It seems like ages ago now that I was having a chat with one of my neighbours over my garden gate about the rather unique design of the particular style of houses that we live in on our Street and the subtle little differences in their designs and layouts. My particular house is one of the semi-detached, non-parlour, cottage-style, three bedroom houses that can only be found dotted around the Drayton Estate part of Mile Cross. To look at it from the outside it looks as though it’s exactly the same design as some of the three bed houses built along Bignold Road in longer terraces but it is fundamentally different in one major aspect, the Toilet.
As I’ve been saying, constantly over the years, all of the original Mile Cross homes were to be built with flushable toilets, situated inside the dwelling along with a fresh and tapped water supply in both the kitchens and the water closets. This was one of the fundamental design principles for the estate. These houses were designed to be modern for the 1920’s, a much-needed, forward-thinking place to live that provided the basic amenities (usually only enjoyed by the middle and upper classes) for the masses and to step away from the cramped and unsanitary courts and yards that these new homes were being built to replace.
During this conversation, my neighbour was of the impression that these particular houses did originally have outside toilets and that her immediate neighbour’s house helped to prove the point. She claimed that the lovely old dear living next door to her (Pat) had lived in her home for about fifty years and that the layout of her home was pretty much as it was when she moved in, which was pretty much still original. Obviously, the original wooden windows and external doors had been replaced with UPVC items and the heating had been updated, but only very recently. Now, I knew exactly what she meant when she was referring to an ‘outside toilet’ and I knew exactly why she was wrong. Well kind of.
A few years ago I had a chance encounter on Facebook with a brother and sister who’s family used to live in my house from the 1950’s to the 1980’s, they had grown up here after their parents had mutually exchanged from one of the large maisonettes above the Drayton Road shops to move into this sleepy part of the estate right on the edge of the Wensum Valley.
They asked me if they could come and visit the house in which they grew up in return for some photographs of my house taken throughout the years. I was more than delighted to oblige and it was a fascinating insight into the the history of my home and my garden, and to meet the people who – like my very own children – had grown up within these very four walls. It was a very moving encounter and it also taught me many things about my home and answering many niggling little questions about things that confused us about the layout of our home, including the layout of the bathroom and toilet.
Like many of the houses on the estate my home was modernised in the 1970’s and 1980’s and the layout of the bathroom and water closet were altered considerably. Before modernisation the bathroom was in a tiny room directly off the kitchen and to access the toilet you would have had to go through the kitchen, outside the diagonally-set, lockable back door and through a porchway that was for some reason open to the elements but still within the footprint of the house and then through another internal door to the toilet, which was situated inside a tiny little extension at the far corner of the house. Not an outside toilet as such, but not strictly an indoor toilet in the traditional sense either, seeing as you would have had to unlock the back door to get to it in the early hours of the morning. If you were inclined to lock the back door that is.
In the below image (kindly-donated by the former residents of my house) taken in my back garden long before I moved in, you can see the angled ‘back door’ leading in and out of the kitchen (left) and the odd-little toilet block on the right. I have a number of images of this addition taken from various angles and it doesn’t quite look right; the bizarre angle of the back door, the way it’s mostly open to the elements, the different material or render covering it and the flat roof. I’ve not seen anything like it on the estate and there are a load of aerial photographs taken in the years just after the estate was built and there are none of these odd little blocks appearing on the backs of any of the houses in any of the available shots, which cover most of the Mile Cross Estate from the North. Unfortunately there are no aerial shots that show off the southern part of the estate where my street is located; well there is one, but it’s taken from quite a distance and the resolution is terrible.
Because of all these little clues it seemed pretty obvious to me that this odd-looking little toilet block was itself an early modification. To back up my theory, I even did some map work to see if this extension showed up on the maps through the early years and sure enough, the maps seemed to further back up my theory. On the late 1920’s map the little extensions didn’t show up on these houses, but by the time we get to the late 1950’s the extension seems to appear on the maps. Bingo, that was as much evidence as I needed to back my theory up; these little toilet blocks must have been later additions.
