Do you remember Violet Elvin, the pram lady of Norwich?
PUBLISHED: 16:46 01 November 2016 | UPDATED: 16:46 01 November 2016
Far too many Norwich characters have been forgotten about as time goes by... sometimes leading citizens get a road or building named after them but then they are those who not fit into that category.
They are talked about in the street, in the home, over a coffee or a pint.
Stories are shared but as the years roll on the memories of people who made an impact on our lives fade away.
But there is one Norwich treasure whose name lives on more than 20 years after she died.
A little woman with a big heart. Her name is Violet Elvin. The pram lady.
Life was tough for Violet, left to bring up two daughters, when her husband Frederick, working at Barnards, was killed in the first raid over Norwich in the summer of 1940.
One daughter is thought to have died and the other, Doreen, later went to live in America.
Perhaps some of you reading this may not have known her name but will remember her face... and her pram.
She pounded the streets collecting paper for charity. How much did she raise? We will never know.
In Norwich of the 21st century we have Violet Elvin Court on Stannard Road and 20 years ago a tree was planted by Norwich City Council leader Alan Waters, along with a plaque to remember her.
Twice in recent weeks people have asked me who Violet Elvin was – well, she was a Norwich gal we can all be proud of and it was a privilege to have known her.
She was a truly wonderful person.
As the plaque by the tree, a Golden Catalpa, said: “A fine lady who asked for nothing but gave all.”
It was an honour to help lead an Evening News campaign to make sure we never forgot the pram lady. It was one which touched the hearts of our readers.
When I first wrote of her death in the summer of 1995 at the age of 82, the response was quite extraordinary.
People of all ages and from all walks of life loved her and passed the time of day with her – and gave her their papers.
You see Violet spent her days walking the streets in all kinds of weather, collecting waste paper which she would put in her pram. She would then sell it and give the money she collected to local charities and good causes.
We will never know how much money she gave away. Violet didn’t talk about things like that.
This rather frail and humble little person would always find the time to stop and have a chat while she walked the streets. Whenever anyone tried to help her she would just smile and walk on. Any gifts were handed over to help others.
Following her death, another great Norwich character, the late Walter Green, who ran the charity shops for the Salvation Army, said: “She was a marvellous person, someone I admired for 20 years.
“She was the original sweet little lady and I never heard her grumble once,” he said.
Her cousin, Peggy Quantrell, said at the time of her death that she was born Violet Watson.
“Her father Walter, married Rosie, my mother’s brother and like my mother she was a kind, gentle, loving woman.”
She had two brothers. Willie who was in the removal trade and the oldest, Walter, who was an officer in the forces.
“When young she always kept herself so smart, liked to get to get herself dressed up,” she added.
In her later years Violet, also known as Lily, lived on her own in Waddington Street but had spent most of her life in Lound Road, off Colman Road.
Neighbours and friends said she would set off for the city every day, come rain or shine, collecting paper and went her pram was full she would sell it and hand the money over to various local charities.
She must have worn out a few prams over the years.
Peggy added: “I spoke to her in St Benedict’s the week before she died.
“She was pushing her pram with papers in and she told me she felt so ill and couldn’t talk for long.”
Towards the end of her life people said it seemed it was the pram that was holding Violet up as she continued her charity work.
Following her death in the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital the tree was planted in Chapelfield Gardens and then in 1997 former Olympic swimming star Nick Gillingham opened Violet Elvin Court, a sheltered housing complex, in Stannard Road – not far from where she lived.
At the ceremony were cousins Peggy and Audrey Crick.
I asked them at the time what Violet would have made of it all and they said: “She wouldn’t have wanted any fuss.
“She was only interested in giving, not receiving but this is a very proud day for both of us.”
Let’s always remember the little pram lady...
Some of your memories 20 years ago in support of a memorial to Violet
John Lear, of Earlham Road, Norwich, who campaigned for a memorial to Violet: “She devoted her life to helping others. A truly wonderful person.”
Eric Rattledge, of Marlborough Road: “To city dwellers and, especially those who frequented the Market Place, she had become part of the furnishings. A very dear person.”
Mrs D C Nicholas, Lubbock Close, Norwich: “She will be missed. A lady with a heart of gold.”
Joyce Wells, Northfields, Norwich: “We don’t seem to produce many people like Violet. A great lady. God bless her.”
Doreen (daughter) and her family in America: “We would really like you to know how special we think you are for being friends with our mum/grandma, the pram lady. It meant so much to us.”