Tape 191. Talk by John Newman about Witham Railway Station

Tape 191

John Newman gave his talk about Witham Railway Station on 7 February 2000 to Witham History Group. He lived then at 35 The Avenue, Witham.

The original recording of this interview is held at the Essex Sound and Video Archive. To listen to the recording, please contact them at ero.enquiry@essex.gov.uk or 033301 32500.

[???] shows words that are not clear enough to interpret and so have had to be omitted.
[?] after a word shows that its interpretation is not certain.
Later explanatory additions by JG or the transcriber are in square brackets [e.g. explaining locations etc.]


Side 1

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Just a brief, really, outline of Witham station. The Eastern Counties Railway was opened from Mile End to Romford on the 18th of June 1839, and from Shoreditch, which later became Bishopsgate, to Mile End and Romford and to Brentwood on the 1st of July 1840. But due to inclement weather, landslides, arguments with landlords, especially with Lord Petre at Ingatestone, and financial difficulties, the line was not opened from Brentwood to Colchester until the 7th of March 1843 for goods traffic, and till the 27th of March for passenger traffic, when the station at Witham was opened. It is recorded in the local press that the Witham Town Band joined the first train in an open coach at Witham, and played stirring music for the remainder of the journey to Colchester .[laughter]. Now can you imagine, the band playing ‘See the Conquering Hero Come’ being hailed with soot and smuts from the engine.

The original Witham station, basically in the same position as now, was a wooden construction offering very few facilities for passengers, with the entrance and booking office in Easton Road, and a wooden goods shed just north of the passenger station. The station was served by four trains each way on weekdays, taking almost two hours to reach London. The terminal was at Bishopsgate. Liverpool Street station was not opened for mainline traffic until the 1st of November in 1875. The main reason was, it was a very heavy residential area, and before they could extend it to where it is now, they had to pass an Act of Parliament to knock down, I think it was about four hundred dwellings. And after they’d knocked them down, then they extended to Liverpool Street, and there was a concession then, that all those who were made homeless, would move basically into the areas of Chingford and that area, and they were given special facilities and cheaper travel into Liverpool Street. Sundays provided two trains each way.

[At Witham]  considerable alterations, including the positioning of additional platforms and facilities were made to the station in 1848, with the opening of the Braintree and Maldon branches on the 15th of August of that year. The Braintree and Maldon railway was planned as a separate company, with their line crossing the Eastern Counties main line just north of the Eastern Counties station, and their own station on the Maldon side of the main line, but before completion, the line was taken over by the Eastern Counties Railway and diverted into their station as two separate branches, as we knew them. They obviously had their eyes on extra cash, and did not like the idea of the railway crossing their main line, which I can understand. On the 7th of August 1862, the Eastern Counties Railway was absorbed into, and became part, of the newly formed Great Eastern Railway. After the takeover, further improvements were made to the station, platforms were extended, and facilities generally improved, but still mainly of wooden construction. The train services were improved with eight trains each day weekdays, and five on Sundays, with an improved time of about one hour and twenty minutes then to Bishopsgate.

June 1863 saw great activity at the station, as the Essex Agricultural Show was held at Witham on Thursday the 25th of June. This was the forerunner of the Essex Show. And this would have involved the movement of very considerable numbers of livestock and agricultural implements, special fares being in operation for most of the Great Eastern stations, and special trains were run between Bishopsgate and Witham. There is a leaflet on the table here giving details of those, kindly provided by Janet.

On Tuesday the 1st of October 1889, a curve was brought into use between the Maldon branch and the main line near Motts Lane crossing, to allow trains to run through from Southend to Colchester. There is a map here to show that if anybody’s interested. This entailed the building of two additional signal boxes, Witham South Junction, where the curve left the Maldon branch, and Witham East Junction where it joined the main line.

