A working class household in early twentieth century Norwich


Found among the O’Donogue papers at Jot HQ is a long letter dated 3rd August 1977 from 1, Chalk Hill Road, Norwich by a certain Elsie Grint. We do not know the exact circumstances of the letter, but it seems likely that O’Donoghue placed a letter in a local paper asking if anyone who grew up in Norwich in the early years of the twentieth century could write to him with their Oak Street 1938reminiscences.

Elsie replied and her memories of that time are particularly detailed:

I lived at 109 Midland St ( off Heigham St) from 1917 to 1934…We lived at the end of a row of houses ( I think the rent was 10/- weekly) but we always paid 6d. extra because of the gable end & the very small piece of garden which ran alongside it. Our house had 2 small rooms downstairs & 2 upstairs, with a very tiny kitchen which held a copper & sink. A small ( & we had gas lighting before electricity was installed ) door in the living room opened onto the steep stairs to the 2 bedrooms. Another small door in the living room opened to the coal house under the stairs & the other door in this small room was the larder. All the houses were built like this & we had a small yard at the back, opening onto a passage which led to about 8 other houses, & in this yard was a toilet, which had a wooden seat from wall to wall ( very inconvenient if needed during the night).  

 I went to Heigham St School , which I think was demolished after the war & my first memories of the infant school was a sand tray, which we all had & made pictures in the sand with our fingers. We moved up to the junior school & then at the age of 11 years were separated—the boys to the boys school & the girls to the girls school until about 2 years later when we were moved to Wensum View School because of a new policy of education. If naughty we were made to stand in the corner for long periods & the cane was given if we were very naughty. Our heads were looked regularly for fleas & nits & we also visited the school dentist. Many poor children attended this school & did not have adequate footwear. Many wore odd shoes belonging to adults, which didn’t fit at all & school uniform was never thought of . Wensum View School sold berets for girls & caps for boys in around 1930 of the school colours , but they were not compulsory ( 2/- was a lot to pay for a school hat I was told). Next to Heigham St School was a large tannery which at times smelt awful. The owner had a large family & one of the daughters told me none were even allowed to speak at meat times. Continue reading

A West African Diary (195) part three

West African diary ghana mapOur visitor to West Africa (see previous Jots) in 1954 travelled by ship from Freetown to Takoradi on the Gold Coast ( now Ghana) in late February. On the 21stof this month he recorded his impressions of his fellow passengers.

At sea

Dinner  time. Is the African a snub? Observations of my fellow third-class passengers reveals it—because I boarded the boat at Freetown, and they from the UK, they are aloof. A Yoruba woman boasted to me that my journey from Freetown to Takoradi was short; and that I should go to England to experience the roughness of the bay. What arrant nonsense! Afternoon of us Africans are sweating profusely. An English woman—Rev! Paterson travelling to Ashanti to stay with Prempeh, king. Gave the sermon this morning. Although I did not attend I hear that she was very frank British Colonial policy. Racial strife in South Africa. Australia’s white only policy ; the erudite class of China and India; and the teeming thousands of these two countries. After supper discussion. Mr ( blank) a law graduate returning home to Nigeria told the story of a young Nigerian doctor who returned home with an English wife. His father did not know of the marriage and therefore resented it. During the party held in the honour of the new arrival, the father refused to mix with the young couple and drank alone. Pretty soon he walked up to his daughter-in-law and called her names. Her husband held her hand. She looked pleasantly on. The doctor’s mother had taken to her grandchild. Meanwhile the news of the Doctor’s marriage spread like wild-fire. And the town resented it. But the wife proved herself capable, and with the help of her husband she won all the women, young and old, on to her side.; old men too were soon admiring her qualities. She is the most popular woman in the town –an Ebo town.


By 2ndMarch he had reached his destination. On this day we find him witnessing the usual rowdy local elections.


March 2, 1954. Municipal Elections .

Ward 5.

I arrived on the scene at 6.30 a.m. The queue was large—polling starts at 7 a.m. Enthusiastic crowd. C.C.P. vans plough the whole area of ward 5. A van is playing Yoruba records in the Yoruba quarters ; a woman propagandist is really telling the women why they as women should vote C.C.P. The political machinery of the party is efficient—most of the men & women queuing are illiterate, esp. Hausa’s & Fantis…A C.C.P. propagandist speaking Hausa, shouting slogans …C.C.P. candidate’s name—Atta Housaine. Continue reading

‘Every woman with stockings is a whore’ and other scurrilous entries in an early nineteenth century common place book

Here is a dual purpose thick octavo notebook bound in calf with a clasp. Nineteenth century diary & common place book 001The front part is a short record of travels in Germany and Belgium in which the anonymous male diarist, who is accompanying his mother, at one point tells us that he was born in 1802, is very scathing about the appearance of most of his travelling companions. In one instance he remarks that the young son of the parson in the party ‘seemed to be as ugly as his father and as vulgar as his cousin’. He is singularly unimpressed by most of the foreigners he encounters along the way. For instance, he notes that his fellow diners at the Table d’Hote, were ‘12 disgusting looking Germans who luckily eat enormously & spoke little ‘. The following evening diners at the same table were’ rather more disgusting in their appearance & manner of eating than the day before ‘. Predictably, he is also critical of the meals he is obliged to eat and the inns that serve and accommodate him. In one inn he accuses the landlord of serving him a dish of greyhound puppy.  Our diarist certainly places himself above the common lot. He seems knowledgeable about art and is a little snooty regarding the collections he views, suspecting that most of the paintings were copies from the masters. More positively, he is often ecstatic about the scenery and buildings he encounters and he particularly praises cathedrals and castles. We yearn for more, but unfortunately, the diary stops abruptly after thirty pages.


