I was born in the house on the corner of Norwich Road and Caistor Lane in February 1949. Actually I was born at the Stork Nursing Home in Newmarket Road in Norwich, but you know what I mean. Until road numbers appeared about 1965 this was called Fairview, but thereafter it was number 51. Mostly I can only tell you about my immediate neighbours because the village was very strung out. The Dove at the far end of the village was well over a mile away.
I did not go to the local state school, but first to the Kinder Garten at Norwich High School for Girls; this school took boys for the first two years of their schooling, but only a handful attended; I did not fit in, and left after one. Next I went to a private school in Bungay called St Mary’s. No other boys went there from Poringland, but or two girls did. They were all slightly older than me so that I only knew them through travelling with them on the bus, not in class. Gwenda Woolnough was the daughter of the local builder, Mr Woolnough of Woolnough and Cogman. (There will be more on the Cogmans later.) Another girl with fair hair came from Stoke Road, but I have forgotten her name. I still occasionally hear from Gwenda since the internet put us in touch again after 50 years. She now lives in the USA.
My contacts with the local youth, other than with these privileged young ladies who were privately educated, was rather slight. One boy I did play with who went to the local state school was Richard Hardesty. He lived just a few doors away from me opposite Framingham Earl High School, or Secondary Modern as it was called in its earliest days. It was being built at the time we were playmates, and we used to roam all over the building site as boys will.
We lived between Rushmer (‘Rush’) Howlett, whose bungalow was called Devonia and was on the Norwich Road, and Daisy Chaplin whose bungalow was in Caistor Lane. Rush was our landlord and Daisy’s too; I believe he owned all six bungalows that stretched round Caistor Lane corner. The one next to Rush on the other side to our bungalow was where Mrs Lenton lived. Her daughter Dorothy Lenton was single and the matron at the Norwich Edward VI Grammar School (now simply the Norwich School) in the days when they still had boarders. Because it took a lot of eleven plus scholars for free in those days it was almost regarded as just another state Grammar School, but of course it wasn’t. Lord Ashcroft was a boarder at the school (before he was a lord), but apparently he did not enjoy it and now has nothing to do with the school. Next to Mrs Lenton, in a semi-detached house, lived Mr and Mrs Matthews. When Rush died Mrs Matthews (by then a widow) came to live in his house, next to us. Rush must have died about 1962 and by then we had bought our bungalow off him for £1,000.
On the other side (into Caistor Lane) lived Daisy Chaplin as I have said. Her husband ‘Chappie’ had a round delivering paraffin from a truck. He was a great gardener according to my father, and his greenhouse remained although empty and abandoned by Daisy. He had left his wife for another woman when I was very young and I do not remember him. Daisy was a good friend to me and I was always round at her bungalow. I am told that I was the only bright spot in her life. She cooked in a saucepan on a tall paraffin stove. Her most impressive bit of furniture was a huge radiogram which had been Chappie’s, with an illuminated dial where exotic places like Luxembourg were marked. The only thing I ever remember her listening to on it was Mrs Dale’s Diary; no music. She moved out about the end of the 1950s and went to live near her son Gordon at Harpenden in Hertfordshire. Gordon had been to Bungay Grammar School and served as an NCO in the RAF during the war and was working as a sanitary inspector. Daisy was succeeded in the property by Betty and Graham MacRobert who still live there. Betty was one of Mrs Matthews’s children.
Continuing into Caistor Lane there lived Mr and Mrs Minns; Mr Minns’s father lived in a semi-detached cottage about three quarters of a mile into Caistor along the lane. He had been a taxi driver, although by the time I remember him he had retired. My sister tells me that we are distantly related to the Minns by marriage on my father’s side. On the opposite corner of Caistor Lane lived Mrs Skedge. She was a relative of Bob Skedge the builder. Bob had red hair, and when he had been in the army in India during the war he was known a Ginger Sahib. He moved into a house about three along from Mrs Skedge, that he built in Caistor Lane in the early 1960s. His wife was called Barbara and he had twin sons, a few years younger than me.
Claude Cogman’s farmyard was not far away from our corner but he lived at the far end of Caistor Lane, opposite Caistor Hall. St Anne’s Cottage, the name of his house, had been his father’s house before him. His father was the last village blacksmith of Caistor and had a revival of trade during the war. His forge was alongside though empty and abandoned. The cottage has been considerably extended by the new owners, and back in Claude’s time the forge was demolished. Claude was a bachelor. As a young man he had gone to the Methodist chapel in Framingham Earl, but later he transferred his allegiance to the Free Evangelical church in Stoke Holy Cross.
Eddie Cogman was the brother of Claude and was a builder who lived in Framinham Earl and also went to the Methodist chapel there. He built a new chapel at right angles to old one, which became the church hall. Before I was born Eddie Cogman was our neighbour, living in one of the bungalows on the corner. John Cogman, Eddie’s son, was living in a house on the opposite side of the lane by the time I was a teenager. He now lives in Stoke Holy Cross. For some reason he was always known to my sister Margaret as Cogman John.
In the part of Caistor Lane that lies inside Caistor parish there lived Cissie Cogman. She was sister of Eddie and Claude. Cissie had been married and her name was really Mrs Ratcliffe, but she was always known to us as Cissie Cogman. She was a music teacher, and she lived in a bungalow into Caistor on the left as you go up the lane. The next the house to her bungalow was where Penny Gaze lived – Penny, or more formally Penelope was another pupil who attended St Mary’s School in Bungay.
Down the Norwich Road towards Arminghall was the Spruce’s farm. One night I was taking my dog for a walk late- about 1 o’clock in the morning. As I got to the end of the made up path, which went no farther than the last house in those days, I saw that the farmhouse chimney was well alight. I knocked on the door to waken the sleeping occupants and warn them of the danger. They came down and I left them to deal with the chimney. Luckily I had spotted it before much damage was done. I was the local hero for a day or two. This was about 1980.