The curve was only used by one train each way on Saturdays, between Southend and Colchester, and was closed after the passage of the last train on Saturday the 1st of March 1895, after a period of just over four years. Within a month of the closure, the curve had been removed, and Witham South Junction box signal had closed, although it was still in situ in 1911. Witham East Junction signal box was retained, but renamed Witham East signal box, and remained opened until the later 1920s when it was destroyed by fire. Now the following story has been told to me by several members of the staff when I worked at Witham, that on an August Bank Holiday Monday, a fire was reported underneath the signal box. I think Dorothy [Hancock] remembers this, there used to be a red fire tender on the footbridge at Witham. And this was taken down on the lift, put on a truck, and shunted down to the fire at the signal box, but when it arrived, the majority of the water had been slopped onto the floor of the wagon, and needless to say the fire had got hold, and there was no way of saving the signal box. It was completely burnt down and was never replaced.

On the 1st of September 1905, a major accident occurred at Witham, when the 09.27 express from Liverpool Street to Cromer became derailed approaching the station. Only the engine and tender remained on the rails, the rest of the train, comprising of fourteen six-wheeled coaches, ploughed through the station, some coaches mounting and severely damaging the down platform, and footbridge, and demolishing the porters’ and ticket-collectors’ rooms, killing the foreman porter. The third coach from the engine, a first-class coach overturned and caught fire, from the gas stored in the cylinder underneath, which was used for train lighting purposes. Fortunately, there was only one passenger in the coach and he escaped virtually unhurt. The total casualties were ten passengers and one railwayman killed, and sixty-six passengers and five railwaymen hurt, some of those seriously.

After the accident, the station was rebuilt in brick, much as it is today, the rebuilt station being in use by 1907. Now there is a query there – was the station rebuilt as a result of the accident, or was rebuilding of the station already planned, as one of the photographs of the crash, taken after the accident, clearly shows piles of new bricks and a crane on the up platform. The new station comprised of a gents’ toilet, porters’ room, general waiting room, ladies’ waiting room and toilet, foreman’s office on the down platform, with a gents’ toilet, a footwarmer room, lamp room, ladies’ waiting room and toilet, and general waiting room with a telegraph office, book stall, station-master’s office and refreshment room on the up platform. A new footbridge was also constructed, with the entrance hall and the booking office now in the Albert Road as it is today, the offices etc in Easton Road being demolished. Stables, and the permanent way inspectors’ office were constructed on land opposite the end of the Maldon platform, while the land between the station and Easton Road became a meadow for grazing the shunting horses. Photographs of 1911 confirm this, but also show that the original goods yard and shed was still in operation. A brick-built shed and office, this is where I started my railway career, were definitely built by 1915.

After the First World War, most carriages were steam heated, and the footwarmers were no longer needed, and the footwarmer room became a general storage for staff cycles. Now I don’t know whether you realise that, or have heard of footwarmers, but up until, oh, up to roughly the First World War, very very few trains, or very few coaches, were fitted with steam heating, and in the footwarmer room was a large copper, which during the winter was always kept boiling, and footwarmers were more or less like metal water bottles, and these were filled with boiling water, and handed to First Class passengers so they could keep their feet warm [laughter]. (Questioner: Were there any charges?) Well, I think they relied on tips, because they were mainly for the First Class passengers, and you know ‘Would you like a footwarmer, Sir?’. [laugh]. So after, when I was there, the copper was actually still there, in my days, but I know the copper has since gone and it’s still just used for general storage.

The stationmaster’s house, situated in Easton Road, was built in the early days of the Great Eastern Railway, and during the latter part of the 19th century was extended. Dorothy knows this, don’t you Dorothy [Hancock]. How may years did you live there (Dorothy: Oh gosh! Twenty I think.) Mm, yes. During the 1930s, when occupied by the stationmaster, Mr George Hancock, and his family, various internal alterations were made, and the house remained in use until the mid 1960s, when it was demolished to make room for office building. At about the same time, the last remaining shunt horse became redundant, and was put out to grass near Newmarket, the meadow then becoming a car park as we know it now [in Easton Road].

