When I see large vans distributing online food orders, I sometimes think of Mrs Evelyn Shelley. During the 1930s she had a small fruit and vegetable shop in Newland Street (number 51). People often asked for their purchases to be delivered to their homes. So from time to time Mrs Shelley would shut the shop and walk around Witham, carrying the heavy goods to her customers in bags and baskets. She was only a small, slight woman.
Servants also had to do work that many of us would find hard to face. For instance, Mrs Edith Brown (nee Hawkes) recalled the time when she first left school, in about 1907 when she was twelve. She said “I always remember going to work with a bit of red ribbon tying me hair back. … And I went to the White Hart hotel, well, they give me a stove to clean, well that was half as long as this room. [Laughter] I didn’t know where to start, you know, I never, our little stoves in our house was small, and little oven and little open fire place, and oh, on my knees cleaning that, a great big stock pot on the side where they kept stock. Oh, filthy old thing, I used to brush and brush, I thought I‘d never finish cleaning that. …Of course, I was only young then, … my mother sent me there to learn how to do all this housework.”
Lastly, any trip near the Victoria in Powershall End, brings Mrs Edith Raven to mind. This a one of her memories from 1909, when she was sixteen and looking after the house for her father, John Turner. “Well, when I lost Mother, Father couldn’t earn enough money to give me money for my clothes. So I said, ‘Well, I’ll have to go out and do some work’. So I went and gathered up the stones. Now I’ll tell you a field that I gathered the stones in. There’s a big field, I should imagine that’s quite three quarters of a mile long, ‘cos that’s from the Victoria to Powershall farm [30 acres]. And that took me a week. To pick up these stones. It took me a week and Mr Hutley the farmer give me two shillings. I thought it was a hard earned two shillings. They wouldn’t do it today, would they? (Sighs) We thought two shillings was a lot of money then, you see. Well, it was in our time, you see.” [maybe £10 in today’s money].
The Turner family at their house near the far end of Powershall End. There is a grapevine growing up it. Edith Turner, later Mrs Raven, is behind the seated lady. Mrs Hutley, the farmers’ wife, used to inspect the cleanliness of the houses from her carriage as she went to church.
A version of this article appeared in the Braintree and Witham TImes in January 2014