The back pages of the volume is devoted to anecdotes, jokes of dubious taste in English and French and snatches of Arabic —in ink and pencil and in different hands. The passages in Arabic may also be indecent, of course.

Here is a selection of the more publishable remarks from this section of the volume:

Gold and Paper

At a fashionable whist party, a lady having won a rubber of 20 guineas, the gentleman who was her opponent pulled out his pocket book and tendered £21 in bank notes. The fair gamester observed with a disdainful toss of her head.“ In the great houseswhich I frequent, Sir , we always use gold “. That may be so, replied the gentleman, but in the little houseswhich I frequent we always use paper.”

Appropriate text.

Mr Sterne (possibly the author of Tristram Shandy), the day after his marriage took for his text: “ We have toiled all night and caught nothing”

Royal Favour.

A low frenchman boasted in very hyperbolic terms that the king had spoken to him; & being asked what his Majesty had said, replied” He bade me stand out of the way “. Continue reading

My Book of Confessions…

Benn June confession page 001Here’s an oddity that turned up recently at Jot HQ. The Querist’s Album: a Book for Confessions and Autographs (Glasgow, n.d., but c 1880) is a pocket-sized tome comprising several sets of pages meant for autographs together with questions addressed to the person supplying the autographs. All the questions are the same.

The questions are obviously addressed to young people—perhaps those in their late teens or early twenties. In this particular copy only around half the pages are filled and many responses date from the late Victorian or Edwardian period. One of those from this era was the actual owner of the book, one M.E.Laxton, who was given it by her aunt.

Most of those supplying an autograph have also answered the questions. However, Miss Laxton dodged many of them and appears to have found some impertinent, including one asking if she was ever in love.   A few have merely signed their names, but have left the question pages blank. One anonymous male has only answered a handful of the questions. When asked what is the most beautiful thing in Nature he has replied ‘ Woman ‘, and when asked at what age should men and women marry replies 45 for a man and 60 for a woman. This person also confesses to having been married twice and been in love thirteen times. Another male, a Mr Grant Miller, replies to the questions in what appears to be a ballpoint pen, even though he dates his answers to 1910. His ideal woman is Sophia Ridsdale. Then we have ‘Edith Broughton’, who also uses a ball point pen for her answers dating from April 1905. A further respondent is ‘Clement Bartholomew’.

Continue reading

Diary of a Nobody (Part 3)

Innsbruck 1957On 4thJuly 1957 our gardening civil servant and his wife Madge left London for their fortnight in Austria and Italy. Rather unusually ( but perhaps not so unusual for 1957 ) the couple cycledto town, deposited their rucksacks at the Air Terminal ( was this near Victoria coach station back then?) and then left their bikes at his place of work. They then caught a bus to London Airport, from where they flew by Swissair Metropolitan to Zurich, arriving at dawn. From here they took a train on a very hot day to Innsbruck and by early afternoon were settled in their hotel, the Weisses Kreug.

Being British our gardener devotes time to recording the weather ( from ‘Hot—jolly hot’ to ‘rains all morning’ and ‘rains slightly  in afternoon’) , praising good meals and complaining about not so good meals,  briefly mentioning sights visited and photos taken. Most of the holiday was spent among the mountains of northern Italy—in places like Cortina, Vigo di Fasso, and Bolzano, where they exalt in finding a restaurant that offers ‘ 2 courses incl. meat for 360L’. One of the main reasons for choosing this part of Austria and Italy is the prospect of locating Alpine flowers to photograph. They do find ‘ a fine meadow of alpine flowers ‘ and later our gardener leads Madge up Mount Marmolata in search of Entrichium, but fails to locate any. However ‘we do find other nice plants to photo…’ They also bump into the Olympic stands that were used in the previous February for the ‘Cresta Run’ and skating. Continue reading

On Notes and Note Books

Notes and notebooks 001Now we are in the Digital Age, when as much data as we like can be stored in a note-book sized device made of plastic and metal, note-taking as a aid to memory is less important. As recent as fifteen years ago if we needed to record the gist of books, articles etc., we resorted to a note book made of paper and card which had to be small enough to be carried around in a pocket. In practice what we tended to do, however, was to write too much in too big a hand than was appropriate, thus making our notebook less efficient as a means of storing an accumulation of facts and opinions.

The solution, according to a self-published booklet of c 1934 entitled On Notes and Note Books by someone called David B. Muir of Dresden Road, Holloway, north London, was to accommodate more notes on literary material that interested us by reducing our hand to the size of newsprint, abbreviating words and compiling an index.

In Muir’s system of abbreviations a series of short straight or curved strokes above the missing letters, dots above and below, and other symbols for prefixes, would indicate the types of contractions intended. Discrete items of information would be separated by double or single vertical strokes. In the Index the keyword would be followed by a normal sized page number and a very small number, indicating the line. According to Muir, the secret to success with his system of note-taking lay in memorising these symbols plus any other symbols that the individual note-taker might care to use. Continue reading