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My early life in Thorpe Saint Andrew

1943 - 1956

By Derrick Powell

1900-1949 History 1900-1949 Memories 1900-1949 Gallery

I was born at a very early age on Saturday 26th June 1943 to parents William Powell and Olive Powell (nee Browne) who were originally from Lowestoft in Suffolk. They moved to Thorpe Saint Andrew as my father had a job offer as a Dental Technician (making false teeth) as jobs in his home town were few and far between, as World War 2 (1939 to 1945) was in progress. They settled in Thorpe Saint Andrew which is a small hamlet and suburb of Norwich in the county of Norfolk. It is situated about two miles east of the city centre, outside the city boundary in the district of Broadlands. It constitutes a civil parish covering an area of 1,740 acres (2.72sq miles) which had a population of 13,762 according to the 2001 census. It is also the administrative headquarters of the Broadlands district council. Thorpe is in the Domesday Book, spelt “Torp” and is a Scandinavian word meaning village. It is thought that the Danes were in East Anglia as early as 870 AD and in 1004 Sweyn (King of Denmark and parts of Norway) and his ships came up the river Yare to Norwich. There is also evidence that Thorpe was occupied by the Romans and confirmed with the discovery of various remains. The earliest references found that relate to the parish are under the names of “Thorpe Episcopi” and “Thorpe-next-Norwich”. In later years it has been known as “Thorpe Saint Andrew”. Parts of the original village can still be seen along the Yarmouth Road leading out of Norwich. Features here include St Andrews parish Church, the former parish infant’s school, the River garden public house and the multigabled Buck public house.

Now back to my family. We lived in a very small cottage at No 19, Yarmouth Road and known then as a “two up two down” two bedrooms up stairs and a front room and kitchen downstairs. There was a small fireplace in the kitchen and that’s all for keeping us warm in winter. A gas stove for cooking and boiler for washing clothes and boiling water for a hot bath on Friday nights. I was first in the galvanised tin bath, (which usually was kept hanging on a nail in the coal house outside), and I guess mum and dad followed me (I was tucked up in bed and asleep when it was their turn). No luxury of central heating and no running water. The only means of getting water was from a cold tap in the coal house across the yard with an old brown stone sink in the corner. It was called the coal house as this is where we kept the coal (if the name fits use it) for using in the kitchen fire place. The coal was delivered in hessian sacks from a lorry parked on the busy main road. I remember the coalmen having a sack turned inside out like a pixie hat  and put over their heads and shoulders to keep the coal dust from soiling their clothes.


The Powell Family 1946

Mind you their hands and faces looked like something from the Black and White minstrel show. The toilet facilities were somewhat primitive as well, it was situated at the top of the garden (the garden being a rough piece of ground the size of a postage stamp), and a tiny brick shelter and not very nice if you were taken short. At night we had to use a “gazunder”, jerry pot placed under the bed if we wanted to spend a penny. You might say it was pretty rough in those days; still we survived and made the best of what we had as most people in the area were in the same situation. Being war time, it presented its problems as most food items were on rationing, and I just could not understand when you went to the grocers you could only buy a certain amount of food according to how many stamps you had, even if you had the money to pay for them.

Thorpe Narrows c1950

We were fortunate in one respect that next door adjoining our cottage was “Mac’s Cafe”; they also had a grocers shop next door to the cafe so we didn’t have to go far for a quick brew or some bread. It was owned by the McCarthy family, Annie, who had two Sons, Levi and Patrick. The cafe was mainly used by “Truckers” (to use a modern phrase); Lorries were parked on the lay-by just a few meters up on the A1242, (formally the A47) on the opposite side of the road. They were on their way to the large sugar beet factory at Cantley which processed the sugar beet into the finished product. Just along from where we lived was “The Stork Nursing Home” as the name suggests it was a large three story building where the ladies gave birth to their offspring and were cared for by Grace and Mimi Smith and a team of nurses. I remember distinctly the smell of disinfectant whenever you walked into the building.

