Gladys  Watling's Memoirs

In 1985, Glady Watling wrote Within Living Memory - an unpublished memoir. Here are substantial extracts, with more quoted elsewhere under Watling's SHOP, Bracon Ash Village Hall and Recreation, preparations for World War II and in many other items about Bracon Ash. In addition, Miss Watling made a point of collecting photographs of people and places in the village. Her father sold postcards produced by Norwich photographer Tom Nokes and they seemed to have encouraged local families to let him take their photos. In particular, she asked families for photos of men leaving for the Great War and made an album that is an invaluable source of village history.

If YOU can help identify anyone in the photo gallery of people, or identify buildings in the cottage gallery then please CONTACT us.

The Watlings Remembered..... by Ted Moore:

'The Watling family consisted of Arthur Henry Watling (baker); his wife Mary Jane; their daughters Gladys Hannah and Lily Beatrice; their sons Loftus Frederick and Lammas Arthur. Lammas was known as 'Mac' and he later kept the Post Office at Hingham. If you were the same age as a Watling you still had to address them formally. My sister learnt the hard way on one occasion by calling Miss Watling by her Christian names!

[Loftus Watling married Dorothy who features in photos of local nurses in WW2.]

'Gladys Watling did so much for the village: Red Cross classes during the war; the library; the Church Council; the Village Hall Committee. She was a nice lovely person, dear Gladys. Women in those days were not expected to have a career but did things around the village. She was in her late 30s when I knew her. She never married. She stayed in the village all her life, until her death. She used to ride a motorbike - it was unusual for a woman of that kind. She was 13 in 1911 - she would have been of marriageable age when World War I came, but many of the men of that age where killed in World War I.... When Miss Watling died that was the last of the Watling family here in Bracon Ash.' 

Gladys Watling cutting the celebration cake for the Queen's Silver Jubilee party, 1977
Gladys Watling cutting the celebration cake for the Queen's Silver Jubilee party, 1977

'Within Living Memory' by Gladys Watling 

In 1902 my father [Arthur Henry Watling, 1871-1956] took over the Bakery, General Store and Post Office in Bracon Ash, having moved from Flordon. There was my father and mother, my brother Loftus, aged 2 years, and myself, aged 4 years. Later on the family was increased by Mac and Lily.

Above: A Tom Nokes postcard of Bracon Ash with Watling's shop & Post Office on the left. It is thought that the girl in the centre of the photo, with long hair, holding a bike, is Gladys Watling, probably standing with other family members. 

Our main means of getting to Norwich was by carrier's cart or by train from Swainsthorpe station about three miles each way. There was always the effort of going by bicycle for those fortunate enough to own one. With the coming of the motor car the carriers' carts were replaced by motor buses - in the early days there was no standard design and the owners made their own specifications. As the buses came from various starting points they were often full up when Bracon Ash was reached. One driver used to lean out and shout 'Coming back!' when he saw a queue waiting for him. The drivers used to look after their passengers and if old Mrs. So-and-so wasn't at her usual picking up place a halt was made to give her a chance if she was late.

At a certain time this was a flourishing trade and a firm called the United Bus Company started up in Norwich. With small fast buses they began to 'sandwich' the private buses by putting on theirs before and after to monopolise the custom - we called these 'the chasers'. The lads of the village used to like to go to Norwich on a Saturday evening and they made a slogan 'United we stand, Barnard we sit'.

My father was the first person to have a motor car in the village though he still kept the horses for the bread rounds. With the increasing motor traffic and before the days of tarmac roads we folks at the roadside had to keep our windows shut because of the clouds of dust. At the corner of the green by the Reading Room there was always a marl heap (above) which was a sort of clay used to patch up the roads and added considerably to the dust flying around.

People often used to ask for a lift to Norwich as my father went regularly to get supplies from the wholesalers and to bank the weekly takings. He used to cater for teas etc. at the cricket matches and on one occasion when loading up the van the brake became loosened and the van started to run down the yard - he kept shouting 'Whoa, whoa' as for a horse but luckily there was no traffic about when it ran on to the road....

