The Lees family and the Midland Bank during the Second World War


Introduction by Janet Gyford

The text was written by James Lees (later known as Dickie), with sections by his father Stanley, who was Cashier in Charge at the Midland Bank. James’ younger brother was Christopher (nicknamed Topher). Jill, born in 1940, was the boys’ younger sister. Their mother was always present but not named.

The Midland Bank building is number 57 Newland Street, In the past it was sometimes known as Witham House, sometimes Newland House, and sometimes Guithavon House. At present (in 2019) it is Valero’s restaurant.

The original text was kindly sent to me by James Lees. Unfortunately I have lost touch with him since, and so I have not obtained permission to post this digital version. So if any of the Lees family would like to get in touch with me, I’d be very pleased to hear from them.

Original text written by  James Lees

I moved to Witham in the summer of 1937. My father was the chief cashier at the Midland Bank at 57 Newland Street. We lived in the lovely Georgian house “above the shop” with a fantastic garden which was to be my play world for the next 10 years. Obviously my early memories are fairly sparse, but based on photo albums and other information I realize I was lucky in that I was born into a family who had not been affected by the depression or the political turmoil of the thirties. I was born in 1935 and in 1937 my brother was born. My mother was typical of her age in that she stayed at home running the household and looking after the children but we did have a nanny for the years up until the war.

When we arrived in 1937 the garden I suspect had been a little neglected. I have a photo showing me helping my father cut grass which looked like a hay field. One of my earliest memories is of the house next door at 59 Newland Street being demolished and I believe next door some soldiers, probably the Essex Regiment, being billeted. I used to visit them because the boundary was down. During the pre-war years I have memories of a summer holiday at Mersea. During either 1938 or 1939 I remember watching a Carnival parade going down Newland Street and also watching the Essex Regiment “Beating the Retreat”. Obviously from our house we had an excellent view of anything passing up or down Newland Street. This might be a good point to describe the house.

A plan of the house at the Midland Bank in WW2

The house has three floors and cellars. As you looked at the front there was an impressive front door between two pillars. The door served as the house and bank entrance. As you entered the building up some steps the bank entrance was to the left and we entered our house through a door straight in front. Once through this door one stood in a long hall with a door to the right which went into the front lounge. This room was rectangular with three large windows looking out onto the high street and one small window which was to the left of the fireplace and opposite the door. In this room there was a trap door in the floor which led into one part of the cellar which also extended under the bank and included the bank vault. In the war my mother used to take us into this cellar during air raids.

Returning to the hall, straight ahead was another door leading out through a small porch to the garden. Half way to this door was a staircase on the right hand side which led upstairs to the first floor. Halfway up the staircase on the right a door led to a toilet that was over the small porch leading to the back garden. The stairs eventually opened out onto a large rectangular Landing.

Returning to the hall, just before the back door an entrance on the right, under the stairs led into a dining room and then from this room a door led into a large kitchen with an old cooking range. The entrance from the hall to the dining room also had a door to the right which led down some steps to another cellar area which was where the coal for the fires was stored.

Standing in the back porch looking into the garden one saw a passage way on the right which led to the kitchen and off this passage was another toilet and a small pantry. On the wall in this passage our parents used to record our rate of growth by pencilling a mark on the wall with the date.

Returning to the 1st floor landing, there were 6 doors leading off it. The three doors facing the front of the house led into, from the left, a large room which for most of my time in the house I remember as the living room, the middle room, became my bedroom and play room, and the last room another bedroom. Following round to the right was another bedroom which was my parent’s bedroom with windows looking out over the garden. Next to this room was a small bathroom. Finally the last room which also faced the garden we called the nursery, although I am not sure why as for most of the war it was a kitchen. The large old fashioned range in the original kitchen used too much fuel and so a smaller modern “Ideal Boiler” was installed in this nursery room to provide hot water. From this “nursery” two windows overlooked the garden and the roof of the large downstairs kitchen.

My memories of home at this stage and just after the war started are mainly of the old kitchen. This room had a large black range which was used for cooking and heating water. We also had a “Revo” electric cooker – a modern appliance of the day. Since I can remember we always had a dog, my earliest that I remember was called Gay, a Pembroke Corgi, later we had a Dachshund called Jenny. While talking about dogs I can remember sitting at the back door of the old kitchen eating dog biscuits and old toast that had been put out for the birds, (not because I was starving!! but because I liked them). By this stage my brother was around and I can remember him being tied to the leg of the kitchen table while he was sitting on his potty – he stayed there until he had done his business.

In this kitchen I also remember my mother making cheese from sour milk and later from goat’s milk and hanging the butter muslin cloth containing the cheese over the tap to allow the whey to drip into the sink. Another process I remember from this time was salting green runner beans to preserve them. This was done in a stone crock putting layers of beans and then layers of salt and keeping them in the cool larder for use later in the year. They were not particularly nice but frozen food did not exist. We kept chickens so surplus eggs were also preserved in a bucket of isinglass, a clear jelly substance that coated the eggs and preserved them so that they could be used later for cooking. Isinglass was originally made from dried fish swim bladders but sodium silicate was also given this name and used as an egg preservation agent through the early 20th century with large success. When fresh eggs were immersed in it, bacteria which caused the eggs to spoil were kept out and water was kept in. Eggs could be kept fresh using this method for up to five months. When boiling eggs preserved this way, one was well advised to pin-prick the egg to allow steam to escape because the shell was no longer porous.

A more pleasant procedure was marmalade making, once a year when Seville oranges were available. The Seville oranges were sliced with a gadget designed for the job.

A gadget for slicing oranges to make marmalade

For a period we kept bees and my father borrowed a centrifuge machine to collect the honey from the honeycombs. I personally preferred the smaller square combs and then eating the honey with some of the wax with a teaspoon. I also loved to have honey on my porridge at breakfast.

At the beginning of the war a “Morrison Shelter” was produced and we had one erected in the kitchen. It was

A Morrison Shelter like the one used by the Lees family during bombing raids

used as a dining table by day and we could sleep in it by night if an air raid was likely. This picture is not ours but very similar and the dresser behind in nearly identical to the one in our kitchen.

At the bottom of the garden to the right was a wooden garage. As we only had a car for a very short period before the war the main use for the garage was to keep chickens in. We fed them on boiled potatoes mixed with mash and other scraps. These potatoes were boiled in a bucket in the old kitchen.

The garden at the back of the house was to be my world for the early years of my childhood. It was large by modern standards. It had large sycamore trees to climb, a large very old mulberry tree which provided lots of large juicy mulberries every year, which stained your clothes if you got juice on them. The garden had paths on which we could ride bicycles and places to dig underground dens. Next door to our garden was a disused garden that we called the wilderness and we could get to it through a hole in the wall. This garden had a pond in it where we caught frogs and tadpoles and floated my early attempts at making model boats. I think the best idea is to draw another plan, this time of the garden.

The garden at the Midland Bank during WW2

My earliest memory of the war was 1940 in September when one lovely sunny Sunday morning my father and I watched large numbers of German planes fly over. We knew they were German because the engines made a different noise to the British ones.

[I have re-arranged these next few paragraphs so that they read better, and I have also added a few street numbers.    J.G.]

This must have been about the time that I went to my first school. It was a private school next door to us run by a Miss Murrell. I am not sure how long I was there but it must have been until the Americans were in the war and flying from Britain as I remember seeing a B17 Flying Fortress bomber flying over on fire and watching the crew bail out. The aircraft eventually crashed.

At Miss Murrell’s I was no doubt taught the 3Rs but I do not remember. I remember embroidering a needle case for my mother, and making wool balls around cardboard milk bottle tops. I remember being taught some basic French. I also remember being in trouble one day as I threw a stone from our garden over the wall into the school playground. Miss Murrell came round and told my mother and I was definitely in hot water that day.

Not necessarily in chronological order, here are some memories of the shops in Witham. Opposite us was the Bata shop and Bellamy’s the chemist. On the other side of Guithavon Street was a newsagent [number 70] then I think a shop that sold mens’ and boys’ clothes. In front of the newsagent the bus used to stop and during the war I remember seeing buses towing a gas converter to use instead of petrol. Moving to the right from our front door was Miss Murrell’s school [number 59], a small grocer’s shop and then the Spread Eagle Hotel, continuing down to the Maldon Road turn was the International Tea Company shop [numbers 43 and 45] and a sweet shop on the corner. On the opposite side from the chemist, not necessarily in the correct order was Lovedays, a butchers shop [number 58]. A small café bakery, maybe called the Carlton Café.

Then somewhere near the traffic lights was a grocers. Luckin Smith, I believe [number 50]. My memories of this shop were a chair for elderly customers to sit on while their order was made up, blue paper bags for sugar or dried fruit which was served from large sacks, I also remember flour being packed in cotton bags and sides of bacon to be freshly sliced as required, “best back” or “streaky”. Continuing past the Maldon Road turn on the right was the White Hart and then further down Woolworths.   On the left before the Collingwood Road was Spurges, a shop selling ladies wear, memorable for having the central cash cubicle with a system of cables and small containers taking the money from the counter to the cashier. After Woolworths, not next door was a butcher’s shop where I often had to go and get the Sunday joint from, again with a separate payment point, good hygiene. Further down the road was a sweet shop and even further, the library [east end of Newland Street, near post office], post office and Pork Butchers. My main memory was of Polony sausage with a red skin. Continuing out of town was the Police station with a lovely cedar tree in front of the buildings, then a bridge over the Witham Maldon railway line and the Apple factory on the right. Then open country.

Opposite the Post Office was the Whitehall cinema, a favourite haunt for me on Saturday morning, particularly to see a Roy Rogers film [number 18]. As one returns back up Newland Street there was the Dorothy L Sayers house and then later a small shop that sold wool and embroidery. My sister managed to trap her finger in the door of the shop. Going up the Collingwood Road was the Public Hall, notable for me as a place of Operatic shows. My father appeared in a number of the shows there. Further up the road there was a nursing home where my sister was born in 1940 during an air raid [46 Collingwood Road]. Jumping back now to opposite the Bank and going left was eventually the Barclays Bank [number 61] and further down Mondy’s, the Ironmongers shop. Then I remember the bakers, Palmers, I believe. I remember being told the families took their Sunday joints to be cooked there.

Eventually one came to the road up to the recreation ground but before this point I am sure there was the British Restaurant established during the war [number 67]. I remember eating lunch there sometime, not that appetising but no doubt good for us! My main memory was having to pay before you had the meal and you were given coloured discs to present at the counter. I seem to remember a yellow disc was for custard with the pudding.

On the opposite side of the road was a hairdresser, Dibbens, I think [number 90]. I remember the owner covered the walls with cartoons from the newspapers all relating to the war. I think the artists were Illingworth and Giles. Having my hair cut was not my favourite occupation as in those days no electric cutters and the hand ones used to pull the hair on ones neck. Also hair down ones back itched until one had a bath and changed ones vest. Coming back to Guithavon Street on the left heading towards the church was a slaughter house, probably belonging to Loveday’s the butchers. I remember a visit to see how the bullocks and sheep were slaughtered. A good education! The main memory was how silky and warm the inside of as bullock was. The slaughter man had told me to put my hand in after he had opened up the carcase, only shortly before hand a live bullock, killed with a bolt gun, a rod pushed into the brain and the throat cut. Sheep were dispatched with a blow to the head with a lead hammer and then the throat cut. I never saw a pig slaughtered but remember seeing the carcases having the hair removed. This all sounds a bit gruesome now but maybe it would not be a bad idea if all children had some idea of where meat comes from, (I am not a vegetarian).

At this point I thought it might be appropriate to include a diary from my father which I came across only a few years ago; such a pity that I never knew of it when my father was still alive.

Diary of Stanley Lees, Midland Bank House, Witham, Essex 23rd September 1941

Stanley Lees, Chief Cashier of the Midland Bank at Witham in WW2

“To my very dear children,
Little do you realise, as you lie snugly asleep, I hope, that I am starting to write you a letter, which, if I persevere, you may read when you are old enough to understand it. The kitchen sees the commencement of this writing, and I am half watching to see that Jenny (a Dachshund) and Gay (a Corgi) don’t fall out over their meal, of fried bacon scraps, and some most peculiar dog biscuits. They look as though they are made of cement, and last night I tasted them, I can speak on some authority when I say that they also taste as though they were. Jenny relishes them – if hungry, but Gay will only eat them if she thinks Jenny wants them.

Mummy has just interrupted my flow of inspiration, by telephoning to ask if you James are in bed. She has been to Colchester this afternoon to bring home your bicycle which is for your birthday. It is a second hand machine and has cost us £3-10s-6d, but you have agreed to pay £1 towards it from your ‘Home Safe Account’. It will be your first bicycle of many I hope, and I think you will spend many happy hours on it. You Topher [Christopher], are to have the tricycle which up till now has been James. I intend to take it from you on the 30th September, and thoroughly overhaul it – fix the bell and propeller and lower the seat etc., so that on your birthday you will, I hope, really appreciate it as a new plaything. I wonder if you realise, after all this time, what a really lovely tricycle it is. Pneumatic tyres, real driving chain, a brake, and ball bearings. Jill you must have it when Topher [Christopher] grows out of it. It was Mummy who found it for you – by replying to an advertisement in the ‘Essex Chronicle’. We got it very cheaply, far cheaper than the bicycle you are to have for your birthday James – but that was just before the war started. It was in July 1939 and you were all – no, Jill hadn’t arrived, just James and Topher were with Mummy and Joan (our Nanny) at Penfold, Kirby Cross.

I had to work for one week while you were there, but had an “Area ticket” on the railway, and travelled to and fro. The lady from whom we bought it, brought it to the bank in a car, and I can well recall that Mr Booth (Uncle Gerry) and myself had turns riding it up and down in the office by the counter.

That was a good holiday at Kirby, with the hut on Frinton beach. You may remember it, as I recall my earliest holidays with my mother and father and usually lots of relations at Trusthorpe on the Lincolnshire coast.

The shadow of approaching war was making us a little apprehensive, but as has always happened in the past, we all believe that the war could not really come again. Surely man was not so foolish as to resort to arms. Surely any dispute could be settled without such bloody slaughter and futile hatred. Surely our statesmen and those of other nations would solve any problem, without having to call on their armed forces.

We read our papers of 24 pages and though in patches, they were gloomy enough, in all conscience I think there were very few of us who really thought that war was likely in so short a time. We thought that Hitler was bluffing, in order to obtain various concessions of territory from Poland without a fight and once we called his bluff, he would temporise and be satisfied with a taken transfer of territory, so as to save face. This was doubtless wishful thinking and the result is a war which is truly devastating in its effect.

At first life proceeded much as usual. There was no shortage of food or anything else. We had certainly to contend with the ‘black out’ (covering windows at night so no light showed outside), and in this house of many windows, it was certainly a big problem. In the bank we had taken all sorts of precautions for the safeguarding of our records and securities, and for a long time it seemed that we were going to a lot of trouble for nothing. The 4th Battalion of the Essex Regiment were billeted in Witham in the autumn and winter of 1939-40 and you may remember the very fine band which turned out for church parade each Sunday. They were very smart indeed and each Wednesday afternoon they played ‘The Retreat’ in Witham High Street. It struck me at the time that though the ceremony was interesting and cleverly executed, it had a most unfortunate designation. They were a very smart body of troops, and the discipline was excellent. You may recall Lt Col Gibson who was the CO; then there was Major Newman, Major Doyle, and certainly, to the superficial and lay eye, trained their men well. I believe them now to be in Sierra Leone; though what they are doing there is difficult to imagine – though we shall doubtless learn when the war is over.

Your Godfather James, Henry Drury is a Captain in the 5th Essex Regiment and for a time was stationed at Colchester. He called here once or twice and you boys were very  thrilled with a uniformed Captain. The war has a curious effect on your childish games. Even in times of peace – lead soldiers were quite the vogue, but nowadays such things are luxuries. The lead is needed for more vital requirements, and such games as you play are performed with very crude toys, – only representing in your own minds – the real thing.

How thrilled James and Topher [Christopher] were when they saw their first barrage of balloons from a corridor of a train running into Liverpool Street; (major railway station in London) and how exciting it was to have lunch on a seat in Regents Park, with a grounded balloon only 200 yards away and more than sixty balloons dotting the sky, while the sun shone, and cheeky London sparrows outdid the more sedate pigeon in the quest for such scraps as we threw to them. Parachutes – a bit of silk – or any sort of cloth that mummy can provide tied with string in each corner and weighted – then carefully folded and thrown as high as possible to descend gradually after opening – just like, or nearly like the real thing. Aeroplanes – James you made many by nailing one piece of wood across another like a crucifix – perhaps adding a few embellishments in the shape of odd nails for guns etc., and creating quite a satisfying illusion of a Wellington or Hampton Bomber.

You may also recall, although I doubt it, how you two boys would stand on the table in the playroom and drop bricks or anything portable on to the floor, and in your fertile imagination, devastate large areas of the floor with high explosive bombs. Mummy and I were the chief sufferers, for your playroom was immediately above our lounge. I hope as I write this that you never do realise what a bad aerial bombardment is like as so many have suffered it, and are not in a position to strike back. It can only be endured in frightening silence. It is frightening, even to hear the planes overhead – before any bombs are dropped and I cannot believe that any man can hear the whistle of a bomb as it screams to Earth without a certain terror in his heart. The brave man does not show it, but it’s there just the same.

Nine O’clock and the B.B.C. News. The Russian Ambassador to the Court of St James has today given the German losses in Russia to be 3,000,000 men and 8,500 planes, truly tremendous.”

[end of Stanley’s account]

James’ account recommences:-

As you have read from my father’s account it was in 1941 that I changed from my excellent tricycle to a real bicycle. My brother Topher [Christopher] took over the tricycle. We used to ride them round the garden for hours on end. What other games did we play? In the summer we collected snails and painted their shells and then made circus rings with tightropes out of sticks and string and try and get the snails to walk the tightrope. We dug dens in the ground and covered these holes with logs and soil and of course being war, toys were difficult to get so what few toys we had we treasured even if a wheel was missing. When the weather was bad and we had to stay indoors we built forts with wooden bricks (no Lego) and put lead soldiers in them. I also used to like drawing. Paper was also in short supply so I drew on the back of some old wallpaper rolls my parents had. I particularly liked drawing ships showing every plate and rivet.

At some stage in the early 1940s I changed school from Miss Murrell’s to the High School in Colchester, a town about 15 miles to the east of Witham. It was at this school that I learnt a lesson that was to stand me in good stead for the rest of my life. During a French lesson I was caught cheating in a vocabulary test. In those days anyone breaking the rules was punished in public. In this case I was caned on my hands by the headmaster, twice on each hand. This was done in front of the whole school. Obviously the caning hurt a bit but the humiliation was worse and it taught me never to cheat again and be honest, something I hope I have been able to live up to, to the present day. I have quite a number of memories of the High School, and I visited the school some 50 years later to find that the main school building was just as it was in my day, as was the classroom in which I had been caught cheating. To attend the High School I had to travel by bus to Colchester, and on one occasion I missed the bus to get home. So I started walking the 15 miles home, luckily my mother had telephoned the bus company and a driver on a later bus saw me and stopped to pick me up. My mother I hope was pleased to see me but all I remember was that she was cross with me, gave me tea and then sent me to bed early!

Other memories of my time at Colchester were going to a local bakers shop and buying freshly baked bread and eating all the inside first. Of course it was still wartime so there were few luxuries and no new toys. Therefore second-hand toys were often swapped in the playground as were American comics that were just appearing with the arrival of the American troops in Britain. Although we did not know it, the invasion of Europe was imminent and part of a dual carriageway road, on which we travelled to school along, was being used to store military equipment for paratroops. At home I have memories of watching a German bomber drop bombs on a local factory, much to the consternation of my mother, and at this time we were being subjected to the V1 or ‘doodlebug’, a pilotless weapon being used by the Germans. Earlier we had had some incendiary bombs dropped on Witham and one landed in the garden and one on the roof. Luckily the one on the roof did not go off!

During this whole period I have not mentioned much about my parents or brother and sister. So I thought it would be interesting to include the next stage of my father’s diary.

Stanley Lees’ continues:

“24th August 1942”
“It is almost a year since I last wrote in this book, a year of war, in which we as a country have played a very small part. Russia has been bearing the brunt of the attack, and as I write, the Russians are striving in a desperate defence of Stalingrad on the Volga. I am fire watching from 10p.m. to 2 a.m. By the time you read this I hope that such things will be interesting memories.

Last week I was on holiday – you may remember we paid another visit to the Zoo with Mr & Mrs Watts and Elizabeth. Can you remember we saw the lions fed? (Yes I do.) They were given very little meat for such large animals, but doubtless the war has made the feeding of them difficult. Auntie Phil and Josephine stayed with us for the week, and Jill stayed at home with them while we went to London. Uncle Chuff died on 8th July. He had been ill for so long and had been through much suffering. He died at Hill End Hospital, St Albans and both Mummy and I went there during his last hours.

On Friday of last week, Mummy and I went to London on our own and we saw a film called ‘Fire over London’ which was a pictorial record of the terrific air raid on the City, on the nights of the 29th and 30th December 1940. The whole of the City seemed to be enveloped in flame, the camera being situated on the top of St Pauls Cathedral. Even now the City is terribly wrecked in parts and acres are completely razed to the ground, the cellars and basements being open to the sky. It has amazed me why the Germans didn’t continue such raids, for to have been near them must have been demoralising in the extreme and the cumulative effect would have been felt very much more than two raids. It’s perhaps fortunate for us that they didn’t.

