There is no doubt that spring is in full swing! It is welcome after a spell of chilly weather at the end of March. The clocks changed a few weeks ago so we have an extra hour of light in the evening. The daffodils are in full bloom, as are the trees and bushes: hawthorn and magnolia to mention just two. The leaves are rapidly unfurling on most of the trees, the exceptions being the laggard silver birches and walnut. The theme for this month’s post is change, and I am aware of change in more than the garden. Spring comes every year of course, but there are bigger changes.

We live in an area to the north of Norwich. There is no doubt that the composition of the neighbourhood is changing, and I can observe this. The houses on our street were built in the 1930s. When we moved here in 1998, there were still a few people who had been here all their lives. They have since been moving into care or dying. The houses are changing hands. The new owners are younger and often have young children. There has, over the past few years, been a tendency to build extensions to the homes, tacking extra rooms on the sides.

We bought our house on Brabazon Road from a woman (Joanne),1 who was brought up in it and lived in it as an adult. When she and her husband moved, it was across the road to a house directly opposite. Her mother stayed on in the house, and we bought it when she died. Joanne’s husband died a few years after we moved in. She inevitably became less able to manage, and her children placed her into care. The lady in the house next door died about a year ago, aged 94, her husband having predeceased her by a good 15 years. This pattern of longevity but inevitable mortality is repeated up and down the street.

Our house has a unique and unusual history. It was built, I think, in the 1930s. The first owner, Joanne’s mother, ran a small school in the property. This is what I would have characterised as a ‘Dame School’. These, according to Wikipedia, were:

“small, privately run schools for young children that emerged in the British Isles and its colonies during the early modern period. These schools were taught by a “school dame,” a local woman who would educate children for a small fee. Dame schools were extremely localised … (and) lasted from the sixteenth century to about the mid-nineteenth century, when compulsory education was introduced in Britain.”2

More accurately it was a private nursery and pre-primary school.

When it was built the house was at the outer edge of Norwich’s suburban development and backed onto fields. It was a boiler plate design: two stories, built of red brick with a tiled roof; the kitchen, dining room, and lounge downstairs; and upstairs three bedrooms and a bathroom. It was semi-detached, this meant there was an adjacent house that was a mirror image. There is a large, by English standards, garden, small in the front and extensive at the back. What was built was not exactly what we bought in 1998, as I shall explain!

I must start by saying that Norwich Airport is close by. The terminal building is located just four minutes’ drive and 14 minutes’ walk away from the house. This was one of the attractions when we were looking for a larger property. I was doing a great deal of travelling, so it was very convenient. On one or two occasions I even got off the plane, went through immigration, collected my luggage, and walked home. I should note that the main runway is at right angles to the house, so we are not at all affected by most airplane noise! The helicopters, which service North Sea oil rigs, are a different matter of course. They pass directly overhead and are annoying, but it is not too often. Generally, though, we have all the advantages of the location.

The airfield was built in 1939 and opened in June 1940 as an RAF bomber station. Initially the aircraft stationed here were Bristol Blenheim’s. During the Second World War a Blenheim Bomber on a testing or training flight failed to take off. This was from the, now disused, runway that pointed at the house. The plane came down in the fields and ploughed into the house that was the other half of our semi. All the crew were killed. The flames spread towards our house, where Joanne, a child of about three, and her parents were at home. They fortunately escaped unhurt, as did the residents of the house the plane demolished. The other half of the semi was destroyed. There is some charring in the wood in our house, but otherwise it survived pretty unscathed.

As an aside my Aunt Dot, my father’s sister, lived in Norwich. She had one daughter and adopted a second child, Gwen. Gwen married Richard who grew up just two roads away from this house. His father served in the Fire Brigade during the war. Richard told us that his dad was one of the crew called out to crash. It is a small world.

When we bought the house, we did not know its story, and other than assuming it was a somewhat unusual structure did not think more about it. Indeed, the estate agent did not bring this idiosyncrasy, that it is asymmetrical and half a house, to our attention. Even more bizarre was that the surveyor did not appear to notice it either. We only found out about the fact that the house had a narrow escape much later!

We were aware of one legacy of the war in that, just outside the kitchen door, there was an air raid shelter. It was presumably built to protect the children. This was a monstrous reinforced concrete structure sitting above ground, and one of our first actions when we bought and occupied the house was to demolish it. This was a major undertaking which took several men, with jackhammers, days of hard and dirty work.

The second major addition to the house, before we bought it, was an extension to the back, a bedroom complete with a toilet and shower. This was built as the old lady became immobile and unable to climb the steps to the bedrooms and bathroom. We had the windows replaced and added two conservatories and a shed. Most recently we installed swift nesting boxes under the eaves, they have not been occupied yet, perhaps this year. The story of the house and the suburb will continue. It is very much the sort of area R.E. Delderfield envisaged when he wrote his classic two-volume work The Dreaming Suburb and The Avenue goes to War, both published in 1958. It will be interesting to see how the story changes.

Let me switch gears. I have read two most interesting and influential books over the past few weeks. The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel is subtitled ‘Timeless Lessons on Wealth, Greed and Happiness’ (Harriman House, Hampshire, 2020). It is a deep dive into how we behave around and with money. My take-away is that we are better off, but more dissatisfied than ever, and there is a growing inequality – but the mega wealthy are no happier than the rest. I think the importance of the middle class is greatly underestimated. The second is How to be a Liberal by Ian Dunt (Cranbury Press, Kingston Upon Thames, 2020). This tracks the growth of liberalism and notes it is under threat. These books seem to be the first offerings of both authors. They are well worth reading, and while they may not be life changing, they certainly provide food for thought. I am writing my own ‘memoir’ and have reached 45,000 words, and the age of 19 when I left Swaziland for university in the UK. I know it needs much work before it is finished. So far it has been an eye-opening experience to revisit my past, try to understand it and how it formed me. Watch this space.

  1. Not the real name!
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dame_school

One thought on “Spring

  1. Hello Alan, I much enjoyed the history of your house in north Norwich. I wish I knew as much about Little Westfield the late C16th stud and plaster in Aslacton that was my home for 20 years from 1974. I now live in Hout Bay, western Cape, most of the year but pay an annual visit to Norfolk to keep in touch with my much loved old stamping grounds. Do drop in next time you are in the Cape. Cheers!


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