A century of independence

Derek James wishes Betty Howard a happy 100th birthday.

Betty Howard was the toast of friends and neighbours when she celebrated her 100th birthday.

Norwich centenarian Betty amazes everyone who knows her with her independence, and still lives in her own home – more than 50 years after moving in to the city centre terrace.

Remarkable Betty continues to do some of her own shopping, enjoys trips out to local activities – and insists new-fangled inventions such as fridges and inside toilets are unnecessary luxuries.

Betty has always managed without a fridge and a visit to her 'smallest room' involves popping outside to the conveniences off the yard. 'I do have a chamber-pot inside, though!' she confided.

She said she has never wanted more mod-cons, despite many offers to update her home.

Betty puts her long life and good health down to never taking the bus, or getting a lift in a car, when she could have walked or cycled.

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She was still pedalling around Norwich into her 80s, and walks as much as possible even now, with the aid of a couple of sticks.

'I hated waiting for buses, and I like my independence,' said Betty. 'But I'm getting a bit lazy now I reckon!' she laughed.

Betty was born in Reedham, where her father was a carpenter.

It was a reasonably prosperous start in life. She remembers that she and her older sister had a governess for a while, before being sent to a local private school.

Her first job was in the office at Garland's department store in Yarmouth, followed by a stint working for Palmer's of Yarmouth.

The family moved to Middlesex for a while, but in 1954 she returned to Norwich with her, by-then elderly, parents. Betty never married or had children, and her sister had no children either, but she has a godson, Paul, with a family she treats as her own, plus several devoted friends and neighbours.

For many years Betty helped at the Women's Royal Voluntary Service shop at the old Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, and still meets up with fellow volunteers once a year. This year they will be holding a special 100th birthday lunch in her honour.

More friends, from the 'Not So Young Group' run by Holy Trinity Church, bought her a birthday cake, a birthday bouquet and a large bundle of birthday cards.

Back home she proudly showed off her congratulatory card from the Queen.

When Betty was born, 100 years ago, her November 11 birth date was not yet significant. The First World War was still four years in the future and it was to be another eight years before her birthday fell on Armistice Day.

But although she is old enough to remember the Great War, she said it was never spoken of in front of the children. Instead she remembers a childhood filled with play. 'We took the fence down between our garden in Reedham and next door's, so we could play with the children there,' she said.

During the Second World War she served as a fire watcher.