You Topher [Christopher], are now in Folkestone with Auntie Phil, you went back with Jo and her mother yesterday. You need a holiday – more so than James. Perhaps it is because you strive to emulate James – and his two years seniority makes a big difference. When you got out of the train at Folkestone and saw the hills at the back of Folkestone you said, “Coo – mountains”. Essex where we now live is comparatively flat, but before you read this I hope you will have seen and climbed some real mountains, even if only in Wales or Scotland.

I am now in the Home Guard. I joined early this year. Perhaps you will wonder what the Home Guard was. Well it has been formed to oppose any invasion of these islands by the enemy, and we are equipped tolerably well. We haven’t quite enough rifles to go round, but we have L.M.G’s, H.M.G’s, and Tommy Guns, and we are to have a new automatic gun – the Sten gun. I have just been appointed Battalion Intelligence Officer and I am to have the rank of Lieutenant. How you boys love to play soldiers. You climb on the wall overlooking Barclays Bank yard and watch the guard turn out for inspection and then with toy rifles you copy them on the lawn.

Gay had a puppy in January 1942. We have her now. She’s Jan and I gave her to Mummy. Can you remember Binkie the rabbit? She had a litter of five which have now grown up. We ate one last week and now she has a litter of seven, which are four weeks old on Thursday. Do you recall Figarro the cat and Tipsy the buck rabbit? I hope we can always keep lots of animals – they are good fun, but difficult to feed in war time.

Saturday 7th November, 1942

It is not often that I make time for myself to write to you, we are very busy these days. It is a large house this Bank House at Witham, and now that we are expected to keep within a fuel target we have had to shut one or two rooms. The old kitchen range was extravagant. I burned over four tons of coal each year on that alone, so we have moved out of the kitchen and made your old playroom the general living room. We have moved the electric stove into it, and also have the gas rings, while the electric copper has been moved into the bathroom. We get better service of hot water this way, though I can imagine that the bills will be heavy. We are not using the Breakfast room either.

Your birthdays were a bit of a job this year. Toys are very scarce and such as they are, are ridiculous prices. So I made you some. James I made you a model harbour, using for my base, a wall map of Midland Bank Branches. I made the wharfs etc., with plywood, which I had scrounged from Mr Manning. Then I made you some waterline model ships, which, when painted looked really attractive. I also made you a tank from plywood, which ran on two cotton reels, which I noticed incidentally have been broken away today. Topher [Christopher] – you I made a somewhat larger tank than the one James had, you see, I was learning by experience. Then, I didn’t want to make another harbour thing for you, chiefly because I hadn’t another piece of card, so I made five small tanks – they didn’t run on wheels or anything, but they looked most effective when they had a coat of paint and I made a shed for you to put them in.

Jill my dear – all I did for you, I am sorry to say, was to repaint a tricycle that James originally had had on his 2nd birthday – still it looks very nice. I also repainted a dolls bed for you, which Mummy had when she was a little girl. Mummy did very well for you and you all had cakes with 7, 5 and 2 candles. I hope that before you read this that we shall once more have things as iced cakes and ice cream (which was stopped on 30th September), bananas and cream, and will have forgotten all the trials of rationing. I am now in the unfortunate position, that however badly I may need anything I can buy no more clothes until the 15th March. Even towels have been brought within the scope of this clothes rationing.

This week we have good news from Libya, where the 8th Army seem to have given the Axis army under Rommel a good trouncing. We are all hoping that we can follow up this advantage, so that we can clear Africa of the enemy. We all look upon this as a decisive moment of the war – and complete victory in Africa now, may help to speed the end. Stalingrad is still being held by those valiant Russians.”

[End of Stanley’s second account]


James again:-

As you have just read my father joined the Home Guard (‘Dads Army’ of the later television series) and then later had to join the regular services.

Over the period of the war my mother must have had a difficult time with three children but from my viewpoint everything seemed normal. Of course I have not mentioned the arrival of my sister on 29th October, 1940 during an air raid. I do not have many memories of her early life, except for the occasion when my mother was feeding her and I announced, as I have previously mentioned, that a German aircraft was flying by. She said how did I know it was German? I replied that it was dropping bombs!!, in fact on Crittall’s or the British Oxygen Company. As for animals over this period, I have mentioned the dogs but we also had a black and white cat called Figarro. It was very tolerant, allowing us to dress it up and put it under an upturned dolls cot to make it into a cage. It would sit and beg when we were at the table having meals and was very satisfied with a small piece of dry bread. In addition to dogs and the cat, we also kept some goats for a time and we always had the chickens. This meant that during the war we always had milk and eggs. We also had bees for a while. I think that is where I get my love of honey from. Another memory was helping the local milkman. The milk was delivered by a horse drawn milk float. The milk came from a farm at Chipping Hill, at Powers Hall End. I can remember helping to bottle the milk, after it had been through a cooler. The machine filled two bottles at a time and then one had to put the cardboard tops on, no foil tops. One day we were returning to the farm late in the war when I heard a very loud double bang. Of course I knew it was a V2, first bang breaking sound barrier, second exploding luckily in an open field not far from the farm. Of course as a young boy I had to investigate and found a large piece of aluminium full of rivet holes that had been blown from the exploding rocket, a fantastic souvenir for a young boy.

Obviously war is a terrible thing and many people suffered horribly and many people died, but personally we as a family were very lucky and I have only happy memories of this period. When the war ended in Europe in May 1945 a big bonfire was built in the middle of Witham High Street (Newland Street) at the junction with Guithavon Street directly opposite the bank and a dummy of Hitler was placed on the bonfire to be burnt.

Now that the war was over and my father was back in the bank things settled down. My memories are mainly of school, holidays and cycling to a school friend’s farm near Braxted park. In 1945 I was attending school at Colchester. It was the High School for Boys, and I travelled by bus every day. I had started this school during the war, and I have generally happy memories of my time there. The classrooms were grouped around a central hall at two levels. At the start of the day the school assembled in the hall and sang a hymn and had prayers before going to the classrooms. My memories of the school work are vague but I do remember having to write with a pen with a steel nib using ink from an inkwell in the desk. I always seemed to get ink on my fingers and my second finger on my right hand developed an area of hard skin where the pen and metal nib pressed against it.

At play time we sometimes left the playground and visited a local bakery where we bought fresh bread, still warm, and then ate the warm soft dough from the centre, before the crust. While on the subject of food, we had cooked lunches at school and they were generally quite good but my one hate was pigs liver, which always seemed to be too thick, rather dry and strong tasting.

In England at this time, the schooling system had an eleven plus exam which meant that most children took this exam in the year when they were 11, in my case 1946. If you passed the exam you went to a Grammar School and if you failed you went to a Secondary Modern School that was generally considered not to be so good. Consequently there was considerable pressure from ones parents to do well. In my case this took the form of extra tuition and coaching from my father, in particular mathematics, which sometimes ended with me in tears. However it must have worked as I passed my 11+ and in September 1946 starting at a new school in Chelmsford, King Edward 6th Grammar School for boys.

My transport arrangements changed with the new school. I now travelled by train every day. I remember my problem of missing the bus was not solved using the train. One day travelling home I got on the wrong train which did not stop at Witham but took me through to Colchester. I did manage to get home again using my own initiative but I do remember problems with the ticket collector who I eventually managed to persuade I had made a mistake and was not trying to travel free from Colchester to Witham. My time at Chelmsford was relatively short as in March 1947 my father moved from Witham to become the Midland bank manager in East Retford, Notts. My memories of Chelmsford are of a very cold winter (1946/47) when the milk we got each day at school froze in the bottles and we used to melt it on the radiators. Over the lunch period we played a sort of ice hockey in the classroom using rulers as our hockey sticks and a “Zubes” sweet tin as the puck.

The final notable memory of many that I have of my early life at Witham is something that happened on a stormy night in I think February or March 1947. The very large chimney stack with at least four chimneys in it was blown down. It crashed through the roof into the upstairs flat and deposited large quantities of soot and rubble in all the fireplaces. It had been a wet day the day before and my mother had laid out my navy blue school raincoat in front of the fire to dry. Not surprisingly it was not fit to wear to school the next day. I can remember feeling so embarrassed that I had to go to School without a coat, not because it was particularly cold but because I was not dressed like the other children.

As I have said in March 1947 that my father was promoted from Cashier in charge at the Witham sub branch of the Midland Bank in Essex to being a full manager at the branch in East Retford, Nottinghamshire. Consequently the family moved north to life in another Bank house in East Retford.






Two eighteenth-century Bath Houses


“The activity of bathing in Britain for reasons of health and well-being, goes back earlier than the 18th century ….. and indeed to Roman times.”

This was written by Susan Kellerman in her fascinating article on “Bath Houses – an Introduction” (in number 1 of the “Follies Journal”, 2004). She found that the majority were built for the gentry, but that there were others for the servants, or for the general public.

There is another excellent article now, published in 2010 by Clare Hickman, entitled “Taking the Plunge: 18th-century bath houses and plunge pools”.

In spite of this research, it seems that hardly any bath houses survive today, and those that do, are not surprisingly the elaborate buildings of the wealthy. But it does seem that they would generally consist of a ‘house’, either large or small, for changing in, and a plunge pool of cold water adjoining.

The sites of two Bath Houses are known in Witham, firstly the Vicar’s Bath House, not far from the Vicarage, and secondly the Bath House of the Lord of the Manors of Witham and Newland, who lived at the Grove. They both received their cold water from the river Brain.

The Vicar’s Bath House near Church Street (1762).
This was on the Vicarage fields, and is shown on a map of 1762 drawn by Timothy Skinner (E.R.O. D/P/30/3/5). The Vicar, George Sayer, held his office in Witham for nearly forty years (1722 -1761). His wife, Martha, was a daughter of the Archbishop of Canterbury. He was very prosperous, and was said to have “greatly (or rather extravagantly) beautified the Vicarage at Witham”.

In 1749, the writer Horace Walpole thought it was ‘one of the most charming villas in England.’ And in a well-known phrase, he observed the ‘sweet meadows falling down a hill, and rising again on t’other side of the prettiest little winding stream you ever saw’.

At about that time, the Revd Sayer was occupied in laying out  a new  garden and grounds, with the help of  local landscape architect Philip Southcott. A map was drawn of the grounds by Timothy Skinner in 1762. And it is on this map that we see the Bath House, the first known in Witham. (the original map is reproduced by courtesy of the Essex Record Office (i.e. D/P 30/3/5).

I have compiled  four small square maps, in date order, shown below.
The first square, at top left, shows part of the original 1762 map of the Vicarage land.  It includes Bath Field and the Bath, the latter being in a semi-circular enclosure. I have drawn them all in red. The other three maps show the same area in 1839, 1875 and the 1980s, i.e. from the Tithe Map and from the Ordnance Survey.  On these, the former sites of the Bath field, and of the bath itself and its enclosure, are also marked in red.