What I couldn’t understand is why the Corporation of Norwich would go to all that expense; maybe it was to distance the toilet from the kitchen, which I believed was accessed directly through a door in the kitchen, perhaps it was needed to add another doorway between toilet and kitchen for hygiene reasons. Now imagine needing a pee at 3am on a cold and wintry morning and having navigate your way downstairs, through the kitchen out the back door and into the lavatory through another door. You’d never actually have to go outside, but you would be exposed to the cold evening air briefly between kitchen and toilet. It seemed a little odd to me, but that’s how it must have been.
Now, back to that discussion I was having with my neighbour over my garden gate about Pat’s house. It appears that her house was exactly like mine was before the 1980’s mod, only mirrored and it must have been mostly original, apart from the previously laboured-over, later-added toilet extension from the early days, a modification that I had cleverly come to the conclusion had been carried out well before Pat had moved in.
It seems from our conversation that Pat was a very house-proud lady and that she had chosen to avoid most of the major modernisation programmes, particularly the main one rolled out across some of the estate during the 70’s and 80’s. Pat was perfectly happy with the layout of her home and she didn’t want the council workers coming in, knocking through walls and messing about with her toilet and bathroom. This may seem a bit strange now but is still an option available to Council tenants to this day and if you don’t want the council to carry out any work (unless it’s for safety reasons such as gas or electricity works), you’re well within your rights to refuse it. By the looks of it Pat’s mindset was that “If it wasn’t broken, why fix it?”.
After seeing the fundamental changes they had made to my own home during the same period of modifications and how they would have potentially disrupted her home life for a good few weeks, I can totally understand why Pat had chosen not to allow the Council to come in and tear up her home.
To separate the bathroom from the kitchen, the lower portion of the staircase had to be completely modified so that a new doorway could be added from the hallway into to the newly-aligned bathroom, and at the same time the kitchen would have had to be completely redesigned, including blocking up the original bathroom door, relocating the kitchen window and the back door to the opposite side of the kitchen and then having the toilet relocated from inside the odd little little toilet block closer to the centre of the house, just inside the newly-added door through from the hallway. This work would have involved having new drains being dug under the newly positioned bathroom and having the old toilet block completely demolished (not such a bad thing). On top of all that work there were to be further hefty building carried out in the living room. The old fireplaces were to be ripped out to make way for a back-boiler and a three-bar gas fire, which would have needed an underground gas supply piped in from the hallway. There were also two large storage cupboards either side of the rear window, one of which was the former coal shed which was accessed from the back garden, which needed to be ripped out. All this work meant having the floorboards removed and replaced with a concrete floor and having the ceiling patched up or replaced. Whilst they were at it, they were also going to fill-in the old serving hatch. If I look closely at the artex above my rear living room window, I can still just about make out the imprint of the demolished cupboards and I can also see in the plaster where that serving hatch used to be, often serving to remind me that I really need to have my internal walls re-skimmed
Basically, it was a massive and very messy job meaning that Pat would have been without a toilet, bathroom, kitchen and living room for weeks. Unsurprisingly, she must have felt that all this upheaval simply wasn’t worth it just for a slightly shorter (and less exposed) walk to the toilet. Now, this is where mine and Pat’s opinions would have differed slightly as I’m very glad to have had those amendments made to my home. However, I didn’t have to live through all the chaos of it being done to my home and hindsight is great, but ultimately useless. That said, when I’m having a soak in the bath and my head is only inches away from the toilet I do wonder how wise the the thinking was behind the newer layout of my tiny bathroom. Something else I really need to put some consideration into if I’m planning to stay here for much longer. This theoretical bill is getting bigger by the minute, making me lean more in the direction of Pat’s “if it isn’t broken” way of thinking.
