Sam Peel and Us – reflections on a great man

Rehearsals of our community production of A MAN WHO DID DIFFERENT, celebrating the life of Sam Peel, are coming to an end, with public performances on 2 and 3 March.

We’ve shared reflections from two of the young people who have stepped up to be part of this important project – it’s now the turn of two cast members whose lives were directly affected by Sam and his reforming work.

Do Powell and Vanda Moye both grew up in Wells during the 40’s and 50’s, leaving home when they were eighteen to pursue teaching careers, returning to the town on their retirements.

Do writes:

My family lived in Staithe Street, the toilet was across the yard and we had a tin bath that came out once a week. I shared a bedroom with my parents and two sisters. We had a gas stove that worked intermittently and a copper that wouldn’t light if the wind was in a certain direction. We had an attic space but rain water leaked in so it couldn’t be used as part of our accommodation. What a day when we moved to Northfield Crescent!  There was a flushing toilet, a proper bath and a bedroom shared with just one sister. We had a huge garden – there was room to grow vegetables and space to play. My mother no longer had to get up at 4am to light the copper. Our quality of life changed overnight!

 Growing up in Wells, I knew Sam Peel as a man to look up to, someone people could go to for help and advice; I still have the reference he wrote for me when I applied for my first teaching post. However, I didn’t realise at that time, the part his campaigning had played in the positive changes I enjoyed. Not only did I have a comfortable house to live in, I had a library in the town that was so useful for me to use as I progressed through Grammar School.  

When I was asked to be part of the “crowd” in the Play I was pleased to accept because I felt part of the story. The good things that happened in Wells, through the work of Sam Peel, happened to me and my family.  

Vanda writes:

As a small child I lived in East Lodge, Holkham. The rooms were small and dark. We had to use a pump to get our water. There was an Elsan toilet in the barn at the bottom of the garden. We used a tin bath in front of the fire.  We had no electricity and lighting was with candles and oil lamps. I lived there with my parents, my sister and grandparents.

When we moved to Northfield Crescent in 1946. I can remember my mother being amazed to have a butler sink with a wooden draining board, a flushing toilet and a bath in a room of its own!  No more pumping up water or heating water for baths and laundry in a copper. No more treks to the barn to the toilet! Bliss!  Electricity replaced the need for candles and oil lamps for lighting. We had space and light and a large garden all of which befitted Sam Peel’s vision of health and well-being for all. My earliest memory of being at the house was falling down the stairs as I had lived for three years in a single storey dwelling and did not know about stairs! My parents had the peace of mind that having a secure tenure brings and knowing that life would be easier from now on.

The house was north facing. The first thing my Dad did was to build a door to the exterior front, across the passage from the house to the shed to cut out “the cold north wind which would blow and be very detrimental to the heath of the householders!”

It’s an immense privilege to have grown up knowing Sam Peel. As a result of his endeavours we had the benefit of a house, a library to assist us in education and then to have been one of the many recipients of a reference for a college place and future employment. Looking back, it must have given him a great deal of pleasure to write those references knowing young people, especially women, were leaving Wells to further their education and fulfil their ambition.

It is therefore a privilege to be part of the story in the play that celebrates his life, as someone whose family benefitted from his life’s work.

Tickets for the show are available here. Don’t delay, though – tickets are going fast.