Helen was born in Norwich and her father worked for Jarrolds. She joined Jarrolds in the late 1950s and worked there on and off for years, as a Saturday girl and then during holidays as a student.
As a Saturday girl I worked in the art department, there is still an art department but it was much bigger then and it was very busy.
In the department everything was behind a case, there was nothing out for anybody to pick up so everybody had to come to an assistant to ask for what they wanted or for your advice. This meant that you had to know about the stock so that you could advise people on what you had or what they needed.
I was told what to do by the assistant above me and there was section head who was a senior assistant.
I worked in lots of departments, books, cosmetics, in the stock room, if they were short somewhere they would say ‘Can you go here, can you go there’ and they would just shove me in when they needed a helping hand.
I used to work in the restaurant quite a lot, clearing tables and waiting on people. I think that’s where I got my taste for catering. It would be like a show, you know, you would get to 10 o’clock and the hordes would descend for their first coffee of the day. Everybody ate at Jarrolds so you were really non- stop ‘til about 4.30pm.
When I started working on Saturdays the cattle market in Norwich was still in progress and sometimes I was late as I would be held up by a herd of cattle being driven down Hall Road or Ipswich Road into the cattle market. So that didn’t go down very well.
I can remember when my father was there it used to be awful, wooden display cases and wooden flooring, no carpeting or anything and you would clump about.
Changes came – self service, more choice
I think that one of the biggest changes to come about has been the introduction of self service, I don’t think that people know their stock quite as well as they used to because they don’t have to sell it to you.
One of the biggest recent changes is that it has sort of become a shop within a shop, people work in Jarrolds but for another firm as well. The choice is huge now, before they had everything, but only a little bit of everything, now they have lots of things. A lot of things, though, have gone along the way, like fabrics, haberdashery and sports.
The hierarchy was flattening out more towards the end of my time there. You talked more to people, whereas when you first started if you saw one of the Jarrolds mooching around it was sort of ‘There’s a Jarrold on the floor’. Later on it was ‘Oh look there is Mr Richard’, it wasn’t so frightening I think, in a way, not less respectful but more of a team.
People used to meet up at lunchtime, play cards and there used to be a sports ground and a social ground. I can remember when I was very little going to the sports ground and they had Father Christmas and all the children of the workers got a toy. There was entertainment and they gave you a meal. But, obviously, that went by the board as the firm expanded as they couldn’t possibly do that.
They looked after their staff very well, they had a sports club, you had subsidised lunches that everybody liked, and the discount that you would get when you were working there.
Jarrolds made their contribution to the city, I think it’s because it’s family run, and the Jarrolds are well known. They contribute a great deal to Norfolk and Norwich, to the arts and all sorts of organisations. If you look at the list of sponsorship you’ll always see the Jarrolds name.
I think that it has been a pivotal store in Norwich, it has been at the forefront of change. You can always go in and say to somebody, ‘Look, I don’t know what I want, can you help me?’ And I reckon that if you need something a little bit out of the ordinary, I still believe that you could find it somewhere in Jarrolds.
Helen talking to WISEArchive in February 2006.
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