Continuing the conversation with my neighbour about Pat’s little time capsule, it was mentioned that because Pat had dodged most of the internal mods, her home still had most of the original internal features including the fireplaces – both downstairs and upstairs – the picture rails throughout, the original internal doors, the coal shed and internal cupboards in the living room; the original downstairs floorboards and even the original butler sink in the kitchen.
When these homes were built they didn’t come with a fitted bath. The original tenants were supplied with a tin bath that would be moved into the kitchen and filled with hot water from the copper, which was situated in what was now the tiny bathroom off the kitchen. The copper would have been removed at some point and replaced by a permanent bath supplied by a water-boiler of some description. It wasn’t until I started to think about this layout a bit more that it struck me as a bit odd to have the toilet and the copper in the same room, surely that would have been the pantry/scullery, I was once again beginning to doubt my reasonings about the original location of the toilet… more on that soon.
Not long after that conversation with my neighbour about the layout of our particular style of houses and how they’d been modified (or not) throughout the years, I had a friendly chap from Anglian Water who had been reading the blog get in touch with me to tell me that he had seen my many references to the fact that I love to pore over old maps and technical drawings. He told me that he also shared the same passion for mapwork and that he had in his office a comprehensive library, including files full of maps and technical drawings for water supplies, connections and disconnections to most of the homes built in the city, dating from the late-1800’s and right up until the present. He asked me if I would like to visit the Waterworks for a bit of a tour and to take a look at these comprehensive and fascinating records. Not being one to look a gift-horse in the mouth, combined with the fact that I am a curious old soul, I jumped at the chance. For a wannabe-historian such as myself it was a fascinating little treasure trove that I could have easily spent a few days or even weeks digging through, but realistically, I only had about an hour.
Obviously, with all this new-found information at my fingertips I did what I believe everybody would do first and headed straight for the files containing my own home address, which I know to have been built in around 1926. Sure enough the drawings were there, confirming that my house was hooked up to the water supply on the 4th October, 1926. Even more interestingly, they also showed me that my odd little toilet extension wasn’t as I’d cleverly worked out, a later-added extension. It was original. This came as a bit of a surprise to me and it proved to me that I was completely wrong. Being an increasingly-stubborn old sod, I don’t like being wrong, but every now and again you need to be put in your place. It stops you getting complacent and can be kind of refreshing. What it also proved was that my neighbour’s claims that her elderly neighbour’s house was still pretty-much as original as it was the day it was built (internally at least) were correct, which made it all the more more interesting to me. Was this home one of the only homes on the estate to be mostly in its original condition?
The red lines in the above diagram coming from the street and going under my front garden head through the house and out into that odd-little toilet block (W.C.), which I’d incorrectly and rather arrogantly assumed must have been added to the back of my home as some sort of bizarre afterthought.
It seems that the early 1928 and 1938 maps that I had access to weren’t entirely accurate with regards to the shape of the houses. When I investigated further I began to notice that every single house on the estate was simply recorded as being a generic rectangle and it wasn’t until the slightly newer maps of 1956 that the true shape of all the houses were being recorded accurately. The toilet blocks hadn’t been added to the houses, they’d just been added to the more detailed maps. I should have realised earlier, but that’s what can happen when you’re so adamant that you’re right. Still, you live and learn.
With this new-found knowledge I decided to head back to the maps of 1956 (and later) to check across the rest of the estate to see if any other houses had been built with these little blocks on the back. I managed to find about fifty in total, mostly situated over on the Drayton Estate side. There were a handful (less than ten) in the Northern half of the estate but they’ve all been demolished since, probably because they were of the concrete block design.
Back to the conversation I’d had with my neighbour, she had told me that she’d been chatting with Pat about my blog, how I’m interested in researching (and rambling at length about) the history of the estate and the stories Mile Cross always has to tell. Pat said that she wanted to meet me to tell me about her many stories of life on the estate and that she would be more than willing for me to come and have a look at her little slice of Mile Cross History.
