MEMORIES OF HARLESTON
1936 – 1942
In the August of 1936 my father was promoted to Sergeant and we moved from North Walsham to 26, Redenhall Road, Harleston. I was seven years old. What a difference in the house! It was large, semi detached, with high ceilings. There was no garden but there was an allotment up Station Road next to the Police Station. Apparently the house we moved into had been the police station many years before. The front door opened onto the street, not that I ever remember seeing it open! A side door opened onto a yard or lane which led to a builders premises at the top. Opposite the side of the house was a public house, the ‘Duke William’. My bedroom was over the side door and so faced the public house. On warm nights with the windows open I lay in bed listening to the murmur of voices, clink of glasses and the smell of beer wafted in from the pub.
The side of the house never saw the sun and the side door led into a rather dark sitting room, opposite the door were stairs with a cupboard underneath, all wood panelled and painted a very dark brown. A door to the right led into the front room which was only used on special occasions and there was another door to the left up a couple of steps into the living room. Near this door was another giving access to the stairs at the top of which was the landing and from this were three bedrooms and a box room.
When the war started in September, 1939 the government advice was that central rooms were the safest in the event of bombs so my mother and I each had a single bed in the sitting room. I don’t know where my father slept. Dad had a large desk in the sitting room. In one drawer he kept his cigarettes, Craven A or Black Cat. A year or two later I started to help him smoke them. He never seemed to miss the odd one or two. It must have been about this time that my only remaining friend from those days, Alan A. and I put our pocket money together to buy packets of five Wild Woodbines from a machine on a wall either in Broad Street not far from St. Johns Church or in the Thoroughfare. We would argue over who had the largest half of the spare cigarette. I kept watch while Alan did the dirty deed. I blame my father and Alan for putting me on to road to heavy smoking up to the age of seventy three or four and from which I still suffer! Alan gave up almost as soon as he started.
The kitchen had a window looking out towards the pub. In the kitchen was a coal fired cooking range which my mother kept shiny with black lead polish. In the centre was a large pine table which in later years when we were living at Thorpe Road, Norwich, caused me a lot of strife in the small kitchen there. I would always come down late for breakfast and to pass into the kitchen my father had to get up and move his chair for me to get through, much to his annoyance. I didn’t dare suggest they got a smaller table!
Back to the kitchen; a pantry had a window looking out to the enclosed back yard and police cells. A door led from the kitchen to the scullery on the right which had a back door into the yard. In the scullery was a copper for boiling up clothing, and a blue bag would be added to make ‘whites’ whiter. Under the copper was space for a small fire to heat the water. There was also a large old fashioned mangle on a stand with a bucket beneath to catch the water which was squeezed from the items as they passed between the wood rollers by turning a large handle. When I had my first cycle it was kept in this room as there was no shed. The last time my father chastised me was in this room, I can’t remember what it was about. He gave me a ‘ ding round the lug’ but it didn’t have much effect!
Over the kitchen was the third bedroom. I remember spending some weeks in bed there when I had a bad spell of bronchitis (which I seem to have had regularly ever since and I wasn’t smoking then either.) There was a small open fire which was kept alight to help keep me warm. This must have been soon after we moved to Harleston, about Easter time. I passed my time by drawing patterns in pencil on typing paper my father supplied. I would then sell some of the patterns to him for a penny or two. He probably sold them to the Superintendent!
The main bedroom was of course at the front with two windows, overlooking Redenhall Road and Station Road junction. In a drawer of my mother’s dressing table I discovered a most interesting book by Dr. Marie Stopes, entitled Married Love. I learned a lot from that after many brief and surreptitious reads. I was an inquisitive child, never told anything about sex and I had to learn somehow!
