Working Lives

Wonderful memories to share. Norwich Union, boats, the old and the young (2016)

Location: Norwich

Marble Hall, Norwich

After leaving school in Norwich, I didn’t have much idea about what I would like to do and then my dad asked me if I would like to go to learn shorthand and typing at Underwood’s Secretarial College. I said ‘Yes, that would be okay’, but then I found that my other school friends were applying for jobs at Norwich Union and so I thought well, I’ll apply for a job at Norwich Union and, lo and behold, I was able to work in the Investment Stock Exchange Department in the Marble Hall.

The Marble Hall, Norwich Union.

That was in September 1959. So after getting used to the wonderful Marble Hall; I was a small cog in a big wheel, because our department was buying and selling shares for Norwich Union.

One of our jobs was keeping up-to-date the graphs for every particular share that Norwich Union owned. It was a bit boring, because you sat down with a great big graph book and just done a monthly price with the Financial Times, the pink newspaper.

Also the shares were recorded in the strong room, which was over to the right of the Marble Hall. So any excuse to get away from your high desk and high stool to nip over to the strong room was another adventure.

‘The Marriage Bureau’

I was 17 when I started. Norwich Union was known as the ‘Marriage Bureau’… We were all young people starting, but I didn’t marry anybody from there. I married Trevor, who was a boat-builder.

Another job I was really interested in doing was taking a cheque, a very big cheque, from Surrey Street down to Barclay’s Bank. I presume it was to be paying for shares. It was quite something to walk into Barclay’s Bank, Bank Plain, which is now The Open; another big building.


Norwich Union were very kind in giving us lunches; a lovely two course lunch each day. David was one of the younger members joining after me. He would go to first lunch. So after he came back, he would stand by my desk and I would say ‘Yes David, what is for lunch today?’ and he used to go ‘Cake and custard’. I used to really get angry, because he wouldn’t remember the first course and then I said to him ‘Cake and custard? That doesn’t mean anything’ and we really did laugh every time he came back with that answer.

Cider at Christmas

Also at Christmastime we were provided with a lovely Christmas lunch and a bottle of cider to drink. Well cider and me didn’t go down too well; I have no idea what happened in Investment Department after my Christmas lunch with cider…


Birthdays were something special. We used to nip out to the sweet shop opposite and they would provide us with a big tin of Quality Street chocolates to take round the department when it was your birthday. I always favoured the big purple one with the nut in the middle and it was no good putting the tin there; I had to empty them all out ’til I found the purple one…

Sports and Social Club at Pinebanks

Also Pinebanks was at Thorpe, where sports facilities and social club were excellent and I was very fortunate to play tennis and netball representing Norwich Union, which I had done when I was at school, but as Pinebanks was on Thorpe Road, I would need to leave at 9 o’clock in the evening, run down the hill and catch my bus back to Panxworth in the dark.

Christmas Dances

We were very fortunate again with Christmas dances. We had an invitation to the Samson and Hercules and the Norwood Rooms. There again a wonderful evening enjoyed by us all young people.

After all those wonderful happenings, I left in May 1968, expecting my first child, after a wonderful time in the Marble Hall and I do still keep in touch with lots of the colleagues when we had a wonderful time.

After leaving Norwich Union, I then took lots of part-time jobs locally while the children were at school. Trevor, being a boat-builder, was really working seven days a week, but it was something he was doing for all the family, so anything I could do to help him was okay.

Cleaning holiday cruisers and about boat building

Saturdays, which was a changeover day at the boatyards, I decided I would go and boat-clean with the two children in tow. So we would arrive ready for 9 o’clock start; the children put a lifejacket on before they left the car and they didn’t take that lifejacket off until we got back into the car. They were able to fiddle around and amuse themselves time I cleaned the boats.

What an experience that was. You would see the families arrive with matching suitcases on the first Saturday to enjoy their holiday. Then off they would go a week later and you would be left to clean the boat. I cannot believe what I used to find sometimes… Using the saucepan for a deep fat fryer; all sorts of things had to be thoroughly cleaned that Saturday before the next people could enjoy their week.