We were going to set up a date so that I could come and take a look have a look and maybe even take a few pictures of some of the original features in her home when it would be safe to do so. To be honest, I was in no real hurry as I didn’t really know her and I wasn’t going to pester anybody about it, so just put it to the back of my mind and decided to leave it to my neighbour to sort out and see if she would get around to arranging a meet-up at some point in the future. It was an overly-relaxed decision I still regret, as not long after our conversations, Covid-19 turned up and decided it was time to turn everybody’s world upside-down. Literally.
Fast-forward to late-summer 2020. I was tidying up the leaves in my front garden when I was given the sad news that poor old Pat had sadly passed away. Not because she had Covid, but because she couldn’t get the treatment she needed from the Doctors due the restrictions of Covid. It was terrible news. Even though Pat was the majestic age of 89 she was still fully independent, as fit as a fiddle and would often be seen making her way down to the Mecca on Aylsham Road to play Bingo or off down to Anglia Square to fetch her supplies. She was very close to her direct neighbours and they were as good as family to each other so it was heart-breaking turn of events in our sleepy little corner of the estate. Pat would have turned 90 a few days ago.
A week or so later there was a knock at the door, Pat’s house was being cleared for the Council and that her son had said that he was happy for me to go in and document this unique house before the keys were handed back to the council. Inevitably they would only have to rip out all of that those original fixtures and fittings in the name of modernisation.
I must admit that it did feel a little bit wrong going into this empty house knowing that it was so full of history and because of the awkward circumstances around my visit, however I was reassured that is what Pat would have wanted. I was handed the keys and because of social distancing went in alone. After closing the front door behind me and stepping into the hallway I was almost deafened by the silence, but my trepidation and worries soon began to ease. The house seemed to warm to me and I instantly felt welcome, maybe it was the odd familiarity of it all or maybe it was 94 years of family history oozing from the fabric of the house and accepting my intrusion. I like to think that Maybe Pat was there with me, although I reckon that if she was she’d have been a bit annoyed that they’d had to rip out all her carpets. Maybe I think too much.
So, with all that moved somewhat awkwardly to one side, let’s move on to the Pictures. First up I’ll show the original toilet block and back door from outside. You can see by comparing it to the older picture of my house that it is exactly the same, albeit mirrored. Obviously the UPVC door is a later addition and was put in to plug the gap and to stop the open nature of the back place and entrance to the toilet. Imagine how cold that would have been in the darkest depths of winter. I wouldn’t be surprised if chamber pots would have still been in use. My wife’s dad, who was born in one of the houses just to the left of this shot, once confessed to opening the kitchen door a crack and simply peeing straight into the garden when he was a young scamp, much to the annoyance of his parents! I suggested to him that he could have saved himself a journey by peeing straight out of the bedroom window, but he said that wouldn’t have gone down to well with either his siblings who he shared a room with, or his parents. Fair point.
Moving indoors and into the kitchen, this shot is taken looking towards that once-open back place and through to the toilet door. You can see that this house still has the original back door complete with the original lock and splash guard on the outer edge to stop the rain getting into the kitchen. Look at that tiny doorway into the toilet.
This next picture was taken from the back place and looking into the tiny toilet block. It’s not technically an outside loo, but I’d like to bet that at 3am on a cold January morning in 1928 it might as well have been!
I’ve ventured deeper into the kitchen for this next shot and we can see how basic the kitchen was. Even in 2020 It still had the original Butler sink and not much else. The door on the right would have led through to the pantry and space for the Copper water heater. A tin bath would have been supplied with the house and would have most likely have been hung from one of the walls. The original tenants would have bathed here in the middle of the kitchen or living room using hot water from the copper. The pantry made way for a fixed bath at some point before the 1950’s and became a tiny bathroom.
