A man of his time...

PREPARING FOR THEIR FUTURE: boy pupils at probably the Northgate School in Great Yarmouth in the 192

PREPARING FOR THEIR FUTURE: boy pupils at probably the Northgate School in Great Yarmouth in the 1920s. (Inset) William Parsons. - Credit: Archant

Always smartly dressed, William Parsons habitually wore a trademark trilby squarely upon his head. After a variety of jobs, he became deputy head porter at Great Yarmouth General Hospital where he was popularly known as Uncle Bill. An unassuming “ordinary” man, he did much for others and society. On retirement, he sipped coffee in Palmers before walking to Church Plain where he would sit, holding court with old friends. He died in 2005, aged 90. Today begins the two-part autobiography of Bill Parsons whose daughter and son-in-law, Maureen and Michael Harvey, live in Park Road, Gorleston.

MY first year at school, aged five, was at Northgate, then Cobholm Boys; my sister Prim attended Cobholm Girls. Prim and I walked to and from school twice a day because we came home for dinner. In those days children walked for miles because our family and others like us could not afford public transport.

At Cobholm Boys the nit-picker would check us for head lice. Boys with them continually scratched their heads and had to wash their hair regularly. In worst cases, they would be banned until they had got rid of them because nits were easily passed to others.

I was drilled in reading, writing and arithmetic. I was good at art and might well have gone to the Art School but Mother said this would not be useful to my future so, for my craft subject, I chose woodwork.

One teacher told us that the higher you reached at work or in society, the colder it would become for you. I included this figure of speech in an essay but this upset him! He slammed my essay book down on my desk, took me by my ear lobe and dragged me to the front of the class where he made me read out my essay, making disparaging remarks about me as I did so.

Mother was furious, immediately removing me from that school and enrolling me in the Northgate School.

Money was too tight to buy toys and games, but children indulged in traditional playground games and, out of school, were able to play in the streets which in Cobholm were virtually traffic-free. We were forbidden to play in the street after dark so we had to stay indoors and amuse ourselves by the light of a paraffin lamp, our only illumination.

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Prim and I had an indoor secret hideaway, a cupboard at the top of the stairs. One evening when Mother popped out for a few minutes, we clambered into this cupboard and fell asleep. On her return she looked high and low for us - everywhere except in that cupboard!

In desperation she went to the police station to report us as missing. It was only after this that we turned up - and to make the adventure even more dramatic and realistic, she leathered us with her belt more fiercely than I ever remember before or since. I was then about seven.

When I had to look after Prim, I would often take her to play with friends of similar ages. Mother had put the Breydon Wall out of bounds and we were repeatedly warned about the danger of falling in. When Mother found out we had been there, we would both be walloped by her belt, but nevertheless I still took Prim there. Fortunately there were no accidents.

Many times we walked to Gorleston or Caister beaches and back to play on the sands, always having to return home in time to clean ourselves and lay the table before Mother returned home from work...or risk more punishment.

Mother, who had an aptitude for music, tried in vain to make me musical. She bought me a flute and an accordion which I never mastered. Piano lessons were similarly unsuccessful. Also, she was an excellent singer, teaching us many old traditional songs; she also taught us poetry.

Prim and I attended Sunday school in the old Cobholm Methodist corrugated iron “tin mission”, rebuilt in brick in 1923 when I was nine. It was a great place for meeting people and Prim and I made many friends there, so we were encouraged to attend three times on a Sunday and at many other times during the week.

Because there was no radio or television then, it became a hub of our social world. We were in the choir, attended practices and meetings of other linked organisations like Christian Endeavour. Occasionally our choir would sing by invitation in Methodist halls throughout Norfolk. Travelling there was very exciting as it was by charabanc, and we would never have been able to afford a charabanc ride during our normal daily lives.

We became Sunday school teachers when I was about 14 and, after I started work, I had to buy scripture pamphlets for my classes out of the meagre remains of my wages, most of which went to Mother. I also pumped the organ for Miss Stella Bullock.

I befriended Luther Eade, son of the Tin Mission superintendent, and we sang duets of hymns. Prim and I would frequently go to the Eades’ home where she played with Luther’s sisters, Millie and May. Luther’s mother thought a great deal of me because she said I saved his life when he fell into the yacht pond on North Drive. He could not swim and I jumped in and dragged him out.

His father said I had the potential to become a clergyman but nothing ever came of it.

Years later, when I was married to Dorothy and we had returned to live back in Yarmouth, we spent some holidays going away with Luther and his wife Doris. Fate had both families living in the Cobholm district again, in Mill Road. This enabled us to regenerate our friendship which was to continue for many years.

Concludes next week