To find the location of the Bath now, you can start by coming out of the opening at the west corner of Chipping Dell, onto the River Walk. Turn right and walk uphill along the River Walk  for about 70 yards, to near the quince trees. The bath is probably down the near-vertical slope on your left. This is suggested by the map, and also because that is where this little brick was found.

A brick six inches long, found in 2005, in or near the site of the Vicar’s bath house.

And this is the actual bath house, enlarged from the 1762 map.

To digress for a moment, further up the path is the ‘spring’, as we know it, nearly at the end of the Vicar’s land (nowadays near Ebenezer Close). In 1762 it was called a ‘cascade’ on the map. This was usually a fan-shaped arrangement, whereby water flowed slowly down to a central point, probably where the spring is now. If you stand on the path behind the spring, you can sense the shape of the fan sloping down.

2. The Lord of the Manor’s Bath House (near what is now Guithavon Valley) (1795)

This second Bath House was the property of the Lord of the Manors of Chipping and Witham. He was Thomas Kynaston, who had moved to Witham  from Grosvenor Square in London in about 1786. He came to the Grove, a large mansion on the main road through Witham (it wasn’t the manor house, there wasn’t one).

So he was quite some distance from the river, and this document concerns the purchase of a strip of land, and the setting out of a path along it, to make the Bath easier for him to get to.

Below is a transcript of the document that introduces us to the Bath in 1791 (Reproduced by courtesy of the Essex Record Office, i.e. D/DDc T83).

“This Indenture
made the eleventh of July …[1791] Between Thomas Isaac of Witham … Gentleman of the one part, and Thomas Kynaston of Witham aforesaid esquire. of the other part,

Witnesseth that the said Thomas Isaac for and in consideration of the sum of one pound and one shilling … to him … paid by the said Thomas Kynaston … whereof the said Thomas Isaac hath granted bargained and sold … unto the said Thomas Kynaston …

All that piece or parcel of freehold land or ground containing in length from the Gate at the Letter H in the plan hereunder drawn to the Letter A one hundred and sixty five feet, and in width for the space of one hundred and fifty seven feet thereof from the intended fence at the letter G to the letter F, including the Ditch next the Garden in the occupation of William Wade eight feet, and for the remaining part thereof fifteen feet in width near the river

Which said piece of land intended to be hereby granted, is part or parcel of a field or close of land of the said Thomas Isaac, called or known by the name of Temples, and is situate lying and being in Witham aforesaid, abutting upon the said garden now in the occupation of the said William Wade, marked with the letter C upon the river, marked with the letter A upon the Mill field, the property of William Dodd esquire, marked with the letter D and upon the said field called Temples marked BB, and which said piece of land hereby granted now is or intended soon to be, severed and divided from the said field called Temples by a pale fence, to be made done and kept up at the expense of the said Thomas Kynaston.”

Above is a copy of the accompanying map, which includes the letters quoted in the document to describe where everything was. The new path and the Bath House are at the top right.

Below is a set of four maps at different dates, like the ones given earlier for the other site, with the previous location of the Bath House shown as a blue oval on each.  The course of the river has been altered over the years which is confusing. But followed through to the present day, the sequence suggests that this Bath House was located somewhere near the top of Armond Road.

The course of the river has been altered over the years, and the ground next to the road has probably been built up, making it hard to be exact. So more research would be welcome.

And finally, a close-up of the Lord of the Manor’s Bath House taken from the first map, and rotated so that it is seen roughly north-south. The bath building stands next to the rather fierce-looking River Brain, and the new path arriving beside it from the north.




Tomkin family

Tomkin family

See also a separate post on “the Retreat”, which housed the Tomkins’ Asylum.

ERO is Essex Record Office

THOMAS TOMKIN (the father)

1812-27, ERO Q/SBb 465/21, 469/22, 473/29, 477/19, 481/19, 485/9, 489/21
Reports of visitors to Mr Tomkin’s asylum at Witham.

1818, ERO D/DBw M40
Eleanor Bryckwood Royce of Woodham Mortimer, spinster, to marry Thomas Tomkin of Witham. Trustees = James Campion Wright of Writtle, clerk, and John Bryckwood Royce of Woodham Mortimer, gent (re purchase of property in Witham)

1819-??, parish registers
Baptisms of children of Thomas and Eleanor Tomkin include:
1819, August 20                       Thomas Marchant Tomkin
1821, January 30                     William Bryckwood Tomkin

1826, ERO Q/SBb 485/16
Report of the physician visitor and magistrates appointed to visit the Asylum of Thomas Tomkin surgeon of Witham for the reception and care of the insane … ‘we found it in every respect conformable to the Act for the regulation of such houses. It is also in our opinions admirably adapted to the comfort of the patients and well calculated to promote their restoration to sanity (signed John Badeley MD, Charles Dalton, William Lucio) (these notes from Jane Pearson).

1828, ERO Q/Alp 2
Plan of Mr Tomkin’s asylum, with notice of intention to apply for renewal, Sept 1828, reading: ‘Sir, I hereby give you notice it is my intention to apply for a renewal of my licence to keep a Lunatic Asylum in the Parish of Witham … I shall not reside in the Asylum myself. My Superintendent’s name is John Boltwood, previously a Farmer and innkeeper. My housekeeper’s name Elizabeth Fox. I propose receiving not more than twenty patients ‘.
Thomas Tomkin, Surgeon, Witham.
PS [happy to do another plan if this one not good enough] The rooms are all of them about eight or ten feet high.

1830, ERO Q/SBb 501/17 and 501/19
17 certifies that Dr John Badeley attended as visiting physician to Mr Thomas Tomkin’s lunatic asylum, Witham, with the visiting magistrates on four occasions Dec 1829-Sept 1830 and signed the minute book (21 October 1830).
19 is a notice from Tomkin that he intends next session to apply for a renewal of his licence ‘granted to me for keeping a House situate in Maldon Lane in the parish of Witham … for the reception of 20 insane patients viz. 18 patients not parish insane and 2 parish insane patients under the superintendence of John Boltwood’ (these notes from Jane Pearson).

1836, ERO G/WM 1
Thomas Tomkin chosen as one of two doctors for the poor, by new Board of Guardians.

ERO Q/SO 36. 16 October 1838, page 31
Witham Madhouse licence. Thomas Tomkin – notice of house proposed to be licensed. Empower George Wilson, ‘formerly a farmer’ as Superintendent as TT doesn’t intend to reside there. For ‘25 Insane persons, whereof 5 to be parish paupers’.

1840, ERO D/P 30/28/5
Thomas Tomkin lived on north side of Newland Street; 13 in the house, all attended parish church.

1841 census, HO 107/343/15, f.22, Newland Street (poss 80-84)

Thomas Tomkin 50 Surgeon N
Eleanar Tomkin 45 Y
Henry Tomkin 7 Y
Mary Cooper 35 Indt Y
Alfred Thorp 30 Surgeon N
Arthur Tailor

[see 1861 entry for TMT the son, below, and also newspaper report of 1862 below]

Ind [deleted] N
Sarah Cotton 30 FS Y
Amelia Minett 23 FS Y
Rebecca Spooner 19 FS Y
Henry Harvey 19 MS Y

 1848, White’s directory
Population in 1841 included ‘18 in the private Lunatic Asylum, which was established here in 1819 by Mr Tomkin, surgeon, and has room for 30 patients’.

1851 census, HO 107/1783, f.203, p.15, schedule 56
Newland Street (probably 82-84, Medina House)

Thomas Tomkin Head M 63 Surgeon M.R.C.S. London & Edinburgh born Kent, Yalding
Eleanor Tomkin Wife M 57 Wife of ditto born Essex, Woodham Mortimer
Jane N Tomkin Dau U 21 Dau born Essex, Witham
Mary M Tomkin Dau U 19 Dau born Essex, Witham
Henry E Tomkin Son U 17 Son born Essex, Witham
Matilda Crossley Servt U 23 Cook born Essex, Lawford
Sarah Owers Servt U 28 Housemaid born Essex, Gt Leighs
Charity Carrington Servt U 28 Housemaid born Essex, Beaumont
Joseph Newman Servt U 18 Groom born Essex, Witham

Thomas Tomkin organised a petition of 94 ratepayers against proposals by the Local Board of Health for a new drainage and water scheme for Witham (D/HWi 1).

1861 census, RG 9/1107, f.51, p.3, schedule 11
Newland Street (High House, part of 5)

Thomas Tomkin Head M 73 Physician & surgeon; member of St Andrews College, Scotland, colleg surgeons, Edinburgh, & college surgeons, London born Kent, Yalding
Eleanor Tomkin Wife M 68 born Essex, Woodham Walter
Charlotte Tokely Servt U 20 House servant born Essex, Rivenhall
Charlotte Davey Servt U 19 Cook born Essex, Brightlingsea

 1861, parish register
Thomas Tomkin was buried 25 November 1861 aged 74.

1865, ERO D/DU 56/4
Auction by trustees of late Thomas Tomkin – land etc.

1869, ERO D/DU 56/4
Auction of furniture of late Mrs Tomkin of Newland Street.

(eldest son of Thomas)

Note: Thomas’s second son was William Bryckwood Tomkin who practised with Thomas Marchant Tomkin c.1855-65, but was killed in a chaise accident in 1865)

1851 census, HO 107/1783, f.191, p.41, schedule 153
Newland Street (High House, part of 5)

Thos M Tomkin H M 32 L.A.C., M.R.C., S.E. born Essex, Witham
M.P. Tomkin W M 30 born London
Sarah Wybrew Serv U 22 Dom Serv born Essex, Marks Tey

1861, ERO T/B 266
Bills for confinement to someone at Crix, from TM and WB Tomkin of Witham, surgeons.

1861 census, RG 9/1107, f.79, p.17, schedule 91
Newland Street (prob. 96-98 Newland Street)

Thomas Marchant Tomkin Head M 42 General practitioner, MRCSL & LAC born Essex, Witham
Marian Tomkin Wife M 40 born London
Anne Grist Niece U 17 born London
Arthur Taylor

[see 1841 entry for TT the father, above, and newspaper report of 1862 below]

No relation U 52 born London
Daniel Magniac

[as DB he was at the Retreat, Tomkin’s asylum in Maldon Road, in 1871, 1881 and 1891. Also see diary and newspaper entries below]

No relation U 37 born China
Maria Hughes Serv U 20 House servant born Essex, Manningtree
Sarah Joyce Serv U 17 House servant born Essex, Boreham

Dixon diary, 25 Feb 1862:
‘A curious prosecution today before our justices at Witham. Mr Tomkin who succeeded his father in keeping a lunatic asylum at Witham has been informed against for keeping a lunatic in his private dwelling house not licensed. The Commissioners for lunacy are the prosecutors in these cases. Mr Tomkin was convicted and had to give bail to appear at the assizes where the case will be gone into for adjudication. The sentiment at Witham is very adverse to Mr Tomkin, he is considered harsh and severe in his management of these unfortunate people who come under his care.