The garage at the top of the hill belonged to V. J. Austin when I first became aware of such things as garages, but he must have moved out about 1960 and was followed Elvin’s garage. Austin continued to sell petrol in St Catherines Plain in Norwich, and had a garage nearby. He also sold motorbikes in Ber Street under the name of Chapman (I think). In the fifties the acid for car batteries came in large glass carboys, and Austin’s had one round the back. In those days no one had a hydraulic lift to work on the undersides of cars, it was all done from a pit in the floor. My father was often up there at the garage because our car, a pre-war Singer, was not very reliable. About 1957 he bought a brand new car, a Hillman Husky which didn’t break down so frequently, and he had it serviced in Norwich at the Norwich Motor Company. About the same time Mr Elvin bought the garage.
Polio vaccinations had just begun when I was about 7, and I went for mine up to the dining room of the Primary school. This was a late development (I understand that before that all the pupils had to go home to eat) and was housed in couple of temporary type pre-fab buildings almost underneath the water tower in Long Lane. As I recall this vaccination involved being given a sugar lump with the vaccine soaked into it.
Mr Bond delivered our meat from his shop in the village, but I do not think there was a bakers shop in Poringland. Our bread came by van from Hardy’s in St Catherine’s Plain in Lakenham. Our bill often came to eleven pence three farthings, but as farthings were hard to come by we seldom had any and normally ended up paying a shilling (which was 12 pence). I think this was a common problem with customers that produced a nice tip for the baker’s man. From a dozen similarly embarrassed purchasers he would make three pence!
Fish was supplied by the fishman, who came round in a horse and cart. It would stand there quietly munching the leaves of the silver birch tree that grew by our front gate. I don’t know his name, but to our family he was called ‘You wanna be wary’ – his favourite phrase, applied to all the official characters he managed to avoid during his nocturnal expeditions; he was a poacher as well as a fishman. Because it was the traditional day for eating fish he came round on a Friday. This had been a fast day since long before the Reformation and remained so long after. What You wanna be wary did on the other six days of the week I did not know – perhaps they were spent poaching. There are not many fishmen about these days, although the man who brought his van from Lowestoft to Taverham until recently (on Friday of course) may still come. Back in the 1950s there was also the vegetable man who came round with fresh produce in season and potatoes all year round. He had a Morris Commercial J type van painted green. Old Mr Bond, and later his son continued to deliver our weekly joint, but the others dropped off after the 1950s. The fishman and his horse were the first to go.
There was no library in Poringland, but we had regular visits from the mobile library which would get most of the books you asked for. This was a really good service, because the vehicle stopped just feet from your door and if you wanted a specific book the chances are that even a well stocked local library would have to order it in. We were fortunate that bus stop for getting off from Norwich was just opposite our front gate, and the other one just the other side of Caistor Lane. The post box was attached to a telephone pole by this bus stop. When the telephone poles mostly disappeared and the wires went underground the stump of one remained with the letterbox on it. It still does.
Because he had been my father’s doctor before the National Health Service we used Dr Hepburn – Heppy – whose practice was the other side of the city, off Magdalen Road. It was quite a journey but he always came in his black VW Beetle when I had diseases like measles, mumps, whooping cough and chickenpox that kept me in bed. Nowadays a doctor won’t come out to see you under almost any circumstances even if you live only a street away from the surgery and out of hours this is completely out of the question. Dr Hepburn wore a blue three piece suit with a watch chain across his waistcoat and carried his medical sundries – including a stethoscope of course – in a black Gladstone bag. He would hold down my tongue with one of Mummie’s teaspoons and tell me to say “aah”. That seemed to be all the treatment I got, but it worked.
Until 1960 our living conditions were quite basic. We had mains water (but my sisters remember using the pump which dispensed polluted drink water) and electricity but only one five amp plug in the whole house, apart from the kitchen, which had another one. There was an unfortunate coming together of the electricity and water supplies and my sister remembers drawing sparks to her nose from the water tap when bending down to drink. This was highly dangerous as my father knew of course, as soon as he found out, but my sisters thought it rather fun. There were no mains drains and so no bathroom. I had a little papier mâché bath and there was a tin bath for the adults; these were placed of the living room hearth rug and filled from the kettle. It was all quite a performance and it is not surprising that bath night came round infrequently. If you need the toilet after dark it meant lighting a paraffin lamp, because the outside lavatory (an earth closet) had no electric light. I remember us getting our first fridge, and our first electric washtub with a mangle, although at this time we still had our primitive loo. Until I came along and my nappies need daily washing the only laundry aid was the copper with a fire that had to be lit beneath it. It was called a copper but in fact it was made of galvanised steel. Open fires were the sole source of heat apart from a one bar electric radiator; anything more would have fused the whole house.
We could have used a paraffin stove but these were dangerous and smelly until the Aladdin Heater came along, which produced a warm radiant glow. We did have an electric oven though, because there was no gas. You always woke up to ice inside the window panes in the winter. After North Sea Gas arrived in the early 1970s people started to get central heating but I never did while I lived in Poringland. My sister had it put after she had bought the property from me in during the late 1980s.
Although I left the village nearly 30 years ago my sister Margaret Mason continued to live there until her death in 2009, so I am fairly well aware of the changes that have happened since my departure. I hope you have enjoyed my reminiscences of life in Poringland as it was seen by a young boy. I apologise if I have made any mistakes, but it was all a long time ago.
I have already done a piece on Poringland Dove (22 September 2011) and one on the Poringland Oak (07 December 2012).