Logo bar

These books, although not necessarily about local subjects, have been recommended by our members.  They all have something to do with history, events or local people.  If you have any books you would like to recommend, please get in touch via our Facebook page.

Servants - Book
‘Servants, A Downstairs View of Twentieth-century Britain’
by Lucy Lethbridge
A century and a half ago the only option for a working class girl could well be to go ‘into service’.  As younger siblings came along she would need to move out to make space for them.  At best she worked extremely long hours for the security of accommodation for life in pleasant surroundings for kind employers.  However her room was usually spartan and situated in garret or basement.  Wearing a uniform and being at the mercy of her employer’s every whim she lost much of her identity.  The more mundane jobs such as clearing grates and laying fires had to be done before the family got up.  If one of the family did appear, the servant girl had to make a quick exit or even turn to face the wall.
This book is very informative but also easy to read because it is packed with actual examples. For instance, an employer who couldn’t themselves boil the proverbial egg, expected the yolk to be in the centre or the breakfast was returned to the kitchen to be done again.
The relationship between master or mistress and servant could be very intimate especially in the case of valet or lady’s maid, who would for instance dress and bath their employer.  The position of housekeeper, butler, or governess was often a lonely one.  Although they sometimes became quite close to the family they were still a servant, but on the other hand they distanced themselves from the other servants.  After a day off a maid might find her chores waiting for her on her return.  What happened if they became ill or too old to be of use?  The workhouse always beckoned especially if they lived in a tied house.

With the 20th century came a lot of changes.  Two world wars, women’s suffrage, the availability of shop and factory work, and electricity in the home all played their part in changing the relationship between ‘Upstairs’ and ‘Downstairs’ that had been such an integral part of British life since Victorian times.                                                                                                                      Barbara Ayers

Great War Fasion

A book and a costumed author talk
by Lucy Adlington

At the end of June 2014 the members of the Costume & Textile Association were treated to this ‘History Wardrobe’ presentation.  Lucy and her co-presenter, Meridith Towne dressed up, and acted out, situations ‘for an inspiring insight into the lives and aspirations of women in the First World War, as revealed through their clothes’.   The author has a collection of vintage originals and Meridith makes authentic historical costumes.
As women fought for the right to vote and then took part in the war effort fashion became less restrictive.  At the start of the war wealthy women had to choose between buying new clothes and appearing frivolous, or not indulging in new outfits which resulted in unemployment for dressmakers and milliners, who were soon however to be required for uniform production.
We know that the VAD nurses at Brundall Auxiliary War Hospital possibly bought their uniforms from Chamberlin’s.  Starched white collars (very uncomfortable!), cuffs, aprons and headdresses suggested purity both in the literal and moral sense for girls suddenly given unprecedented freedom from chaperoning.  New recruits would try to fade their home sewn red crosses so as to look more experienced!  One upsetting task must have been the washing and repairing of clothes sent from the battlefield to be reused.
Suitable clothes were needed for the increasing numbers of women who were taking up office work and black fabric for mourning for those who were bereaved.  (Norwich was renowned for its black crepe for this purpose).  Women were even working in industry and while often wearing the same protective clothing as the men they would need caps to keep their hair away from dangerous machinery.
On a lighter note, ‘Some women even wished for a night-time Zeppelin scare so they could rush out and show off fur-trimmed pyjamas in the street.  Others invested in slumber suits trimmed with swansdown specially designed for “air-raid nights”.’  One can’t help thinking that harsh reality would soon kick in!
All this and much, much more can be found in Lucy Adlington’s ‘Great War Fashion – Tales from the History Wardrobe’.  For a considerably smaller, but none the less, informative and beautifully illustrated book, I recommend, the Pitkin Guide, ‘Fashion: Women in World War One’ also by Lucy Adlington.
                                                                                                             Barbara Ayers 

