Having written about my brothers and sisters I must not forget to mention my grandparents. My father’s parents lived at Methwold, only three miles away, but grandfather (JOHN SMITH SPINKS 1842-1897) died while we were still quite small (ACTUALLY IN 1897 BEFORE THEY WERE BORN), so I only remember my grandmother (ELIZABETH SIMONS 1841-1917). She was a sweet little woman, with round rosy cheeks and hair scraped back into a tiny bun at the back of the neck. She always wore a black, tight fitting bodice and long black skirt. Perhaps on special occasions she wore a white lace fichu pinned in position by a cameo brooch. When she grew tired of living alone, she would pack her small black bag, wait until my father called and then ride to Feltwell on the top of his cart. She loved to visit us, but after a few days the noise of five children proved too much for her and she would be glad to go back to the peace and quiet of her own home. She told us many stories about her youth and of a certain estate in Norfolk that should have belonged to her branch of the family. Her maiden name was Elizabeth Simon and she was always proud to tell us that her ancestry could be traced back to Norman times.
Father had one brother and one sister. The brother William Spinks (JOHN WILLIAM SPINKS 1870-1911) also lived in Methwold, where he had a very prosperous business. He had six children about the same ages as we were, and often on a Saturday afternoon he would bring some of his family over to see us. They would drive over in a high dogcart. Uncle kept several wicked looking high stepping black Arab steeds, and was at his happiest when driving along the country roads, at what seemed to me an incredulous speed. He thought nothing of driving to Kings Lynn and back in an afternoon (A journey of nearly 40 miles). My sister and I loved to go for a drive with one of his men, in spite of the fact that we were rather scared, especially if we were asked to hold the reins, whilst calls were made along the country rounds. We were all sad when this big jolly uncle of ours had an accident whilst driving, and died sometime later as a result of it, leaving a wife and six young children to educate.
My mother’s father (FREDERICK WILLIAM WOODWARD 1857-), too, often came to stay with us, but they lived in mid-Norfolk (BROCKDISH) so we did not see him so often. When grandmother (HARRIET MURTON 1855-1904 see photo) died he married again and as my aunts and uncles did not get on at all well with their new stepmother, they came to Mother’s house for all their holidays. There were four aunts (ANNE KATE -1879-, NELLIE -1884-, ROSA H 1887-, AND HILDA -1895- ,) and during the summer months, some of them were sure to be with us. If they were tired of their job, they would pack their big, black trunks and come here to us. Nell and I especially, loved to see them arrive, in fact we often went to the station to meet them, trundling along the dark country road in a black cab lit by two carriage lanterns. Needless to say, we always watched the unpacking, for we knew, that at the bottom of the trunk would be something for us.
The aunts were tall, handsome fun-loving girls and filled the house with laughter. They seemed to have no lack of admirers knocking on the door and enquiring if the Miss Woodwards were at home. During the summer holidays they took us for picnics to the sandpits, or on early morning walks along the country lanes. These simple pleasures were much enjoyed by us all.
Life went along very happily and evenly for us when we were children surrounded as we were with so many loving relatives and friends. Having such an industrious mother we always had pretty, homemade clothes and a few toys and lots of nice things to eat. But, there were, at that time, living in the village, many large families whose fathers were farm workers earning about twelve and sixpence a week and they really were in need of help. Although our boots and clothes were passed down from one child to the other, they were finally parcelled up and given to someone in greater need than ourselves.
Our week would begin with Church on a Sunday morning, and Sunday School in the afternoon. We would not miss Sunday school for anything, as we loved our teacher, Miss Hammond, and also we liked to receive our stamp and to gain a prize for regular attendance. As we grew older we would accompany Mother to the evening service, and father would stay at home with the two small boys. I believe that as soon as the church going party left the house, my father would appease the boys by making home-made toffee, and then having got everywhere in order again and stoked up the fires ready for our home-coming, the gramophone would be placed on the table and all Dad’s favourite hymns would be played and perhaps Schubert’s Ave Maria and some of Caruso’s songs, and not forgetting that wonderful voice of Dame Nellie Melba. We had a good selection of records, and how we enjoyed playing them over and over again.
Occasionally my sister Nell and I went to Chapel with a Mr. & Mrs Spencer, retired London people who lived in the village. We loved to be allowed to do this on a winter’s evening. The oil lantern would be lit and we would go trotting behind them to chapel, not minding a bit how dark and windy it was. We enjoyed it so much for the hymns were sung with so much fervour that the tiny chapel must have almost rocked. The prayers pleased us too, for during the service, members of the congregation rose and prayed aloud, just when they felt moved to do so. They were simple, God-fearing people and I remember their words even now. Old Mr Willingham would pray that we might receive our "bread and cheese" throughout the week, and another man who went round from door to door selling groceries would always conclude his prayers by saying ‘ and may they buy poor Billie’s tea’! These words did not sound at all strange to our small ears at that time.
I believe that we were all sent to weekday school, as soon as Miss Knight (our beloved Infant School teacher for many years) could take us. If she could take a child in at three years old, most parents were only too glad to place them in her capable hands. I am sure that not one child, however dull, passed through the Infant school without being able at least to read and write and do some arithmetic. She always had such a wealth of amusing stories to tell about her pupils. I am sure that she had a very soft spot in her heart for all the boys, for she would often leaves plates of cakes and tarts on the larder window-shelf especially for them at play-time. Her whole life was devoted to the well being of the children in the village, and when I started teaching myself we became very good friends.
