(Information kindly supplied by Mrs Nora Langford)
Nora joined the office staff at Kelways in August 1944, at the age of 14. Before she married, her mother had been in service with James Kelway when he had lived at Wearne Wyche, and this fact helped her to get the job.
Nora was a shorthand typist. She had left school only a few weeks before, but her mother had been sending her to learn shorthand and typing after school. Once a week she’d had to cycle to Curry Rivel and have a lesson with Mrs Beaton, which lasted an hour and a half.
The Secretarial Department had four staff. In charge was Miss Lilian Phipps, who lived in the Court House in Long Sutton. In addition to Nora, Joan Standen was also full time, and there was a part-time person who did the filing called Mrs Tucker, whose husband was an accountant. Their office was right over the arch, looking out over the main road. She could see everything that was going on outside. Drivers going past would toot their horns if they saw her.
They worked from 9-1, then 2-5.30, Mondays to Fridays, and 9-12 on Saturdays. Her wages in 1944 were £1 5s per week. She earned 5 shillings more than Joan, who could not do shorthand. Nevertheless they were the best of friends. They could wear anything they liked to work, so long as they were clean and tidy.
This photo was taken in about 1948 and shows Fred Lewis in front, then Nora Ford (as she then was), Bill Suter, Harold Castle, Reg Sims, Harold Chubb and Cliff Baker
The Secretarial Department was upstairs, while downstairs was the Accounts Department, which had three staff – Ron Lock, Joan Field and Joyce Gullidge. Other staff at the time were:- Ted Harris, who was in charge of the Seed Department and lives at Picts Hill; Mr Richards was in charge of herbaceous plants; Mr Porter was in charge of peonies; Mr Walters was in charge of shrubs and roses, Charlie Hewitt was in charge of preparing wreaths and bouquets. Harold Castle rode a bicycle with a big basket on the front to deliver plants.
James Kelway was a lovely old fellow – a real gentleman. He treated everyone with great respect. He held himself aloof; he was a private person. He called her Nora; she called him ‘sir’, when talking to him. He was tall and handsome. He was always elegant and well-turned out. He always wore a suit and a trilby hat to work.
In 1951, when Nora got married, James was still working in the office. He lived at Gladioli Villa with his housekeeper, Mrs Miles (Pearl Miles’ mother). At this time he suffered bouts of bronchitis. They would last for a fortnight or so and then he’d be fine for months at a time.
When he was ill, Nora used to have to go to Gladioli Villa to take dictation from him while he sat up in bed. He would ask her to get the letters typed up and bring them back after lunch to be signed. When she came back he would give her more dictation. It wasn’t unusual for her to have to go back and forth three times a day. She got her leg pulled by the others for spending so much time in her boss’s bedroom.
She always got on well with James, although some of the others who had less to do with him were a little wary of him. When Nora announced that she was getting married, James asked her what she was going to do about her job. ‘I shall stay’, she said, ‘at least for a while.’ James gave her a cheque for 5 guineas as a wedding present – a personal gift, quite separate from the gift from the company. Nora didn’t know much about his private life, but thought that he was interested in cricket.
Nora’s abiding memory of working at Kelways is that the hardest thing was learning to spell the Latin names of plants. James Kelway would give her a catalogue and say ‘Just look it up in that, they’re all there’, but of course, how could she look it up when she didn’t know what letter it began with? When she got something wrong, he would say, ‘The customer won’t like it if I just cross it out and write it in by hand. You’d better do it again’. And in those days that usually meant a great deal of retyping.
There were no particular company celebrations at Christmas. James Kelway would give Nora a present because she was the one who worked most closely with him. Miss Phipps invited the office staff to have a Christmas tea and cake party at her house.
The farm side of the business was looked after by John Owen Lloyd, who had bought Barrymore Farm. He was interested in Friesian cattle and also in racehorses. In May 1951, to celebrate Kelways centenary, he hired a coach to take all those staff who wanted to go, to London to see the Chelsea Flower Show and the Great Exhibition. The coach left Langport at 6 am; Nora and her 3 sisters who also worked at Kelways, got on at Low Ham. They went first to the Chelsea Flower Show and then had lunch. They saw the Great Exhibition in the afternoon, and got back to Langport late that night.
Nora remembers typing the correspondence during Kelway’s negotiations to take over the Award Iris Nurseries in 1951. John Owen Lloyd looked after the financial side of things, but James dealt with all the varieties and colours of the iris plants.
Kelways were always very good to the Friendly Society. They had a field of irises at Lopen, and she went to pick them for the annual Friendly Society lunch at All Saints.
When asked about Peony Valley Halt, Nora said that she’d heard a story that Queen Mary had been on a train to Cornwall and had asked if the train could stop so that she could look at the peonies.
Nora remembered the bell outside Kelways that used to be rung at 7.30 in the morning. It probably had to be stopped during the war, and was never reinstated.