Dorothy Jewson

by Frank Meeres

Dorothy Jewson was born in 1884, a member of the well-known Jewson family.  We heard in Rod Spokes talk about Colman’s, how the female members of that family took an interest in the welfare of the workers and in public life.  This was a time, of course, when women were becoming much more active outside the home and were needed to do many jobs during the First World War that would have previously been unthinkable.  Dorothy was a pacifist and at the beginning of the war she was in charge of a toy making workshop for girls.  She became a very enthusiastic supporter of the union movement and campaigned tirelessly to help the poor and destitute, particularly women and children.  In 1923 she became the first female MP in East Anglia.  Although not long in Parliament she continued to work in local politics. 
Dorothy’s mother was a Jarrold and had eight children, Dorothy being the fifth, but three of the siblings died in childhood.  Dorothy was born in ‘Braemar’, Cotman Road, Thorpe Hamlet and then the family moved to Tower House, Bracondale.  She was educated at Norwich High School and Girton College, Cambridge.  She was a suffragette and was supported in this by one of her brothers, Harry.  He was sadly to be killed in The First World War.  She was also deeply affected by the death of her close friend and companion of 20 years, Maud Murray.  At the age of 52 she married for the first time and moved to Essex, but her husband, who was 15 years older than her, died after about 2 years.  Not surprisingly, considering her pacifism, she joined the Society of Friends.  In 1945, aged 60, she married again but was once more bereaved after a couple of years.  She was to end her days, aged 79, back in Norwich with her brother Christopher and his wife.
This little book not only tells the story of a remarkable woman but gives insight into the social history and politics of the time.                                     Barbara Ayers

Old Courts and Yards
                        of Norwich

A Story of People, Poverty and Pride
Frances and Michael Holmes

This book is published by Norwich Heritage Projects and is by the authors of ‘The Story of the Norwich Boot and Shoe Trade’.  Both books are meticulously researched.  I can’t do better really than quote from the back cover of the book where it says, ‘For some the old courts and yards were the worst hell-holes in Norwich and needed to be razed to the ground.  For others they contained historic buildings and vibrant neighbourhoods which should have been preserved’ and ‘At the turn of the century more than 10% of Norwich’s population lived in the old courts and yards.  Where were they located?  What happened to them?  Where did the people move when they were demolished?  Should they have been preserved?  What was it really like to live there?’  ‘Combining contemporary reports, newspaper articles and most importantly the views and memories of people who lived in Norwich in the 1930s, this book tells the fascinating history of the old courts and yards.  It is an account which is about so much more than bricks and mortar, it is also the story of the communities and individuals who called them home.’
The book is well illustrated with photographs old and new and there are maps showing locations.  I am disappointed though that there is no mention of ‘Labour in Vain Yard’ which I visit nearly every time I go to Norwich as it is where Rainbow Wholefoods is situated, off St Giles Street.                                     Barbara Ayers

J J Colman
by Edward and Wilfred E Burgess

This book was first published in 1904 and the second edition was published by the Norfolk Industrial Archaeology Society in 2014.  The text has been reset and images digitally processed by Phillip Tolley.  Originally it was a series of illustrated newspaper articles about 40 family businesses in Norwich.  There are a few surprising omissions like Barnards Ironworks, the Vinegar Works and even Lawrence Scott & Co. but a glance at the contents reveals familiar names like Jarrolds, Boardman, Caley, Colman, Curl, Lambert, and of course Norwich Union.  Of particular interest to us are the businesses which had connections with Brundall.  Alexander Chamberlin of the department store overlooking the market (where Tesco is now) was the father of the rector of Brundall 1898 – 1940, and patron of Brundall church.  The civic duties and ‘good works’ he undertook in Norwich are listed, something expected of those in such a position at that time.  Henry ffiske, managing director of Boulton & Paul lived in Holm Close next to Brundall Church and donated the lych gate and rood screen to St Laurence.  Richard Douglas Harmer, company director of Harmer’s clothing company lived at no.3 Braydeston Avenue.  Frederick Page lived in Braydeston House and then Braydescroft in Strumpshaw Road.  He took over the printing side of Page & Sons when he and his brother split the business, his brother continuing with the brush making.  Fred Page’s daughters Fan and Lyla lived at no.50 The Street after their father died.  Alfred Munnings was employed by Pages early in his career as an apprentice lithographic artist.
Women are notable by their absence in this book which of course was originally published before the First World War.  The only appearances they make are in photographs of the factory floor.  Looking at the portraits of some of the gentlemen one can’t help but think that they were going to disapprove of the forthcoming suffragette movement and the greater role women were about to play in society.
It has been said that the Industrial Revolution passed Norwich by but this book shows that this couldn’t be further from the truth.                               Barbara Ayers

