The Way It Was. A View of The Not-So Idyllic Trowse of the Past

It is sometimes easy to fall into the trap of picturing a pleasant rural idyll of life in a village such as Trowse at the beginning of the last century, but Jack Rix does not remember his early years as such. Though always dean and never hungry he says he would not wish to return to life as it was then.

Born in one of the Block Hill cottages, his parents moved the family shortly afterwards to School Terrace. There he and his ten brothers and sisters lived with their parents and an aunt until Jack was seventeen years old. It was a tight fit: his parents had one of the three bedrooms, and all the girls another – two of them sharing a double bed with their epileptic aunt and linking arms with her so that they would know if she had a fit during the night. The boys slept together in a bed in the box room where, he says, he “got stuck in the middle.”
With such a large and close-knit family, it was necessary for everyone to do their bit There were always boots and shoes to be cleaned and polished, clothes to be washed in the big copper in the comer of the kitchen, water to be fetched from one of the two pumps along the terrace, the allotment to be tended and meals to be prepared and cooked in the wall-oven, though with so many it was impossible to eat at the same time.

Saturday night was bath-night, with the boys bathing first in front of the living room fire, followed by the girls.

As well as taking his turn with the household chores, Jack looked after a donkey on the Common for a man called Jimmy Parish, whose job it had been to put up telegraph wires along the railway line. While working one day, Jimmy’s safety strap snapped and he fell, breaking his back and becoming paralysed from the waist down. From then on, if he needed to go out, Jack’s mother and others would help Jimmy into a large basket on wheels which would then be harnessed to the donkey.

There are not many happy memories of Trowse School. Jack remembers his teacher as a violent man who loved to use the cane, “if you could not learn something, he would knock it into you…. be would come up behind you, lift you to your feet by your ears and bang your head with his fists.” The school children did get their occasional revenge, however, by letting the air out of the teacher’s bicycle tyres. Another person on whom the boys played practical jokes was a retired German nurse. One night, Jack remembers, they filled her outdoor “privy” with gorse and holly then waited, hidden in The Dell, to hear her shrieks.

From the age of twelve, Jack had no formal schooling, though he had been working towards going to the Eaton Grammar School by studying on his own at night In the end it was decided that there was not enough money to pay for the “red Cap” uniform and books. Getting these would have meant that the other children would go without, and this was something his father would not let allow to happen.

One early memory was seeing a Zeppelin right over School Terrace. The house lights were extinguished and the children told to hide under the kitchen table. Curious about what was overhead, though, Jack did not do as he was told and remembers the scene quite clearly: “There were men looking out from the air-ship, from the platform beneath. It was Arminghall that received the hits that time.”
Trowse was better off at the beginning of the century for shops, services and pubs than it is now. Opposite the former rectory, in front of Church Common, stood several buildings, including a stable, a bakery and a corn merchants. On the corner of the Common, opposite the present bakery, there was a fountain where, later on, two rather, eccentric sisters living on Bracondale, paid for a trough to be placed in order that the animals being driven to market could drink. Around the edge of the Common, on the opposite side of the road from Russell terrace, were visible footings of buildings predating both Russell and School Terraces.

Jack is able to recall many of the people who worked in the village – amongst them Mr Perry, William Spruce, Billy Barrett and Mr Yaxley of the Pineapple, the Royal Oak, the Crown Point and the White Horse pubs respectively. Maggie Simmons kept paper shop, Charlie Rose the bakery and George Greengrass the Village Stores. Nellie . Edwards, one of the schoolteachers, lived at Gothic Cottage on The Street The black-smith was Mr Howard. Mr Neale ran the Trowse Cafe (now the Parish Rooms) and Mr Allen was the Station Master. The farmhouse on White Horse Lane was known as Hospital Farm, possibly due to the village connections with the Great Hospital on Bisbopgate. At the time Jack Rix was a boy. Hospital Farm was owned by the Warnes family, though Charlie Lambert was the Steward. The streets of Trowse were cleaned by Charlie Guymer, and peace was kept by Sgt Clarke. In other parts of the city, though, such as Ber and Barrack Streets, the police would only walk in pairs because of the terrible street fighting.

