THE UPPER FLOORS
I have covered the things that occurred on the ground floor and the basement in earlier blogs on the house at 29 Surrey Street, but there were four more floors which I have not mentioned.
The first floor was let in 1960, almost immediately after my father moved into the building. It was leased to the local branch of an insurance company, the Life Association of Scotland. This carried on uneventfully for many years under its manager, a Mr Smith. He had two ladies working under him. This arrangement was brought to an end by Mr Smith’s retirement. He was replaced by a young lady manager, whose ambitious plans for the business proved disastrous, and she disappeared from the scene suffering from stress.
The Life Association of Scotland itself was swallowed up in an asset stripping operation by Jim Slater of the Slater-Walker Company. These names will mean very little to today’s readers, but in the 60s and 70s Slater-Walker was a major financial concern. Things went sour for Jim Slater who was involved in some sort of financial scandal, but Peter Walker had already left the organisation to pursue a career in Conservative Party politics. He was a minister under Ted Heath and Margaret Thatcher and avoided the fate of Jim Slater, who became for a time a minus millionaire.
The following tenants of the first floor were not as satisfactory. The first was a woman who organised care for the elderly, but her tenancy ended under a cloud, in some disagreement with the landlord. The final tenants were two young ladies who had come into some money. Their grand schemes to create even greater wealth came to naught, and they disappeared owing me several months’ back rent.
The second and third floors never had long-term tenants. In about 1960 an artist, whom we nick-name Barbe-Noire on account of his luxurious beard leased the floors; my mother anglicised this to Barbed Wire. He had intended to convert both floors to an art gallery, and began by installing canvases he had painted. He was also involved property speculation, following a successful purchase and resale of a country cottage. Subsequent dealings were not so successful, which left Barbe-Noire with a permanent ‘psychological phobia of all Norwich people’. This phobia meant that he could no longer visit the city to attend to his business or his gallery, and we were left to dispose of his abstract canvases. After a few years when nothing happened to the second floor it was turned into my art studio. There was plenty of space for me to set up my easel, and I duly spent many hours there, but I was never inspired by the north light of the upper floor of the Georgian house. Eventually I found a tenant for the second floor and for several years all went well.
The third floor was the hardest to let. In about 1980 I obtained planning permission to turn it into a flat where I would live, leaving my sister to occupy the bungalow in Poringland. I started to convert what had been a dressing room into a bathroom, but the project did not appeal to me. There would have been a large and sunny living room, but it was an unsuitable place to keep a dog (and I still had Fido) and of course a flat lacked a garden, and gardening has always been delight.
The top floor was the attic. There were two attic rooms, but only one was habitable. Each room had a window, but the one at the front of the house had no ceiling, only the bare tiles. It was also accessed by a narrow passageway that went alongside the chimneys. The other room however I turned into my library when I let the room in the basement which had previously housed my books. I did quite a lot of work in this attic room, stripping away two hundred years’ worth of brown paint from the beams and freshening up the plaster with white emulsion. All my books would fit along the walls. There was no electricity in the attic, so I could not read at night, but it was still the best library I have possessed; only a fraction of my books will fit on the shelves of our current study. I should add however that I now have many more books, and I am quite relieved that many of them are now available on-line.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE