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Bertha Breeze

Bertha Breeze wrote this account in 1986 of her time in Caston in the 1920's.  It was sent in by Sylvia Harrison.  Sylvia Harrison lives in Leeds, Yorkshire. Her grandfather worked on the Railway and went to London and there ended her connection with Caston but she kindly sent in the following story.

Sylvia Harrison's Introduction
Bertha Breeze was born 1914 in the Sleaford area.  She was the daughter of Violet Mary Gooch born 1882 in Caston.  Violet Mary Gooch was my grandfather's sister and in 1901 census she was a pupil teacher at Caston School and living with her widowed mother, Charlotte, in what I believe was The Ark.
Charlotte's husband was Frederick Gooch and his father was Daniel Gooch son of Samuel.
The Gooch family connection with Caston began when Samuel Gooch moved there from North Lopham around the time of his marriage to Martha Salmon in 1763.  His son Samuel was born in Caston in 1766.  He had 12 children all born in Caston.  The son of one, John was called Edward or Edmund and he and his family seem to have run the Prince of Wales pub.  Daniel Gooch married Lydia Lake the daughter of Thomas.
Bertha wrote this story about 20 years ago (around 1986).  Sadly she has now died.  She was in Caston in the 1920s.
Bertha's recollections of living in Caston, Norfolk
We were now making our home in a smaller village of about 400 people. There was a village green on which stood an ancient double-tiered large stone, and was surrounded by the school, the church, a farm, a public house, a coach builders and a few houses. There were three roads and a lane leading off the green, and the one leading to the rest of the village contained houses and shops, but the first building was a farm house. Nearby was the post office and the policeman's house; the large house with servants; the rectory and blacksmiths shop before my grandmothers cottage appeared. This was set further back from the road with a large plain area at the front, and a deep well on one side. A pail had to be attached to a chain and a handle was turned from the outside until the pail reached the water, followed by the journey back. The well was constructed of bricks with a wooden triangular covering at the top. There was a door in this covering for protection.

There were two small semi-circular plots of earth, one on each side of the cottage, which contained a spotted Laurel (Aucuba) bush and an evening primrose and a fuchsia bush. I always thought it was a strange name for these tall yellowish flowers as they were nothing like the lovely little spring flowers.

The cottage consisted of two rooms, pantry and kitchen downstairs, with one large bedroom covering the area upstairs, in which was a double bed on one side with a single one on the other. My grandmother slept in a room downstairs as she had an affliction which caused her legs to be several times bigger than they should be. She had shoes or boots specially made of material and soft leather in the more vulnerable parts, and she had to shuffle rather than walk.

The window ledge contained a small scented leaved geranium and a type of campanula with a mass of attractive small white flowers. I was very interested in the chimney stack, for if one looked up it, steps could be seen on the sides and I wondered if it was the type that Tom, in Charles Kingsley's book, The Water Babies, had to sweep. I expect this book had been brought by Father Christmas at some time and I was fascinated always by the story and pictures of dirty Tom, clean naked Tom, prickly Tom and Mother Carey's chickens.

At the rear of the cottage the garden contained some gooseberry bushes, and if the fruit was left till ripe it was simply delicious - one variety was red and the other golden.

It was a shorter journey here to reach the privy than in the garden in Suffolk, which was a great improvement.

Returning to the front of the cottage we often saw the flour Lorries delivering to the bakers to the right of us and the tin Lizzie painted grey used by the baker to deliver his bread. Once I found a set of false teeth outside but never found out whose they were. Almost opposite, a lane led off the road, and when the evenings became lighter, we always watched for a certain man who lived in this lane. He would walk to the road, study the sky and make a weather forecast for the next day.

