Tag Archives: Norwich

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