THETFORD – EARLY MEMORIES
BY BAS KYBIRD
I suppose my earliest memories of my paternal grandparents must be when I was four or five years of age. There is a photograph of me in scouts uniform much, much too large for me; this would have belonged to my Uncle George, father’s brother who lived in Thetford. My grandfather was Charles Robert Kybird and Charles is my second Christian name and William is my third name, after my mother’s father. In later years, when working in Barclay’s Bank at Thetford, I was called Charlie.
In his younger years Granddad had worked hard and had known difficult times, but he managed to bring up five children. On leaving school in 1890 he worked in Thetford at Burrell’s Engineering as a metal turner making parts for traction engines as had his father and grandfather before him. There is a family photograph of them outside No. 85, Castle Street, Thetford.
My father was clever enough to pass for a scholarship but his father decided it was time he contributed to the family finances. He left school at the age of fourteen and also worked for Burrell’s. Near the end of the First World War he was called up into the army, serving a matter of months before the war ended. In that brief time he was made a lance corporal with the Royal Fusiliers. He returned to Burrell’s for a while but things were difficult in that employment so he joined Norfolk Constabulary in 1921.
Granddad was able somehow to buy cottages in the town and did his own repairs. At the age of eighty he was still climbing ladders to paint guttering. Saturday mornings he would be off on his old cycle collecting rents, wearing old clothes to look hard up! This job was taken over by his youngest son George in later years. George at this time was the only ‘child’ still living at home. Granddad had shares in Thetford Co-operative Society and was a keen supporter. The Annual meetings were most important to him. Granny used to shop there and at one time another son, Jack (real name John) worked there.
Granddad was a very slim man, with a thin moustache and he was very active; very careful with his money and poor Granny had to be also. He used to resharpen his razor blades by rubbing them inside a drinking glass, everything to give the impression he was hard up.
My grandmother Caroline née Daniels was short, plump, with a round rosy face. She was a very good cook and her lemon curd tarts were out of this world. Sometimes she would take me and the boy from next door, Jacky Lockwood, down the town shopping. On the occasion of the King and Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1935 she bought me a souvenir mug with their pictures on it. I had it for many years until it got cracked and was thrown out.
In my time Granddad’s family home was at Jasmine Cottage, 40, Vicarage Road. It was a six roomed end terrace house of Victorian era. There was a small front garden with a gate and path to the front door. There was a bay window with a plant inside. To the left was a high wooden gate and a passage leading to the back yard and door. The gate was painted black with one of Granddad’s economy paint mixes. He would add tar which meant it took longer to dry but he said it would last longer!
The back door led into the kitchen. Outside next to the kitchen was the old fashioned toilet and next to it a brick shed. On the outside wall of this hung the galvanized tin bath. Opposite there was a small patch of ferns where the tea pot was emptied. There was also a small lawn. There is a photograph of Granddad with his four sons standing behind him which I thought was taken here but I believe I am wrong. After the ferns came the ‘home garden’ of vegetables. On the house side there were more vegetables. Between the two pieces of garden was a narrow footpath lined with stones. Along the path was the linen line.
Next was an interesting area for me. At the end of the garden on the left was Granddad’s shed. It had a window over his work bench. Inside there were many tins of paint, mainly partially used; odd bits of wood and carpentry tools, brushes, so many odd bits and pieces. His policy was never throw anything away, always thrifty. No doubt this was how he became wealthy, always economising, making do to the point of adding tar to some paint to make it last longer.
Now comes another interesting (?) part – opposite the shed was a stall in which were kept one or two goats. Granny used to milk the ‘nanny’. I couldn’t stand the milk, it had a very strong flavour. The smell from the goats was overpowering as was that from the manure heap: all in all not a very hygienic set-up!
Beyond these two sheds was a larger shed. This had double doors of corrugated iron secured on the inside by a thick, heavy wood bar which dropped into brackets. Inside on the left was a small cart and above it a hay loft holding fodder for the goats. I never learned the significance of the cart, whether Granddad at some time had a pony or it was an ill gotten gain. Leaning against the cart was Granddad’s old cycle, ready for a call out to an emergency at one of his rental properties. I do remember the importance of Saturday mornings when he would set off on his faithful steed collecting rents looking really hard up!