My father was an enterprising man and when a travelling photographer came along he had a lot of views of the village printed for sale in the shop. One which was very popular was taken in the harvest field which apparently attracted half the village there to see the rabbits run and they brought a picnic tea....  

My early schooldays were spent at the village school and the Head Mistress was Miss Burrage and her assistant Miss E. Myhill who was in charge of the Infants Department. The children were encouraged to take an interest in Nature Study and the Chairman of the Managers, Mr. F.C. Myhill was very helpful to the Head Mistress - he started a competition for the children to collect and press wild flowers and at the end of the year to compete for a prize for the best named and presented collection. He gave five shillings to the winner and one year I won this and was highly delighted with what seemed a lot of money to a child.

Another attraction for the children to attend school regularly was by Norfolk Education Authority giving an attractive certificate at the end of each year's perfect attendance then, after five years of being 'Never Absent, Never Late' they gave a watch. This was quite an achievement and four of the children at Bracon Ash managed it; there were two boys and two girls and I was one of them. I can remember the afternoon that completed our five years - we had to stand in line in front of the whole school holding a slate stating 'Five years never absent, never late' and we were congratulated by a long session of clapping.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds ran a competition for children to study a bird and a tree for a year and write an essay on them. I think it was Miss Berney who came to the school and supervised our first effort in 1908 but I have forgotten how many children were allowed to enter - probably four. The Bracon Ash team was very proud to have won the beautiful silver shield in their first year which they held for one year. Two years later a different team was chosen and they were judged winners again for the shield - I was in the team this time and still have the medal which was awarded to the winners.

My later schooldays were spent at Llandaff House School in Norwich and that meant cycling to Swainsthorpe railway station, catching a train to the then Victoria Street station near the school. Arrangements were made for me to put my bicycle at a farm nearby and later on I realized that the young man who sometimes put away my cycle was to become a distinguished painter- Sir Alfred Munnings....

There wasn't much organised entertainment in the village in the early days. I have recollections of an annual event in the Village School given by the Rev. Ashley Nash with the help of the Rev. and Mrs. Robinson which consisted of lantern slides of the Holy Land on behalf of the Church Missionary Society. The closing hymn was always 'The day Thou gavest Lord is ended' and whenever I hear that hymn it takes me back a lot.

Another entertainment of a different nature was a Dance that was organised and held in the School - the floor was in an indifferent condition and someone suggested it might improve things if it was sprinkled with French chalk. As soon as the dancing started there were clouds of dust and everyone was coughing. I can't remember if anything was done to remedy the trouble. The music was provided by a man who cycled out from Norwich and brought his dulcimer which was very melodius. I don't know if such an instrument is still in existence.

Loftus Watling in army uniform, WW1

My parents thought it would be nice if [my brother] Loftus could be taught to play the dulcimer but it was not a success; however I did manage to get a smattering of knowledge at his lessons but that did not develop as I was already learning to play the piano and with the prevailing games such as marbles, whipping up a top and bowling the hoops on the roadside there wasn't time for much more recreation. The road was pretty clear for our games with only traffic of horses and carts which we were well aware of.

An entertainment was occasionally given in the School by the family at Bracon Lodge - the Corbould-Warrens. With other families in neighbouring villages they managed to provide a good concert of small plays, piano recitals and singing. One concert I particularly remember was when they chose to teach my brother Loftus 'The Sailor's Hornpipe'; this was in conjunction with the singing and piano accompaniment of the song 'They all love Jack'. My mother had an authentic white sailor suit and straw hat made for Loftus for the occasion. He also took other parts.

Loftus Watling (rt) with Ted Moore's father, William
Loftus Watling (rt) with Ted Moore's father, William

A recent sight of the Dunston Harriers reminded me of a time back when there was another pack of hounds also hunting in the district, called the Norwich Staghounds. A lot of people went riding in those days and one rider of interest was Lady Boileau (a well-known novelist) from Ketteringham Hall who often used to visit the bake house and call out 'Watling' very loudly for my father to come out and take her orders. Sometimes she would say 'I've just come to smell the bread'. She was a popular authoress and one book we particularly enjoyed was called 'Turnip Tops' and we felt we could recognise some local characters.

