The Nursing Orderly

Location : Beech House, Gressenhall, Norfolk

Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. My first question is what was your first ever job?

Nursing. I was a Nursing Orderly.

Where was that?

In Gressenhall.

How did you get into nursing?

Well, my parents moved to Billingford and then they moved to Rougham, and I was after a job and there was one going at Gressenhall.

And how old were you then?


Did you have to have an interview, and what did they ask you?

Oh, yes. But I think they were desperate for staff at the time, and just what your interests were, and I had an interview and I was accepted.

And you were there from . . . . .?

May 1950 to July ’53.

Was it called Gressenhall back then?

No, Beech House, Gressenhall.

And it was an Old People’s Home that was quite new at the time, wasn’t it?

Well, that had been there a lot of years, but that had been transferred from a workhouse to sort of living accommodation for the elderly, and a lot of them were evacuated from Essex way, I believe.

And they were just too elderly to go back to Essex, was that it?

Well, I think after the War they were trying to re-home these people, but we had several Homes in Norfolk like that. Had Lingwood and Pulham Market and Beckham and such places. Different areas, and they were scattered I presume. I think there were about 120 when I was there.

How many nursing staff were there?

10 / 12 of us, lived in.

And where did you live? Can you remember?

Most of us lived up in the third storey at the end, and of course all the other staff lived in the cottages and lodges.

Did you all share a dormitory or did you have your own rooms?

Oh we had our own rooms, oh no, we had our own rooms. Well, there was three sisters, they shared a room.

What was your job title when you were there?

Nursing Orderly.

Can you describe the kinds of things you did on a day to day basis, and where you worked?

Well, we done everything. Apart from waking people up and washing them or dressing them – or washin’ them, because a lot of them were bedridden. And meals, you know, clean sheeting. Everything what was to do with nursing whatsoever.

Were there any doctors based at Beech House?

No, a doctor lived down just near the bridge, and he was on call.

So it was all down to you and your .. . .?

Well, as I say, we had senior staff over us. Everything went through Matron.

Can you remember the name of the Matron?

I’ve got a photo of her for you. Matron W. She was a nice little lady. (Shows photo: Matron W in the middle there. That’s me, that’s H, that’s B and that’s Dolly . . . .. can’t think of her surname. That’s Mr C.

What clothes did you have to wear for work?


What was it? Oh look I’ve got a picture right in front of me. So it looks like a fairly starched white apron . . .

Yes, and caps.

What colour was the dress?

Blue, I believe. Yes, I’m sure it’s blue.

And who washed these. Did you wear it once and then every day it was taken . . .?

Oh they all went to the laundry, yes. I can’t remember how many we had. We were issued with four or five each and a couple of dresses.

It’s very smart. What hours were you expected to work each day?

We used to work 8 till 6, with a 2 hour break, or 2 till 10. We used to do shifts, 8 till 6 or 2 till 10. We had to have a break in between time. Or night duty was 10 till 8.

And how often did you do night duty?

Oh, every so often, every so many weeks. I was on night duty the night of the floods of 1953.

I don’t know about that. Tell me.

We had the bad floods on the East coast, and the girl I was on with, she was in charge of me, but she spent most of the night under the table because she was petrified.

Was it actually flooded at Beech House?

No, no. But we had the winds and the storms and it was very stormy.

Were the residents scared?

I don’t think so. They were too elderly or too ill to know.

How much were you paid approximately? Can you remember?

If I can remember, about £4 / £5 a month.

And was that sufficient?

Well, we got everything . .. lived in, had all our food. I think about the latter part of the time we could have been up to about £11 a month.

And were you paid monthly in cash?

Oh yes. Yes, must have been in cash.

Not like today when it’s sent automatically to your account.

No, no, no. Used to get paid then, you know. Looked forward to it.

I bet! What did you do at the end of the month?

Went straight to Dereham to spend some of it, of course! (laughs)

What on? Did you go to the pictures?