Chelmsford Chronicle, 28 February 1862, pp. 2 and 3
Long report of the above hearing. It was Commissioners in Lunacy who brought the case and it was clear that the magistrates were somewhat embarrassed as they were all friends of Tomkin’s. But they found there was a case to answer and referred him to Assizes, on bail. There was reference to another case, about cruelty – not clear when or whether heard at another time. The man concerned was Daniel Francis Magniac. There was also reference to a Mr Taylor being kept in the house also, and a Samuel Tatson who acted as their keeper.

Chelmsford Chronicle, 6 December 1862, p 3
At Assizes Mr T pleaded guilty and the prosecution were happy, saying he had only offended against the strict letter of the law and ‘in all other respects acted with kindness and humanity to the unfortunate gentleman in question’.

1868, Poll book
T M Tomkin voted, Tory.

1870 et al, Kelly’s directory
T M Tomkin member of Local Board of Health.

1871 census, RG 10/1695, f.26, p.16, schedule 80
Newland Street (High House, part of no. 5)  

Thomas M Tomkin H M 52 Surgeon etc. born Essex, Witham
Marian Tomkin W M 53 born London
Alice Harvey Visitor 8 Scholar born Essex, Witham
Martha Black Servt U 22 Genl Servt Domestic born Norfolk, Hilhoughton
Hannah Cranmer Servt U 23 Genl Servt Domestic born Essex, Rivenhall

1881 census, RG 11/1809, f.26, p.16, schedule 83
Newland Street (High House, part of no. 5)

Thomas M Tomkin H M 62 Surgeon Guys born Essex, Witham
Marian P Tomkin W W 63 born Middx, St Brides
Alice Harvey

[she was bapt 2 Jan 1863, dau of Thomas Harvey, miller, and Hannah his wife, of Witham]

Adopted dau U 18 born Essex, Witham
Elizth Cook Servt U 19 Housemaid dom servt born Essex, Halstead
Anne Wager Servt U 23 Cook dom servt born Essex, Tolleshunt Darcy

1891 census, RG 12/1425, f.21, p.12, schedule 79
Newland Street (High House, part of no. 5)  

Thomas M Tomkin H Wid 72 Surgeon born Essex, Witham
Frank C Payne Boarder M 31 Surgeon born Essex, Birdbrook
Alice Payne

[nee Harvey, TMT’s adopted daughter, see 1881]

Boarder M 29 born Essex, Witham
Thomas Payne Boarder 5 mo born Essex, Witham
Mary Savill Serv S 21 Cook Domestic servt born Essex, Blk Notley
Ellen Scot Serv S 31 Housemaid ditto born Essex, Faulkbourne
Charlotte Bull Serv S 15 Housemaid ditto borne Essex, Rivenhall

1895 Thomas Marchant Tomkin died.

1901 census, RG 13/1725, f.21, p.3, schedule 14, Newland Street (High House, part of no. 5)  

Frank C Payne Head M 41 Surgeon (employer) born Essex, Birdbrook
Alice Payne

[nee Harvey, TMT’s adopted daughter, see 1881]

Wife M 38 born Essex, Witham
Thomas Payne Son 10 born Essex, Witham
Henry S Payne Son 8 born Essex, Witham
Marian A Payne Dau 6 born Essex, Witham
Beatrice Dazley Serv S 24 Housemaid, Domestic born Essex, Rivenhall
Annie Smith Serv S 27 Nurse, Domestic born Essex, Braintree
Elizabeth Doo Serv S 23 Cook, Domestic born Essex, Fairstead
Lilian M Sainty Serv S 19 Nurse, Domestic born Essex, Braintree

THE PAYNES (from misc other records)

Alice Payne d.1903.

By 1925 Frank C Payne was of Clacton.

Dr William Payne, their son, b. c.1901, died 1959 aged 58; surgeon at Essex Cty Hospital, Colchester, for 3 yrs.

Marian Payne married Mr John Taber

A Frederick Payne married Annie Maud Blackie, d of Thomas M Blackie owner of Chipping Hill School (now 35 Newland Sreet). She d.1904 and he d.1939.

14. The Dace family

  1. The Dace family xxx

I see that James Dace and Son’s music shop is being re-opened in Moulsham Street, Chelmsford. As James Dace the founder was born in Witham, it seems a good opportunity to write a little about him.

James Dace, senior
I’ll begin with his father, also James, who was born in Writtle. When he was 16 he became a bugler with the Witham Rifle Volunteers, who trained locally. Usually Volunteers had drummers, but Witham had buglers instead. Then in 1816 he became the parish clerk, sexton and organist at St Nicholas church. The church officers provided him and his wife Mildred with a small cottage in the corner of the churchyard, next to the Woolpack .

This is the Woolpack in Church Street. The Daces’ cottage was next to it, behind what is now the grey wall in the photo. The site is now part of the churchyard.

The cottage is not there now (see the photo). He was also the gardener, and said to be “weather wise”. In 1824 he was dismissed from the organist’s post for some reason. However, he remained parish clerk and sexton until his death in 1864, aged 77. Six people replaced him – four boys to give the responses during services, and two men to do the rest.

James Dace the musician
James’ son, James the musician, was born in the cottage in 1821. He had eleven brothers and sisters though some died. In 1840, when he was 19, it was said that “he lives by his profession as a musician”. In that year he played the serophene at the opening of the new Congregational church (now URC). The serophene was a sort of early harmonium. Afterwards, the vicar, Reverend John Bramston “severely lectured the father for allowing his son to enter such a place for such a purpose.” There was strong rivalry between Rev Bramston and the Congregationalists. Dr Dixon, who recorded the event, called Bramston “one of these bigots”.

Young James forged ahead, and called himself a “Professor of Music” in the 1841 census return, and he soon became church organist at All Saints’, Maldon. After a concert in Chelmsford in 1843, he received warm praise from the Chronicle’s reviewer, in spite of the fact that the flautist could not get his flute in tune with the piano. In 1847 Robert Bretnall of Spring Lodge wrote in his diary “I went to the White Hart to hear a Concert performed by 14 Musicians and a Miss Seymour, conducted by Mr Dace and a Mr Thorn. There was Davis the famous Trumpet blower there. I left at 10 o’clock”.

James settled in Colchester for a while, where he married and had a large family. He acquired a very large number of pupils all over mid-Essex and beyond. In 1855 he moved to Chelmsford where his shop was established, and the business developed rapidly, selling pianos, music etc. and doing repairs. He soon had other branches in Stratford, Colchester and Romford, and later at Ilford and East Ham.

When he died in 1896, the Chronicle wrote that “The name of Dace is well known in musical circles in Essex. The deceased gentleman has been successful as a composer, and has also carried on a large business as a dealer in music, musical instruments &c. in Chelmsford and Colchester for many years.” It was added that “he acted as organist at Moulsham Church for some time, and afterwards as organist at the London-road Congregational Chapel.” So he continued to spread his organ playing between the different religious denominations, despite the earlier reprimand from Reverend Bramston.

The rest of this post is in PDF format. Click the blue words to get to it, then navigate using the grey strip. There is a family tree, and entries from parish registers etc.


Redhead, William John (W J)


William John (W J) Redhead, tax inspector and part-time architect, c. 1888-1941

Early life. He lived in Sheffield, and worked as an architect. After serving in the army during the First World War, he returned to Sheffield and became a Tax Inspector. He was then transferred to the tax office in Witham (information from his obituary in 1941, for which see below). The date of the transfer could be discerned from the electoral registers.

Date unknown, before 1930
He designed his own house, Nanteos, in the Avenue (later number 8) (information from his obituary of 1941 – below) (The best known place called Nanteos is an 18th-century mansion near Aberystwyth. There’s no indication that Mr Redhead was involved with it in any way.)

Mr Redhead is said to have designed the house “Gimsons” in Kings Chase for Dr Ted Gimson in 1929.  This information comes from a letter from Dr Jim Denholm in 1995, and a conversation at a similar time. He wrote about W.J.Redhead “who designed the church in the Nine Taylors. I recall attending a patient by this name in the 1940s. He lived in the Avenue about number 8. He worked in the Income Tax Office but architecture was his hobby. He did in fact design this house – Gimsons – for Dr Ted Gimson in 1929”

1930 Electoral Register
105   Annie Mary Redhead of Nanteos, The Avenue
104   William John Redhead of Nanteos, The Avenue.
Nanteos was given number 8 in 1936-1937 (as shown by a comparison of electoral registers for those years. The whole of the road was renumbered then)

1932   Braintree and Witham Times, 15 December 1932, page 6
About the new Peculiars’ (Evangelical) chapel in Guithavon Valley (information from newspaper)
Long article about the opening of the new Peculiars’ (Evangelical) chapel in Guithavon Valley in Witham on 7 December. Photos of this and the previous chapel (Maldon Road). Scheme first thought up in 1921. Main hall will seat 175 people and schoolroom at back 80. Also vestry, kitchen and heating. Lighted by electricity and centrally heated. Cost £1,515. Sunday collections raised £710, and £25 was left by late Mr J Beadel. … Built by Messrs Richards and Sons of Witham. Architect W J Redhead of Witham. Practical assistance by members etc.

1933  ERO Acc A7280, Witham Building Plans, para 727.
He designed the schoolroom at the back of the Methodist church in  Guithavon Street (information from building plan).

W J Redhead’s drawing of an imaginary Church, for Dorothy L Sayers’ novel “The Nine Tailors”.in 1934.

1934  He drew the Church (left) for Dorothy L Sayers’ novel, “The Nine Tailors”. She was also living in Witham
(information from the drawing). She wrote “My grateful thanks are due to Mr W J Redhead, who so kindly designed for me the noble parish church of Fenchurch St Paul and set it about with Cherabims”

1935  Public Health Committee of Witham Urban District Council, page 149, re. plan 809
About the site probably now 5A and 5B Newland Street (information from Committee minutes)
Referred back by Council because [the Council’s ?] consultants didn’t agree with the design and had sent a further sketch. Would result in economies. Mr W Chancellor of Essex Cambridgeshire and Herts Society of Architects, under the Council for the Preservation of Rural England and RIBA, also agree ‘that the type of building proposed by Mr Clarke would be antagonistic to the general atmosphere of Witham’. Mr Clarke and his architect Mr W J Redhead came. Prefers own plans. After long consideration, vote of 4 members for and 1 against. Recommend approve his plan 809. Consider that proposed elevations ‘would not injure the general atmosphere of the town at this spot and, in fact, other buildings of a similar appearance have been erected and others are proceeding nearby in Avenue Road’. [probably the owner of site was H G Cook, butcher, who lived nearby and is mentioned on the application.]

