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Beryl Gladys Norton's Childhood Memories ....

This story was written by Mrs Beryl Norton, a story she read to the local Mattishall school children in the early 1990’s
It does not reflect on Mattishall itself although it is of our local area. It gives a wonderful insight of how life was when she was a young girl. Mrs Norton was a teacher at our village school for many years, her husband a decendnat of a long established Mattishall and Mattishall Burgh family which can be traced back to Francis Norton in the early 1700's. It reads..........

100 years ago must seem a very log time to all of you – too long ago for anyone living to remember much about it. But I was alive 80 years ago and I can remember a great deal. I wasn’t quite as old as all of you are now.

My parents both taught in the village school. My father was Headmaster and my mother taught the infants – little people of 5 – 7 years old. We lived in the School House which has 3 bedrooms, landing staircase hall a sitting room, living room, kitchen and pantry. No bathroom, no indoor toilet - no electricity – no central heating and no water laid on!

The lavatory was at the end of a little brick path outside the back door. Drinking water – deliciously cool and sparkling – we had to pump up from a spring at the end of the garden. The drinking water pail stood on a small table in the kitchen covered with a white cloth to keep out any dust. Water to wash in came from rainwater collected from the roof into tubs. Any used water indoors was put into a bucket. Every time this was full it had to be carried out and emptied down a drain.

We washed in our bedrooms. Each room had a wash hand stand – a sort of narrow table, often with a marble top, with a large jug or ewer (earthen vessel for holding water with a wide mouth) standing in a big bowl. The jug was filled with soft or rain water. This we used for washing. Sometimes my mother or our maid servant brought some hot water heated over the kitchen fire. There was also a carafe or flask of drinking water with a glass tumbler to use for tooth cleaning. All water we had used had to be carried downstairs in a pail and emptied outside.

My small sister and I had baths at bedtime in front of the living room fire. This was fun because we could make lovely hissing sounds by splashing water on the fire when mummy wasn’t looking!

The drinking water for making tea etc. was heated in a kettle on the kitchen fire and soft or rain water in a huge saucepan on the other side of the fire.

There was no washing machine. All laundry was done by hand in a big tub or tin bath. If clothes were very dirty they were laid on a ridged wash-board and scrubbed with a scrubbing brush.

There was so little traffic on the road which ran through our village that it was safe to play with my friends in the road. We played different games at different times of the year. We played with marbles, we skipped with rope, we bowled hoops, we played hop scotch.

Sometimes we made houses for our dolls using the soft clean sandy dust to make little walls with twigs for doorways and leaves for tables and chairs. Very rarely did a car go by – perhaps one or two in a week! Horses and carts or farm tumbrils (2 wheeled farm cart) drove carefully past, their drivers calling out to us as they went by as we knew them all.

Sometimes I stayed with my grand parents in Norwich. One day I was sitting at the table eating raspberries and custard perched on a cushion to make me tall enough. Suddenly the back door flew open and my youngest uncle, still a boy at grammar school, rushed in, snatched me up – my spoon still dripping red juice on my grandma’s clean cloth! Sat me on his shoulders and rushed out of the front door, shooting, “I’m taking baby to see the circus people!” My startled grandmother ran after him to the door crying, “O, do be careful! Do be careful!” My uncle ran on with me hanging grimly to his hair up to the top of the street, where it joined another street called Earlham Road. What I saw then almost took away what breath I had left! Large elephants plodded past pulling gaily painted cages on wheels. Inside the cages were loins and tigers and monkeys. Behind these were several clowns jumping about laughing and banging tambourines. It wasn’t until they hand all gone by that I realised that I was still holding my spoon and wearing my bib!!

A few days later my aunts took me shopping. Suddenly one of them cried, “Look! Look up in the sky! There’s an aeroplane!” I looked. I was terrified! I’d never seen anything like this large, noisy thing before! How did it stay up there! I was afraid it would fall out of the sky and squash us.

Eighty years ago, in 1914, that same uncle who took me to see the circus animals was staying with us during his summer holidays. We were just sitting down to have lunch when he came rushing in, just back from a visit to our nearest town, “ Charles! ***” he shouted “England has declared war on Germany! I’m going to join up!” “Don’t be a fool boy!” said my father “You’re still at school and you have to be 18 to join the army”

Nothing anyone said made any different. Eventually he fibbed about his age and was soon wearing khaki. When his captain discovered his true age of just 17, he was told he couldn’t fight, but could join the R.A.M.C a medical team who looked after soldiers when they were ill or hurt.

Not long after this, my father was called up into the army and after a few weeks we were made very sad when he came home on leave and told us he was being sent overseas. He went to Egypt, Italy and France and we didn’t see him again for 3 years.

During those 3 years we had a very difficult time, German submarines kept our ships from bringing in food. Lots of things became very scarce. My small sister had never seen a banana or an orange until after the war was over. No wheat could come in from Canada so bread was made with whatever could be used. Sometimes it was hard and nearly black.
It was a great treat if my sister and I had half and egg each and half a small fish was even a greater treat.

Worst of all was the air raids. Big airships called Zeppelins flew all over night after night dropping bombs. One night – almost morning as it was getting light, I woke hearing an odd scrapping noise on out roof. I crept out of bed lifted the curtain – only to see the underneath of a huge Zeppelin passing over our house! The scrapping noise was made by the ends of the mooring ropes used to fasten down the Zeppelins before pulling them in to their big sheds when they reached home.

My mother wouldn’t believe me when I told her. She said that I had been dreaming. Later that day other people said they’d seen the Zeppelins too.

I was staying with my mother and sister on my uncle’s farm at Scarning when there was a Zeppelin raid on Dereham. When the Zeppelins passed over the farmhouse every living creature was deadly quite but when the bombs dropped every living thing gave tongue! Horse neighed, cows mooed, turkeys gobbled, ducks quacked, dogs barked, cocks crowed – I’ve never since heard such a noise.

We looked out of the window, and in the bright moonlight could see the Zeppelin like a giant cigar hanging over Dereham.

Next morning my uncle drove us in his horse and trap to Dereham station. Houses in Dereham had broken tiles and chimneys. Butchers in stripped blue and white aprons, bakers and grocers in white aprons were sweeping up broken glass all through the Market Place. Houses in Church Street had broken roofs and there was an odd smell in the air.

Nobody could think why the Zeppelins had come to Dereham – there was nothing important to destroy there. Then it was thought that they had followed the railway-line and imagined that they had found Norwich.

Everyone was glad when the war ended.

I was very glad because my father came safely home.

More of Beryl Norton:

Beryl Glady's Norton born in 1907 was the daughter of Charles Edward Burton (1879) a School Master and his wife Alice Maud Girling.
Beryl had one younger sibling, a sister Maria born in 1913.
Beryl married John William Norton in 1943 at East Dereham
John was born in 1904 at Mattishall Burgh, the son of John Lindoe Norton (1871) and Mildred Minerva Vinnecombe - he is part of the Mattishall & Mattishall Burgh Norton Family - For more information on the Norton's click


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