The double doors opened out onto the back lane, serving all the houses on this side of Vicarage Road. Opposite the double doors was a small door serving as a gate into the field. The gate was well protected against the elements with several coats of Granddad’s black tar paint. Above the gate was a curved piece of iron, probably to prevent persons from climbing over the top. It was rather low for adults, causing them to stoop. The gate opened onto all sorts of wonders.
Just inside there was a swing made from railway sleepers and a large stack of well seasoned wood, firewood I suppose. Nearby was an ancient child’s wooden wheelbarrow which must have come out of the Arc! Beyond the wood pile was a garage which housed a well cared for saloon car, maroon in colour with curtains at the rear window. I believe this and the garage were added to the family assets some years later.
I remember this car when we all went to Red Arches where George and I went for a swim. I must have been about ten or eleven having just learned to swim so I believe this was just before the war. The curtains over the back window were handy when changing on the back seat. Granddad’s dog, a Fox Terrier called Rip was usually chained near the garage. Unless it was wet, the goats were staked out on chains nearby. They were crafty devils, waiting until an unsuspecting soul got near and then violently butting them. For me it was a game, teasing them and then running to be just out of reach!
Near the garage were high double gates opening onto a corner of the back lane, obviously for getting the car in and out. If the car was standing out in the hot sun the tyres were protected by sacks so that the heat did not cause any patches on the inner tubes to come unstuck, a problem in those days.
To the left of the small gate were chicken runs. Another job for Granny was collecting the eggs with me as number one assistant. The eggs always felt warm and were a lovely brown colour.
On a rare occasion there would be a car trip to Wells, where the main occupation would be cockling. After a back aching hour or so on the North Norfolk coast it was back to Vicarage Road where the cockles would be put into a bucket of water with flour added and left overnight to feed and spit out the sand. The next day they would be boiled and at teatime consumed with relish! Nothing was wasted, the shells would be crunched up and put down in the chicken runs for the birds to peck at.
On occasions I was entrusted with an air rifle and encouraged to shoot the sparrows sitting in the apple tree waiting to come down for the chicken food. This was rather frustrating because the air rifle had no power. The pellets would come lazily out of the rifle barrel and fall harmlessly onto the ground about two yards ahead.
Sometimes on warm summer days, probably when we were visiting on a Sunday, Granddad would erect a garden tent in the field. It was green and white striped and high enough for adults to stand up in. It had an open front. To complete things out came canvas deck chairs. Such an occasion! Someone would then organise a game of cricket for my benefit and an old wind-up gramaphone would be taken out to the tent.
At the far end of the field, down a bank, was the railway line to Bury St. Edmunds. Further across was the Norwich line. In those days the engines were driven by steam and on the Norwich line I could see the approach of a train from Norwich at some distance away by the smoke. During the war, when I was about eleven or twelve, from the back bedroom I was able to watch trains with flat trucks, each carrying a tank or gun. Sometimes there would be as many as thirty or more heading south.
I liked Christmas at Jasmine Cottage, all sitting round the big table in the living room. The coal cooking range was in the same room with open fire and oven. There was a gas oven in the kitchen as well. Granny was a good cook and in particular I enjoyed her lemon curd tarts. I do remember well the family gatherings in the front room which always smelled nice, perhaps of polish. There would be my grandparents, my parents, George and myself. I always had to take something to do. I particularly liked the smell in that room the next morning, the pine from the Christmas tree, stale cigar smoke, aroma of whisky or whatever. Also crowded into the room was a piano although I am sure neither of my grandparents could play it. Probably another bargain from a sale somewhere. Granddad enjoyed going to local sales to help move items round and perhaps cart for purchasers.