On Christmas Day Jack and his brothers and sisters woke early in the morning, although what they found in their stockings was probably a little different from what children found at the bottom of their beds last Christmas. Jack remembers that be would pull out an orange, an apple, a tin whistle and half a dozen nuts, “and that was it – that was all we had – but I’m still alive and breathing!” Roast beef was what his family ate at Christmas, when they had “a good feed-up”. I am ashamed to say that I asked Jack if this was something they ate often. He laughed at the thought, saying that his mother most frequently cooked “bone stew”, with the children being sent to Hasting’s vegetable shop on Ber Street, late on a Saturday evening, to get vegetables which would otherwise have been thrown out. Winkles or mussels were something else he was also frequently given as it kept him occupied for a long time and ensured, as his mother said, that “the children didn’t eat too much.” Other food included stolen turnip tops, which were then boiled.

When anyone was ill enough, Dr Darren came in a pony and trap from All Saints Green. Jack remembers him sitting at the foot of the bed and taking a tiny dog from each of his pockets, saying that this was “to keep the patients occupied.” Trowse had a nurse who used to ride everywhere by bike. Eventually she was bought a Morris Minor to help her get to her patients more speedily but, unfortunately, the fact that she could not drive had been When been overlooked. When Jack was older he frequently drove for her.

One was for a boy to earn a little extra money was to get up before dawn on Market Day, walk to Bixley and there give the cattle a “huge feed to blow them up and make them look fat, then drive them to market.” The whole area around Trowse was a cattle centre from Thursday mornings to Sunday nights, with the animals being kept all round the station, along Martineau Lane and on “Pineapple and Pears Meadow” – all of them waiting to go to, or just having come from, the market. Jack’s first “proper” job was at the age of fourteen, with the Anglo American Oil Company, situated at St Anne’s Wharf on the bend of the river approaching King Street. The nearby, steeply arched old Carrow Bridge was still standing then. The work was seasonal, which was the common way of employing people at that time.

For transporting anything along the river, wherries were used. One of these, carrying sugar beet to Cantley, was the “Widgeon”. She was eventually bombed and sunk at Yarmouth during the second war. Another wherry was lived in by Jack Benns and his wife. When they eventually retired they moved to 1 The Street in Trowse. Though it is hard to believe now, the water level earlier this century was such that the wherries were able to come right up the river to fetch lime from the pit where the Ski Club now stands. It was wheeled to them in bogeys through a tunnel running under Whitlingham Lane. Another wherry, docking opposite Thorpe Station, had the job of taking the city rubbish away.

During the 1930’s work was scarce. Jack managed to get a job at the Crown Point Estate as a woodsman during the winter months. Over the summer he looked after the house boiler and heating system. Later in life, Jack and his wife moved to Gray’s Lodge on Whitlingham Lane, where Newton Close is now. Though the floor had been lowered in part to make standing room for a grandfather clock, the ceilings were so low that Jack could just squeeze his hand between the top of his head and the beams, and a ‘visiting friend once banged his bead so hard on the hanging gas lamp that he had to have it stitched. The landscape around Gray’s Lodge was open then, with nothing but meadows between it and Chestnut Cottage further up the lane. The house was demolished long ago, but there is still a photograph of it in his room. Needing an allotment, Jack approached the local council and discovered, to his amazement, that he was to have the very same piece of land that his cither had looked after when Jack himself had been a boy.

Jack says he would like to see the changes along Whitlingham Lane, but he is now unable to travel “In any case,” he says, “the last time I went to Trowse I was ashamed of it. It looked dirty.” “How did it used to look?” I asked him. “Clean. Smart Tidy,” he replied. “It doesn’t look like that any more. It used to be a friendly village, where everyone helped each other.

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