Set amongst the other houses in the village cluster was another public house surrounded by a hedge (apart from an opening), another baker and harness makers. A little further on was a duck farm, with hundreds of white ducks covering the ground, supplying some of the renowned Norfolk ducklings. A chapel was situated short distance away with a little general shop opposite Not far away was the windmill, and it was a lovely sight to see the four sails being sent round by the wind, Opposite the windmill was a road which led to a separate cluster of houses, still part of the village but some little distance away. It was in this part of the village that a fair was held in a meadow and to which I was allowed to go. Perhaps I wished otherwise after what befell, a very unpleasant experience unlikely to happen to many. I was standing at the side of the swinging boats when someone was sick over the side. Luckily for me two girls who lived in the house opposite the fairground, hurried me inside their house and their mother washed me down. How could I ever forget anything like this?

To revert to more pleasant things, different flowers on the walks, such as yellow toadflax, harebells, thyme were discovered, and at the appropriate season, my friend and I went to a certain spot with our small baskets and gathered wild strawberries. I began to identify different bird’s eggs in the nests, but was never allowed to take any, because it was cruel to the birds.

I attended the third school in six years of school life and met a new set of boys and girls. The playground on one side was bordered by a fence of wooden stakes surrounded by a line of grand beech trees. In the autumn the myriads of leaves fell into the playground, and with these the girls became miniature architects by scooping the leaves, which were often a trifle soggy so they stayed in the position for a time, and planned rooms in houses by making lines of the leaves.

Marbles was a game played quite differently here. A hole was made in the ground where the surface was fairly smooth and the marbles had to be rolled by the first finger towards the hole. A hobby was tatting, using a cotton reel with small thin nails knocked in to the top and wool was wound round the forming a pattern which grew as one worked. It was at this school I was taught to darn and to work the various embroidery stitches.

At Christmas time, we still had a visit from Father Christmas. What a wonderful deception this is? We would awake while it was still dark, feel the stocking on the end of the bedpost, and if it was bulky and rustled, he had been. The candle had to be lit so we could see what treasures we had been brought. Looking back, it, seemed very romantic, this mystery in the faint light. We had spent practically all our Christmases here, and it was magic, me on the right hand side and my brother on the left hand side of mother. One of my presents was an object made of lengths of painted glass which was placed over a door and when touched would make a tinkling musical sound. On another occasion I found a dolls cradle made from a boot box. The lid was glued to the base of the box for extra strength, and the box was lined with linen inside and out with frills of muslin and a muslin canopy added luxury. Pillow and bedclothes completed the cradle and presented a lovely gift at not much cost. One of my brother’s presents was a Diablo.

Mysterious knocks still continued on the door on St Valentine ’s Day, but now they were not from the same source. I think we had a good idea of where the pots of jam and other goodies came from but had no proof.

The next little excitement came on Easter Day - when we came down to breakfast we would find a chocolate Easter egg in an egg-cup.

I think it was in the school holidays that we went to London to stay with my mother's brother and his family. The pony had been hired to take us the one and a half miles to the station. Just after we started on the journey a violent thunderstorm broke out. I was thankful that the pony being driven was one of the two kept by Mr. B. who didn't shy at a storm. He trotted along as if it was a beautiful day. Mr B carried a large black umbrella in the trap and this sheltered my brother and I but I was not enjoying the journey. My mother, however, was soaked, so we had to turn back for home, when the telegraphed my uncle when we would arrive. It was either later that day or the next day.

One of the highlights of our London visit was to the great Wembley exhibition, seeing how many products were made both in this country and the Empire, who had what were called their own houses i.e. a representative building of each country. It was a very indifferent environment being in the metropolis and when we arrived home, on returning to school, friends were anxious to know all about the visit.

It was about this time we heard from a boy at school that his father had bought a crystal set. He explained that something called a cat’s whisker was twiddled about and voices and music could be heard. We were all quite curious and asked for more details.

On May 24th known as Empire Day we celebrated our patriotism by singing the correct songs and wearing red, white and blue buttonholes. I think it may have been here that children danced round the maypole forming intricate patterns with coloured ribbons.
It must have been about Whitsun that we boarded a charabanc for a visit to Yarmouth, and while our neighbour took me on a kind of round-a-bout which dipped down and up again two or three times. As a result (it caused a dreadful pain in the stomach), I knew I should never venture on the scenic railway in the future,

My mother’s health was deteriorating and she had to visit the nearest hospital, twelve miles away, for treatment. .On those occasions, with a family friend, we used to be at the station to meet her, as they were very tiring days for her, and the company helped with the rest of the journey.

