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
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
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
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
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 HERE