Friday, 5 January 2007

My early years by Joan Smith

I was born on the 5th of December 1919 at my parent’s home which was Daffodil House Great Dunham. My father worked on the land and my mother was a school teacher at Lexham School. With my mother being a teacher she felt that it would not be right for me to go to school to start with, so she educated me at home until I was 10 years old, which was when I started at Great Dunham School. The classroom was partitioned off as now with the infant class in the smaller end and the main class up the big end with two teachers and the children facing either end. In 1930-1934 the Standard 1/2/3 at one end and 4/5/6 at the larger end. There was a huge fire in the main part and one in the smaller end with a guard round it. Joan remembers not being able to sit against the back wall in the main part because it was always damp and running with water. Used to sit on forms with 4 children to a form and a desk in front with lift up lids.
PIC 29
Religious Knowledge first thing with a hymn with no piano or music. Then Arithmetic and then break. There were two playgrounds - the boys went out of the front door and round the side to their playground and the girls went out of the side door - the playground had railings down the middle. Then geography/history and then recitations which was very popular when you could recite your favourite poem or readings etc. Then we had lunch. In the afternoon there was needlework/dressmaking for the girls and rag rugs for the boys, or knitting for the girls and craft for the boys. The day finished with more recitations.
In 1930 - 34 a pump and two wash basins were installed in the side hall area near the back door. This water was for washing hands. The toilets were outside earth closets - 2 girls and 1 boy. Drinking water was collected from the house next to the school which had a well. It was collected in a bucket once a day and put in the hall area and covered with a cloth. A large black kettle was filled from the bucket and put on the open fire in the classroom. There were two fire places in the classroom, one in the middle of the junior end and one up the infant end. You could not sit against the back wall of the classroom because it was always running with water, from condensation. There has always been a wood block floor, which was replaced about 1994.

Every Friday afternoon all the children went across the road to the field opposite Church Farm to play games. At playtime in school the boys came out of the front door and went round the side to the playground, whilst the girls went out through the back door. The boys and girls had separate playgrounds.

When the dentist visited the school the dreaded dentist’s van stayed outside the front door of the school for three days!

When pupils became 11 years old the boys and girls went on a Thursday each week on the train from Dunham Station at about 8.30am to Swaffham. The girls went for cookery classes and the boys for woodwork classes. The cookery classes were held in the old Workhouse down the Watton Road in Swaffham. They came back by train to Dunham at about 4pm - the girls carefully carrying their cooking!
There’s not the activities that there were. They had so many events every week, these were held at the school or in the village hall. Whist drives, social evenings, mothers union, sewing parties, bowls club. There was a men’s club every night at the village hall where they played snooker/billiards. People got together and organised things. There was an Annual event held at the Rectory every August Bank Holiday, a fete when people came from miles around because there were so many different events taking place. In the evening a very popular dance took place at the old village hall. In the September 1929 magazine it states that there were 500 people in the afternoon and evening.

In the 1920’s a small fair was held on a little meadow near Briar Row - Mr. Spencer has a bungalow built on this land now. There were roundabouts, swinging boats, rock stall, coconut shies and a shooting galley. The large fair engine generated the power to run the lights and roundabouts

Mrs Warnes at Great Dunham Hall ran the Girl's Friendly Society. This involved Mrs Warnes in many hours of work teaching the members various crafts. We also entered many county competitions for essays and recitations etc., and were very successful. Each April we gathered primroses in the Hall Farm ditches and packed them in damp paper in boxes and sent them to various children’s missions in London. The older members played tennis on summer evenings on the court at the Hall. At Christmas we had a lovely party in the Big Kitchen. Mrs Warnes, Mrs Everington and Mrs Hunter organised children’s plays which were presented at the village hall.

The shops and the school kept the village going. There used to be other shops as well as one on Castle Acre road and one at the Petrol Station, so there were 3 shops with the P0. There was a blacksmiths, Bambridge’s carpenters, a chimney sweep, a shoe mender who was also the cycle repair man.

