Memories of Stanhoe & Barwick WI members

Book cover The following extracts are taken from:

Norfolk Within Living Memory
by Norfolk Women’s Institutes
Published 1995 by Countryside Books
ISBN 1853063398

Most of the Norfolk libraries have a copy, or try a second-hand copy from Amazon.

The roads we walked

Eva Blackburn (born Eva Rowe)

‘I remember walking to school along Church Lane at Stanhoe twice a day as no school meals were provided in those days. The high banks were covered with wild flowers, alas no longer seen, and a mass of wild roses grew in the hedges.

We would stop by the blacksmith’s pit and watch as the horse-drawn water-cart was being filled by a pail-sized cup or ladle on a long wooden handle. Later on, when a hand-pump was erected, we thought life had been made much easier for the person who had spent his days carting water to cattle and sheep in the fields.

In the autumn, a time would be spent getting beech nuts from the row of trees that grew in the “Patch”.

Perhaps we would meet the Rev Black, who would always ask us to “Smile, please”. One day we even saw the R101 airship going overhead, or perhaps it was the R100?

In those days there were three classes in the school and about 60 children attending. In the playground at the rear of the building was a row of lime trees and over in the far corner were walnut trees, a temptation to the older boys whose hands would often be inspected to see if they were covered in brown stain. The outer shells of walnuts leave a brown stain that will not wash off.

The cricket and football pitches were on another part of the pasture and here were two large horse chestnut trees set close together that formed a pavilion for the players.

On our return walk down Church Lane in the afternoons we would sometimes be lucky enough to see Mr Goodman and Mr Farmer shoeing a wheel, which involved a large fire made mostly of hawthorn hedge cuttings which heated the iron band that made the tyre for the cart wheels. Perhaps another day they would be shoeing horses, the smell of hot iron on hoofs is a never to be forgotten smell.

Perhaps I would meet my father returning from ploughing and would be hauled up to sit in front of him on those great cart horses and have a ride round to the stables at Church Farm.

In the winter we would skate or make slides on the blacksmith’s pit, which would be lit by the stable lamps, as we called them, otherwise known as hurricane lamps. In the summer we would be fishing for tench in the same pit, the lucky few with a cane rod and hook and others more often with a long stick and bent pin.

We spent a lot of our free time in the farmyard, a much safer place in those days with hardly any machinery. Sometimes we helped the pigman to chop the mangolds and turnips by turning the iron wheel on the turnip grinder and watching the chunks fall into a large basket called a bushel skep, which looked like a chunky pineapple. Perhaps, if we were hungry, we would eat a slice of turnip, peeled with the pocket knife, or shut-knife as we called it, that every boy carried in his pocket. We might even search amongst the large heap of cattle food in the corner of the barn for Koshy Tosh, as we called it, or a great delicacy, a piece of locust. This was a kind of bean that looked like a piece of dry leather but was very sweet.

In the spring, we made whistles from hazel twigs, again using the pocket knife and resulting in many a cut finger, or a pop gun which was made by taking the pith from the middle of a stout piece of elder and making the ramrod from hazel wood.

At this time, a great many turkeys were reared on the farm and one particular year they were housed in what was known as the “Boxes” up the farm track opposite the Kennels on Bircham Road. One night a dog attacked these turkeys and the next day Alfred Jakes and I, both about nine years old, were sent to scare off the dog if it came again. We spent all day there and were rewarded with sixpence each. We did not see the dog!

During the better weather the farm horses would be put on a pasture for the night. After their day’s work they would be fed then let loose to run up to the pasture by the kennels. It was our job to run ahead and open the gate. There would be about 16 large horses galloping along and they knew exactly where they were going and in those days we had no fear of them, although I should not like to do it now.

Another great event was when the steam ploughs came. They would stand one each end of a field and a plough would be pulled backwards and forwards between them, always fascinating to watch.

In the 1930s we had a Scout troop and a Brownie pack run by the Rev Bannister and his wife. The Brownies met in an attic at the rectory once a week and this was greatly enjoyed. The Scouts met in the old chapel. Both came to an end when the Bannisters left the village.