Didn’t very often go to the pictures. No. I had a boyfriend at that time – well I had my husband, so he used to come to Billingford a lot on my days off.

How many days off did you get?

I think we used to work ten – we had two a week – and then we had a gap of a week, but sometimes they’d put them all together so we’d have four days off, two for last week and two for this week.

And when you had time off, if you wanted to could you stay there?

Oh I think so. There was no problem. We had our own bedroom, so nobody else went in ‘em.

So were you married at the time you were working there?

Oh no. No, I left before I got married. I got wrong with the Matron, that’s why I left.

What did she do?

Well, nothing she didn’t do. We had a new Matron and she was a young person and she said she was going to discipline all us girls because we didn’t know what it was. And one of her rules was that no patient was to be given their sweet with their main course. …. I mean the dining room was downstairs and we had to go up the steps to the wards, and she caught me on the stairs one day with a patient’s meal with an apple on the tray. And she called me over and asked me what I was doin’ and she sort of fired me up, and I fired her back, which was unusual for me, but I said “Well, if you think I’m walkin’ up these stairs twice with an apple, you can think again.” And from then on she had her knives into me.

What was her name? Can you remember?

No, she came.. . Matron W had left and another Matron had .. . . I can’t think of the name. But then she was a young woman, and she was the lady I got wrong with, but sadly I believe she died not long after. I think she had cancer. But that’s by the way, but she really got me upset that day.

It sounds like she probably got a lot of people upset.

Unnecessarily, you know. We’d always done what we was told but that was one thing I wouldn’t foot the bill. Would you?

Well, no. Was there anyone that you could complain to about her?

Well, no. She was the Head you see. But another little girl who, she was when I went there a home girl, ‘cos she was sent there, but then when she became 18 she came on the wards and we befriended each other. And when I said “Look I’m not takin’ this. I’m leavin'”, she said “Well if you’re goin’, so am I”. And we left and we went to a private mental hospital in Norwich, in Heigham Road. And we went for an interview and they asked us why we’d left and we told ‘em. Anyway we both got a job there.

Was that immediately after leaving ….?


So did you then move to Norwich?
Yes. And we lived in there. That was a private mental hospital. Do you know where Heigham Road is? All them new houses on that long wall, there was a big hall behind there and a high wall.

What was the name of it?

Heigham Hall. We went there in the July and I got married in the November. And my friend she got married the following February, so we weren’t there too long. Very interesting place.

Back to Gressenhall. Did you have to pay for your accommodation while you were working at Beech House or was it just included?

Everything was included. We just got a wage at the end.

And where did you all eat?

In the dining room.

With the residents?

Normally with the residents. When we were on night duty we had a long .. . you know where the top floor, where the Archives are now, there’s a room and there’s a corridor, you know .. .

… the longer one?

Yes. Well that was our duty room and we used to have our meals in there, but other than that we’d go in the dining room in the daytime. And of course rationing was on then.

Actually that was later on in my questions. What did that mean for you?

Well, for us we all had our own sugar pots and butter dishes. ‘Cos we only had 4oz of margarine, 2oz of butter a week. Yes, and we had our own butter dishes with our names on (laughs)

And did anyone ever scoop out .. . . ?

Oh no. No I don’t think so. I used to leave it because I didn’t eat butter then. I don’t eat it today and they used to swap my 2oz of butter for 4 of margarine, so I was better off (laughs)

Presumably the residents had their food rationed as well?

Oh I don’t think so. I think they had . . . I mean, I don’t know. That was all what cook had to do in the kitchen.

Was meat rationed as well?

Oh yes. Everything was rationed. I don’t think we went off ration till after I left. I mean that was still rationed, I believe, while I was there. The whole time I was there. Couple of rashers of bacon! (laughs)

How did your duties or responsibilities change over the three years you worked there? You started off as a Nursing Orderly. But did you do the same thing?

Didn’t change. No, didn’t change. We were always under Matron . .. ..

