Working Lives

The silk works, the laundry and the language students (1949-1993)

Location: Mile Cross

Nell talks to us about her life working in a silk factory, a laundry and looking after language students.

My father was a Scotsman, he came from Dundee. My mother met him in the 1914 war, he was stationed at St Faiths and they met in the Adam and Eve pub. They married and when he came out of the Army in 1918 my mother had to go to Scotland with him, but she didn’t like Scotland. She came down to Norwich to have me born here and then took me back to Scotland and I stayed there until I was nearly four. My brother was born 13 months after me. They decided they’d come back to Norwich to live. I loved Scotland and I missed it.

When I was 14 I wanted to be a hairdresser or a nurse, because my mother was an auxiliary midwife. My parents couldn’t afford for me to have an apprenticeship, because those days you had to pay. I was the eldest one of the family, so my mother took me up to Hinde and Hardy Silk Works at Eversley Road, Mile Cross. I worked there until I was 21 and then I packed it in because I didn’t like it.

I got married at 21 and my husband was already in the Army. I got a job at Jarrolds printing works for the War years. My husband came home from the Army and after I gave birth to my eldest son I didn’t go to work, I didn’t go back to work until he was four.

I went to work at the City of Norwich Laundry down Oak Street until my second son was born. I went back to the laundry when he was two and I stayed there for 10 years. The name was Spring Grove when I finished up. I returned because I loved the laundry work and I finished up as supervisor for 13 staff. The laundry was sold several years ago and a family company took over but they didn’t make it and that’s all pulled down now.

When I started there in 1949-50 that was all domestic. Then when I returned it was industrial, we had a big American contract for their domestic stuff- sheets and things like that. Then after the Americans returned to their country the laundry went completely industrial, overalls, nurses’ equipment, things like that, no pillowcases, towels or anything like that.

We worked 8am to 5.30pm. In the summer when we had all the heavy American work to do they employed the students who were off school, and they done a six till ten shift. Sometimes I used to do that when there was no one else, ‘cos someone had to be there to supervise. But by then my family were grown up. So sometimes I’d do eight to five, then I’d go back at six and do six till ten.

We’d got overalls to wear. The men had overalls and we had different colours – the supervisors had blue and the others had, I think it was pink. But there was no distinction. We didn’t say, ‘Oh I’m the supervisor, get on wi’ your job’. We were all friends, and that’s how it should be.

I can’t remember how much I earned, I suppose under five pounds a week plus overtime. That was a lot of money in that day. But nowadays if you told the children what you done they won’t believe it.

I lived in Wingfield Road, you go straight through the park and that’s Wingfield Road – and I just had to walk down to Oak Street. So I could get home in my lunch half-hour, and put the oven on low, prepare tea for tea time.

I enjoyed the work and being a supervisor very much. I was, oh I forgot this, I was 61 and they said that it was the law now and I’d got to leave.

Welcoming language students

I couldn’t settle at home so I applied to the Bell School, to have language students. I had several students to stay, Egyptians, a mature student from Barcelona, who still keeps in touch with me now.

I looked after them. What I wanted to do all my life when I got married……I said what I would love to do was have a bed and breakfast or a house where I could have people to look after, ‘cos that’s what I love doing.

I then saw an advert in the paper for a receptionist at a hairdressers. I applied for that and stayed there ten years. Then there was an orthodontic surgery near the cathedral, I lived near there then. The owner came over and asked me if I wanted a little cleaning job. So I used to go half past five to half past six cleaning two surgeries. And I was 75 before I finished work!

I lost my first husband many years ago. My second husband was a Scotsman, from Glasgow. Unfortunately he passed away three years ago, I nursed him 18 years. I said then, no way am I sitting around doing nothing, so I keep myself busy with knitting, sewing, doing crosswords, read, you know, and I just keep busy. As long as I can keep the old brain ticking I don’t need a computer. I still have his sister come down every year for her holiday.

I’ve been knitting mittens. A friend who comes round, her nephew and his wife are expecting their first baby. I’ve done three baby sets and I’m now going to do a shawl. I can do without a pattern, depends on what I want to do. Now like, supposing I’ve got double knit wool and the pattern says 4-ply or reverse I can then work out the stitches to put onto the ply wool. It’s easy to do when you know.

I had an uncle who was a Canadian sailor before my great aunt married him, and he was the most marvellous knitter of Fairisle sweaters. He taught me to do Fairisle, how to weave the wool. I always remember a stitch he taught me, the blackberry stitch. You knit four, you make four in the next one, you go along the row and then you knit four rows and when you come back you knit those four together and that comes a little blackberry.

I love cooking too, I do sponges, sausage rolls. Christmas I do my own few things, anyone come in they can have what they want with a cup of tea, coffee whatever. We had a session with the volunteers and I made a sponge for them and they loved it.

I’m determined not to sit here and feel sorry for myself. There’s always something you can do. You don’t have to sit on your bottom all the time.

Nell (b.1918) talking to WISEArchive in Norwich on 27th November 2009.

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