May Betts nee Minns
My Life in Mattishall by May Betts
May Minns born Aug 13, 1926
May married Derek John Betts on May 31st 1952 and now lives
in Lakenham, Norwich
I started school at Mattishall in
1932 at the age of 5.
Mr Brayley was the headmaster and was known to be a very strict
disciplinarian. On my first day at school I was several of the
younger children watching Mr Brayley playing an improvised games
of rounders with the older pupils in the playground during the
break. I had in my hand a large apple from the old ‘Lord
Derby’ tree in our garden at South Green. It was an unforgivable
sin to drop anything in the playground. Unfortunately I dropped
my apple and it rolled right across the playground in front of
Mr Brayley. He bellowed “who threw that apple down there”
I piped up “please sir I did. I don’t want it now”.
Mr Brayley stifled a grin and said “well come and pick it
up and put it in the wastebasket”. From that day I think
he took a liking to me, presumably because I was brave enough
to stand up to him! I only remember one occasion when he bullied
me. My writing was very small and he grabbed me by the hair dragged
me out of the front of the classroom and asked me why I had been
trying to write the Lords Prayer on a threepenny piece. Probably
explain why my writing is so big now!
There were no school dinners in those
days. Anyone who lived a long way from the school took sandwiches
– eaten outside in the summer and sitting on the hot water
pipes in the cloakroom in the winter.
At the time that I was at Mattishall
school Mr Brayley was very friendly with another teacher, Miss
Coates. In the summer he frequently sent me to the shop in the
afternoon break to buy two ice-cream wafers for himself and Miss
Coats. One afternoon at the end of the summer term he told me
to get three ice creams and I could have one for myself. I was
so staggered at this turn of events that I said “Pardon”
he repeated his instructions with a slight smile – he could
evidently read my thoughts regarding his belated generosity.
A tragedy occurred during my time
at Mattishall School. A boy named Eric Clarke (age 7) was drowned
in a pond in a field adjoining the school playground (1936). Some
of the boys must have wondered into the field during the break,
(we always called in playtime). Frantic efforts were made by Miss
Coats swimming around the pond in her petticoat and by the village
policeman who failed to remove his wristwatch before going into
the water . The children were more interested in Miss Coates petticoat
and the policeman’s watch, I was sorry to say than they
were of the actual tragedy. The body was eventually moved on the
back of a coal lorry I believe – whether to the undertakers
or to his house I do not know.
The other two teachers were Miss
Holly who taught the infants and Miss Edwards (another very strict
teacher) who taught the 3rd class (prior to Mr Brayley who took
the seniors). I thought Miss Holly was lovely. It was in her class
at the age of 5 that I made the needle case (still in use). I
finished the cross-stitch one afternoon and was annoyed to find
next day that Miss Holly had completed the needle case overnight.
She cycled several miles to school and sometimes passed us in
the afternoons when we were walking home. Miss Edwards was also
very strict but a very good teacher. To this day I always sew
on buttons by the method she taught me and they very rarely come
off any more. I was in Miss Edwards Class when my mother died,
when I was eight. I had been staying for 17 weeks at Stratton
House whilst my mother was ill. My sister Nora worked for Mr Randall
in his office at Stratton House but was at home at that time looking
after our mother. Mrs Randall told me that “if I felt like
it” I could tell Miss Edwards when I arrived at school that
my mother had died. When I told her she said “never mind
dear, you’ll be alright” and bent down and kissed
me, a most unexpected turn of events! I attribute my dislike to
cats to the time that I spent at Stratton House. The Randall’s
had several Cats which sometimes jumped on my bed in the middle
of the night and frighten me to death!
I enclose a picture of the school
concert of which I was one of the fairies! There were at least
3 evening performances I think the most expensive seats being
1 shilling and 6d.
During my time at Mattishall School
there were celebrations on the Oddfellows Hall (on the corner
of Burgh Lane, next to the Swan) for the silver Jubilee of King
George V1th. I remember most clearly taking part in the fancy
dress Competitions for the Jubilee festivals I was dressed as
a sort of Jubilee girl in red white and blue and got first prize.
On one of these occasions (I cannot remember which) my brother-in-law
Dick Eke and his friend Jimmy Taylor took part in the men’s
fancy dress. They made quite a spectacular entrance into the Oddfellows
Hall after proceedings had started as “Which Witch”.
One had a stripped blouse and plain skirt and the other vice versa
with appropriate hats and underwear! The caused much hilarity
and were given first prize – but there were no other entries
in the men’s class.
