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Mr Harold Laws(April 1999)

Harold's son-in-law, Tom Padrick who resides in the USA, drew Harold to my attention. Using a prompt from Tom I began by asking Harold about the day that he thought the invasion had started.

"In the 1940s there were three rows of rockets located around the village. The rockets were connected together by a wire and the idea was that they would be set off and the German planes would get their propellers caught in the wire. Well I was delivering at the time and I looked in my wing mirror and saw lots of parachutes coming down. I instantly thought that the invasion had started so I rushed home to tell everyone. What I had forgotten was that the wing mirror made things look smaller than they actually were and the parachutes were on the rockets which were coming back to ground having been let off earlier, and not an invasion at all! I do remember watching the German Dornier landing on the airfield and then taking off again before they could get a blockade around it. I was working at the bakehouse then."

Harold began working for Hyam, the baker, when he left school at the age of 14. At that time the mill was just an "empty shell, the sails having been blown off when Harold King was the miller. They landed near ‘The Buildings’ down the Old Brandon Road. I think bits of them were used as a barricade at the guard-post during the war. The last time I saw the millstones was at Peacock’s in Hockwold. (Does anyone know where they are now?) When King retired he moved into Roseneath and Hyam took over. He (King) used to give us kids free tickets for the rides at the November Fair. When he was on his deathbed they put straw on the road to quiet the noise from the traction engines and horses hooves.

Hyam’s first shop was near Londis in the High Street (previously Broadwaters). When he closed this one he moved to the old newsagents up Hill Street, (formerly Chapel Street) what is now The Orangery. Before Hyam took the shop in High Street it was originally owned by Smith. The ovens were still in it but Hyam didn’t use them. After Smith it went to Wash who moved to Methwold and then to Hyam. Curtis was also a baker in Oak Street. After him it became a sweet shop." (This is where the Moores now live)

Tell me something about the working conditions.

When I started I got paid 9 shillings a week. I was an apprentice baker and confectioner. There were three of us and when Hyam got the contract to supply the bread to the camp we would work from 5 in the morning to 7 at night including Saturdays. We then went in Sunday morning to clear up ready for Monday. I was on £2-3 a week then and when the Unions came in it went up to £5, which I got just before I signed up. I used to deliver as far as The Ship just by Fletcher’s Farm down the Southery Road.

How about some recollections from before you started work.

"Well, I remember the sugar beet railway being built. I would have been about 10 then. Harvy Gunstead, Arthur Brown, Jack Crook and I we used to get beer from The Plough for the railway workers. They used to give us a little something in return. Archibald Jacobs ran the pub at that time. Birch took it over after Jacobs and kept it ‘till it closed when the channel was cut. I remember setting a tree alight at the age of six. Harvy and me were having a quiet cigarette behind a tree in a field where Western Close now stands when we were disturbed. We threw it into the hollow of the tree which was full of old dry grass. The grass caught and the rest is obvious. The stump remained there for many years.

We had the Fairs, of course, on what is now Oakfields. Then the field belonged to Harold King and before that the fair used to be held on the ground in front of St Mary’s as long as something turned up. In 1937-38 the ‘Wall of Death’ came. We were thrilled to bits watching the motor bikes go round and round. At the end of the show they would ask for volunteers to have a go. I remember Mary Porter volunteered. Well, someone must have told her brother because he came round and went berserk over the risks involved. It was fun watching the commotion!

Fassnidge was the Headteacher and Davidson his deputy when I was at school. I remember that we were put in for the 11 plus as it was then. When the results came back we had all been disqualified for cheating. Well Fassnidge lined us all up and caned every one of us. We had cheated but then none of us wanted to go to Thetford. We just wanted to get out to work.

I remember ‘scrumping’ some apples with Lenny Pryer when the policeman, Mr Cordy, appeared. I ran off but Lenny got a good spanking with Cordy’s cane. When Lenny complained that he hadn’t done nothing Cordy said ‘That’s for next time.’ (Mr Cordy was the village policeman in the 1930s. Does anyone know the exact dates?) The Saturday night train to Norwich cost 1 shilling and 6 pence and the London one cost 5 shillings. We would ride on our bikes to Lakenheath and return with the mail at midnight. If I tell you that beer was 4 pence a pint you will realise that we didn’t always manage to ride back to the village! Of course there was the YMCA were we could go to play snooker and billiards. We’d stay there ‘till 9.30 when it closed and then go over the road to The Oak ‘till 10.30. After that we’d go to Tillets for Fish and Chips."

Talking of Fish and Chip shops tell me about the village shops you were young.

Well, there was Tilletts in The Beck. But before that they had a shop in Short Lane behind Coronation Hall. They moved into the wooden building in the Beck (at the opposite end of the row to the present Post Office) which had previous been Elmer’s fish shop. Elmers had moved into Bell Street where Peter Wing now lives. In addition to these we also had Spencer in the High Street where Bob Chandler lives, another one in Long Lane (name anyone?) where Hockley’s shop was and then Palmer’s van used to come from Methwold. Oh, and Leveridge in Lime Kiln Lane but that wasn’t until the 60s. And The Blade in Long Lane, before it was a café in the 60s was a fish shop, owned by Challice. The present Fish and Chip shop has been one for many years. It was originally a church (very probably The Church of Latter Day Saints) I remember the pulpit on the left-hand side when Barry Fletcher took it over and opened a cycle shop. After that Mr Pylon had it as a radio and electrical shop and then Pryer turned it into a Fish and Chip shop. Somewhere in there Leveridge had it as a café before it was used again as a Fish shop.

I remember the fire at Parker’s in Short Beck. I got half a crown for helping man the pump, you know, one of those were you pumped the handles up and down. They weren’t that much good really. In fact when it burnt down it was owned by Cecil Howlett and before him and after Parker it was Grimmers. It had a thatched roof, which is why the fire caught quick. Basil Vincent’s wife used to housemaid to Howlett. Anyway, Howlett’s were homeless when the shop and house went up in flames. They moved into Roseneath and it was him that put the front door in when he when opened a record and radio shop. That would be in the late 30s. The Oak bought Roseneath after the Howletts moved out.

I remember the Working Man’s Club being built. There used to be two cottages where the Club now stands but they were destroyed in a bombing raid. Challise, who owned The Blade, bought the land and gave the site for a Working Man’s Club. At that time a man called Dennington on the Camp was the main mover for this. He wanted a WMC and an ex-serviceman’s club together. He fell out with Mr Orange and so we ended up with both! The Club was originally two prefabs joined together with two full-sized billiard tables in them. In the late 50s or early 60s these were replaced with a wooden building on what is now the car park. This didn’t last that long and was replaced with the present brick building.

We had two banks. The original Barclays was were the Grooming Parlour is in High Street, then it moved to The Welcome in St. Mary’s Street, and then to its present location. Lloyds was in the second house up Hill Street. There was a chap used to stand outside with a gun. (Can anyone name this person?)

Harold spent the formative years of his life living with his grandmother, Mrs Celia Whistler, in Long Lane in the house in which he was born. His grandfather, Mr Charles Whistler, was the village road sweeper. Harold recalls that "granddad always used to pop into the West End for a pint on his way to work." His father’s family lived in Bell Street and was originally from Foulden. When his father returned from the war times were hard and Harold stayed with his grandmother until she died at a young age. The family then moved into one of the "new, red houses up Wilton Road in 1933."

Harold, thank you very much for your time.

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