Not long after we moved there the house was redecorated throughout with dark brown and cream paint which in those days contained lead. The smell really upset our stomachs in spite of bowls of water standing about to absorb it. The toilet was across the yard which meant in bad weather a mad dash so as not to get wet. Another problem was in the dark trying to keep a candle lit! Neatly cut rectangles of the E.D.P. were suspended on string on the back of the door. We took our weekly baths in the kitchen or scullery in a galvanized bath. At the beginning of the war a grand-daughter of an old lady who lived in a cottage at the top of the yard joined the W.A.A.F.s (Womens Auxiliary Air Force). When she came home on leave my mother used to invite her to use our bathroom. Mum’s contribution to the war effort! I hurriedly add this was after a bathroom and toilet had been fitted into the small bedroom or box room over the scullery!
On the other side of Candlers Lane to the pub was a very large house occupied by Doctor Maidment. There was great excitement when his daughter married an army officer I believe named Vickers. Mum and I watched from a front bedroom window and saw the happy couple drive off in a large open topped car, the groom in uniform, all very posh.
Near Alan’s home on some rough land belonging to the local builder was a stack of bricks. We busily made ourselves a den in the centre of the stack – a bit risky but we came to no harm. In his back garden Alan’s Dad made him a small sand play area where we would make tunnels and roadways in wet sand for toy lorries, mechanical diggers and the like; the beginning of Alan’s career in building! We were pleased when in early spring it was light a little while after tea so we were able to play out for a while.
Up the lane at the side of our house and just past the kitchen window was a gate into an enclosed yard. It was enclosed for a very good purpose. In the yard was the entrance to the three Police cells. They were right across the concrete yard opposite our back door. To the right of our back door was a wall with a gateway into the yard of the police constable’s house next door. From their yard was a small enclosed yard with high walls for exercising prisoners not that there were many. I wasn’t allowed to see them. It has been said that a daughter of the builder a few doors up the street once climbed across roofs to look into the yard but I doubt whether she saw a prisoner. One prisoner of ill repute by the name of Pilbeam who my father had arrested for breaking into a shop, Denny’s, in the High Street. Another prisoner was a German from a wartime Dornier bomber which had crashed at Starston. The pilot went down with his plane and initially was buried at buried at Starston church until after the war when his remains went to Germany. It was expected of the constable’s wife or my mother to provide meals for the prisoners.
The constable next door, Herbert and his wife had two children, Denis and Marjorie. Denis and I would play with our Dinky toys in our back yard and swap comics. The hero in my weekly comic was Tim McCoy, a cowboy. He was of course better than Denis’s hero! Marjorie was a ginger headed girl who I didn’t like very much. She told tales about her brother and me swinging on a rope in the builder’s hay loft up the yard. We were playing Tarzan in our underpants. Admittedly we should not have been there. I vaguely remember a cart horse belonging to the builder was stabled there in early days but what happened to it I don’t remember. Up the yard on the left was a pair of cottages and in the one nearest to the yard was a boy called Terry who was always making mud pies in the dirty drain outside his home. It smelled awful. A little further up was a building used to garage the superintendent’s car and it was the job of Herbert the police constable to wash the car down periodically. Originally this building housed the police horse and trap used as the superintendent’s transport.
When we first moved to Harleston Doris and children took my mother and me up to the recreation ground, showing us about. It was quite a walk there and I recall noticing how badly my mother walked. She suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and over the years this just got worse and worse. On one occasion we went over the far side of the cricket pitch area in which my father was playing. Whether Herbert was playing also I don’t know. I don’t remember my Dad playing football but he took up bowls and was a keen and good player well into his eighties. Gardening was also another hobby.
Access to the Recreation Ground was by way of a lane beside Kenyon’s confectionery shop. The son of the owner was at an early age into theatricals and one Saturday morning charged a few of us an old penny each to go into a store room where he put on some sort of a show! I think he bullied us into watching his performance! For him this was the beginning of theatre life. Further up this lane were some maltings for preparing wheat for beer making. It always smelt cool in there. After this was the slaughter house. We would stand consuming ice creams and watch the slaughter men wrestle with squealing pigs until silenced by a stun gun. Then their throats were cut to drain the blood – a most unpleasant smell.