1939 Chelmsford Chronicle, Friday 28 July 1939 (from British Newspaper Archive)
LIGHTNING DAMAGE AT WITHAM, WOMAN’S NARROW ESCAPE. At Witham on July 21, Mrs. Redhead, of Nantoes, The Avenue, had a narrow escape when lightning struck her house. Considerable damage was caused, but Mrs. Redhead was unhurt except for shock. At the time, Mrs. Redhead, whose husband, Mr W. J. Redhead, is employed at the Inland Revenue Office, at Witham, was in the kitchen. The chimney on the roof immediately above her was split to pieces, parts being carried 30 yards away and pieces broken brick and tiles were thrown in all directions. A stove near where Mrs. Redhead was working was blown out, and fire broke out in the scullery. Apparently the lightning ran down the water pipes from the roof into the scullery, went round the water softener and on to the sink, where a gas pipe, which was just touching a water pipe, had two holes burnt in it. The leaking gas caught fire, but a serious situation was averted by a neighbour, Mr. Thurmer, who rushed in and turned off the gas supply, and then dealt with the boarded side of the sink which was blazing. The outbreak was soon quelled. Witham Fire Brigade attended very promptly under Capt. Shelley, but were not required. In addition to the shattered chimney, hundreds of tiles were smashed. In an upstair room an electric light switch was blown out of a wall and hurled into the bathroom. Mr. C. E. Richards, builder, said, after inspecting the damage, “I’ve never seen anything like it before. It must have been simply terrific, it was a nine-inch chimney—a bit larger than the average.” Mr. Redhead told an Essex Chronicle representative: “I had only just left home for the office and was near the Whitehall Cinema (250 yards away) when the crash came, but did not know it was my house that was struck until Mr. Manning fetched me from the office. My wife had a wonderfully lucky escape”

1941    Deaths in September, from free BMD online

Surname First name(s) Age District Vol Page
Redhead  William J  53  Chelmsford  4a 867

1941 Chelmsford Chronicle, 25 July 1941 (from British Newspaper Archive)
“DEATH OF MR. W. J. REDHEAD —The funeral took place at All Saints’ Church on Tuesday of Mr William John Redhead, of ” Nanteos,” The Avenue, who died on Friday in Chelmsford Hospital, after a serious operation. Deceased, who was 53, practised as an architect in Sheffield before the war of 1914-18, and when he left the Army he joined the Inland Revenue, being eventually transferred to Witham as a tax officer. He designed a number of the modern houses in Witham. including the one in which he lived. He was a good all round sportsman, and played in the cricket match in War Weapons Week. Taken ill next day, Mr. Redhead was removed to Hospital, but all help was unavailing. The Rev B. E. Payne, vicar, officiated at the interment. The mourners were : Mrs. Redhead, widow; Mr. and Mrs. T. Evans, son-in-law and daughter (Kingsbury); Mr. and Mrs. W. Alcock. brother-in-law and sister (Bedworth); Mr. Robert Redhead, brother (Whittington); Mr. and Miss Fogg, brother-in-law and niece (Hounslow). The floral tributes included those from the deceased’s colleagues in the Inland Revenue Office, and the fire-watch organisation in The Avenue and Avenue Road.”


Note by JG:  the buildings mentioned above that Mr Redhead designed, do not form a comprehensive list.  They are just ones that I looked for specially for various reasons. If he designed any other buildings in addition to the ones mentioned here, there will be information about them in the building plans at the Essex Record Office (Witham is ERO D/UWi ) But I don’t think they are catalogued yet, so it would mean unfolding each individual plan to find the architect’s name.

Lapwood family (1)

John and Ann Lapwood are the best known of this family. In 1901 they were interviewed by the well-known writer and novelist, Rider Haggard. He was collecting information for his great work “Rural England”, and found the Lapwoods to have suffered from great poverty. Below is a copy of what he wrote.


John and Ann Lapwood, who lived in Blunts Hall Road and were interviewed by Rider Haggard

“Not far from Blunts Hall I saw an old labourer named John Lapwood, whose life experience, which I verified by inquiry, is worth preserving. For half a century or more he worked on the Post Hall [Powers Hall] and Oliver Farms in Witham, and now, by the help of some kind friends, was spending his last days in a little cottage, where he lived with his old wife. We found him – an aged and withered but still an applecheeked individual – seated upon a bank, ‘enjoying of the sweet air, although it be a bit draughty.’

He told me that in his young days wages for horsemen used to be down to 9s, a week, and for daymen to 8s., when the weather allowed them to be earned. During the Crimean War bread cost him a shilling a loaf, and other food a proportionate price.

He stated that for months at a time he had existed on  nothing but a diet of bread and onions, washed down, when he was lucky, with a little small-beer. These onions he ate until they took the skin off the roof of his mouth, blistering it to whiteness, after which he was obliged to soak them salt to draw the ‘virtue’ out of them. They had no tea, but his wife imitated the appearance of that beverage by soaking a burnt crust of bread in boiling water.

On this diet he became so feeble that the reek of the muck which it was his duty to turn, made him sick and faint; and often, he said, he would walk home at night from the patch of ground where he grew the onions and some other vegetables, with swimming head and uncertain feet.

I asked if his children, of whom there were eight, lived on onions also. He answered no; they had generally a little cheese and butter in the house, but he could not put it into his own stomach when they were hungry and cried for food. ‘Things is better now,’ he added.

Well, things are better now; indeed, it is scarcely too much to say that in many cases to-day, the labourer has more than his share of the rather plumless agricultural cake. But with such a record behind him, knowing what his fathers suffered, is it wonderful that he should strive to drive home the nail of opportunity, and sometimes to take advantage of the farmers who in the past too often were so merciless ?

Let us try to understand his case and be just. Think, for instance, of this poor man Lapwood, whose condition was but that of ten thousand others, day by day forcing his hated food into a blistered mouth, starving that his children might be full. Think of him with his 9s. a week, and ten souls to feed, house, and clothe, while bread stood at a shilling a loaf. Remember, too, that from this lot there was no escape; that labour was in overflowing supply; and that to lift his voice against an employer, however tyrannous, meant instant dismissal and the hell of the poor-house – it was little better in those days – or the roadside ditch to lie in.

Is it strange that, remembering these things, he – or rather his sons – should wax fat and kick, that they should be haunted also by the fear that the evil might return upon them, and bear in their hearts resentment, cloaked but very real, against those classes at whose hands they received that evil of which no subsequent kindness can obliterate the memory ? With the agricultural labourer, as I believe, this resentment against past suffering, at any rate as yet, is deeper than gratitude for present benefits. Indeed, gratitude is scarcely his strong point. Thus, to take the example of the family of this very man, I was informed that those children for whom he starved, did not do all they might to make his last days easy”.

Next is a family tree of some of the Lapwoods prepared by myself (Janet Gyford). It is in PDF format. To reach it, click on the blue writing below and then on the grey strip below.. Then you can navigate using the grey bar on each page.

Lapwood family tree (PDF)

Farming in 1901

Rider Haggard’s book “Rural England”, was written in 1901. He travelled all over the country to collect his information. The book starts with a long and detailed discussion about farming in England generally. Then he deals with each county individually, including Essex. I have included below, the part which talks about Witham, and particularly about the Strutts and the Lapwoods, very different families. Although Lord Rayleigh and the Strutts were based in Terling, four miles away, they owned a lot of land in Witham, including Blunts Hall, and held office in many organisations which included Witham.

Hon. Charlie Strutt
[pp.456-457. He lived at Blunts Hall, in Witham, and farmed there.]
“A very typical Central Essex farm of the better sort was that of our host in that district, the Hon. C. H. Strutt, the well-known and able member of Parliament for the Maldon Division. Mr. Strutt held some 320 acres, whereof a fair proportion was grass, at Blunts Hall, the property of his brother, Lord Rayleigh, and kept a herd of cows, the milk of which he sent to London.

In addition to the ordinary Eastern Counties crops, such as wheat, barley, and clover-ley’, he grew eating-peas for market, and, as is not unusual in these parts, various sorts of seeds. Thus in 1901 he had a field of radish seed, which was drilled in April and cultivated in the same fashion as mangolds – by cutting out, singling, hand and horse hoeing. Twenty bushels per acre, which should realise from £16 to £20, is a good return from this crop. The greatest enemies to the successful growth of radish seed are the small birds, especially those of the linnet tribe, which, notwithstanding any amount of scaring, will sometimes consume as much as half the yield.

Another piece was planted with swedes for seed. These swedes are sown in August in beds and dibbled out about November. Twenty-four bushels of the seed, worth from 13s. to 16s. a bushel, is a good crop per acre. This seed is collected just before corn harvest, and its foe is canker at the root, which causes the affected plants to fall over. Some growers say that this crop will do as well if it is drilled and cut out in the usual fashion, which saves the labour of dibbling-in the plants from the seed-bed. Part of Mr. Strutt’s field had been treated thus, but certainly this drilled portion did not look so well as the rest. It may be, however, that the difference was caused by that section of the land being higher and more droughty than the lower stretch, which overlies a damp bottom – at least so he seemed to think. At any rate the experiment was by no means conclusive.

A third field was given up to eating-peas of an early, dwarf variety, which grows without support. Of these peas, whereof many truck-loads are sent away daily during the season from Witham Station, a hundred bags, or 300 bushels, are considered a good crop per acre, but the earliest varieties seldom produce more than fifty bags. Their value varies very much: it may begin at 15s. a bag, or even more, and afterwards fall so low that the price realised will scarcely suffice to pay brokerage and railway charges.

Like most of the surrounding land, Mr. Strutt’s farm was suffering severely from drought at the time of my inspection; indeed, he stated that he never remembered to have seen it look worse, not even in the black year of 1893. This, however, was not his fault, but that of the season, and of the lack of rainfall, which for some years past had afflicted Essex so severely that, as I noticed in many places, the trees were dying in great numbers. Night after night and week after week the clouds gathered – ‘Essex shows’ is the local name for them – only to belie their promise and carry the moisture with which they were charged to some more favoured spot. ‘It never do rain in Essex now,’ said one despairing farmer to me, ‘and I begin to think it never will.’ So far as the cultivation and management of Mr. Strutt’s land were concerned, I do not see how they could be improved upon, and I am glad to be able to add that the financial results had on the whole, proved as good as could be expected in these times.”

John and Ann Lapwood
[pp. 458-459]
“Not far from Blunts Hall I saw an old labourer named John Lapwood, whose life experience, which I verified by inquiry, is worth preserving. For half a century or more he worked on the Post Hall [Powers Hall] and Oliver Farms in Witham, and now, by the help of some kind friends, was spending his last days in a little cottage, where he lived with his old wife. We found him – an aged and withered but still an applecheeked individual – seated upon a bank, ‘enjoying of the sweet air, although it be a bit draughty.’