On the 7th of March 1950, a second serious accident occurred in the region of Motts Lane level crossing, when a freight train entering the up loop to clear the main line, was run into the rear by the 11 pm express mail train from Peterborough to Liverpool Street, in foggy conditions. The brake van and rear seven waggons of the freight train were completely demolished, the locomotive of the mail train overturned, the front four coaches mounted the wreckage of the freight train, and the next two became derailed, but the last four coaches remained on the track. Fortunately there were only about eighteen passengers on the train, plus the Post Office staff, and only two received slight injuries. The driver of the express was badly injured, but his fireman was killed, and the twenty-plus passengers, although shaken, escaped mainly unhurt. The guard of the freight train, a Mr Bert Balls of Witham, was killed. He had unfortunately changed duties that day, so as to finish early, as his son was coming home from leave after the forces (Audience: Sounds of sympathy.) Mm. (Question: Why Peterborough? [???]). From Peterborough it came via Ely, Bury St Edmunds, then Stowmarket and then to Ipswich. And at Hawley[?] it actually joined up with a fast portion from Norwich. So it was always known as the Peterborough mail, although there was a portion from Norwich on it.

Very little change took place to the station except for some minor track and signalling alterations during the 1930s, until 1951, when a new 75 foot turntable was installed to accommodate the turning of the new large Britannia locomotives which had just come into operation on this line. And then in 1956, when the present booking office was built, taking over part of the old booking hall, the original booking office was in the room facing you as you enter the station, which was also the parcels office, lit by gas, and warmed by a small open fire. I worked there seven years [laughter] and in the winter it could be mighty cold, believe me. At about this time, electric lighting was installed, thus displacing the gas lighting. During 1960, work started in connection with the forthcoming electric colour[?] light[?] signalling, and the proposed electrification of the line from Chelmsford to Colchester. This involved considerable alterations to the track at the Colchester end of the station, demolition of the water tower, the building … (cause diesels had now replaced steam anyway). The building housing the hydraulic equipment which was used for the lifts, which had now been replaced by electric lifts, was also demolished, as was the large Junction signal box, the working of all points and signals now being operated from the Station signal box at the London end of the station.

Sunday the 19th of November 1961 saw the commissioning of the new signalling, which was now controlled from the new signal box built on the site of the old stables at the end of the Maldon platform. The signalboxes at Blunts Hall, Witham Station and Rivenhall became redundant, and were demolished. Also in 1960, the bridge at the London end of the station was widened and rebuilt, and I think probably a lot of residents remember that. 1961 saw the first signs of electrification, with the erection of masts for the support of electric wires.

And the first electric passenger train to arrive at Witham ran in May 1962. Since the telegraph office had become the information office, the stationmaster’s office except for the wall facing the platform on the up platform, has been demolished, and further resignalling has made the signal box now redundant, and the booking office has been completely refurbished.

Witham had a large goods yard dealing with inwards traffic, consisting of coal, barley for Hugh Baird’s maltings, steel for Crittall’s windows, and agricultural machinery and cattle. Outward traffic consisted of Crittall’s windows, malt from Hugh Baird’s, seed traffic from Cullen’s and Cooper Taber’s, seasonal traffic of peas, sugar beet apples and pears. Eventually this traffic disappeared to the road, and the yard is now part of the industrial estate.

Now in my days, and we’re talking now the early [???] the 1950s, the number of staff actually at Witham was sixty. Plus four signal and telegraph staff, three carriage and waggon examiners, and approximately forty permanent way staff. The staff consisted of one stationmaster, four goods clerks, four goods porters, one waggon number taker, two van drivers, a goods yard foreman, three booking clerks, two telegraph clerks, two ticket collectors, twelve signalmen, one relief signalman, and one district relief signalman, two signal box lads, four leading porters, one of which was stationed at Notley and one at Wickham Bishops, six general porters, one lamp man, two lamp lads, six shunters, one horseman, and four gatekeepers [laughter]. I think now there’s a foreman on each platform and a porter and I think that’s about you have at Witham station now. The signal [???] they no longer exist, this work is all under contract, as is all the permanent way, it’s all under contract.