In those days any small event in the village was looked forward to with great excitement, especially the Sunday School Treat in the Rectory Grounds, where we had tea and ran races. We especially enjoyed being taken from the village to the Rectory in big farm wagons, pulled by gaily-decorated horses.
On August bank Holiday, the village was deserted for almost everyone went to Hockwold Flower Show, going either by waggonettes hired for the occasion or walking the two miles along the straight dusty road, the high light of the day being the firework display in the evening.
So we had a very happy, sheltered childhood, with loving caring parents and relations around all the time. There were difficult days of course, but I will not dwell on those, for they come in every child’s life and in fact, help to form our characters.
I was very lucky to win a Free Place to Thetford Grammar School, where I spent five happy years. It was very tiring for a small girl of 12 to get up at 6 o’clock in the morning, get her own breakfast, and cycle three miles to Lakenheath Station, to catch the 7.27 am train to school, and then after a long days tuition, not arrive back home until 6.30 pm. After having a meal, and probably spending an hour on ‘Prep’ and quite often having a puncture to mend, or ‘see to ‘ my lamps which always seemed to go out as I pedalled along on dark windy winter nights, the days were very full and enjoyable.
I still remember my teachers, especially Miss Phillips, the headmistress, who was a very tall, rather severe looking person, and may I say, who filled us with awe. But now, I feel that I have much to thank her for, as she made us hardy, self-reliant young people able to fend for ourselves, able to enjoy "Games" and especially able to enjoy English ‘Literature’ and ‘Shakespeare’ that she took with us once a week. I loved, also, to hear the English mistress reading her favourite poems to us, especially Alfred Noyes poem, ‘The Highwayman’. I still remember how sad it made me feel, yet I loved it, and still find it fascinating reading.
I made many good friends during my school days, one girl in particular – Peggy Frost – who was quite a bit older than me, and who lived in the village, was so kind and thoughtful. She often pushed my bicycle along when we were cycling from the station on dark and windy nights and helped me across the patches of water when the Ouse had flooded the roads near Lakenheath Station. I shall never forget what a comfort she was to a small, timid girl.
I spent quite a lot of time too with the Nevilles, during the school holidays and at weekends. They lived at Beck House and after church on Sunday evenings, I loved to go back home with them and sing our favourite hymns and songs. Our particular favourites were duets from ‘The Arcadians’.
I am sorry to say that one daughter, Marjorie, died of mushroom poisoning when she was only 22 years old. At that particular time I was staying in Herefordshire with friends, and although it happened over fifty years ago, I can remember it all as if it had happened yesterday.
On the night before I was due to return to Norfolk, I dreamt that I was at a party with all my school friends. Marjorie’s seat was vacant. It was so vivid that when I went down to breakfast I told Mrs Playford (CLARA ANNE STOAKLEY 1886-1966) about it.
When I returned home that evening my mother met me with the tragic news. At once I got out my bicycle and cycled over to Methwold (3 miles away) where the family had moved, and found that it was indeed true, and that my friend and three of her Girl Guides had died, and several girls had been taken ill.
She had taken her Troop on an evenings hike and they stopped in the woods and cooked bacon and picked what they believed to be edible mushrooms, but alas were in fact deadly poisonous fungi. Many people; not only the families concerned, were prostrate with grief, and her sister, whom I see fairly often, and I still talk about her. We remember how often she sang her favourite song from ‘The Arcadians’, which contains the words, ‘A Short Life and a Gay one’. How true they proved to be.
Another interesting side of the village life in my childhood days were the quaint characters who passed through Feltwell, and in fact went from village to village selling their wares. I remember a small, rotund man called ‘Mussel Joe’ who came down the lane in his covered wagon, pulled, I believe, by a donkey. He came, or so he said, straight from Yarmouth, and sold all sorts of shelled fish. He was very popular and I am sure almost everyone bought some from him.
Then of course the scissor grinder came along and we usually had an assortment of knives and tools and mother’s ‘cutting out’ scissors to sharpen. We were always fascinated to watch him at work, and to see the wheels whirring round so quickly as he pedalled away.
I also remember ‘The Brinkley family’ calling with their baskets of pegs. Mother always bought something from them. We children were slightly scared of them, however they were always polite and friendly, and their handmade pegs were very strong.
All the children found it very exciting when the ‘Hurdy-Gurdy’ man came through the village. I think he was an Italian, and seem to recall that he had a monkey too, that sat on the top of his Organ while he turned the handle round and round hoping that the gay tunes he played would earn him a few coppers.
The Annual Fair was quite an event in the village when I was a child, but it has been discontinued for many years. It was held on the meadow opposite the Oak Hotel and which is now a housing estate. There were side shows, swings, round-a-bouts, rock stalls, coconut shies, and at the latter part of its popularity "A Wall of Death’, where the motorcyclist went round and round an almost perpendicular wall. Indeed, I believe one village girl very daringly rode on the backseat of one of the cyclists. Luckily, she came to no harm. But, it was all too noisy for me, and I was always glad when our little party went home.