The birthing rooms were on the first floor and convalescent wards were opposite which looked out on beautiful lawns and rockery beds crammed full of flowers, it was such a peaceful setting and must of assisted the new Mum’s in recovering from giving birth as in those days they had to stay in hospital for two weeks before they were allowed home. I had a friend called Peter who was the son of Grace and we used to play in the vacant wards whenever we could, unfortunately for me Peter had to go to boarding school at term time so we only had the school holidays to explore and play in the garden and apple orchard but it was great fun never the less. Moving just down Yarmouth Road (just entering into what was then called Thorp Narrows as it was a very narrow road for the main A47) was a little sweet shop owned by an old lady who always dressed in a black shawl. The shop had small windows and entrance door, but as soon as you opened the door the smell of all kinds of sweets and chocolate just filled your head with pleasure and lovely thoughts of peppermint, rose drops, liquorice, gob stoppers, dip dabs, pineapple rock and fair rock with many more types of sweets to numerous to mention. They were stacked on shelves all round the shop in tall jars with glass lids which had a rubber seal round it to keep the sweets fresh. My favourite was Fair Rock, in all different flavours and shapes, some were so big I could hardly get them in my mouth and just one piece would last for hours. Trouble was that sweets were on ration so it was a special treat for me to have 4 ounces about once a month, and did I look forward to going into that sweet shop.

Thorpe Narrows, photographed by George Swain c1950 and reproduced by courtesy of http://www.picture.norfolk.gov

Thorpe Narrows c1950

I first started school in the infants called “The Old School” which was at 9, School Lane opposite Jenners Boatyard, now occupied by Canham Consulting who are an engineering company. It only had two classrooms as I remember and two playgrounds, one at the front of the school and one at the back. I stayed there for a few years until it was time to go to the big school (as I called it). This was Hillside Avenue in those days, now known as Hillside Avenue Primary and Nursery School today. We had to wear the school uniform, a blue blazer with a badge on the breast pocket, and a tie with blue and gold stripes running diagonal down its length. I felt very proud to wear my new uniform and had to keep it clean and very smart as it was the only one I had as we could not afford any replacements until I had outgrown it. Some of the teacher’s names were Miss Ward, Miss Raines (girl’s gym teacher always in a track suit), Mr Sturman (Gardening); Mr Gotts (giddy gotts as we called him), Mr Anderson (science teacher) and Mr Beaumont (geography and boys gym teacher)

Thorpe Narrows c1950 and reproduced by courtesy of http://www.picture.norfolk.gov

Oh! How I remember Mr Beaumont, he gave me the slipper one afternoon. We used the wooden classroom on the top site near the canteen and football pitches. It was one afternoon, warm and sunny, and I along with three of my classmates were looking out of the window ( as we were bored with the geography lesson) when Mr Beaumont shouted “if I catch you looking out of the window again I will have you out in front of the class for the slipper”, (a size 10 plimsoll). Well no sooner after he said that a loud noise of plates being dropped was heard, it was some girls carrying crockery to the canteen next door, all smashed on the ground so I looked out of the window to see what was happening. That was it, my fate had been sealed, Mr Beaumont shouted “you three boys out in the front of the class now” and with that took out his size 10 plimsoll and we all had six of the best, three whacks of his slipper on each cheek of our behinds. It brought tears to my eyes but tried not to cry, and that incident has stayed with me all of these years.

Opposite our cottage was AG Wards Boat builders, I remember the long tarmac and pea shingle drive that wound its way down to the very large house with beautiful lawns, flower beds and ornate statues, I believe this is now called “Thorpe Hall Close”. To the right hand side of the house were the boat building shelters that stood on the river bank and were made to accommodate the building of the cruisers. Some were “dry dock” where the carpenters could stand on platforms to enable them to craft the beginning of the build, and others were wet and level with the river, this would enable the finished cruisers to float out into the main river after final completion and ready to use as hire craft. The building shelters were constructed of wood with rafters and supporting beams. The Swallows and Swifts (wild birds) used to fly in during the breeding season and build their nests in the corners and apex of the roofs. It was so fascinating for me to watch the agility and skill of these birds to bring in building material such as small twigs, moss and fine grasses to enable them to finely hone their nests for bringing up their tiny chicks after hatching. My Dad was very skilful in working with his hands as he served as a Shipwright in his early years at Lowestoft before training as a Dental Technician. Mr Ward asked him if he would be interested in splicing up some ropes for the cruisers to use when tying up at moorings. As this was just after the war had finished, there was not much money around so Dad welcomed the thought of earning some extra cash and said “yes”.  He would arrive home after his day job around 6:00 pm, have his tea and then start his work (more of a joy to him) at Wards boatyard. I asked him if it was possible for me to come with him sometimes and watch as he made up the ropes. He asked Mr Ward who didn’t mind and Mum was also OK with this. So the very next evening I was off with my Dad down to the boatyard. This was a totally new experience for me, as I had only seen the big house from the main road and often wondered what it was like. You can imagine my excitement as an 8 year old boy going with his Dad to explore new places. I could not believe how big the house was and the lovely green lawns that finished at the water’s edge of the river Yare. It was summertime with warm evenings and the silence, with only the sweet song of the birds and the lapping of the river against the hulls of the moored cruisers, shiny and all new….to me it was magical.