In those days the grocery shop on
Church Plain was kept by Mr and Mrs Neave. At Christmas, apart
from the gifts displayed in the window they also had a “Christmas
Room” at the back of the shop. You could go by appointment
in the evenings to select from Christmas gifts at leisure. I remember
going there one evening with Nora and Dick when I was about 11
or 12. Dick gave me half-a-crown to speed
(a vast sum in those days). I bought a tobacco pouch for Dick
made of black plastic type of material for one shilling, a threepenny
notebook for myself and had threepence change.
When I was 8 the windows display
at Neave’s shop included a large book of fairy-stories.
We children all thought it was the most spectacular item in the
window. I was lucky enough to receive it on Christmas morning
– my last ever Christmas present from my mother. I still
have the book.
We lived in a bungalow at South Green
– no running water, mains drainage or electricity in the
early days. The lavatory was a wooden seat and a hole in the ground
and the “toilet paper” was squares of newspaper hung
by a string on a nail on the wall. On one occasion my friend Mollie
Pearce and I went to visit her Aunt Kate for tea. When we went
to the “loo” we were amazed to find real toilet paper.
The shiny medicated variety, I think we were appalled that this
splendid paper should be wasted on such a purpose as that for
which it was intended – and we each stuffed a quantity of
it up our jumpers to be used as writing paper. Unfortunately “Aunt
Kate” discovered what we had done and made us return it
to the “loo”.
We had a well in the garden (serving
three houses) and our drinking water was obtained in a bucket.
You fixed your bucket to a hook in the end of a chain and cranked
the handle to lower the bucket into the well for water. A major
disaster arose if you lost the bucket or the chain broke and a
recovery operation was mounted by two or more of the men. I often
wonder now how hygienic the water was as there were various ferns
growing around the inside of the well. This water was used very
sparingly for drinking and cooking purposes only and rainwater
was carefully horded in tubs in the garden for all other purposes.
Until I was 18 my hair had never been washed in anything but rainwater.
Cooking was done in an oven in the
wall, beside the fire. Washing was boiled in a copper with a fire
underneath. After she had been married a little while Nora purchased
a mangle with rubber wringers which folded down as a table when
not in use. This was considered an extremely modern innovation.
I wonder what happened “handcups”? This was a sort
of metal bowl with a wooden handle used for getting water out
of the rainwater tube. We used “Fairy” type scrubbing
soap for household jobs and carbolic for personal washing. Any
items of hardware needed were requested from Mr Fred Cole who
worked at a hardware shop in Dereham. He would bring home the
required item – presumably on his bicycle? Trips to Dereham
were made only when absolutely necessary usually by bicycle. Bus
fares were expensive, 6d (old money) to Dereham and one shilling
to Norwich or 1/11d return ticket. Trips to Norwich were a rare
treat. We went to the seaside (usually Yarmouth) once a year on
the Sunday School Outing by coach. We took a picnic lunch and
after Nora was married Dick took us for a fish and chip tea. Great
As I recall food always seemed to
be plentiful, although simple. Full use was made of the gardens
and surplus produce shared between friends and neighbours. Anyone
who did not make their own jams, pickles etc, was considered quite
a slacker. We had bread or bread and butter with almost everything,
to make meals more substantial presumably. Good use was made of
things obtained free such as blackberries and mushrooms and firewood.
Most people kept chickens, so eggs were plentiful. When food was
rationed during the war egg rations had to be surrendered if you
wished to keep chickens. You were allowed to keep two chickens
for each egg ration surrendered I think but this system worked
well and you got more eggs then you did with the ration book.
At School Mr Brayley used to give
the children (in his own class only) an orange and twopence, at
Christmas, this was a great treat. Unfortunately I only felt the
benefit of his gift for one Christmas as I had passed on to Dereham
High School by the next year.
We saved coupons for Fry’s Cocoa with which gifts were obtainable,
for example, Nora’s box Brownie Camera and we always had
a “selection box” of Fry’s chocolates bars obtained
with coupons at Xmas.
My Sister Nora had smoked from an
early age as she was given cigarettes for her asthma by the doctor
when she was about 12 years old. When I was in Mr Brayley’s
class at the school Nora gave me a considerable quantity of complete
sets of cigarette cards to take to Mr Brayley for use at the school.
I wonder what happened to them. They would be worth a fortune
Being an orphan from the age of eight,
I was in recipient of numerous gifts of second-hand clothes and
toys including a lovely old rocking-horse. The Easter after my
mother died I received 37 Easter Eggs from various people.
The arrangement for fostering children
in those days must have been much less strict than now. After
my mother had been dead for a while my sister made enquires as
to whether she could obtain any financial help with my upbringing.
She was advised that the best solution would be for Nora and Dick
to be made my official foster parents. This resulted in an allowance
which was a considerable help. As far as I am aware the authorities
only made one check on my welfare – a lady called to inspect
my sleeping arrangements and my clothes and was apparently quite
surprised to find that I had a “best” Sunday coat.