We had to collect milk from a farm. You went with your jug or can and the milk was measured out into the container using half pint or pint cans. Or a man came on a bike with the milk from the farm with the half pint and one pint cans with a looped handle hanging off the handle bars.
During the war we were lucky in the country as we could grow things to eat. We had no fridge but had a wooden safe with a holey (perforated) front which was on a North wall (out of the sun) where we kept milk etc. If you had a well the butter would be put in the bucket lowered into the well to keep it cool. We lit a stove once a week on Saturdays when a big meal was cooked and all the cakes for the week were cooked. The stove was rarely lit in the rest of the week. In the big houses they had the stoves lit all the time. We had a coal fire lit all the time which had side bits to boil the vegetables on and the kettle, the rest of the week. The stove had to be black leaded once or twice a week with a brush to put the black lead on and then polished off.
Many of the houses in Dunham had 3 families living in them, particularly down North Street. These are now mostly family houses. They had wash houses across a path from the main house in which was a copper which had to have a fire lit under it mostly on Mondays and all the weeks washing was done. No other washing was done during the week. Soap used was Sunlight soap and Hudson’s washing powder and soda. There was a wooden ‘copper' stick to lift the clothes out of the copper with, a washboard to scrub the clothes on up and down, baths of water for rinsing the clothes and Reckitts blue bags to make the clothes whiter and Robin starch for stiffness and a wooden mangle that had to be turned to squeeze all the water out of the linen. No drip dry clothes in those days and then all hung out to dry and pray for a good drying day
For ironing a heater, iron shaped like a V had to be put in a coal fire and then put in the ironing box to iron the clothes or a flat iron was used which had to be heated and then a cover clipped on when heated up.
After we had electricity in the 1940’s life became easier - electric stoves. Electric coppers, spin driers, radios that plugged in instead of accumulators, which had to be charged up weekly by Mr Sayer of Little Dunham, and then television.

We had a village policeman who came from Litcham and he went round all the villages on a bicycle. He was very good with the children, he would stop and talk with them. He was admired by many. He wasn’t strict but kept order.

I used to travel a lot on the train as it was not expensive. Twice a year there was a special train, and for 9 old pence you could go into Kings Lynn to the Mart, and for one shilling and six pence you could go to Hunstanton. The coal merchant, Mr Marshall used a covered lorry and took trips at the weekend to Wells. You paid to go on his lorry.

Farm workers worked a six day week with very long hours each day. All land was worked with horses. Every thing done on the farm was done with horses. A man would have to walk behind a horse and plough up and down the field, one furrow at a time all day long. In the winter the ploughmen would work from dawn to dusk walking up and down the fields with two horses pulling the plough. The fields were much smaller than they are now and some farmers had more acres than others. All the farms grew mixed crops of cereal, mangles and Swedes which were cut up for the cattle by a machine that had to have a handle turned manually. This meant many more horses were kept on some farms than others. In Great Dunham in the 20’s and 30’s, there were 12 different farmers in the village. Each farm had a team man who was responsible for the care of the horses. The Team man had to go to the farm an hour before the agricultural workers started and feed all the horses, mostly on oats, bran, linseed cake and hay.

At harvest time the corn was cut and made into beautifully shaped stacks and thatched to keep out the rain. During the autumn and winter the threshing machine complete with steam engine, drum and elevator came and threshed the corn which was filled into sacks which held more weight than is now allowed (aprox. 2 cwts). The work men found this very hard work to load onto four wheeled wagons. Some corn was stored in the barns and most was sold to the Corn Merchants. It had to be taken to Dunham Station for the goods trains to take it to Granaries in Swaffham or Maltings and Granaries at Dereham. At this time of year the roads were full of wagons coming from all the surrounding farms in the area to go to Dunham Station, so Dunham Station yard and the large goods sheds was very busy. The team men from the various farms made sure the horses were wearing various horse brasses and blinkers to look very smart - it was quite a competition between them all.

Two horses and a long loader took the milk churns from farms at West Lexham to Dunham Station each morning through the village.

Nearly all the men folk in Dunham worked on the land. Wages were low but some workers had free houses which were called tied houses, but if you no longer worked on the farm you had to leave the house. When tractors started less men worked on the farms and after the 1939 - 1945 war agriculture altered very quickly as new farm machines took over, man power and people had to find other employment.

The Hall farm had a large flock of sheep and at the lambing season the shepherd had a shepherds hut on wheels which he lived in and slept in all the time during the lambing season. One night the shepherd had been in North Street going back to his hut and he missed the path and walked into a large pond and was not found until the next day. Every year at the sheep dipping season the Clarke brothers from Little Dunham bought their horse and cart and the sheep tunnel and equipment to Rookery Farm. On the Fransham Road there was a lake that had a large pond near it and various people brought their sheep here to be dipped.
Every year on October 11th (Michaelmas day) it was a familiar sight to see two or three horse drawn wagons loaded with furniture going through the village with father driving and the mother and children on the back of the wagon. This was the date farm workers changed jobs - they called it 'Flitting".

In the 1920’s and 30’s there were many tramps on the road. The ones that came through Dunham were on their way to Gressenhall Workhouse having come from Gayton Workhouse the day before and they would sleep in stacks etc and then call at houses in the morning with a tin can asking for hot water for tea, hoping they would be given a can of hot tea and hopefully some food. If they were lucky enough to get food and drink they would make a sign in the road near the house to let other tramps know where they had been lucky!

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