Now that basically is the story of, the basic story of Witham station, but just a few little anecdotes, I know you’d probably like to hear a few anecdotes. While I was there, we used to have a passenger come up from Maldon, by the name of Mr Frost. Now he normally come up on the five past eleven train from Maldon, to catch the eleven twenty-eight from Witham, and he used to come up once a week, sometimes twice a week, and he used to visit a hotel in London, and provided them with eggs, because he had a smallholding or something in Goldhanger. And he also used to bring up cut flowers. But the unusual thing was, the cut flowers were always in buckets of water. So consternation used to reign. Every time Mr Frost came up, these buckets of water containing the flowers, had to be transhipped from Maldon and put on the main line. Well the guards on the Maldon knew all about it, but I reckon there was some funny words said sometimes by the guards on the main line when they found these buckets of water. But that wasn’t the finish. Mr Frost used to return on a train that used to leave Liverpool Street about six-forty-five, which was a main line train to Clacton. So he didn’t, when he came back, he’d got rid of the eggs, he’d got rid of the flowers, but he still had the buckets, but the buckets were now full of kitchen swill for his menagerie. [laughter]. These used to have to be taken over and put on the Maldon train, and then I think he used to get a taxi. There were odd occasions when he decided he’d go from Witham by taxi. Now the Witham taxi-men all knew Mr Frost, and if they saw him come with these buckets of swill, they were all engaged and all disappeared. Now at one time I understand he had been a tutor at a private school, and he was rather eccentric. And I remember one night I was in the booking office, and there was a tap in the enquiry parcels office, so I went round there. ‘Oh, evening Mr Frost’. ‘Now I wonder if you can help me Mr clerk’, he says. He said ‘I was coming down on the train and it was exceedingly hot, so I took my shoes off to rest my feet, and unfortunately I’ve left my shoes on the train.’ [laughter]. And sure enough he stood there in his bare feet. So I said ‘All right, Mr Frost’, after I’d counted ten, ‘I’ll get into contact with Colchester’, was the next stop for the train, ‘see if we can find them’.
[20 minutes]
So anyway, I got onto Colchester and told them where they were, I said ‘They’re in the coach just behind the restaurant car’. About twenty minutes later Colchester rang back. He says ‘Yes, we’ve found those shoes, but’ he says ‘I wouldn’t give you twopence for the bloody things’. [laughter] I can remember the clerk. Anyway that was Mr Frost. And on another occasion, again Mr Frost. The down train, he came off the usual train, stood there ages. So Alf Griggs, one of the porters, come up the stairs, I says ‘What’s the matter with the down train, Alf?’. ‘Oh’, he said ‘It’s Mr Frost again.’ ‘Oh’, I said, ‘What now?’ ‘Well he said he had a little carton of day-old chicks. He said and after the train left Chelmsford, he got them out to feed them. [laughter] Somebody opened the corridor door and they all got in the corridor’. And they had to stood there while they caught these day-old chicks’. [laughter].

Then, lost property. We often used to get things left in the train which were handed out. One of the things that I always remember was the ordinary, [???] the old brown brief case was handed in, and they thought the passenger had gone to Braintree. Anyway, I said to the porter, Alf Griggs again, I said ‘Well we’d better check what’s in it, and make a note, and put it in the lost property book’. So we opened the brief case, and you’ll never guess was in the brief case. A plastic bag of horse manure. We’ve had all sorts of things left, but that’s the only time I’ve ever had that. But anyway it was claimed by somebody from Braintree, and when I told Braintree what was in it, he said he couldn’t believe it, I said ‘Well you open it and check it’.

And I think it was 1951 or 52, there was an epidemic, I think it was ‘flu or something, and we had three porters off sick, and Stratford sent down a relief porter. Now this relief porter, I never did know his name, cause he was always known as Cherry Blossom, because he always had highly polished black boots. Now he originated from Milton Constable, and spoke with a real Norfolk dialect, and he’d gone up to Stratford after the War, because there was more money being a relief porter. And one night, Cherry Blossom was on the platform, the down train ran in, and I was bursting to go to the toilet, and I ran down on the platform as the train ran in, and Cherry Blossom stood on the platform, and Ted Webb was the foreman. Ted Webb was announcing the train, he said ‘This train will call at Marks Tey, Colchester, Wivenhoe, Thorpe le Soken and Clacton’. So this old dear, she goes up to Cherry Blossom, she says ‘Does this train go to Colchester?’ Now in my best Norfolk accent I’ll try – Cherry Blossom, he looks at her and he said ‘Now look you here, Missus.’ He said ‘That man up there, he told you where that was a-going, and that had to come past you to get to me, and I heard what he say’. [laughter] That was a polite way of saying ‘Yes, madam’. Or a Norfolk way anyway.