Nora was most indignant and the lady official was never seen again.
The only other time the council interfered with my “fostering”
was when I passed the scholarship at 10 years of age and Norma
said she could not afford to send me to Dereham High School. The
council said that as I was a foster child I must go to the high
school – Nora had no say in the matter!
The clothes were expensive and when
I started in the September I did not yet have a school blazer.
A lady in the village gave me her daughter’s old blazer
but I only wore it once as it was an old style no longer being
used by the school. Not too long after this I went to Norwich
on a Saturday afternoon to meet Aunt Betty and Uncle Walter and
we went to purchase the official blazer. I suspect they may have
paid for it or possibly contributed to the cost. The blazers are
available in three different qualities, but these qualities were
only measured by the braid on the cuffs. Third quality had braid
about 2/3rd inch from the end of the sleeve on the 2nd
quality the gap was a little wider and the 1st quality had braid
nearly to the elbow! It was immediately obvious which quality
blazer a person was wearing. What snobbery! I was much relieved
to find that I was to have a second quality blazer – this
was in fact the most popular I think. I cycled to Dereham each
day, except in winter when the weather was very bad. At a later
stage an allowance was made for the use bicycles and this was
a most uninspected financial windfall it was £4 + but I
am unsure what period this covered. Probably a year as it seems
much too generous for a term. During the latter part of my years
at Dereham I had 6d per week pocket money out of which I paid
2 ½ d for school milk. I took a snack for morning break
and had school dinners. The biscuits available at school were
considered wildly extravagant by Nora – 1d for plain ones
or 1 ½ d for chocolate. Most dinners were served with baked
potatoes but we were not forced to eat the skins. These were very
useful for hiding up scraps of fat meat on your plate –
except when Miss Galloway (the headmistress) came round and prodded
your “leverage” with a folk! Fridays was always fish
day – fish cakes or fish pie. To this day I loathe fish
We had few outings, especially after
the war had started, except visits to relatives by bus or bicycle.
When I was small we sometimes took a picnic to Ringland Hills,
going by bus to Easton Church. On the return journey I was able
to paddle barefoot in a stream and we always gathered a bunch
of ferns to bring home. When I was considered sufficiently competent
on my second-hand bicycle I was allowed to cycle alone to Colton
to visit relatives, with a stern warning form Nora to mind them
bends at East Tuddenham. I still remember it now when I drive
through East Tuddenham. It seems strange now when cars are so
commonplace that in my childhood I had never visited such places
as Shipdham, Toftwood etc, only a few miles away.
I mentioned the ice creams bought
by Mr Brayley. Ice cream was unattainable during the war. Pre-war
Mr Skinner from Dereham came round in his pony and cart on Tuesday
and Friday afternoon’s selling ice-cream. The cart was brightly
painted red and yellow and he rang a bell. He came about 4pm I
think after school was over. I usually had ½d cornet. One
day at the end of summer Mr Skinner gave me the cornet as he said
I had been a good customer all summer. One day when I was very
small my mother took me out to Mr Skinners cart to buy an ice-cream
and Mr Horne who kept the shop at South Green bought me a 2d wafer.
It seemed enormous to me after my usual ½d cornet. The
shop at South Green changed hands several times. One lady owner
used to dress up her dog in a bonnet and glasses to amuse us children.
Another owner had an unpleasant son who used to take sweets out
of the jars, suck them and then put them back. We stopped buying
unwrapped sweets! Later this same family were reputed to have
moved Yaxham to Norwich to be near the son when he was called
up into the army and was at Britannia Barracks. I don’t
know what happened if he went further afield!
The last time I saw Mr Brayley was
some years after leaving school. He was being pushed along by
his wife in a wheel chair in Lowestoft – obviously very
ill. Slumped in the chair, and arms dangling over the sides. What
a contrast to the headmaster I had known.
During the war food became scarce.
We were never hungry but it was lacking in variety and many things
were unattainable. Apart from items rationed such as meat, sugar,
butter, tea etc, there was a “points” system for things
such as biscuits, tinned fruit, etc. As these were only occasionally
available you used your “points” for whatever happened
to be in the shop at the time. There was also and extra ration
of sugar in the summer for jam-making which was very useful.
One weekend when Nora’s pantry
was especially low we had some unexpected luck. As a Girl Guide
I was involved in a garden fate at North Tuddenham Rectory. I
managed to buy a jar of jam and was lucky to win a cake in the
“treasure hunt”. Dick had been out shooting and got
a hare. Hare, cake and jam made spectacular additions to the food
supply that weekend. Dick’s brother in the Navy came home
from abroad and brought some bananas for his various nieces and
nephews. Some had become rotten en route but there were enough
good ones for each family of his nieces and nephews to have one
banana between them. The banana allocated to Sybil, Eileen and
Terry was rejected as none of them had ever seen a banana before.