So every time a different Matron was there things changed a bit?

Matron W was there most of the time I was there, but that was the young one what came and she really put our noses out. We were only young girls.

Was she the same age as you?

Oh no. She was a lot older, no. I was 22 when I left, but you take umbrage when people take liberties and think that, you know, you don’t know what you’re doin’.

Specially over an apple!

Well, that’s right! That’s right. I don’t know what other people think about it but I stood my ground, and then of course she had her knives into me every time. Then I couldn’t do anything right.

What kind of things was she critical of?

I remember that I was in at the railings with the gardener, and asked him if he could cut some flowers, so we could have some flowers on the ward and she politely told me to get back to the ward. She had somebody from Norfolk County Council with her that day and she sort of belittle you, you know. Anything she could, so I couldn’t stick that.

Were you allowed breaks? I know you had a two hour break, but were you allowed cups of tea or did you …..?

Well we had a coffee break, but, no, we were on duty all the time. But we were allowed coffee, of course. But our two hours, we either used to go on and have a 2 till 4, or we used to have a 10 till 12 in the morning, or 2 till 4, or left off at 6, which we called 6 till 8. Night nurses went on at 8 o’clock, but one nurse went on at 8 and then the second one went on at 10, and the one who went on at 8 had always sort of prepared a meal, you know, so that we could eat at 10 when she came on. We’d just do a round and then we’d have our meal.

And then after your meal in the evening, would you just be awake in case anybody needed you?

Oh yes, we’d be in the duty room and then we’d just do hourly checks round the whole building. We didn’t see the grey lady who was supposed to be on the stairs. Never met her.

Was it commonly believed by everybody who worked there?

Oh yes. Definitely. But we never met her, so .. (laughs)

As young girls who were working there was it a scary place to be?

Not with somebody, but this girl, (showing a photo) she wanted to revert to having one night, one on duty, but we said no, no way. I mean, that was a big, rambling place. I mean, some of the old boys would get up. You’d find them walking about, you know, and though the gates were closed at 10 at night, so they couldn’t get out of the grounds, but that isn’t very pleasant one person on their own meet somebody wandering around at night.

And if you found someone wandering around late at night would you just take them back to bed?

Take them back to bed. Oh yes, we did.

Can you remember any particular smells or noises?

Well you had to sluice the old dirty sheets and things, and of course that was a terrible smell.

So you did that, the Nursing Orderlies did that?

Oh yes. We had to clean the sheets before they went to the laundry. We never sent soiled sheets. They were always sluiced, what we called sluiced with a brush.

And where did you do that?

In the sluice room.

And what was in that room? How did you do it?

Well, just sinks and things. And we didn’t very often have rubber gloves either (laughs)

Did you want rubber gloves?

Would have been nice! (laughs) Oh no we didn’t have ‘em.

So all these wet sheets, after you’ve cleaned them up a bit, did you put them in a basket?

They had to go in a basket and then go to the laundry.

Did you carry them?

Not very often, but on occasion we had to. But the laundry man used to pick ‘em up.

And where did you get the clean sheets from?

Oh we used to have a linen room, and Mrs S worked in the linen room. But we were always issued with them. The only day we were allowed to not strip a bed was Sundays.

Why was that?

I don’t know. Sunday we could pull them up, but every day they had to be stripped and turned. Not clean sheeted. But not Sundays. We could pull ’em up. We didn’t have to strip ‘em and do the corners and things. I mean there was discipline there, although this Matron didn’t think there was.

It sounds like it was pretty well ordered.

Oh yes, it was. Very much so. Oh yes, you had to have hospital corners, make them come round.

And where did you learn how to do things like that? When you first started working there they taught you how to?

There. Yes, yes.

And do you still do those hospital corners?

Well, not now, with fitted sheets, no. But I did! (laughs)

How was your health while you were working there and if you did get sick or if you needed medical attention, what did you do?