One Christmas I had a railway set as a present, a clockwork engine pulling a carriage on a circular track. An Aunt came round with one of my cousins called Sheila who was then given a bath in the centre of my railway track. They were staying in another part of town with Sheila’s grandparents at Bury Road. Why she was given a bath at Vicarage Road I never did hear, not the business of a small boy!
A trip to Bury St. Edmunds for Christmas Shopping was a must. The occasion I remember must have been December, 1942, when I was just fourteen. I was fascinated by some American Air Force policemen riding round the town on ‘vary large, vary smart’ Harley Davidson motorcycles. For Christmas presents Granddad always gave a brand new ten shilling note in a small buff envelope to each of his grandchildren. I had received mine. It was intended that I bought savings stamps with it, as always! Unfortunately on this shopping expedition I had seen a book about the British Army in a book shop costing seven shillings and sixpence. I succumbed to temptation and bought it, reasoning that I still had two shillings and sixpence to save. Oh dear! was I in trouble? wasting my money on a book! I later lent this book to a friend at Methwold, John S, and somehow never got it back.
I believe I have related the story about plasticine getting into the front room carpet in another chapter. When I was a little older, with pocket money to spend, I bought a plastic joke ‘dogs poo’. My mother always had a little dog as a pet. I placed this joke item on the carpet beside Granddad’s chair in the front room. Eventually he saw it and what a commotion it caused for a few minutes, all blame falling in the direction of Mum’s dog!
When I was much older I used to tint black and white photographs with colour, first treating the surface of the photographs with a mixture of linseed oil and turps. I kept this in a small bottle and it looked like whisky. Granddad was interested and I offered it to him. With this ‘Charlie’ took a sip. He quickly discovered much to his disappointment it was not whisky as he had been let to believe by his erring grandson! Poor old chap, he did cough and splutter and left the room hurriedly. I think I got into more trouble over that than when I smacked Granny’s bottom when she was bending over the cooking stove!
Autumn was another time for the family to get something for nothing – chestnuts. We, that is Granddad, my Dad, Uncle George and myself would set off to certain woods on a chestnutting expedition. On return the bulk would be carefully stored in dry sand so they kept longer. It was a special occasion to roast some on the front room fire. I believe after a while the goats had their share.
One thing that never failed to amuse me was after lunch Granddad would recline on the chaise-longue, cover himself with a table cloth and within a matter of minutes would be ‘driving them home’ – a gentle snoring. In later years he had no teeth but he did love spring onions. Not to be beaten by the lack of molars he would chop spring onions then mash them with his fork, thus producing a pap which he could manage to digest!
Many years later, 1950, after my National Service in the Army, I returned to Thetford to work in Barclays Bank. For a little while I stayed with my grandparents but it became too much for Granny and so I then lodged with Mr and Mrs Crisp on Croxton Road. Mr. Crisp was the town clerk and a freemason. My uncle George was rather stuffy and a staunch Conservative, so one of the ways I annoyed him was to wear a bright red tie.
I was supposed to be studying for the Bankers Institute examination, all about supply and demand among other mundane matters but I wasn’t over interested. Some evenings I would meet another ‘keen’ young bank clerk named Blowers. He had a mop of ginger hair. His home town was Lowestoft. We would go to a pub for a drink where the landlord was known as ‘Captain’. To subsidise my salary I would enter the local mail in the post book, usually bank statements, and then deliver them on my racing cycle. A heinous crime I suppose!
One thing, rather important to me, and which I forgot to mention, was on the night of V.J. Day (15th August, 1945) we were at Thetford before Dad took me for a week’s holiday in Edinburgh. I went to Castle Hill in Thetford where there was a bonfire and celebrations that the war was over. I saw some of my Indian friends, both of them Havildars (sergeants) in the Royal Indian Service Corps. They had been prisoners of war, captured by the Germans in North Africa, and had been held in Germany. They were proud to introduce me to a Sikh soldier who had been awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery. He wrote his name, I believe Singh, on a scrap of paper for me and which I had for many years after, but like so many things they get mislaid or lost as is the case with this.
Looking back perhaps it is as well that I left this employment and joined Norwich City Police in December, 1950.