjoyed being in the town, I liked that life.
I’ve had a very fortunate life, lots of variety, and all of it very good. I would like to be able to transport the children back to get a taste of life then but they wouldn’t comprehend how lucky we were to live that life, compared to the life they live now, with all the electronics and all the pressures of social media which I think is just mad. I got married, as you did at that age, and life moved on. I’ve worked at various places, including East Anglian Real Property at Cantley.
Helping the Police!
I can remember, we had a telephone that you had to press the button to speak to somebody. You had to pick it up and listen to hear if somebody else was on the line, and if not, you’d press the button and then you could talk. Called a shared line I think. I can remember us getting a call. We were all ready to go out for the day, perhaps to do the groceries on a Saturday, and Dad took this call. Somebody had drowned at Berney Arms. So we had to go to Wickhampton in the Land Rover. Of course I was straight there, you know, nosey, needed to know what was going on. Went to Wickhampton and picked up some divers and a dog. I remember an Alsatian dog being in the back of our Land Rover and the police or something like that. We drove them to Berney Arms and they dived for the body. So that was exciting, but not for the person who’d died, clearly but for me, as a young girl, it was exciting to have all these people in the Land Rover.
Coming full circle
Today I work at a boatyard, which overlooks where I was born, which is pretty amazing. To think I’ve come full circle, back to where I started. I look out on the marshes now, as an adult, and every day it takes my breath away because you see the marsh harriers, and today we were trying to take pictures of the moon because there was an amazing sky, with an absolute line of cloud and the moon was just under it. Every day it takes our breath away, what we see, over on those marshes. But as a child it was just home. We didn’t think anything of it. We used to play in the mill of Berney Arms. You can’t even go up there now, but that was just one of our playhouses. We used to run up and down. It was just good fun. When we were at Barbara’s for tea, perhaps, on a Sunday, we used to play on there. For me it was an absolutely idyllic childhood. It would be some people’s worst nightmares, to have no toilet, no water, certainly no electricity, hot water bottles to get to bed with, to try and huddle round one hot water bottle, and to cook everything from scratch. You didn’t even think about it. You would put a pan in the Aga with some food in it and that would be it for tea. We didn’t do entertainment. Our life was full with just us four, really.
Sue Goodchild (b. 1960) talking to WISEArchive on 22nd January 2019 at Reedham.
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