Well, that basically is that, we’ve got slides to come. Any questions about the actual station or the working of the station?
Dorothy Hancock: [???] when you came in, there was this wooden structure [???] [???]
JN:    That was the original booking hall and entrance. We’ll come to that, when we come to the slides. Yes, that was the original booking office which was in Easton Road. That was part of the Eastern Counties Railway. Oh yes, I’ve brought this along [tin for holding string]. A genuine relic of the Eastern Counties Railway. It was in use in Witham, in the booking office, when I was there, and it was in the ticket collector’s office, and they tie the bundles of tickets up with the string. And oh, after they built the little ticket office outside, I come off one night, and I see it was still in there, so I said to the ticket collector,  Harold[?] Dick[?], I says ‘Cor’ I said ‘You still using that?’. ‘Oh’ he said ‘Do you [???]’. ‘Well, I said that’s Eastern Counties’. So the next night he come off, he handed me a plastic bag, so that’s a genuine Eastern Counties Railway string tin.

The only other relic [???] I have is a train staff. Now probably [???] of you have heard of train staffs. No train on a single line was allowed to go without one. This was kept in a special cabinet in the station at Witham. You probably had half a dozen in the instrument at Witham, and half a dozen at Braintree. And before one could be taken out at Witham, the signalman at Witham had to get permission from Braintree to withdraw one from the instrument. And once that was taken out, the whole business was locked, and neither could you put back in or take one out, until this was given to, this would then be given to the driver, who would check with his fireman that was the correct one for the line, Witham and Braintree. They would then travel to Braintree, where it would be put in the instrument at Braintree, and it would then release the section so you could take another one out. So this entailed that only of these were ever out at one time. And the penalty for a driver going without one, was instant dismissal. So that was a safety check for all trains on single line working.

Here is a diagram showing the curve that was put in in the late 1880s for trains travelling from Southend to Colchester. There is the timetable showing the trains on the various dates they ran. There’s also reports there of the two accidents at Witham, the 1905 and the 1950 accidents, so you’re perfectly at liberty to read those and take those and have a look at those. That’s another photo there that I haven’t got slides of of Witham station. There is the details of the Essex Agricultural Society Show at Witham, and train times for the original trains. Right, so, if you’ve got nothing further, we’ll break for coffee or tea, and slides afterwards.

Bill Beale:    Would the staff that you just held up, would that still be in operation, because that’s still a single line?
JN:    No, it’s all controlled by electric signalling now, Bill. And telephone communications and radio operated.
Questioner:    [???] the train from Southend, that came via where?
JN:    That came via Woodham Ferrers, Maldon West. There were curves put in at Woodham Ferrers and also at Maldon as well, from Maldon West round to Langford. It’s all shown on the plan there if you want to have a look at it. And it was used by one train per week, for about four years. Why it was ever put in, nobody’s ever really found out. Incredible cost.
Questioner:    What was the cause of the Cromer accident?
JN:    Read the report! [laugh]. It’s always been a matter of conjecture. The platelayers had been working on the points leading into the Braintree platform, and it was surmised that something had not been put back as it should have been. But there was never any definite conclusion. But certainly the platelayers were working on the track, and they were closely scrutinising it almost as the train got up to the point. And you’ll see on the slides, I’ve got a slide of the train approaching. It’s incredible that the morning of the crash, a young lad from Cromer was on holiday here, and he took a photo of the train approaching, and this was actually taken from the ‘Braintree and Witham Times’, and we have checked, and the identity of the engine, except it ties up with the crash. And also, you can see the fireman and driver, leaning right out of that loco as it approached Witham, so there was obviously something they were watching.
Questioner:    Why was there never an entrance made into Easton Road, why isn’t there a footbridge down to the car park?
JN:    What, now? Because Easton Road was the original entrance, until it was rebuilt in 1907, then the entrance was put in Albert Road. But there’s been arguments for and against ever since, and they say the cost is too high now to do it.

[Recorder turned off during refreshments, then restarting with slides]

Now here, we do have the original booking office and entrance, which was in Easton Road. This is taken out of the ‘Braintree and Witham Times’, actually it’s the otter huntsmen, so we’ll forget the otter hunt, but that is the original entrance to the station. That was in use till the station was built in 1906/1907. If you look at that you can see the Temperance Hotel [9 Albert Road].
Now, I’ve done a little research on this. This engine was built in 1904, so it must have been almost new when this was taken, because it’s in pristine condition, this would have been working on the Braintree line. I know it was allocated to Braintree, and it was there before the rebuilding of the station in 1906, and as I say it was built in 1904, so it was very probably a year or eighteen months old, the engine. And that’s the main road bridge over the station, as it is there, before it was widened. And this is a gas lamp, so it would be about that time.
This again was roughly the same period. It was taken a little while before the station was rebuilt, because it’s still got the original footbridge over the station, so this was taken before the crash. The engine was built in 1897 at Stratford. I’ve been trying to trace where it was allocated. And a colleague of mine who’s [???] more involved in train work [???], we cannot establish what the train was. We think it’s come off the Braintree branch, we’re not sure whether it was terminated at Witham or whether it was going further. The head code, this, which is a green, with a white circle, indicates it came off the Maldon branch, we are not certain [???]. But that was certainly taken before the station was rebuilt.
Now this is what I was talking about, the Cromer express approaching just prior to the crash. And if you look, you can see the driver and fireman distinctly looking out, obviously aware that something’s amiss. And we have confirmed that is the type of engine that was working the train. So we are pretty certain that it was a genuine photograph of the train approaching, seconds before the crash.

Now, this does show some of the damage that was done to the platform, the concrete platform was destroyed at that end. This would have been where the foreman’s and the ticket-collector’s office would have been, completely demolished by the train. The remains of a coach upside-down. You can see there the [???] underneath. That was not the first class coach, that was one of the third class. The first two coaches were virtually, remained almost intact, as did the rear of the train, this would be the rear of the train, but the middle of the train went all over the station, demolished part of the station, even finished up on the up platform.
That’s a close-up of the same coach. This would have been the Braintree and the loop at the back of the Braintree platform. Now again, as I understand, there are new bricks there, so was the station already down for improvement, see, there.
Question:    Did they ever know what caused the crash was it derailed first, before it crashed?
JN:    The, as I said, there is a report there, and it is inconclusive. The platelayers had been working on the points and the track just as it approached the station. Whether part of the track or part of the bolts had not been put back satisfactorily we do not know. But certainly the platelayers were very very concerned when the express came down, because they were working and looking at the track almost to the time the engine got there. And this is borne out by the way the fireman and the driver are leaning out of the cab, as you can see on the photograph. But the engine and tender basically went over, then the train just went all over the place.
That’s a rather similar one. In those days, basically all the coaches were wooden, you can see these are the remains of the coach. That’s the wheels and that’s completely upside down, completely smashed. The damage that, it wrecked as I said, the porters’ room and it also damaged the staunchions holding the footbridge up.
A rather similar one. It gives you then an idea of what the station was like, especially the footbridge. You’ve got one coach here which is on its side, there’s another coach there, so this coach has sort of by-passed that one, landed on the up platform. The other one is still basically on the track.
This was taken now looking the other way, towards London, they’re starting to clear the line, a crane has now arrived, you’ve got the policeman looking. Think now, within two days, everything was back, well I say, back to normal, because you had trains running, how long would it take today. They’d still be holding an Inquiry. You can see the devastation, not only to the train but to the station as well.
There again you can see, as I was saying you can see parts of the wooden structures of the station, all brought down by the train.
Questioner:    Have you got any idea how long it took to clear that line, John, bearing in mind that they wouldn’t have modern lifting …
JN:    No. Well, I’ve not seen official reports, but I understand that the train, they had trains running within two days. Mm. They didn’t hang about, no, they didn’t. You had breakdown cranes, so
Questioner:    They probably used the forces[?] did they?
JN:    I don’t know, I didn’t hear about that, but they probably did, they’d have brung in any person they could, no doubt, to do it.