Passing through the gateway onto the recreation ground on the left was a bowling green and in front were some grass tennis courts where I learned to play. Further across the rec was a wooden bridge over a little ditch. Summer time when the ditch was dry we would get under the bridge with some of the girls, all innocent fun really. Over the far side was a mound which we called the mountain but it was nothing like a mountain really although we did huff and puff to climb to the top. I remember on one occasion my friend Alan struggled to get his old bike to the top and then rode it down!
Our garden was up Station Road near the Superintendent’s house. There was a plum tree and copious quantities of rhubarb. Mum would make jars and jars of jam and there was rhubarb with everything. How I hated it! Marjorie L told me that the daughter of the previous sergeant had peed in the rhubarb, perhaps that was what put me off! During the war sugar, jam, and many other things were rationed. We all had ration books and had to register with our grocer (International Stores). In 1940 each person was allowed 4 ounces of butter, 12 ounces(345gr) of sugar and 4 ounces of ham or bacon each week. As the war progressed there was even less. Everything was sold on surrender of coupons. Mum would save some of the sugar ration to make jam. We then had our own jars. When mine was going down rapidly I would have a spoonful out of Dad’s.
As well as food rationing there was a blackout which meant no light was allowed to show from within buildings, prevented by blankets or special screens or similar hung over the inside of doors and windows. Windows were taped to prevent damage from flying glass among other Air Raid Precautions published in a special Government booklet issued to all premises in the country. Vehicle lights were dimmed with masks and the edges of footpaths painted white. Coal was rationed as was clothing, food, sweets, petrol. Ration books were issued which contained coupons. These were taken by the supplier.
Mum would scrape butter onto rounds of bread and then scrape it off again. I used to love sandwich loaves of bread and could eat nine or ten rounds. I looked out for air holes in rounds which would get filled with butter. I liked Sunday teas when Mum would get out her best tea service. It was pink and the edges trimmed with gilt. I wonder what happened to it? Sometimes we would have tinned salmon which I enjoyed soaked in vinegar.
At times in winter the road at Shotford Bridge towards Weybread flooded and we had great fun riding our cycles through the flood water, going home wet through. One winter, I think it must have been that of 1939/40 there was a lot of snow and Alan’s father made him a sledge, much to my envy as my father wasn’t much good at making things. Then his father made him a better one with strips of tin nailed on the runners to make it faster. Alan kindly gave me his old one and we would sledge on a meadow towards Starston past the Drill Hall. This meadow had a steep hill and there was a beck at the bottom. We would compete on our sledges traveling at speed to reach the beck. We would go home in the dark with our clothes soaked or even frozen and our hands red raw with cold but we considered it all worth while.
In the same winter with snow and severe frosts which continued until about April Alan and I would go sliding on the pond near the ‘mountain’. Into the spring it was beginning to thaw but it was not going to deprive us of our fun on the slide. We foolishly used to jump over the water round the edge to get onto the remaining ice. It would bend and crack beneath our weight but we thought it was funny. We were most fortunate we did not have an accident. One Saturday evening I went round for Alan but he wasn’t allowed out, I think it was bath time so I was able to borrow his bike and I cycled off towards Starston where I picked a large bunch of cowslips and took some back to his Mum.
Harleston had its own swimming pool which was at a bend in the river Waveney at the bottom of Shotford Hill and along Wells Lane towards Needham Hill. It was here I learned to swim. Our Head Teacher Mr. Rhodes would take some of us from our school at Jay’s Green. We would walk across fields, around a sandpit, along Wells Lane, and across a meadow to the river. A local retired person, Mr. Dalston, an ex police man, would spend all his time during the summer getting himself a copper tan. He also gave swimming lessons, mainly to the girls, Dawn C for one, a bronzed nymph. She was friendly with a London girl evacuated from London to a house near Redenhall Church. One evening I had the privilege(?) of escorting them on our bikes to Redenhall. There was a partitioned wood hut for changing, boys one side and girls the other. It always smelled of river water and it was not easy get to dry. In the dividing partition were peep holes via which dishonourable males peeped at the girls. Being a policeman’s son I kept my eyes closed when I peeped!!
(TO BE CONTINUED)
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE