Growing up in Norwich of the 1920s

Join the late, great Ethel George as she lifts the lid on life in Norwich of the Roaring twenties. Now her book is back in the shops.

Last week family and friends paid tribute to Ethel George who has died aged 97.

We continue our own tribute to this remarkable woman by opening her book – and stepping out into Norwich of the Roaring Twenties.

Young Ethel was the seventeenth daughter of Eleanor and Albert Edwards who lived in one of the poorest parts of Norwich – Cavalry Street.

Yesterday we discovered what life was like in the neighbourhood and at school and now we pick up her story as she grows up.

Days out

The street was our playground when we were little. Kids didn't used to sit in much, even in winter. We'd just put a scarf on and go out.

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In the holidays the kids would go to Mousehold. We'd go about 9 o'clock and come home at tea-time.

Sometimes, if mother had ha'penny, we'd go to Mrs Goodson's house and we'd get a bottle of 'Oreround.' She used to make it herself.

Every year we had an outing on the coal cart. There'd be about 20 of us kids and we used to go to Whitlingham.

Wednesday nights were wonderful for me because mother and I used to go to the pictures.

It were a silent picture, so there were subtitles but there were lots of people who couldn't read so all round the theatre you could hear different people reading what was written on the screen out loud. Like 'I love you' and all that.

Sometimes mother would say: We'll all go to the Hippodrome tonight. Cor, we were excited all day at school.

There were always big queues. When they opened the doors, we charged up to the gods (the highest seats) like hooligans.

There were comics, a pianist and a man on a violin. You'd see a couple of acrobats. I remember seeing two ladies boxing.

It was only fun but my heart was beating. We saw real violence up the yards and in the streets all the time.

Living on the edge

We lived in very hard conditions. None of us had very much. But us what lived in terraced houses had it a lot better than them poor unfortunates in these yards all over Norwich. We had three bedrooms. We had our own copper to wash our linen. We had an oven in the wall and our own toilet but these people up the yards had nothing.


Of course there were some nice men, who didn't come home drunk, but in most households the father was drunk. They were in the pub every night and fighting in the street was a way of life.


There was a little shop on each corner.

There was the shrimp man who used to come. The vegetable lady. The milkman came round on a donkey and the bread man on an open cart and horse

There was some lovely shops up the city.

Chamberlin's was the one on the market place on the corner, where Tesco is now. That was the posh shop. Butcher's was in Swan Lane was another lovely shop and Lyons, the tea place, was opposite City Hall. Oh that was beautiful.

Being sick

When we were little, doctors weren't seen hardly. No. People couldn't afford them. There were hospitals but you had to be nearly dead for them to take you in.

Going to work

I started working at Batson and Webster's boot and shoe factory when I was 14. We worked from seven to seven and never had a Saturday morning off. I got six shillings a week,

After about 10 months I got a job at Steward and Patteson's brewery. I was allowed one drink a day – a lemonade. I got a big old khaki overall, like a coat, with a leather apron on top, wooden clogs with metal toecaps. I thought that was lovely.

After about 15 months I got fed up with the clogs and leather apron so I went to Caleys. I ate a lot of chocolate – for the first two weeks. A few months later I went to work at Howlett & White's shoe factory. I liked it there.

Courting days

I started seeing this boy, Dick. Very dark, Beautiful white teeth. I remember walking behind him on Prince of Wales Road and thinking how lovely he was.

One day I came home and saw my brother Charlie boxing with Dick – they knew each other from the Lads Club.

Dick asked me out and took me to The Regent. He didn't get hold of my hand or nothing but he put a box of chocolates in my lap.

They were in love...

The Seventeenth Child by Ethel George with Carole and Michael Blackwell is published by Larks Press and is on sale in Jarrolds. You can also buy it online at

Ethel's family

Ethel and Dick Spalls had three children.

Pamela who now lives in Puerto Rico, Melvin who lives in Spain and Judy who lives in Norwich.

After Dick's death she married Albert George, a widower with three children and so acquired three step-children.

They are Diane, now living in the United States, and Tina and Keith who live locally.

They are a very close family.

A few days before Ethel died, all except Diane were with her in hospital to celebrate her 97th birthday with songs and balloons.

At one point, a smiling nurse came to ask if they could sing a little more quietly.

Ethel was married to Dick for more than 40 years and to Albert for more than 30 years.