[another slide] Yes. It makes you wonder there weren’t more killed, doesn’t it, when you …
Questioner:    [inaudible]
JN:    You see it wasn’t a case of just coming off the, there was no means, they only had wooden frames, and the coaches rust over-ran one another. So as it what’s-er-named, the coaches telescoped, one into the other.
This shows, this is now looking, one coach there as you can see, completely on the platform. The end of this one’s completely smashed out.
Questioner:    What speed would it have been going, John?
JN:    They estimate between sixty and sixty-five. The limit in this area I think was sixty-five, and it was timed basically up to the limit, so it certainly would have been doing about sixty miles an hour.
Questioner:    John, you said they were six-wheeled coaches, [???]
JN:    Yes. This is a bogey, yes, this one is a bogey, yes.
Questioner:    What was that one?
JN:    It’s third class as well. This is first and third, so it was a composite coach. Means it’s got first class here, it was a bogey coach, you’re right.
Questioner:    John, what kind of camera would that young man have had, then, to take a train at that speed?
JN:    I wouldn’t know.
Questioner:    It didn’t look as though it was travelling at seventy miles an hour [???]. Are you sure it’s not a train that has stopped and they’re looking at the wreckage?
JN:    What, the photograph of the train, you mean? No, no, we have whatsernamed, recognised that that was the engine that was involved in the crash. Yes.
This was taken now at the country end, clear of the station, so you can see that the train, the front of the train got through the, went right through the station before it became derailed. This is the remains of the first class coach which was burnt out.
Questioner:    Was that because of the gas cylinder?
JN:    Yes. Yes, they had gas tanks under the coaches, and the gas ignited. This was one of the dangers in those nearly with nearly all coaches, were fitted with gas tanks for gas lighting. Either that or oil for oil lighting.
Questioner: [Inaudible]
JN:    Well, yes, when you’ve got diesel oil spilt all over, yes. Yes, this would have been the turn out to Maldon, so the train, the front of the train did get right through the station.
That again is in a similar position but we now have the, what we assume is part of the breakdown train that has arrived to help clear the train. To give you an example, there’s wheels, there’s one buffer, and there’s another buffer, and that’s about all, steelwork, that’s left. And the frame and some of the brake gear, and that’s about it.
There’s the Colchester end of the platform, and this is what  I was talking about, new bricks [???], so, was rebuilding already planned.
Questioner:    Is that the maltings?
JN:    That is the maltings, yes, and there’s, you can just see part of the goods shed through there.
There we are, that’s taken from a postcard, postmarked August 1907, so there you have the new station, and it is basically as it is today, with very little alteration. You have the gents’ toilet here. And then, just there, was the footwarmer room.

This, if I remember right, was 1919, very little alteration. See how neatly everything’s kept. Still had the gas lamps, ornate gas lamps.
Questioner:    What [???]
JN:    Barrows. Barrows all neatly piled up. And in my day they were still basically in the same position. I think they were used in between yes.
There are a series of photos here now, I thought I’d give you an idea what the station was like in 1911. These were all taken, the next, I think, fifteen, were taken in 1911 [JG’s photos M580, M581, and M2776-M2788]. Somewhere along there is Highfields Road. Can’t see any houses, can you.
Janet Gyford:    What’s that ramp thing on the left? (JN: Where’s what?) There’s a ramp on the left, where’s that going?
JN:    Here? That was the ramp up to the cattle market. Yes, you unloaded your cattle there, then they was taken up … Now, going back to the site of the crash, the crash, it approximately came off there, those points there, that was where they were working.