If you were really sick you’d have…. but mainly we went home. I know I had a very bad throat once and I went home. As I say, I lived at Rougham, so ….You could stop there in bed, but I mean that’s no pleasure was that?

You obviously worked with other people all the time. Did you become good friends with the other girls who worked there?

Yes. Especially this one (shows photo)

Was there anyone you didn’t get on so well with?

Not really. A C was in charge of the nursery. I think we had young children there.

Young children? While it was an Old People’s Home?

We had a maternity ward as well. Maternity ward was behind that little day room where we used to sit. The back of the rooms there, they were maternity wards and there was a lying-in ward there. Oh yes.

So is that a left-over from the days when it was a workhouse?

I should think so, yes. I think so.

Did you ever see the little children?

Oh yes. Oh yes. I remember one morning a gentleman came in, tearin’ in there with his car, and he got a lady in there very much into labour, and she came from Scarling and she was under the habit of producin’ her children quickly.. I don’t know if I should tell you this, but his words were “For Christ’s sake Mrs, keep your britches on. I don’t want that baby in my car”!!! ….. but , yes, we had babies up there. I was godmother to one little boy. Don’t know what happened to him.

So it wasn’t just an Old People’s Home?

Oh no, no. We had some adventures up there.

Tell me more of them.

If anybody died on the ward between 8 and 10 we could get them off by 10 o’clock …..

….at night .. . .

At night. But if they died after 10 then the gates were closed and they went down to the mortuary next morning. But other than that … before 10 we could get them to the mortuary, but afterwards they had to lie on the ward.

And obviously, because it was an Old People’s Home, there sadly were people dying .. .

Oh yes, definitely, definitely.

So did you simply have to leave . . .

Laid them out. Oh yes we had to lay them out. We used to have to leave them for the soul to go to heaven, as they told us. My most embarrassing moment was showin’ a man orderly how to lay out a lady. It was very embarrassing, because we had to plug them.

Plug them? As in . . .?

Private parts, we had to plug them. And that was rather embarrassing for a girl to show a man how to do that.

Why were you showing him how to do it?

Well, because he had to be taught the job. We had four main wards. We had Male 15 and Female 15 and then we had Bottom Ward, Top Ward. And with the Female 15 and Male . . . they were fifteen beds in one ward and they were the sick people. We did have one little lady – I can’t remember what her name was – ooh she did use to swear. Well, she was very much a deformed little lady. Swear! She’d swear at the top of her voice (laughs) She didn’t realise she was doin’ it, but .. .

Was she suffering from dementia?

Oh I expect so. See lots of things there.

So did you have time to sit and chat to the residents?

Well, yeah. When we had a 2 till 4 in the afternoon I often used to go and have a game of dominoes with the old boys.

Did you celebrate holidays or birthdays or Christmas?

Yes, I had my 21st birthday up there.

What did you do?

They gave me a party in the boardroom, 21st January. I remember I had some lovely crackers, one of those most expensive crackers I had. I remember sending one of those to my sister in Canada. We had a nice party up there.

Was that with the staff as well as the residents, or was it just the staff?

No, it was just the staff. But up there when the Coronation was they hired a television screen for the patients to see the Coronation, 1953.

Did you all sit in one big room?

Yes, we sat in the dining room. Used to have dances up there and whist drives up there.

Who organised all of that?

Toc H mostly. Christmas Day they always used to come and carve the turkeys for us. I always worked Christmas. Never had Christmas off. I liked it.

Were you paid extra on holidays like that?

Oh I don’t think so. I think the most annoyin’ time was when you were at work when the clock went back, so you had an extra hour to work overnight.

That’s still annoying!

I’m sure it is! (laughs)

We had a little midget up there.

Was his name F? I’ve heard about him. Is that a picture of him?

He came to my wedding.

And did he work there?

No, he was an inmate.

He doesn’t look very old here. How old was he?

He was 70.

Was he really?! Everyone seems to talk very fondly of him.

Yes. He came to my wedding.

If residents were coming to your wedding it sounds like you were really quite close to some of them.

Well.. (shows photo) He’s there sitting on the quay at Yarmouth.

What other kinds of things can you remember that stand out when you think back to those three years?

As I say, we used to always enjoy Christmas.

Just a few more questions. The Second World War had only been over for five years when you were working there. Had any of the residents fought in the First War? Did they ever talk about it?

I wouldn’t know, no. I mean, we were just interested in their everyday runnin’ and keepin’ them happy.

Did they have visitors?

Occasionally, occasionally. There wasn’t very many, and they were so old, and as they came from Essex and that area, I suppose they didn’t .. . They were bombed out, you see, and they were re-housed

Shows photo : These are the children. They aren’t very distinct, but these are the children on the beach what were in the nursery.

So was that on a day out?

Yes, we used to have days out to the coast.

That sounds nice. Was it quite a big deal when you took them out?

Oh yes. Specially when you lose your patients in hundreds of . . .(laughs)

Did that happen?

It did happen, yes. Well, you know, they’d just wander off.

So what happened?

Well, you had to find them! (laughs)

I presume you did find them?!

Oh yes, we did find them! Yes!

How many did you take out on any given day?

Oh I can’t remember. 20 or 30, no doubt.

In a coach?

Yes. Shows photos That is on an outing in Yarmouth with Matron. This is of the gardener, Mr A. He was employed up there and he was the man who I was after some flowers with when I got wrong with Matron. Railings there, a little bit.

Oh these photographs! You all look so happy! So young!

Well, we were. Only 18 / 19 / 20. Well, we had a good time. We were all very happy together. Never got wrong with many people.

Did you miss it after you left?

Oh yes.

Shows photo: They’re the wards. I had a lot of photographs of the old boys sitting on these seats, which I sent to this man. But where that’s all shingle at the front there used to be a garden.

Was there a heart-shaped garden? Was it called the rose garden?

That was here, look.

What did you do to relax after your shifts were over?

Used to often go to your bedroom and read. Borrow other people’s water bottles especially at night. I always felt cold when I go to bed in the morning. We used to pinch two or three water bottles and share them

It’s still a big, old, draughty building. Must have been much colder back then.

Well, I mean the bottom bit, when you go into that and turn right that whole bottom there was open, there was no doors there. The whole stairs was open. You could just walk in.

How did the old people keep warm?

Huddled up.



Were you in charge of anybody else?

No. We were all equal. We had one trained Staff, but then she left before I did, and she went to the West Norwich Hospital. Sadly she’s gone. We’re all getting on, you see. Nearly 78 (laughs)

In fact the list that I was given, several people, sadly, have passed away.

Just a few more questions and then I’ll be done. What did you enjoy most about working there?

I used to love bathing people, cutting their hair. Used to love makin’ them look nice. That was me I expect, but I think that’ll go for all of us. We just use to like making them comfortable and look nice.

How often did they get bathed?

Once a week. I remember – I don’t know if I should record this – but I remember one lady, she was solicitin’ up at Sculthorpe Aerodrome and the police brought her in one night. And of course every patient was to be bathed on admission, and I don’t know if I should be recording this, but I bathed her, but she was such a big lady and she was drunk. I got her in the bath but I couldn’t get her out, so I had to pull the water out and cover her with a blanket until my partner come on at 10 and get her out. She was too drunk. Well, I was doin’ what I was told – bath on admission.

Of course! And gave her a blanket, and you couldn’t move her.

I expect she had a cold bum time she got out of it!

Do you think she remembered it the next day?

I don’t know! (laughs) From what condition she was in and the way she’d been she deserved it! I mean, the lady was 60.

And how long would she have stayed in somewhere like Beech House for? Was she just brought there because there was nowhere else for her to go?

Well, I expect so. Police brought her in, you see. Whether she was homeless I don’t know. I couldn’t tell you. We had one gentleman, they brought him in from Swanton Morley and he really was a dirty old man, and the shock of the bath killed him. He died in the bath.

Really?! Do you think he just hadn’t had a bath .. .. ?

Well, he hadn’t had a bath, but he was an ill man when he was brought in, and, of course, bathing on admission…. Lots of memories.

It sounds like a really funny combination of happy memories and also quite sad ones too.

That’s right. Well I was sad for them. I wouldn’t have ever minded my parents goin’ there. ‘Cos they were well looked after, well fed. You know, there was no being down about going to Gressenhall. Used to be threatened about going to Gressenhall, but there was nothing shameful about it, ‘cos it was clean and wholesome. Good night’s lodgin’s.

That’s interesting, because I’ve been talking to lots of people, and I kind of sense that it’s a bit mixed. Gressenhall had a reputation because it was a workhouse.

Well, that was, and that had a reputation in the early days, no doubting. In the 1800s and things like that, that was a strict old place.

But obviously by the ‘50s . . .

That’s right. And then they had …. I can’t think what they called it . .. but on the outside there was accommodation for the women and the families, but the men weren’t allowed to stay there.

Yes, they were all separated.

That’s right. And if I remember every Friday they used to come for the clean linen, you know to collect clean linen, because, you know, we didn’t have too much to do with them. We had C and Matron and Master W on the gates. Mrs M where the café now is and then E S where Cherry Tree Cottage is.

It’s like a family . ..

That was. One big happy family.

What did you enjoy least about working there? Obviously at the end, you know, the Matron ..

Mmm. Yes. I think so. By leaving under a cloud. I don’t suppose I’d have left. Well as I say, K would never have left. She was in there as a home girl, you see.

What does that mean?

She was homeless. Her mother or parents, you know … she’d got nowhere to go, so she was in there. But she was a lovely girl. Sadly she died last year.

So she grew up there and then worked there?

I don’t know how old she was in there, but she was there when I first went in there. She was there . . well, I presume you’d call it an inmate, but when she came 18 she came on the staff. She was K F. Because we were all known by surnames. We didn’t know anything . ..

Was that what you said to each other?

Oh yes, we were all called by surnames.

And now when you see your friends still do you call them by their surnames?

No, not really, no.

Do you miss working?

I did, but my husband and I were together five years, and we got this house. My sister got married one Saturday, and we got this house the following week, and so we were married in six weeks, and we wanted a family, and my husband wanted a little girl, and we had a little girl to begin with, as well. So ever since then, apart from workin’, I didn’t go to work until my youngest one was 4, and then I went back as a batwoman at Swanton Morley.

A batwoman?

Workin’ in the Officers’ houses, and then we had a little nursing home over there, and I had an operation so I couldn’t lift. And then there was a job came at Siemens. On the railway crossing at Elmham there used to be a big mill and silos and things, and I worked there.

What did you do there?

All sorts of jobs in the offices. In the end payin’ cheques by computer, a million at a time. And, of course, they closed that and went to Walsingham, and I was 58 at the time, and I said “No way am I doin’ 40 mile a day. I’ll take early retirement, please”. Apart from charity work I haven’t done nothin’ since.

Sounds like a very active, busy life really!

Well that’s still busy. I never stop! I never sit down!

I enjoyed my working life, but sadly I left Gressenhall, well to me it was under a cloud, but we were happy to get away, and got a job without a reference. Matron W gave us a reference, but we got the job without it, which we were pleased about.

How often do you get over there?

I haven’t been this year at all. I like to go to the services, the open air, but couldn’t do this year. Any opportunity we get I like to go and look round. I help to run an Old People’s Club at Bawdeswell ,and we took a party last year. But of course I always want to go and have a look at my bedroom, but you can’t get up there any longer. So next time I’m goin’ I’m going to ask whether I can have a look.

Yes, I’ve had good life. If I don’t live much longer I shall have had a good life.

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