I can remember walking in 1933 or 1934 with other families one Sunday afternoon to the end of the Creake road opposite Barwick House drive to see a combine harvester at work. I believe this was the first one to be seen working in Norfolk and was on the Shammer Farm. In those days the harvest was still gathered by horse and binder which had huge wooden sails to push the corn onto the knives. These sails would often break and many times we were asked by my father to take them back to be mended by Mr Bone in his carpenter’s shop at Church Farm. Many an hour was spent by the children living at Church Farm in this shop which was always full of the smell of wood shavings and sawdust, as nearly everything used then was made of wood. Mr Bone was kept bus repairing waggons, gates, hurdles, cattle troughs, etc. There was also a paint shop next to his shop and as this was always kept locked it was our delight to craze him to open it so we could nose about amongst the tins. Why, I don’t know, as it only contained tins of paint, mostly red and blue.

In the early 1930s the road past the farm was tarred for the first time. A steamdriven tar engine was used and the chippings were rolled in by a huge steamroller. This resulted in the first good surface we had known and led us to play many more games on the road. For some reason these games were always seasonal and would last for a few weeks and then we would start another game.

We had iron hoops made by Mr Goodman and then as the evenings grew lighter in the spring, out would come the tops, which we would lash with a whip to hit them up the road where they would land and spin; perhaps we would chalk patterns on the tops so that we could see them better as it grew darker. During the summer we would play hopscotch, again chalked out on the road, or perhaps skipping and jumping over a rope stretched across the road. All these were possible as there was no traffic.

One of the highlights of the week would be when Mr Giles from Docking came round with his horse and cart, selling hardware and sweets. His cart would be piled high with tin pails and baths hanging from the sides. We would have a halfpenny each to spend and this would usually be spent on liquorice laces or sherbet dabs.

Some days we would see the shepherd, Mr Rayner, moving his flock of sheep. The road would be a mass of sheep, all controlled by two dogs that seemed to know where they were going. Often we would stand in a gateway to stop the sheep entering.

In the spring the sheep would all be gathered together and the sheep shearers would arrive and the winter coats would all be shorn by hand. The shearers were a gang of men who travelled for a few weeks from farm to farm by bicycle and sheared from daylight to dark, probably sleeping in a barn for the next day’s work.

During the school holidays we would often go for long walks, looking for birds’ nests, gathering blackberries or conkers and nuts, depending on the season. In those days we could walk the green roads and by-roads wearing just shoes; alas, we now need wellies to traverse the by-roads and the old green roads are becoming impassable apart from tractors which have aggravated the problem by cutting large grooves in the surface.

Sometimes we would beg Mr Seaman to let us ride his tricycle. If you are able to ride a bicycle this is very difficult as it is almost impossible to steer a straight course!’

We did it for enjoyment

Jean Barber

‘When I was ten years old my father managed a country garage and he used to go out to the various farms and smallholdings around Stanhoe to repair cars and farm vehicles. Often he would let me go with him and I have many happy memories of the times the farmer’s wife, who was always around, would take me to see the animals and chickens, then we would go into the kitchen which was always so welcoming with smells of things cooking on the range. In those days many people kept a pig and had it killed for the house and used to have hams hanging around the kitchen walls; there were no fridges. Often we would go home with a pork cheese, some pigs’ fry or some butter, and it always seemed to give them pleasure to give you a little treat like that.

We had two three week holidays from school, not six altogether like they do today. The first was when the fruit was ready for picking, and as most smallholders grew strawberries we used to go to help. We picked in four-pound chip baskets which were emptied into wooden trays to go to the factory for making jam.

The second holiday was later in the year when the potatoes were ready for picking. They were ploughed out and we were given a piece called a retch, between two sticks, to pick up. You just filled a basket and left it and the men would come along with a horse and cart and empty the baskets into the cart and take them to the end of the field. They were piled up into what is called a clamp, then covered with a layer of straw, and then this was covered with soil to keep the frost from the potatoes.