Rescue of a garden cover
by Janet Muter

If you enjoy both history and gardening this book is for you.  When Janet Muter moved into ‘Lake House’ she and her husband acquired a new house, but with the garden, a piece of Brundall’s history.  The garden was laid out by Dr Beverley in 1881.  You can read about Dr Beverley’s medical background and about how he laid out the gardens bringing back specimens from trips abroad.  He created the tiered ponds which can still be seen today and in the process discovered some Roman artefacts.  The next owner was Frederick Holmes Cooper, the cinema magnate, who moved, with his family, into the log house that Dr Beverley had built.  This sadly burnt down in 1919 and was replaced by Redclyffe House.  Holmes Cooper proceeded to develop Brundall Gardens into a very popular tourist attraction.  After the decline of the cinema business in the 1930s Holmes Cooper became ill and moved away.  Some houses were built on the estate and Brundall Gardens had a chequered history for some years, including the destruction by fire and rebuilding of Redclyffe House.  Then in 1986, about a century after its creation, came the ‘rescue’ of the title.  Gardeners will enjoy the detailed descriptions of plants and the tips for making life a bit easier.  Janet was 57 when she took over the garden and, now in her 80s, is still managing it!  The book is lavishly illustrated with coloured photographs; the one of the ponds in the snow which is featured on the cover being particularly spectacular.

Colman's book cover

Stories of Former Employees 1935 – 1995
Ever since Rod Spokes gave us a talk about Colman’s I’ve been interested whenever I’ve seen anything written about them.  I found this book particularly interesting as it is the experiences of people who worked for Colman’s.  They were a ‘family firm’ in more senses than one.  Very often several members of the same family would be employed.  In those days the fact that another of your family worked or had worked for the firm would be an advantage when applying for a job.  What struck me was that all the employees writing about their experiences for this book said how they enjoyed their time at Colman’s.  The actual job may have been hard and repetitive or even hazardous before ‘Health & Safety’ but the camaraderie made it feel like belonging to a large family.  All the workers’ needs were catered for.  There were houses for them and even a school at one time.  They had the first industrial nurse in the UK and even their own fire engine.  Meals were provided, and a library and sports facilities.  Because Colman’s tried to do everything for themselves jobs were many and varied.  They made their own tins and labels and produced their own advertisements for instance.  You could move between departments or progress to better paid jobs with Colman’s supporting your training.  Some spent their whole working life there and some of the women would work there before and/or after having children.  Colman’s made more than just mustard of course and other products included soft drinks, sauces and baby food.  They took over other businesses like Gales honey and strangely Winsor & Newton which they realised afterwards was a mistake, until eventually they were taken over themselves and what seemed like an idyllic era gradually came to an end with the advent of computers etc. and the inevitable job cuts.
I can even make some connections between Colman’s and Brundall.  In 1968 Reckitt & Colman bought Coleman’s wines whose founder William Coleman, the inventor of Wincarnis, retired to Brundall, occupying several properties in the village at different times.  If you look in ‘The Book of Brundall’ on page 146 under the heading ‘The Margery Palmer Oak’ you will find another link although to our shame we spelt Colman’s mustard with an ‘e’!  And last but not least Rod Spokes, in the book I’m reviewing, refers to his first boss who ‘was a gentleman called Ian Makin’.                                                                                              Barbara Ayers     

Back to
                  Interesting Stuff