Another shot of the kitchen from next to the sink. It’s hard to imagine that my kitchen once looked like this. The door in the middle was filled in when the stairs were redesigned to fit in another door in from the hallway and the diagonal back door was removed when the toilet block was demolished and all squared off. Apart from the newer electrics this kitchen was pretty much as it was in 1927. There would have been no kitchen cupboards in 1927, the food being stored in the pantry and the cutlery being stored on racks or in the cupboard in the living room.
The next shot is of the original butler sink with a (slightly) newer draining board. I think the original would have been made of wood. The hot tap is a later addition and hot water would have originally come from the copper.
The view from the kitchen with the original pantry door open showing the later-added bath. It’s hard to think that this little room isn’t much smaller than my own toilet and bathroom which fills the space from the back wall on the left to the wall on the right. In my house, the cooker occupies the space where the pantry door used to be and the kitchen sink lives in the corner where the back door used to be under the relocated window.
On the opposite wall, the original serving hatch through to the living room is still present, although by the looks of the painted-over hinges this one hadn’t been opened in a long time. My fridge Freezer lives in this corner and the hatch was bricked up. I can still just about make out the square in the plaster.
Moving out of the kitchen and into the main hallway we can see the original layout of the stairs. My bathroom door is now situated between the stairs and the radiator and it’s hard to imagine that there’s enough room for such a modification, but there is. Note how Pat’s later-added, modern(ish) gas and electrics have simply been ‘trunked in’ at some point. Mine are in the same sort of position, but have been concealed in a cupboard and the pipework dug into the floor. At some point my home would have had a back boiler added behind the fireplace in the living room, meaning that the gas pipe was routed into the living room at the expense of the original floorboards. My dad (about 200 meters away) still has his back boiler and it’s still going strong, somehow. In my home these modifications would have have happened during the late 1970’s or early 1980’s mod, but not in Pat’s house. Hot water would have been supplied by a gas Ascot situated above the kitchen sink until fairly recently.
From the hallway I move through into the living room and I can’t help but notice the original doors with internal locks and Bakerlight handles, which would probably cost you a small fortune in one of those pretend-antique shops that litter Magdalen Street these days. One question that briefly played across my mind was as to why would you need to lock yourself into the living room? Best not contemplate that too much…
In the middle of the living room stood the original art-deco fireplace. It doesn’t get much more 1920’s than that, obviously the wooden hearth surround is a later addition, but not that recently by the looks of it. My chimney-breast is crudely extended with wood on one side to house the now-redundant pipework for the back boiler that would have sat inside the ripped out fireplace and behind a three-bar fire. Which thankfully was also removed long before I moved in, although I do have fond memories of standing in front of mum and dad’s to dry off after getting out of the bath as a child.
I noticed inside the fireplace a fascinating little makers stamp: “ABM Standard, British Made”
In this next image taken from the entrance to the living room from the hallway we can see that a fair portion of the room is taken up by two internal cupboards, one accessed from inside the house and with it’s own little window and another (accessed externally) that would have been the coal shed. The original wooden floorboards still remain and we can see the darker edges would have been left bare, but treated and the lighter wood in the middle is where there would have been one large rug. These, along with the original fireplace and the two substantial cupboards have were taken out of my home during modification.
Shortly after we had moved into our home, the hard living room floor began to crack in the middle and rise. It had to be dug-up and re-laid (thankfully with some modern insulation added to the mix) and the builders were baffled by the two strange shapes in the floor, either side of the window. When I look up now and the light is just right, I can still make out the shadow of these two cupboards in the ceiling. Another part that was removed that I wish hadn’t been, were the original picture rails. I might try and reinstate them if and when I can be bothered to get round to it.
Another shot of the living room, this time looking through to the hallway and showing off the original serving hatch. It’s amazing how Pat’s house feels so much smaller than my own, even though the original footprint is slightly larger.
With the downstairs pretty much covered, I decided to head upstairs, but not before looking back down at the original layout of the stairs. In my house, the lower of the two squares was removed and replaced with a couple of diagonal steps. This somehow allowed the council to squeeze in the new entrance to the bathroom, and I still can’t really get my head around how they managed to do it.