We received a small payment for the work but it was quite incidental as we really did it for enjoyment. At the end of the day we were given a ride home in the cart – this was the highlight of the day.’

Rural schools in the 1950s

Rosemary Brown

‘I must have been one of the last people to have attended an “all-age school”. Most pupils arrived in the infants’ room of Stanhoe school aged five years, progressed to the big room of the long low building at seven years, and moved up through the desks until they left at 15.

The infants’ room was small and cosy, with two large alphabet boards on the wall and an abacus for counting. There was also a harmonium. The big room housed the school piano, with a map of the Holy Land on the back, used by the rector on his visits for scripture lessons. The juniors sat at one end of the room, in desks with fixed seats, and the seniors further up the room, with desks and inkwells. There were two iron stoves, one in the middle and one at the far end. This room also housed the library for the village when the Library Service started and villagers could borrow books for their own pleasure. There was one teacher in the infants’ room, who had been there most of her working life. The big room was presided over by the head teacher who taught everyone from seven to 15 years, except when a student teacher was available, who would take a group by themselves.

We seemed to spend a lot of time reciting tables as a class, doing sums, drawing and scripture. But innovations did take place. Part of the playground and part of the field were dug up to make gardens tended by the big boys. We played games on the field too – netball and rounders, and we had a sports day with races, sack races and egg-and-spoon races.

I have vivid memories of sitting outside on the gravel at the front of the school in the sunshine, where the big girls taught me to knit; of going for nature walks down Church Lane as an infant; and of the coming of the telephone. It was black and sat on the mantelpiece, and every day one pupil had to take a turn to ring through to the next village to pass on the dinner numbers. I hated it, and to this day hate making phone calls!

But this idyll was not to continue. Two things broke it up, firstly the opening in the early 1950s of the secondary modern school at Hunstanton (now Smithdon High School) where pupils moved at eleven years of age, and secondly the eleven-plus examination. I was one of the few pupils to pass for the grammar school and spent the remaining years of my schooldays travelling to Fakenham, ten miles in the opposite direction to my village friends. It was a more divisive move than anyone could ever have known.’

Flitting day

Sybil Oldfield (born Sybil Middleditch)

‘In the late 1920s to 1932 I lived in East Lexham village, about four miles from Castle Acre where I was born. My days as a small child in the delightful village were happy times, the little village school where I started my schooling we could walk to in minutes. In the springtime the pastures, dykes and banks were adorned with many wild flowers not seen by the children today. A river ran right through the centre of the village through a swampy pasture-ground that used to be a mass of yellow king cups. This was just across the road from the house we lived in.

At Michaelmas each year your employer might decide you were to “flit” – this applied mainly to the farming fraternity. Your parents would apply for a new job and 11th October would be the day for you to leave your present home and move on to the new address, or new village. Your china and valuables would be packed into large teachests, everything carefully put away ready for the day of the move. The night before, all the beds would be dismantled and we would sleep on mattresses on the floor of the bedroom, ready to get a very early start the next morning. The reason for this was because your furniture and all your household belongings were transported to your new destination by horse and waggon: your outside things like garden tools etc were packed on to a tumbril (a smaller version of the waggon) which was also horse-drawn, and as you can imagine it might take quite a few hours to reach your new home. The waggon was always loaded so as to leave a space at the back for mother and children to sit and ride as there was no other transport.

For me this story related to around 1932. I would then have been about nine years old. Along with my two brothers we left East Lexham to arrive at a little hamlet between Stanhoe and Burnham Market, in the region of 20-odd miles away – it seemed the other end of the earth to us. The waggon with its two horses, a harness and a trace horse, usually travelled in front, with the tumbrel following on behind. Well, the horse that was pulling that was quite a lively character, his name was Trimmer. Frothing at the mouth and snorting he insisted on being right up near the waggon, frightening us all as we sat there not being able to move, and because we were so terrified the driver decided to give him rein and he took off at a considerable speed for a cart horse, causing great havoc to the load he was transporting, resulting in the chest of drawers and goodness knows what else being strewn in the road. That was a memorable flitting day.’