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Mary Keay

Mary Keay has kindly provided the Norton website with a compilation of her memories of village life going back to the 1920s. She has a phenomenal memory, has obviously always been very observant, and, for her whole life, been a pillar of Norton social activity.

The Memoirs of Mary Keay, lifetime resident of Norton in Hales


Born on March 4th 1925, I was a little girl destined to follow in her grandfather’s footsteps. It was a Wednesday and the weather was awful; blizzards, and I can say snow has been about on March 4th nearly every year since. In the poem,

Monday’s child is fair of face

Tuesday’s child is full of grace

Wednesday’s child is full of woe

Thursday’s child had far to go.

I hardly think I could be classed under Wednesday’s child; that would be right out of character. I had a very happy childhood, and I put this down to having ideal parents and grandparents, all who had a very strong religious faith and a great sense of humour.

I started at the local school at the age of 4 years, where my grandfather was headmaster, and I continued on at 11 years to the Grammar School. During my time at the Grammar School, war broke out and we inundated with evacuees. The school was bursting at the seams.

I left school at 15 owing to war conditions and became a telephonist at Tunstall Hall, which had been taken over by the Air Ministry. In 1944, I moved to Manchester and was a telephonist at Telephone House. This was a very interesting job, especially if you were on overseas calls. A friend went with me, so we found digs and worked the same shifts. Sometimes we would come home on the train at weekends if off duty, and sometimes we came by bicycle. Truck drivers would give us a lift sometimes (not recommended these days!)

In Manchester you could get things on the Black Market in exchange for fruit and vegetables we had brought from home.

After 3 years in Manchester I decided to move back to Norton and took a job at the garage and corn merchants Griffiths and Simpson in Market Drayton. I left there when I reached retirement age, 60.

Village life has always held my attention. I really enjoy working for Norton. I ran a Youth Club for many years; also a group called ‘League of Light’. This was attached to Dr Barnados. I was secretary of the Conservative Party in Norton, Secretary of the Village Hall (later, in 1979, rebuilt and called the Jubilee Hall. My grandfather had previously held this job. I was secretary of the WI for many years, my grandmother having been a founder member. I have been in the choir all my life, my grandfather and mother having been choirmaster and organist. I attended Sunday School regularly. and I have typed and photocopied the monthly ‘Messenger’ since 1950. I still have the very first 2 I did.

Home and Family

The Home

Sundays were always very strict; no extra jobs to be done, no bills to be paid no games of any sort to be played. It was traditional for ladies to wear hats when attending church. Sunday School twice a Sunday and also choir at 11.00am and 7.00 pm. You had to attend church because Mr Chadwick was Headmaster and Choirmaster, and, if on a Monday morning you hadn’t been to church, you would have to explain to him why not! After supper on a Sunday night hymn singing generally took place around the harmonium.

Times have changed in Norton in Hales, home life does not now exist as it used to. I recall Monday mornings when one had to be up with the lark to start the fire going under the boiler, so that washing could commence at 7.00 am. Granny always wore a starched apron.

Fireplaces were always black-leaded. All the cooking was done on ranges and toast and crumpets done in front of the fire. Water was heated in a side boiler at the side of the range, having been collected from a pump in the yard. Sometimes the pump wouldn’t work and it had to be primed by pouring a bucket of water out of the rain tub into the pump. You had no bathroom and a bath 9usually of tin) was put on the hearth and filled from the boiler in the grate. The lavatory was also a ‘mile’ away down the garden and newspapers were cut into squares for the use thereof!

There were no washing machines or cookers. . All cooking was done with the fire oven. The ashes from the fire with all your tins and refuse were taken to the cinder hole down by the Forge. In about 1940, a wooden shed was erected with 2 side doors, about 3 feet up either side, and all our rubbish was taken there. It was sited down Forge Lane opposite the tall poplar tree on the left and was emptied about once a month.

There were more family get-togethers, meeting to play cards etc, around the Aladdin Lamp, which usually went out because the wick needed trimming. Cards are rarely seen these days, everybody glued to the TV .

The winters were generally bad, snowed up roads, which meant no deliveries of bread or milk. We had to collect milk from the nearest farm and bread was usually fetched from 3 miles away with a pony.

Food and drink

Milk deliveries were made by a local farmer, T Batho of Forge Farm, who came round with a horse and cart and delivered butter and milk. He just dished it out from a measure from the churn straight into your jug. Surplus milk was taken to the local railway station to go to the milk factory at Pipe Gate. This was axed by Mr Beeching on May 7th 1956.

Bread was delivered straight to the door from the bakery. The butcher also delivered into the village, so did the fish cart. The paraffin man also came round with paraffin and oil for Tilley lamps and stoves. Old clothes were cut up and pegged to make mats fro the hearth and clothes that were not suitable for rugs were sold to the rag and bone man in exchange for goldfish or a few coppers. Bricks were put in the oven during the daytime and wrapped up in a cloth and put in the bed at night.

The men of the village would catch rabbits with ferrets or wire hangers and most people kept hens and a pig. The pig was eventually killed and salted by John Southerton who lived in the village and then the hams were hung up in muslin bags in the kitchen. Brawn and sausages were also made; in fact everything except the pig’s squeak was used. Eggs were preserved in Ising Glass and kidney beans were salted and put in stone jars.

Church Festivals and other Social Events

Plough Sunday

This was held in January and a local farmer would bring his plough down to Church on Saturday. At the service the plough would be pushed down the aisle by a farmer and farm labourers. The lessons read by farmers. Harvest hymns were sung and the congregation was large.

Mothering or Refreshment Sunday

This was always the highlight in Lent when nearly all the village gave something up and put the money saved into missionary boxes. It was at this time of the year when the missionary people would come and visit the village for a week, sleeping in a caravan parked up the Churchyard. The villagers usually provided a lunch for them. They visited most houses during their stay. For Sunday tea on Mothering Sunday we usually had a Simnel Cake decorated with marzipan.

Passion Sunday

This was always marked and it was a very dismal day doing nothing.

Palm Sunday

The Choir used to carry palms round and everybody in the congregation was given a palm cross.

Good Friday

Good Friday was even stricter; church was marked by a 3-hour service, 12 noon till 3 pm. After this, the villagers would usually go out into the woods and collect pussy willow, bluebells and primroses for decorating the church for Easter. Decorating was done on the Saturday morning, a band of about 10 ladies meeting to decorate pulpit, font and pews etc.. Everybody had their own place to decorate, not like today’s dismal showing.

Easter Day

Bells pealing, lovely joyful Easter hymns, the church was packed for 11 am and 7pm service. The collection on Easter Day was always for the Rector. Rev. Edward Wright in his May 1960 Messenger thanked everyone for their generous Easter collection for £34-19-7.

Rogation Sunday

This was usually in May and all the congregation and the choir went out in procession to the fields. We visited pasture, plough fields and crops; sang an appropriate hymn and had prayers at each, finishing up on the green and churchyard.