He told me that in his young days wages for horsemen used to be down to 9s, a week, and for daymen to 8s., when the weather allowed them to be earned. During the Crimean War bread cost him a shilling a loaf, and other food a proportionate price. He stated that for months at a time he had existed upon nothing but a diet of bread and onions, washed down, when he was lucky, with a little small – beer. These onions he ate until they took the skin off the roof of his mouth, blistering it to whiteness, after which he was obliged to soak them in salt to draw the ‘virtue’ out of them. They had no tea, but his wife imitated the appearance of that beverage by soaking a burnt crust of bread in boiling water.

On this diet he became so feeble that the reek of the muck which it was his duty to turn, made him sick and faint; and often, he said, he would walk home at night from the patch of ground where he grew the onions and some other vegetables, with swimming head and uncertain feet.

I asked if his children, of whom there were eight, lived on onions also. He answered no; they had generally a little cheese and butter in the house, but he could not put it into his own stomach when they were hungry and cried for food. ‘Things is better now,’ he added.

Well, things are better now; indeed, it is scarcely too much to say that in many cases to-day, the labourer has more than his share of the rather plumless agricultural cake. But with such a record behind him, knowing what his fathers suffered, is it wonderful that he should strive to drive home the nail of opportunity, and sometimes to take advantage of the farmers who in the past too often were so merciless ?

Let us try to understand his case and be just. Think, for instance, of this poor man Lapwood, whose condition was but that of ten thousand others, day by day forcing his hated food into a blistered mouth, starving that his children might be full. Think of him with his 9s. a week, and ten souls to feed, house, and clothe, while bread stood at a shilling a loaf. Remember, too, that from this lot there was no escape; that labour was in overflowing supply; and that to lift his voice against an employer, however tyrannous, meant instant dismissal and the hell of the poor-house – it was little better in those days – or the roadside ditch to lie in.

Is it strange that, remembering these things, he – or rather his sons – should wax fat and kick, that they should be haunted also by the fear that the evil might return upon them, and bear in their hearts resentment, cloaked but very real, against those classes at whose hands they received that evil of which no subsequent kindness can obliterate the memory ? With the agricultural labourer, as I believe, this resentment against past suffering, at any rate as yet, is deeper than gratitude for present benefits. Indeed, gratitude is scarcely his strong point. Thus, to take the example of the family of this very man, I was informed that those children for whom he starved, did not do all they might to make his last days easy.


Duncombe, William

William Duncombe of Witham, Water engineer.

His career as the Waterworks Engineer, as told by the records of the Witham Urban District Council, i.e.

Witham UDC minutes 1911-1945. (Essex Record Office reference D/UWi 1 etc)

The troops referred to were billeted in Witham for training during the First World War.

These are notes by me, Janet Gyford, not the original words. If the original words are quoted, they are in punctuation marks.

Council, 29 May 1916
page 323. Letter from Mr J Goodey re long hours ‘he and Duncombe’ were working because of summer approaching and the number of troops. Suggest Duncombe made full time, or otherwise additional pay. To Water Works Committee.

Waterworks Committee, 2 June 1916, page 178
Mr Goodey to have extra help during the War ‘by Mr Duncombe going to the water Works at 2 p.m. each day instead of 4 p.m. as heretofore’.

26 June 1916   Council
page 327. Water works Committee, re extra help by Duncombe going in at 2 p.m. instead of 4 p.m., adopted.
pages 329-30. Letter from eight employees of council for further increase in wages. Refuse.

Waterworks Committee, 30 September 1919, page 10
Applications for post of engineer received. Names given. Only one from Witham, William Duncombe. 3 others. Proposed to have interview and pay 3rd class rail fares.

Waterworks Committee, 8 October 1919, page 13
William Duncombe appointed at £2 10 0 with house, coal and lighting. Also to undertake the Inspection of Taps at £10 a year.

Deputy clerk to arrange to compensate Mr Goodey for fruit trees left by him in the garden at the Waterworks.

Public Health Committee, 19 September 1932
page 39. Re-arrangement of outside staff in view of a bulk supply of water being shortly taken from the Silver End Development Co Ltd’.

W Duncombe now Waterworks Engineer. Offer him Working Foreman and free occupation of present house, also Tap inspector. £2 10s a week.

Public Health Committee, 15 February 1933
page 88. Remove W Duncombe foreman from his house at the Waterworks Braintree Road to the foreman’s house at the Old Waterworks Newland Street now occ by Mr Hume, nearer to duties.

30 October 1944.   Council
Page 705. William Duncombe, one of Council’s workmen for 45 years, had to retire through ill health. Letter to be sent.

Finance and General Purposes Committee, 12 December 1944
page 465. William Duncombe, foreman, retired because of illness and doctor’s advice. Enquiries re his position afterwards. Not a good time to replace him.
page 491 Re William Duncombe [mentioned before as retiring through illness]. Recommend making him Council’s Water Inspector at 7s 6d per week. 

29 January 1945   Council
Page 720. Finance and General Purposes Committee OK, though Councillor Cuthbe didn’t agree with paragraph re. William Duncombe.


Thomasin family, and the Brush Factory

The Brush Factory was one of Witham’s most important industries in the mid 19th century. It had developed from Matthew Thomasin’s wooden patten-making business of the early 1700s (Pattens were rather like clogs, worn outside the shoe).

The Works and the Yard were just off Newland Street (behind what are now numbers 67 and 83). In the Yard there were a number of buildings, including a mop manufactory and 15 or 16 houses, some of which were used for both living and working in.

The most essential raw material for brushes, bristle from wild boars, was imported from Russia. The completed brushes were despatched far and wide.

There were about twenty brushworkers in 1829, and fifty by 1841. It was skilled work. The Witham branch of the Brushmakers Society was particularly active. Like other similar groups, it was run by the members, whose contributions entitled them to receive sick pay and other benefits. They met first at the White Hart and later at the Swan.

The national Society was a pioneer of trade unionism, which was then illegal. Its members followed a 1,200 mile tramping route round the country, looking for work. If they did not find any on the whole route, they were paid ten shillings unemployment benefit. In the list, Witham was the first stop out of London, and the local branch here would help travellers and newcomers following the route.

William Kiddier, in his book The Old Trade Unions (pp.30-31), described an occasion when “the eyes of the Trade were on Witham.” In 1826 “The Society at Witham, with its 17 men, had for Secretary James Mount: one of the INTELLECTUALS. A name adopted by the Brushmakers for their best expounders of Trade Principles. The Witham Society sent James Mount as Delegate to London, where Witham was proposing new arrangements about sick pay and benefits. He slept 4 nights at the Clubhouse, April 11-14, 1826. A keen observer was Mount, and things he saw were dealt with in the Witham Society’s Circular. A lengthy document addressed to the Trade. Done in literary style. The collaboration of 17 Men – the Witham Society, all had their say, and James Mount put it together … The eyes of the Trade were on Witham.” In due course, the Society paid for some members to emigrate to America to find work, and Witham’s James Mount was probably one of them.

The tramping system meant that Witham’s brushworkers mostly came from other parts of the country. In 1841 four out of every five of them had been born outside Essex (compared with only one in every seventy of the farmworkers). The strange accents, tarry smells, and self-sufficient welfare system must have made the brush yard a mysterious place to local residents. Much of the work entailed dipping the separate sections of the brush into a tub full of hot tar. But by 1851 the tramping system was waning and half the workers were Essex men, with a third born in Witham.

The Thomasins themselves seemed destined not to fit in very well in Witham. This was quite common with factory owners – one of the several problems being that they usually paid more than the tradesmen, and especially more than the farmers. Also the factory owners were often nonconformists in religion (usually Congregationalists). The adherents of the Church of England considered themselves to be much superior to nonconformists.

A more particular difficulty for the Thomasins was their alleged association with the Witham Fires of 1828-29. There is a fuller account in my booklet “Men of Bad Character” in the books category. Jane Eleanor, the wife of brushmaker James Thomasin, was the aunt of Edmund Potto. Edmund was accused of starting the fires with which some of the farmers and tradesmen had been suffering. James Thomasin paid for defence witnesses, including James Mount, a brushworker. They all said that Edmund was not guilty but insane. Edmund was found guilty by the jury of sending a threatening letter, but not of fire raising. The judge scolded James Thomasin and said that he should have looked after Edmund better. Edmund was transported to Australia.

In the town, feeling was running high because the young boy James Cooke had earlier been hanged for arson when it seemed he was innocent. So for Edmund Potto not to be found guilty caused a lot of resentment, against the jury and against the Pottos and the Thomasins.

The arrival of the railway in 1843 probably increased the profits of local businesses. After James Thomasin died in 1845, his son George took over, buying more properties and also helping the nonconformist cause in local debates.

In 1850 Edward Cresy, a public health official, was sent by the government to make a survey of Witham. Thomasins’ yard was found to be in a similar state to the rest of the town. Mr Cresy wrote “The narrow yard, called Thomason’s is encumbered with several nuisances, dung-pits, &c., &c. There are 15 or 16 cottages, in some of which manufactories of mops and brushes are carried on; both drainage and ventilation are exceedingly defective, and every inch of space is encumbered with the rubbish belonging to the trades.”

George wasn’t deterred by this. Appointing Samuel Spooner as manager and ‘commercial traveller’ at the Works, he moved his own family away from the yard into the imposing Roslyn House, at the best end of the street (now 16 Newland Street). He described himself as a ‘gentleman’ when he completed the 1861 census forms. However his neighbour, Joseph Howell Blood, was the registrar, and wrote him down as ‘brush manufacturer’ instead. George has posthumously had the last laugh – his great-great-grandson, Mark Thomasin Foster, was High Sheriff of Essex from 2003-2004.

George died in his fifties in 1868, after trying to ‘doctor himself upon the homeopathic system’. Shops closed for his funeral and over fifty men and boys from the brush yard joined the procession. One of them, Thomas Farrow, had worked there for 55 years.

George’s assets were worth nearly £45,000 (about £2 million at today’s values) in addition to land and buildings. His young son James was set to be a stockbroker and not a brushmaker. So his widow, Mary Elizabeth, persuaded some of her sister’s family, the Adnams, to come from Berkshire and run the brush factory with Samuel Spooner, the manager.

So in 1869 it was “Messrs Adnams and Spooner’s brush manufactory”, who put forward a cricket team to play on the newly free Saturday afternoons under the Workshops Act. Not all of their opponents arrived and the Adnams won.
The directory of 1870 still gives them as “Adnams & Spooner, brush manufacturers”. However, they closed after three years, in 1871.

The two young men George and Ernest Adnams then left their father in Witham, and went to Southwold, on the Suffolk coast, to take over a brewery.

George was restless and moved to South Africa, where is said to have drowned (or, in some versions, was eaten by a crocodile). Another possibility is that he came back to England, and was the George Adnams who was recorded blind in the 1881 census, when he was living with his uncle’s family in London. I have not investigated this further.