Thorpe Hall c1950

As Dad started to work the ropes, I distinctly remember the smell of boat varnish (the smell even now brings back fond memories) it was quite strong in the warm evening air, and seeing the reflection of the river upon the new glossed hulls just filled me with joy. Within Dads bag of tools was a weird looking piece of wood which fascinated me, he called it his “spike”, and it was approximately 18 inches long with a round end at the top which tapered down to a very sharp point at the other. The rounded end was very smooth and shiny which just fitted into the palm of his hand. The spike was used for parting the twined pieces of rope and inserting another for strength, it was made of a wood called “Lignum Vitae” and known for its extraordinary strength, toughness and density and if put in water it would sink, so Dad  said, but I never did try it. After a few visits to the boatyard I was eager to have a go in one of the small rowing boats, so after a few instructions from Dad I set out on my own keeping close to the river bank under my his watchful eye. Those times out in the row boat enjoying the freedom of the river have stayed with me throughout my life. Seeing the river birds like Coot and Moorhen and even the Coypu (known as a little beaver). I wanted to stay down by the river for as long as I could, but then I would hear Dad say “ come on Son it’s time to go home” so off we went to see Mum, a quick wash and then to bed. I would lie in bed reliving the moments of that evening until I drifted off to sleep.

Thorpe Hall, photographed by George Swain c1950 and reproduced by courtesy of http://www.picture.norfolk.gov

The boundary of Mr Ward’s side garden had a very large flint and brick wall surrounding it and on the other side of the wall was a huge piece of land called “Cary’s Meadow”. This was actually a farm which grazed dairy cattle, the entrance to the meadow and farm was opposite the junction of Harvey Lane and Yarmouth Road. You can just imagine what fun my friends and I had and the mischief we got up to when playing in the farm and on the meadows. In the winter the fields used to flood (not very deep) but just enough to be safe so we could go sliding on. These fields stretched to the banks of the river Yare with overhanging Willow Trees which we climbed, and on various occasions ripped a hole in our trousers and got told off when we got home. Just on the river bank near the railway bridge (which spanned the main land to the island) was a small green house boat supported by V shaped blocks of wood to stop it tipping over, and in it lived an old man named Horace Hipkins. He had no toilet or washing facilities and used the river to wash in; you could smell him a mile off. Outside of his boat was a pile of old tins which presumably once had soup and beans etc in, this pile of tins never seemed to get smaller so who cleared these up was a mystery to me.

Looking west towards the city from the meadow you could see Thorpe Power Station, the very large cargo boats used to sail up the river Yare from Gt Yarmouth to supply coal for burning as fuel to keep the power station running. It was such a large building situated right next to the river so the boats could moor up and be unloaded. It was a fascinating sight to see as a type of small railway track was suspended high out over the river with an entrance and exit on opposite sides of the building at the top of the power station. Suspended under this railway track were two cabin cranes just large enough to accommodate one driver. The cranes had long cables, attached to which were huge grab scoops, these cabin cranes came out of the station, stop over the moored boat and drop the grabs into the hold to pick up the coal, then hoist up the full grab and trundle round the rail track back into the power station to unload the coal and return out the other side to do the same process again until the boat was empty. The return trip to Gt Yarmouth for the boats were usually without any problems as they were empty of cargo, however, the journey up the river sometimes presented problems as being fully loaded they would get grounded on the river bottom, especially when turning the Whitlingham bend.

