Norwich bunting adorns trip back to yesteryear

The giant bunting decorating City Hall ready for the arrival of the Olympic torch depicts many memories from life in 1948 as Emma Harrowing discovers.

News of what was happening on the track at the 1948 London Olympics was not as instant as today when, come July 27, we will be getting news of the winners and losers as it all happens on television, mobile phones and the internet.

Back in the late 1940s Britain was still undergoing a period of rationing, many people relied on newspapers for their news and very few had a wireless in their living rooms.

Olympians really had to do something special in order to become famous and be remembered 54 years later. One such Olympian was Dutch woman Fanny Blankers-Koen who won four gold medals at the 1948 London Olympics and became known as the 'Flying Housewife'.

Beatty Cockerday, a resident at Ellacombe residenital home on Ella Road, can remember the controversy surrounding the athlete.

Beatty says: 'The Flying Housewife had three children and so people thought that she should be at home looking after them rather than taking part in the Olympic Games. It was very controversial at the time.'

Beatty and several other residents in the home and from three other care homes in Norwich have been the inspiration behind the designs on ten giant flags created by Norwich design collective Art of the Ordinary and commissioned by Creative Arts East. The giant bunting is hung on City Hall ready for when the Olympic torch travels through Norwich on July 4.

Most Read

Beatty and four other residents at Ellacombe are looking at a red flag measuring two-and-a-half metres wide and four-and-a-half metres long. On it is an illustration of a male runner complete with baggy running shorts worn at the 1948 Olympics. The image has made the ladies remember the success of athlete Fanny Blankers-Koen and soon the memories come flooding thick and fast. 'Look at those shorts!' exclaims Peggy Quantrell. 'That was what they [athletes] wore then. I remember that I was a newlywed in 1948, I got married at St Catherine's Church in 1946.'

Another red flag is unravelled to reveal a similar outfit on a footballer. There is an intake of breath as each flag is revealed.

Beatty says: 'Oh yes the football. The men would disappear on a Saturday afternoon and you wouldn't see them until the evening. They would either be elated that their team had won or grumpy if they lost. I had no interest in the sport, instead I would be out doing some gardening.'

Talk turns to the make and mend attitude of the 1940s when a green flag is unwrapped to reveal an old sewing machine.

Peggy says: 'We would all make our own clothes back then – and I still do. I made a garter to hold up my stockings out of my husband's old braces.'

Beatty adds; 'My mum used to have a sewing machine exactly like the one on the flag. I used to have it in my room and spent hours watching her make things on it.'

The stories and memories around the time of the 1948 London Olympics fill the room. It is this type of discussion Art of the Ordinary designers Nicola Gibson, Karen Steadman and Di Tye had with the residents in each care home before they came up with the ten designs that will be flying high on City Hall next week.

'With the help of almost 30 residents we have produced nine images which relate to their memories of the 1948 London Olympics and life at the time,' says Nicola. 'Now that we have come back to each of the homes to show the men and women who have helped inspire the designs the finished flags, each illustration is bringing back more memories for the residents.'

The flags are cut out of vinyl, two of each of the colours of the Olympic rings – red, blue, yellow, black and green. The names of those that have helped come up with the designs are printed in wreaths at the bottom of each flag.

Karen says: 'It has taken us five weeks of hard work to complete the project and we have faced challenges all the way through, from making the splash effect on the flag with the swimmer on it to make it look like he is moving, to experimenting with different ways we can get the designs on the vinyl. The next step will be installing the bunting at City Hall.

'The design of the Olympic torch will also be made into smaller flags for people to wave at the torch ceremony.'

There is suddenly a debate in the room as to whether or not hot chocolate or Ovaltine is the best drink to have before bed. The discussion stems from an illustration on one of the flags of a jar and mug of steaming hot Ovaltine. While Edmee Harmer has always prefered hot chocolate, Beatty insists that the malty drink is the best before bedtime.

'I've always had Ovaltine before bed and I still do,' says Beatty. 'It was also the official sports drink of the 1948 Olympics.'

Peggy joins in the discussion: 'I remember that male athletes would get a jar of Ovaltine and a pair of Y fronts for taking part in the games!'

The next flag design has the entire room in agreement. The blue flag is etched with the design of a spinning top and skipping rope and was a design inspired by the memories of the ladies at Ellacombe. All can remember having these toys as children and all reminisce about long days playing jump rope in the street with friends or listening to the spinning top hum as it spun.

Another flag – a yellow one this time – sports a picture of an old wireless which brings a sense of awe into the room. Beatty says: 'You had to be lucky to have a wireless, many people in 1948 didn't have one. We would all gather around the radio to listen to the news.'

Presentation over and the ladies are still reminiscing about both Olympic events and what life was like in the late 1940s.

Peggy speaks for them all: 'The flags have brought back a lot of memories and it's good to see that our ideas have been brought to life.'

You can see the giant bunting on City Hall until July 9 after the Lord Mayor's Procession.