Once upstairs I ventured into the front bedroom, the smallest of the three. Again this room is pretty much as it was the day the house was built, apart from a very-recently added radiator. The original fireplace stands proud in the corner. The only hint that my house was the same is that the concrete hearth is still in the floor and a later-added vent that utilises the old chimney for ventilation, or unwanted drafts.
And a close-up of that beautiful little fireplace, still complete with the original grate. You often hear stories that these upstairs fire-places would only be lit if somebody was ill and having to stay in bed to recuperate.
Next up, I ventured into the master bedroom, which is bigger than it looks in this very wide-angled image. Again, the original fireplace and picture rails remain. My bedroom feels much smaller than this as the far wall is mostly taken up by a modern boiler and water tank. My outside wall has also had an insulating wall fitted at some point in the past, robbing away a few more inches of space.
Lastly, I ventured into the remaining mid-sized bedroom which has a little cupboard that utilizes the dead space above the staircase. Again, this room is almost as it was when new, although it now had a very-recently added boiler cupboard located awkwardly next to the bedroom window. Whoever at the council though this was a good place to put it must have had a serious hangover when they came in to work one morning, although Pat may have had some influence on the location as it was placed directly above the bathroom and kitchen, meaning that minimal disruption was needed to hook the house up with a modern means to heat the water. Some of my neighbours houses use the original little cupboard to house their boilers, which seems to make a bit more sense.
Having captured the upstairs as best as I could I decided I’d been in this fascinating little time capsule for long enough and decided it was time to say goodbye to it. Before doing so I paused at the top of the stairs for one more photograph of the stairs heading down from the landing. From here we can see the dead space used up by the cupboard in the second bedroom and the awkward shape that I now have to contend with when trying to get furniture up and down the stairs. I still have no idea how people managed to get those large, walnut wardrobes that were all the rage back then up and down here in the past.
There’s something about a staircase that often makes me ponder and before I descended the stairs of this now-silent old house, so rich in history, ponder is what I did. I paused briefly to think about how houses mostly tend to outlive people and wondered what history would be captured within these walls if they happened to be listening or recording. These particular old houses were erected not long after the great war, most likely by out-of-work survivors of that particular conflict and are still standing strong a century later. These old houses have seen the modern age – as we call it – appear and then steam-roll its way through in the blink of an eye. People would have sat in these houses and listened to Winston Churchill declaring war against Germany on the wireless, people would have huddled around the TV to watch man take his first steps on the moon. People and families came and went, various trends and fashions come and go; personal tragedy, joy and laughter, births and deaths all occurred within the four walls here and it made me realise that life is both fragile and always too short.
I then began to wonder about what this almost one-hundred year old house would witness in the future as it stands quietly watching on, rooted to the same spot. The same spot that used to be a quiet field in the countryside, well beyond the city’s walls. How long will this house and its neighbouring homes continue to stand here? Will they still be here in the year 2120? It’s hard for me to get my little head around what they might witness. Maybe it will witness love; war, joy, personal tragedy, new life, climate-change, men and women taking their first steps on Mars – and beyond – and who knows what and where next for mankind. People will be living in this little house could be watching it all unfold on their holo-I-pads, with their hover-cars parked on the roof… maybe not. A house that was built to last only sixty years and still is going strong, but yet so closely connected to the seemingly distant and unfathomably-simpler past, starting during the ‘roaring twenties’ and managing to stay almost as it was back then, seemingly stuck in time whilst at the same time being connected to the future and witnessing everything in between.
All of this pondering was getting too much for my simple little brain and I decided it was time to end my brief intrusion into this painfully-quiet, but warm, private space once and for all. Time to head back down those stairs and off back to my own home, located only a few doors away. As I walked around the corner and my own home came into view, I tried not to imagine being it empty and in-between chapters, just like the home I’d left behind. Instead, looked at it with a completely fresh set of eyes and with a completely different outlook, never to be able to see it in the same way again, and I mean that in a good way. Closing my own front door behind me, it never felt so good to be home.