I was in luck again! Oranges were on “points” when
they eventually became available again after the war, but only
on children’s books. Nora gave me one of the children’s
books to keep with me in case I came across any such luxuries.
During the war, after I had left
school, I worked for two years in the office at Cranes of Dereham,
cycling there each day. I was in the concert party and we entertained
at various villages and took part in “War Weapons Week”
activities to raise money for the war effort. Lunch was obtained
each day at the “British Restaurant” in Dereham –
a wartime system where workers could obtain a good meal for one
shilling. All kinds of things were short as well as food. I remember
one-lunchtime when I discovered that Woolworth’s at Dereham
had small plastic combs at 3d each. I knew the friend I worked
with would appreciate one but like most things it was only one
per person allowed. I purchased one for myself, then greatly daring,
as if I was committing a terrible crime, I removed my headscarf
and went in again to buy one for my friend.
There were sometimes “concerts”
or social evenings in Oddfellows’ Hall. On each occasion
there was one man who always sang the same song about ‘Harriet
who was handy with a lariat’ Whilst at Dereham High School
we were given a special “treat” – a couple,
who seemed very old to me at the time, came to sing to us. I remember
sitting, decidedly bored, listening to this man singing “Come
into Maude” and “I met her in the garden where the
praties grow”. Such wild excitement we had!
The rent for our bungalow was paid
annually at Michaelmas. One year Dick went to pay the rent and
found our landlord (Mr Fred Pearce) dead in the outside “loo”.
Miss Hunter and her brother lived
at the Hall. She was frequently seen in the village driving her
small two-seater car with its “dicky” seat at the
back. Cars were a novelty in those days. Miss Hunter was a strong
supporter (possibly a member) of the
R.S.P.C.A and the notice board near the gates of the Hall displaying
R.R.P.C.A. posters was a permanent feature of our landscape. There
was usually a poster saying “Remember a kitten grows into
a Cat” which we children thought highly amusing. The usual
comment was “What does she think it will grow into –
a dog?” She apparently also acted as a sort of free unofficial
vet. On one occasion our old sheepdog came home badly injured,
“Bruce” had been shot. I was sent to fetch Miss Hunter
on my bicycle. I peddled furiously up to the Hall, up the drive,
laid my ‘bike’ down on the driveway and hammered on
the door. Miss Hunter came to answer. “Please Miss Hunter
our dog has been shot” I said. She threw here hands up in
horror and said “I’ll come at once”. I was delighted
to be given a lift in the little car on the return journey with
my bike lodged in the “dicky” seat. Whatever treatment
she prescribed I cannot remember but “Bruce” recovered.
On the occasion of Nora’s marriage Miss Hunter gave Nora
a gift of £1. This purchased (with a further one shilling
added) a comfortable fireside chair, with adjustable back (1937).
Dick worked for Mr Roland Hill at
Church Farm and his duties included looking after the horse which
was a 7-day-a-week job. I think he got about 5 shillings a week
extra for this. If he ever wanted to go out on a Sunday he had
to arrange for someone else to feed the horses. When combine-harvesters
first appeared, “Dick” was “loaned” by
his boss for about 10 days to a farmer at Brandon Parva to drive
the “Combine”. At that time farm workers were paid
less than £7 a week, I think as a basic wage. Whilst “on
loan” to drive the combine Dick was paid on results and
in one week earned £24! This was unheard-of wealth. He did
not go into the forces during the war apart from being in a ‘reserved’
occupation he also had very poor sight in one eye. Despite this
he was an excellent shot and rabbits, pheasants etc frequently
supplemented our diet. This was before the days of myxomatosis.
He once took part in a ploughing competition and despite his poor
eyesight came second. He missed first place by 3/8th of an inch!
He took packed food to eat mid-day and we had our main meal in
the evening, except at harvest-time when a substantial “tea”
was taken to the harvest field (plus extra bottles of cold tea)
so that the men could work whilst there was daylight. Quite often
families took their own tea as well and all had a picnic. As the
area of uncut corn got smaller and smaller everyone stood around
waiting to catch rabbits. Once when I was very small (about 10)
I caught a rabbit in Mr Faircloth’s harvest field and immediately
wrung its neck as I had seen the men do. Nora was disgusted that
Mr Faircloth did not give me the rabbit for myself.
Sandwiches every day must have got
very monotonous. This was the reason Dick bought us a fish and
chip tea on our annual visits to Yarmouth – he was fed up
with sandwiches on working days! In the days before such things
as “Tupperware” Nora used to make Dick a salad and
put this in a screw-top glass jar, which was much appreciated.