They were holiday cruisers. I do remember later on when Trevor was building boats, I think there was a story about somehow or other somebody thought it would be nice to have a four-poster bed on a boat. I can’t believe… but then they wanted microwaves, two televisions, and so on; but no, basically it was the wooden boats that Trevor enjoyed building and repairing.

Trevor in his boat workshop. 1990s.

He obviously would sometimes have to fit out a modern plastic boat. I remember one particular customer, he fitted the inside of the boat out in cherrywood, which is a lovely light-coloured wood, and then the owners decided to furnish it with their furnishings; it really was wonderful and a pleasure to go down and launch that boat for that customer.

After a spell working for others, he then decided to go self-employed, therefore, he would have to use other boatyards where the boat he was repairing, or working on, would be moored. He was in much demand for repairing the old wooden boats, because it was such a skill that he had learned in which the young people working on the fibreglass boats didn’t really know much about.

It was horrible, dirty, boring, but that was his job and he was very good at it and in the latter part of his life he could have had any amount of wooden work on the older boats.

Wendy and Trevor’s Courtship

Trevor and I met at South Walsham; it was at a barbeque. He was on a boat with a friend moored at South Walsham Broad.

It progressed slowly; me working at Norwich Union; Trevor being a boat-builder, but Trevor lived at Ludham and I lived at Panxworth. Both our means of transport was bicycles and buses.

So for Trevor to see me, he used to leave Ludham on his bicycle and go to Horning Ferry, where there actually was a ferryboat, and he would put him and his bike in the ferryboat and it was steered by chains over to the Woodbastwick side. Then he would come and see me; we would go out, or whatever we would do.

Then to return home to Ludham he had to return back to the ferryboat at Horning and then cycle home to Ludham, but sometimes in the summertime a holidaymaker had tied the ferryboat up the Horning side. So Trevor would have to come from Woodbastwick to Wroxham to Ludham for sleep… and then up again for work in the morning at Wroxham by cycle. I have told this story so many times I think it is good for Mills and Boon…

We were engaged three years, but then he did progress to a Lambretta scooter…

Roy’s of Wroxham

When the children were a bit older, I saw a catering assistant’s job at Roy’s of Wroxham advertised.

I applied for an interview, went to the interview, was told I’d got the job and would I like to start now? I said well I was not suitably dressed in my interview clothes to start working as a catering assistant, but Mr Mack wouldn’t hear nothing of it. He said ‘We’ve got a coat you can put on…’ and that was the beginning of another hilarious two years’ hard work, but very very good.

We would do coffees first thing, clear away very quickly, early lunches, late lunches and then afternoon tea. So although it was part-time, it really was very very busy and I worked really well with the young people, who were up there nearly every session.

One lad in particular, Stuart, he would appear at lunchtime and I used to say ‘What would you like for lunch today Stuart?’ He’d go ‘Burger, chips and beans’ and I would say ‘That would be X amount of pounds’. Every day he had the same choice, but they were a wonderful crowd.

So after working there for two years, they gave me three lovely pieces of Wedgewood china as a thank you present and a card signed with all the rude remarks on, but very happy days there before I went to Spixworth Surgery.

Spixworth Surgery

I was very fortunate to be offered a job at Spixworth Surgery as a receptionist/ dispenser. It was the same surgery which I was registered with, but I felt going a few miles down the road it would be a little bit easier away from my surgery. There again, receptionist and dispenser were absolutely wonderful.

Never once did I ask somebody on the phone ‘Is it urgent?’, but over the years people knew how I worked and if there wasn’t any appointments, they would say ‘Can I tell you what the problem is?’ I would listen and I would say ‘Can you leave it with me; I will speak to the doctor’ and they would phone me back for the answer. It worked many times.

The elderly with all their problems was quite easy to deal with. Then the young mums with their different problems; having had the two children myself helped. All the doctors and colleagues were very supportive at that particular job.

Norfolk County Council – Keys Hill Day Centre and Blofield

My last job in July 2001 I applied in the Job Search of the EDP, like all the young people do, me much much older was with Norfolk County Council as an escort on a day centre bus. What fun I have had telling people I was an escort in my younger day, but after a while they changed it to passenger assistant, which was not nearly as fun…

So this job entailed two shifts a day; me making my way to Keys Hill at Wroxham, the day centre, joining a bus and a driver. We then went out to the clients’ homes; most of them with Alzheimer’s, a dreadful dreadful illness. I didn’t know much about it myself, but soon could see what a wonderful service we were providing.