The Staghounds hunted deer which were kept in a park and used for the chase in turn. On one occasion a deer was not captured so was left to roam the fields around us; it spent a lot of time in a field with some sheep near the church and eventually the time came for it to be hunted but Miss Berney and many others gathered at Bracon Hall drive gates to protest against hunting in general. I expect the Master then had to make other arrangements for his followers.

An amusing little incident might be related here to do with the Dunston Harriers - the hunt was proceeding in a remote part of Hethel and a rider, seeing an elderly man looking on, asked if he had seen the hare and there was a prompt reply 'Thet I hev, bor, she went through that gap in the hedge and pulled that bramble ahind her to stop the hounds afollowin' her.' How's that for a countryman's wit? I know that happened.

In the winters we used to skate on the Hall meadow pond which was a good size then and on a Sunday afternoon I have seen what to my young mind seemed quite a crowd. It was quite a delight to be taken between the two Miss Myhills with our hands crossed in front and to skim over the ice. Then as years went on and now and again we had enough frost to go skating on the Lake which was in the Street Plantation. Those who had Tilley lamps or anything similar would take them to the lake and place them on the banks where the islands were and hidden by trees. These icy spells were a menace to horse travel on the roads and there were pegs called 'caukens' which had to be driven into the horses hooves to help them get a grip on the ground. Also later on when we had vans there had to be sets of chains put on the wheels to help prevent skidding. Nowadays we don't have these troubles but we do have salt put on the roads which can ruin the underpart of cars etc.

In the Rev. Mark Robinson's time he allowed us to use his lawn for tennis for the village - we could invite friends and that usually meant going home to tea on the lawn at the shop. I was also given an invitation to use the lawn at Bracon Lodge for tennis parties when the family was away. We were very surprised when the staff brought out tea for us and that made a delightful afternoon. These activities led us up to the Christmas parties and Loftus once said 'Do we have to go to all these parties?'

Gladys Watling as a Red Cross VAD nurse

Just before the 1914-1918 war the Red Cross Society ran some courses in First Aid and Home Nursing and some of the members enrolled as V.A.D.s During the war one wing of the Swainsthorpe Workhouse was taken over as a Convalescent Hospital for the wounded and it was the V.A.D.s who went to work there and help to run the place. I used to go two afternoons a week and my duties usually consisted of housework. On one occasion when the visiting doctor came I had to go on the round with the Sister and she introduced me as 'our baby nurse' as I was the youngest nurse. Imagine my surprise when he said 'Yes, and my baby too' for he was our family doctor when I was born at Flordon all those years ago. In about 1918 I acquired a motor bike which helped me on my journeys to Swainsthorpe. This was a 2ΒΌ HP Levis which was belt driven and that often got broken and meant a running repair mended on the roadside. The sound of this motor bike was different from what we hear now and a remark was made that it sounded like a sewing machine coming up the road.

During the war sewing parties were held to make garments for the wounded in hospital and the material was supplied by the Red Cross Society. I usually had the job of making the buttonholes as no one liked that!

To continue with the interest in the Red Cross- this was revived about 1929 by Mrs. Carrill-Worsley who lived at East Carleton Manor and the result was that Detachment Norfolk 46 was formed and the instruction in a succession of various classes were held at the Manor. The members came from the adjoining villages and included our usual publicly minded members of the village. Two special occasions are in my memory - one was when we entered the Display and Competitions at the Wellington Pier Great Yarmouth. Unfortunately we were not successful but our effort was highly commended - anyhow we enjoyed going out as a party. Another memorable occasion was when the War Office carried out their inspection of our Detachment. Strangely enough the three heads - the Commandant, the Assistant Commandant and the Adjutant happened (?) to have previous engagements and it fell to my lot (being the longest serving member) to take the Parade. An official of the Red Cross Headquarters in Norwich was in attendance so I felt the responsibility was shared. The relaxation afterwards was when tea was served in the dining room and I sat behind the superb silver tea equipment and was the official 'pourer out'.

Flower table in Bracon Ash Church in memory of Gladys H Watling 1898 - 1986

With thanks to Susie Whitehouse for providing the memoirs of Gladys Watling, and to Ted Moore for his memories and family photos.