Norwich Power Station

Norwich Power Station, pictured by A.A. King & reproduced by courtesy of http://www.picture.norfolk.gov

 I have seen on many occasions a boat being stuck and having to wait until high tide to move on. Just inside the entrance to Cary’s meadow on the right hand side were great stacks of logs laid horizontally. These belonged to British Telecom or in those days it was the GPO, (General Post Office). They were covered in a tar paint to preserve them as they were used as telegraph poles. We used to climb and run over the logs and often get told off as if one of the logs rolled it could trap a leg or arm underneath and we would never lift it up to get free. In summer the tar used to melt in the sun and go soft and end up on our clothes…another telling off from our parents.

Derrick Powell aged 11

I had some great times living in Thorpe Saint Andrew playing in the meadows and messing about on the river. But these times were to come to an abrupt end as my mother sadly passed away with Cancer after a long illness and several visits to the hospital when I was only 10 years of age. I was never told of her illness but remember that there were days when she just wanted to stay in bed. In her last few weeks I was asked if I wanted to go and stay with my Aunt and Uncle and my two cousins for a while which I was happy to do but never realising that it would be the last time I ever saw my Mum. I was playing outside my Aunties house one afternoon when Dad rolled up on his bicycle; I was so pleased to see him as I had not seen him for a while and gave him a big cuddle but he looked tired and was wearing a black tie. He asked me to come inside as he wanted to tell me something. After sitting with him and my Auntie he told me that my beloved Mum had died. Not fully understanding the implications of our situation he asked me if I wanted to come home with him to Thorpe, and of course I did. So after packing up my clothes and saying thank you to my Auntie, Dad and I rode home to an empty house without Mum. He told me that we would have to look after ourselves from now on and make the best of what we had, but we did have each other. It was hard going for a long while as Dad still had to go to work which meant I would have to spend more time on my own as we had no immediate family around us.

Derrick Powell, aged 11

A few years rolled on and we were coping all right, certainly not the best of times but we survived. Opposite where Dad worked was a Drapery shop so he used to pop in and buy me some new clothes, like socks, trousers and underwear etc when my old ones needed replacing. The shop was owned by a lady named Mrs King (Stella) and she had lost her husband a few years previous but still managed to run the business on her own. She had no children of her own and wanted to meet me, so dad and I were invited round one Saturday evening for dinner. She was a very kind and loving lady and we got on very well and after a while we all made this a weekly occurrence. As time rolled on I could sense that Dad was enjoying seeing Stella and she looked very fondly to him. She also looked after me as a Mum and made sure that I always had some nice meals to eat and tried to put some flesh on my skinny frame. It was good to see Dad happy again and as for me, I looked forward to going down to the shop (which also had living accommodation above) on Saturdays as Stella decided to get a television set so we could see various programmes in the evening. One particular programme I enjoyed was “Six Five Special” with all the latest pop songs introduced by Pete Murray. I didn’t enjoy too much the cycle ride home to Thorpe late in the evening with Dad as it was quite late and sometimes cold and wet, but within five minutes of arriving home I quickly undressed and went to bed. My Dad eventually married Stella who became my step mum and I could not have wanted a more kindly and loving person to look after me and of course my Dad. So the time came when we moved away from our little cottage in Thorpe Saint Andrew and moved to Stella’s shop within the city of Norwich. It was also just across the road to where Dad worked as a Dental Mechanic which also saved him the long bike ride every morning and evening, so it all made sense in the end. I was sad to leave Thorpe as it held so many memories for me growing up, and the fun I had with my friends playing in the fields and down by the river. It was the start of a new chapter in my life and also living as a family again with smiles and laughter, and I also had my own bedroom which was nice.


 


A new beginning with lots of tales to tell. New friendships and new school, and later looking for a career in the workplace after leaving school. Girlfriends and getting my first motorbike, then my car. So much to put onto paper but I guess these stories will have to wait until another day and may never be told unless I tell my secrets to my darling wife, my children or my grandchildren. Seventy years of life is worth savouring and just waiting for the right time.

Derrick Powell 2015

The story above is dedicated to my loving Father, William (Bill), my Mother, Olive (Darkie) and my Stepmother Stella. They taught me Compassion and understanding, they showed me Love, they gave me Hope, and they gave me a work ethic. Not to be materialistic and be grateful for the love and joy of your family no matter how small or how large where ever they are in the world. I will always be eternally grateful to these people who sacrificed so much in their lives to ensure I grew up with true life values. God bless you.

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