To return to Ernest, at the Southwold brewery, it appears that in 1895 he received a handsome loan or gift from his aunt Mary Elizabeth Thomasin. In 1895 she and her son John George took out a mortgage for £2,000 on the Thomasin family’s considerable Witham estate. In the same year, John George acquired the Southwold brewery and transferred it to his cousin Ernest whose business was by then “Adnams and Co Ltd .”

The father of George and Ernest was another George Adnams. He stayed in Witham with his wife and daughters, and set up a fruit growing business. He was described in the 1881 census as “Farmer Of 120 Acres [with] 8 Men & 4 Women”.

He was also on the Committee of Witham’s Co-operative Society. He sold one of the family properties to the Co-op for their first Witham shop (at 85 Newland Street). To many of the townspeople that was a particularly unwelcome body, undercutting the regular shops.

George Adnams died in 1902, aged 84, and is buried at All Saints church (Holy Family).



Essex Weekly News, 24 September 1869

‘One result of the suspension of business on Saturdays at two-oclock, at Messrs Adnams and Spooner’s brush manufactory, under the Workshops Act, was a match at cricket between eleven of the firm and what was to have been eleven of the firm of Messrs. Johns and Co., fellmongers, Witham and Chelmsford’. The Chelmsford people didn’t turn up so the latter team consisted of two from the Witham firm and others from Witham. The brushmakers won with 98 runs to 61. G Adnams got 0 and E Adnams got 6.

Slugocki, Wally

From Poland to Essex.   Wally Slugocki and the Second World War.

Written by Pat Slugocki,  from notes taken in December 1999

My husband, Wladyslaw (Wally) was born in 1925, in Szwejkow, a small village in what was then Poland, but is now in the Ukraine. His father, Marion, appears to have done a bit of everything. Basically, they were what we would today call peasants. They had strips of land at the rear of their smallholding where they grew all their own vegetables as well as tobacco which they sold to the nearest small town, Monazteryska (not sure about the spelling) which was about 3-4 miles away. They also sold butter in the market of this town. They had a horse and carriage of some sort, some chickens, geese, and a cow.

Wally’s family & his paternal grandparents all lived in the same house. There was no electricity, gas or sewerage. His grandfather’s brother lived next door. Wally’s mother’s parents were by then dead, but she had siblings living in the same village. Wally’s aunt, the much younger sister of his father, lived with her husband & small son only about 100 yards away. Wally remembers at the beginning of each November there would be snow about 6 foot high and it would not melt until early April. Water was obtained from a few pumps.

There were Ukrainians living in Szwejkow at the time, and there were tensions between the two nationalities. Szwejkow had previously been in the Ukraine. Wally’s father had some sort of authority and had to sort out any problems which arose.

In the village there were both an Orthodox church & a Catholic church. There was one school, & the two priests would come in and teach the children of their respective religions. There were also a couple of shops.

When the war came, the Germans invaded Poland from the West & the Russians from the East. On 10 February 1940, the Russians came in the middle of the night and took the Slugockis to the nearest railway station in their own horse & carriage. The family had to leave just as they were, they were not allowed to take anything with them. Their dog was left behind.

The Russians picked the Slugockis because Wally’s father was the Polish equivalent of the Town Clerk.  Wally was fourteen, & his sister, Bronia, was seven. This trauma affected her whole life and she suffered terrible depression for a couple of years before she died.

Wally’s aunt was not taken to Russia, she knew nothing about it until the next morning. It must have been a terrible shock to find that all her family had been taken. She believed that the Ukrainians had betrayed the family, and indeed, they removed everything they wanted from the Slugocki home. Aniela, the aunt, was still alive when we visited Szwejkow in about 2005, and the emotion, when she saw Wally, was something I shall never forget.

The family were taken by train to Siberia, the Ural mountains near Sverdlovsk (in 2000, known as Yekatarinburg, home of Yeltsin). Wally remembers the conditions on the train as standing room only, there was just about enough space to sit on the floor. There was a hole in the corner of the carriage, which people had to use as a toilet, two men held a blanket across the corner of the carriage to afford a little privacy. The train journey lasted for 27 days.

They stayed in Sverdlovsk, Siberia for one year. Wally’s paternal grandparents both died in Beresovsk, Siberia. The Camp was called Pervomayskoye- Oblast. Maria, Wally’s mother, had to work on a building site, and Marion (his father) worked in a gold mine, they all lived in one room. Wally remembers that they were paid for their work, and they had sufficient money to buy food. After some time, owing to an agreement between Russia & the Polish authorities, they were given documents enabling them to travel.

In order to get to a warmer place, the family went by train to Uzbekistan, the journey took a week. There was a typhoid epidemic in Uzbekistan, Marion (Wally’s father) and Wally both caught it, and were taken to hospital in Tashkent. There, Marion died, next to Wally. Wally was still in hospital when his father was buried, he was not buried in a proper coffin, just a plank, then a piece of board on top of the body. There was no food in Uzbekistan, so Maria, Wally and Bronia (Wally’s sister) went to Kermine. Here Wally joined the Polish cadets, and was separated from Maria and Bronia. He was trained for the Polish army, under the command of Britain’s General Montgomery, and went to a port called Krasnovodsk, Asia.

The civilians stayed behind. Wally got on a boat on the way to Teheran in Persia, and embarked at the port of Pahalev. Here Wally became very ill with dysentery, was in the sick bay in a field, and nearly died. From Pahalev he travelled by lorry to Teheran, over enormous mountains, the journey took a day. In Teheran there was a large disused factory, and the Army made a camp of it. Maria and Bronia were taken to Teheran as well, and when Maria made enquiries about Wally, she was told that he was dead. There was another Wladyslaw Slugocki who had recently died, and Maria found the grave in the nearby cemetery. However, a little later, she saw Wally in the town, but not to speak to, and she went back to the camp and found him. At that stage he was still convalescing. Maria and Bronia (Wally’s mother and sister) were staying in a civilian camp. They stayed there for three months, and came to see Wally every day during that period.

Then Wally and the army were moved to Baghdad, Persia, and the civilians were later moved to Lebanon. They lost contact again. From Lebanon, the civilians moved to Kol Harpur, Valvade, near Karachi, India. Wally stayed in Baghdad for six months, then he was picked to join the Parachute Brigade in England. He went to Bombay by boat, stayed there 3 days, then went to Cape Town, South Africa. From there he went by train to Durban, where they stayed for 8 months. Here he fell in love with bananas, and ate so many he nearly turned into one!

From Durban he went by boat to Achtertui, near Kirkcaldy, Scotland. By now, the UK did not need any more recruits for the Parachute Regiment, so Wally joined the Army, and was in the 1st Panza Division, 10th Dragoons Brigade. By now it was 1942. He trained in Scotland for 18 months. They prepared for D Day by having huge manoeuvres for two weeks, which was exactly like the real war. He travelled by lorry to Aldershot, got on a large boat at night in London Docks, and went to Normandy. He was part of the second phase. They landed on a beach in Normandy, he remembers most the dust and the thirst. He was in a light reconnaissance tank to spy out the land. He went to the first shooting line in Caen.

The Germans were pushed out of Normandy. At Ypres, Wally was shooting Germans with a machine gun to stop them getting to a huge main gun, and for this he was awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre. They pushed on to Holland, and the Germans retreated, leaving very many mines behind. When Wally was on patrol, his tank blew up. Wally was thrown into a ditch with heavy gear on top of him. His uniform caught fire, the tank driver’s legs were blown off and the other man in the tank suffocated. Wally scrambled out of the ditch, and managed to remove his burning uniform. An Army ambulance picked him up, but he was only grazed, and carried on fighting.

Wally in uniform

They fought through Holland and stayed there for two months, over the worst of the winter, and had a bit of a rest. The place was Osterhuit, near Breda. Wally became very friendly with a Dutch family, and he went back to see them from Wilhelmshaven after the war had ended. They then pushed on to Germany up to Wilhelmshaven, where they stayed for a year in occupation.

The whole army returned to England in 1947, after the severe winter. Wally went first to Hull, then to a big camp on Salisbury Plain, near Devizes. He was asked to go to Newton Abbott to clear fields of mines for the farmers. Here he met a girl-friend called Jean! After this, he went to Slingford Camp at Horsham, Sussex. He was later demobbed at Horsham. He was sent to Ashford, Kent, where, owing to severe dyslexia, and therefore unable to take the opportunity of further education, he worked on a building site. He lodged at 81 Essala Road, Ashford.

The surname of his landlady was Glibbery. She was a war widow with two children, Shirley, 4, and Tony, 6. She had a boy-friend, and Wally used to babysit for them. He had to pay her 35/- a week, this included all meals, and washing his laundry. He remembers seeing the Golden Arrow engine pulling trains to Dover. By this time, Maria and Bronia (Wally’s mother and sister) were in Pulborough, Sussex, in a refugee camp. Wally heard that they were there, and went to see them. He went to stay with them for a week, he told his landlady, but not the Police. As he was classed as an alien, they had to keep tabs on him! After this, he lost the lighter building job he had had, and was given a heavier job, moving cement in a wheelbarrow. When he tried to tip the wheelbarrow, it went over and smashed some pipes!

Then Maria and Bronia were moved to Rivenhall, Essex, to a camp on the now disused airfield. So Wally moved to Braintree, staying in a hostel. He worked on a building site in Panfield Lane for about three months, and then got a job at Felsted sugar beet factory, where he stayed about two years. He used to go by bus, it took about 20 minutes. Then he worked in a furniture factory in Sible Hedingham, which was a 6 mile bus trip. He then he went back to the sugar beet factory.

He met a man in Braintree who was working at W J Bush & Co, at Witham. This man was moving to the Midlands, so Wally got his job. When he got there, a man was sweeping the yard. Wally asked him where the manager was, and it turned out to be George W Pole, who was the manager! By this time, Bronia had got a job and a flat in London, so Maria was on her own. Therefore Wally moved to Rivenhall. He started working at Bush’s on 21 May 1951. He went to see the Festival of Britain with Erwin Schulz and his wife. Wally and Maria stayed in the camp until 1959, when they were moved to a council house, 14 The Fortunes, Harlow, Essex. While there, he worked in Key Glass Factory.

Wally at Holland on Sea in 1960

Then they moved to London, to live with Bronia at 66 Loftus Road, Shepherds Bush, where Wally worked at a factory in North Acton, making instruments for clocks.

He had met me in 1959, as I was working at Bush’s as George Pole’s secretary. When Wally lived in London, he used to come down by train every Saturday, and we used to spend the whole day together in Chelmsford. When we married, we bought 254 Broomfield Rd, Chelmsford, and Wally and I both got jobs in Hoffman’s. Andrew was born while we were at 254 Broomfield Rd. Chelmsford. In November 1961, we moved to 34 Highfields Rd, Witham, where Louise was born.

Wally and Pat in 2016