We would arrive at the client’s house and they’d had a dreadful night and we were able to take their partner back to the day centre and they had a whole day to do what they wanted to do. We could see how much they appreciated it. We also had quite a lot of laughs as well. It was amazing how, if me and my driver could drum up a smile, the clients really joined in.

We used to go out to Freethorpe, which is very near Cantley sugar beet factory and returning there after them being out all day in November I would sit and look out of the window.

The clients would be quite quiet after being tired from the day and I would go ‘Oh look at that lovely sunset’ and my driver would mutter ‘Oh look at that lovely sunset’ and I used to ignore him and then I used to say ‘Where did I put my camera?’ and he used to mutter ‘Where did I put my camera?’ and the clients picked up on that and before long most of them were smiling.

One particular driver went a mile further. When I said about the sunset, he stopped the bus, took a photograph of it on his phone, next morning brought me a copy back of that lovely sunset. This at Keys Hill was very enjoyable.

Then the Authorities decide to close Keys Hill. Well everybody rallied round and put up a fight, but no, it was closed, but Norfolk County Council said to me I could have a job at Blofield, which was in the same wonderful environment, but it did mean me travelling to and from Blofield twice a day, 40 miles, which I done for three years. Another achievement.

Another funny story from Blofield. Sometimes I would get a different driver when somebody was on holiday. This particular day I had Ian, a young lad; he was a London bus driver and he came out to Blofield and he said ‘Wendy, I don’t know where I’m going’. So I said ‘It’s a good job I do.’ So we went out to the clients. We picked them up, brought them back to the day centre. So I said to Ian ‘Well, how did I do?’ ‘Oh Wendy’ he said, ‘you do talk for England’… So I said ‘You little beggar, I’ve told you where all the good fishing is, where all the good pubs are and you tell me I talk for England. Will you go away, but don’t forget to come back this afternoon’. Very very happy memories of Blofield.

Norfolk County Council – Parkside School

It was three years my contract with Blofield. So then I was asked by Norfolk County Council if I would like to do children with learning difficulties. I said ‘Yes, I would be very pleased to’.

So the route was changed a bit and I was picked up and taken to the bus depot and I was picking up children with learning difficulties and taking them to Parkside School. There again two shifts per day. What stories about those wonderful children.

I used to have a box of books on the bus. When we got in a traffic jam, or something like that, I would say to the children, who were getting a bit fidgety, ‘Would you like to look at a book?’ I would try and find out their interests and find one that was particularly suited to them.

One of the young ladies, we got on fine, really really well and all of a sudden she decided that she didn’t want her seatbelt on on the bus. It was okay. She had to be told she needed her seatbelt and with working with the teachers, parents and myself it took us about six weeks to try and sort that one out. I still see her today; she still remembers me, but we don’t mention the seatbelt…

Time to retire from Parkside

The children were wonderful. The teachers were wonderful. I was involved in all sorts of things, but one morning in November I woke up and I said to Trevor, my husband, ‘I feel I need to retire from Parkside’. I said ‘I think if I could leave at Christmas, hand my notice in and leave at Christmas’ and I probably said to him ‘What do you think?’ and he would probably say ‘It’s up to you’. So I was very lucky.

I handed my notice in and I left at Christmas, but Mr Payne, the teacher at Parkside, said ‘Wendy, will you please keep in touch’. So they send me their newsletter every month now. I go to all the Christmas sales, summer sales, any other activities that they have. I really have had a wonderful retirement from Parkside.

Of all the jobs I’ve done I think I perhaps liked working with the children best, but all of them… well I was just myself.

The clients, the elderly clients, it was really quite embarrassing at Christmas how they all wanted to give us a little gift and say thank you, but I could see the job I was doing was wonderful to them. I was not a volunteer; I was paid, but they were all very appreciative of what I did.

Wendy Sparrow (b. 1942) talking to WISEArchive on 18th October 2016 in Coltishall.

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