At this period I sat for the scholarship, as it was called in those days, but I failed it. I was by no means dull at my lessons. This I knew because we had weekly tests and if they were good we sat in the back row of desks. At one time I was at the back and began scratching my head. Mother, with experience of school life, soon made an examination and morning, noon and night she was busy with a small toothed comb extracting the invaders of my long hair. She soon succeeded in their disappearance and we had a fairly good idea of the source of the disturbance. The remark the headmistress made when the results of the scholarship came through, were that I should have passed. Was it the result of upheaval, not trying or was it too hard? I will never know,
During this time my brother and I were always sent to church on Sundays. We said our grace at meals albeit irreverently. After food I would say - 'For what we have received may I be truly thankful, please may I get down - yes'. One of my favourite meals was Norfolk stew and dumplings, so I must have been truly thankful for that.

There were two occasions I was not thankful for, one when a friend and myself were chased across a meadow by some geese, and the other, which happened a few times, was meeting a certain man. He was quite short in stature, had dark brown flashing eyes, and carried a walking stick, which he wielded in no uncertain manner, which made me hide in a suitable place until he passed by.

There was very little in the way of entertainment, but I remember seeing what was termed as a magic lantern show, probably scenes of life in various parts of the Empire, and the evening ended with a stirring hymn, The Day thou gavest Lord has ended. Another time the Rector's daughter did some dancing with gossamer like material to represent wings, and after seeing this my friend and I asked at home for some old lace curtains and safety pins so we could try and simulate the movements of this dance.

In East Suffolk I had been learning to play the piano, and as our piano was still in the house there, I was unable to keep up my practicing. However, a lady living nearly opposite us, had what was called an American Organ and I daily played this to keep up my musical knowledge. In another room a what-not stood in a corner crowded with ornaments, and this was a source of great interest to me. The chair backs were covered with antimacassars, what we now just refer to as chair backs. This house had a small garden in the front, surrounded by a box hedge about a foot high

This friend and her husband were old enough to be my grandparents, but I called her- Mrs W but he was Ernest, because that was how she always spoke of him to me. They were the kind of people that would be referred to as the salt of the earth. Ernest worked on a farm and set off for work every day with a red and white handkerchief tied round his neck and another secured his food. The beverage, in a straight-sided bottle was neat cold tea. He worked very hard, especially at harvest time. Mrs W sometimes helped at the large house with servants, and called there when I was with her, at times. One evening when I was practicing at Mrs W’s the parlour maid called for her to see how she was attired for a whist drive, even to showing the type of pencil she was going to use for marking the cards. I think this showed what an excitement this must have been for her.

My mother was now too ill to bath us, so this was done by the baker's wife, and I used to dash from door to door in my nightdress afraid anyone in the road would see me.

On August.6th, after one school year, my uncle carne and took us to his house in West Suffolk, About a month later my Uncle, Aunt, brother and myself went to Norfolk in a taxi, for what was to be the last time we saw our mother. On 11th October a telegram informed us that she had passed away and, strange as it may seem, that was the exact day, seven years earlier, that the news of my father being missing had come to be. So here we were, beginning a new life in yet another part of Britain.
Footnote by Webmaster, Brian Brooker
Having read the above account, the following information was sent in by John Barnes, the author of "A History of Caston".  He says:
"I saw that you had put Bertha Breeze's acount of Caston in the 1920s on the website and I was pleased to see it there.

I think that Bertha did this probably at my suggestion, but of course by that time I had published 'A History of Caston'.  I would make the following comment on identifying Mr and Mrs W. as Mr & Mrs Walker and Mr B. as Mr Barnard.  I just await final confirmation as I have sent a printout to Alan Hall at Highfields, the bungalow next to Church Farm. I am awaiting his confirmation that it was Mr Barnard who ran people about with his pony and trap. I am certain that my mother told me that."

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