Even though I know it’s a bit nostalgic, I really wish that my own home had retained some of those original features such as the three fireplaces, internal doors, picture rails and floor-boards in the living room, but at least I now understand why some of them had been removed. In my house (and countless others) the downstairs fireplace and flooring were sacrificed for the long-since-replaced ‘back boiler’ so that the previous inhabitants could finally live in a house with hot water on tap and radiators throughout, but surely the internal doors and the picture-rails could have been saved. It’s often pointed out that hindsight is a wonderful thing, and 1970’s/80’s and 90’s trends in interior design have a lot to answer for. On the other hand I am glad to have modern heating, a bathroom completely separated from the kitchen, not having to walk half-way around the house and through the kitchen just to go for a pee and I could always reinstate those fireplaces (the back boiler was ripped out years back), although that would cost me a small fortune.
One thing I am thankful for is that at least these houses were just modernised and not just knocked down to be replaced when the estate reached the end of it’s original ‘sell-by’ or ‘best-before’ date. These little houses live on and although they have been considerably modified out of necessity, they still remain to keep their original cottage-like charm and will continue to be lovely little homes in which to grow up in and live for the future generations.
Now, this is the part where I was going to give thanks to all involved in inviting me into this home in the strangest of circumstances. It’s taken a long time for me to try and write something up about it without compromising my all-too fragile conscious in the process and I hoped that this rather niche entry about one particularly peculiar style of Mile Cross Home means something to some of you out there reading this; but as is often the case when I’m typing out these thoughts for this blog this little story had a little more history to give out.
As I was putting the finishing touches to this piece, the lovely lady who had kindly supplied me with the images of my own home throughout the years had gotten in touch to see if I could help her solve a few historical puzzles about her family’s long and deep connections to the estate and the wider local area and of course I happily obliged. Together we uncovered some fascinating little quirks about Mile Cross, some of which I suspect I will be writing about in the future. The conversation then turned to the layout of my/our home and the fact that the house I’d been welcomed into to photograph was still as hers (mine) was back when she had lived here.
She was quite surprised and then told me that the house I’ve been writing about in this entry was also the house in which her best friend, Shirley (who was one of many children) had grown up in, Shirley’s family being the family that preceded Pat’s here. I sent over a few pictures for her to show her friend and it sparked an interesting conversation about memories of growing up in one of these little houses long before any of them had been modernised. Shirley said it still looked as if it did the day she moved out and she even recalled standing in that very kitchen sink (pictured below) to be washed as a child. The kids never wanted to get old enough to have to use the bathroom as it was so cold in there, being the former pantry. In the colder months by the time the water had been transferred from the copper and into the bath it was already getting cold. Laying in my own bath next to the toilet but within inches of a nice warm radiator with all that warmth being held in with nicely sealed double-glazed and insulated walls didn’t seem so bad after all.
The memories continued to flow and one subject that tended to keep cropping up was the fact that these houses could be so cold, which was probably not helped by that strange setup with regards to the kitchen and bathroom doors. The kids in this particular house took it in turns to clean out the fireplace as it was a nice and warm job, apart from the part where they had to take the ash outside and add it to the garden path. People living in these houses tended to have scorch marks on the sides of their legs where they would sit as close to the fireplace as humanly possible just to keep warm. Shirley also recalled having to have a stoneware hot water bottle (which I’ll admit I did have to look up o the internet to see if it was an actual thing!) placed under the sheets and her dad’s old Army Jacket would placed on top of her bed to hold in a bit more heat. Another of Shirley’s recollections is that the family used to write messages all over the walls after they were stripped down to be redecorated, so there’s probably a few surprises to be found by the council workmen when they go in to strip the place of its former identity.
Another memory that came up was with regards to the old wooden draining boards attached to the original kitchen sink. These old things were prone to giving out the odd splinter when they were being scrubbed and on one day the draining board that used to be where my back door now lives gave the mother of this house a particularly nasty splinter which required hospital treatment. The mum had to get on the bus with a massive splinter under the nail of her middle finger and take herself to the N&N to have it removed. Ouch.
I’ll end this somewhat extended story with a picture that the previous residents of this and my neighbours houses sent me during our discussions about this interesting little house. It’s a picture of an old pie box with a note written onto it which recently came to light after some work being carried out on a house in Eaton. It was cheekily hidden under the floorboards by Shirley’s brother David when he was working for Palmer’s Electrical and the address on it was… you’ve guessed it, the very house which this blog entry was written all about. It’s funny what you can dig up when researching a bit of local history and it just goes to prove that Norwich is a small little City at times!
Thanks once again for reading these ponderings.
11 thoughts on “A Mile Cross Time Capsule proves me wrong, and right all at the same time.”
What an absolutely lovely, lyrical homage to Pat’s house. I have so enjoyed reading it and your writing conveys such a clear and evocative picture of much loved home.
I don’t like to think of Pat’s house being modernised – would that it could remain the same – although you make a good argument for modernisation!
The subsequent coincidences just add to the magic of your blog.
Thank you very much
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I thought about raising it with the council, but there’s such a shortage of housing that this little house needs a family as much as they need a home. With the UPVC door covering the porch and the modern windows, I’m hoping that there won’t be much needed to be removed to modernise, apart from the kitchen layout.
I was a council painter from 1975-2002 and painted some of these houses many times and I do remember them outside toilets and that little porch (there were some very similar ones down Old Lakenham) these little porch’s were very handy to stand in when it was raining and you didn’t want to go back to the Mess hut (the old mobile council site that was constantly moving around Norwich), I must have worked that estate 5 or 6 time during my employment on the council. Thanks for a great read.
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A wonderful history! So pleased you are researching your jouse history- you are much further on than I am.
Our house had the outside/ within the footprint of the house toilet and the Butler sink and picture rails. We also have an Anderson shelter!
The council gave us a new bathroom in 1997 and a new kitchen in 2016! We still have the back boiler.
These houses(The Plumstead) were mostly built in the early 1930s but the war intervened and some were built post war. The had a wash boiler, an electric kettle and an electric provided and some families had to endure the torture of having their possessions fumigated before moving in. Those yards were not healthy places! Thanks again for a great blog.
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I’ve read this a lot about people moving from the yards, having their possessions fumigated. This tended to happen to the later council homes of the 1930’s.
Who’d have though the history of the lav would make such a fascinating long read. A perfect piece of local history, Stu. (But why didn’t the council place a true back door across the kitchen/toilet doors in the first place?)
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I really have no idea. Proximity to kitchen, maybe? Some of these houses were built with upstairs toilets.
Thank you for all this. Both my parents grew up in mile cross estate. Both sets of grandparents had essentially outside like within the footprint of the house. I think the one on Gresham road may have had the diagonal door in the kitchen, and the loo was the opposite side of a porchway. Th other one in bigno!d rd had a back door from the kitchen , or ‘scullery’, and you had to walk along beers the house to the loo. Always plenty of fresh air in there. In time, my grandad built a panto along there to shelter it.
But we didn’t go out there at night there was a chamber lot for that.
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he built a lean to beside the house.
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A fascinating read, as ever. I am only in my late 20s but I have fond memories of living in Civic Gardens for 15 years before moving away in 2010. The history of the area has always intrigued me. Keep up the great work.
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I just love this blog Stuart, Thankyou so much for doing this. I re read this quite often. To me it brings Pat back to us. I can still see/hear her in my head sometimes telling me loads of her stories of living here and memories of growing up on the Estate from when she was a child (Margaret Paston Ave). I loved hearing her stories.. I miss her sooo much!
Thanks once again😁
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