Side 2

[slides continued]
Quite a few [???] there, well there’s a road[?] of some description there and that’s it.
Questioner:    That’s Armond Road?
Janet Gyford:    Armond Road wasn’t there.
JN:    No.
Questioner:    Highfields Road being right in the distance.
JN:    Yes.
This is looking down, this is the Station signal box, which controlled that end, the London end of the station, water column[?], [???] to take water, and the entrance into the Maldon platform. Ornate gas lamps.
There you are, now you get a better view of the barrows. Notice how ornate all the lamps were. Large sign showing refreshments, you had a refreshment room. I’ll tell you a little tale, about the gents’ toilet. When I was at the station, there was a, this was just after the War, and VD was quite prevalent. There was poster in there which says ‘VD can be cured’, and underneath somebody had written ‘So can kippers’. [laughter] And that poster was in there all the time I was at Witham. Anyway, side track …
This is taken from the, probably a lot of you remember, the tall Junction signal box, looking through the station. There you can just see part of the goods shed, the water column[?], local in the Braintree platform, and general view of the station looking towards London.
Taken from the other side of the track, there’s the steps up to the signal box, the wooden building next housed the equipment to work the hydraulic lifts, and here is the goods shed, the wooden goods shed which is still in use. And a lot of us did not realise that the wooden goods shed was still there in 1911. We thought the brick one in the yard had been built by then but it hadn’t. (Questioner: What was the building [???]) Oh, one of the departments, I think it was the engineers, not the engineers, the examiners had a room under there where they kept a load of equipment.
You get a better view of the goods shed now. Quite a large place. The maltings as they originally were. The building at the back we think is part of Cullen’s, the seed people, cause they had land there and that’s part of their trial grounds.
Looking the other way again, gives you a better idea of the goods shed. You can just see Witham East signal box down there. I think now, coming back, underneath the water tank, was the pumping equipment. Yes, it was the pumping equipment.

Now this, this shows the line going off to Maldon with all the various signals, and there you can just see where the curve was built, round there from the Maldon branch up to the main line, controlled by Witham East signal box which is there opposite in 1911. You notice those spare rails and everything, how neatly everything was packed.
You get a better view of the maltings now, with Harrison Gray, there shunting four cattle wagons, cause in those days cattle was one of the main sources of income, all cattle, basically, any sheep, the lot, was all conveyed by rail. It looks as if they’ve been emptied, because it looks as if they’ve been limed. Everything, after they’d been used, were limed out. Up until very, up until 1950-odd, that pond was still there. For some reason that little bit of ground was always known as Canada (Questioner: Known as what?) Canada. Yes, that piece of ground just there was always known as Canada. There were some allotments there as well. ‘Oh’, he says, ‘I’ve got an allotment on Canada’, so you knew where his allotment was.
That shows the sidings into Harrison Gray’s and the seed people’s. To get the wagons actually in, you had small wagon turntables, so you could put the wagon on the turntable and push it round to get it into the extra siding.
A general view looking down the goods. They’ve stopped shunting for a breather there, those days you had two shunt horses, the majority of shunting in the yard was all done by horse. Probably working out what moves they were going to make, between them, so they knew exactly what they were doing.
Questioner:    Where are these photographs taken from, John, are they sort of [???].
JN:    Quite a lot of them were taken from the Junction signal box, or from signals. Mm. These were all taken by a [???], I forget his name now, in 1911, he surveyed virtually the whole of the Stratford district taking photographs. [from the Windward collection at the National Railway Museum, York]. It gives you a good idea of the amount of traffic that was used, handled in the yard.
That’s the goods foreman’s office, as you can see there’s no goods shed there. That’s a very very good photograph of the Witham South junction box, which was built when the curve was put in, although the curve was taken out, the signal box, although not in use as a signal box, was still there. Quite a number of people were surprised that it was still there. We all thought it had been demolished.
A breather, for the horses.
Questioner:    What is that in the very far distance, on the horizon, it looks like buildings.
JN:    Hay stacks or straw stacks. Yes. In the very far corner you can just see the crane, well that crane, I’m pretty certain, was still in use in 1950, 51, after the brick goods shed had been built, which we think was about 1915.
[10 minutes]
That was the signal fitters and the signal and telegraph hut, where they did work on the signals. You can see now the size of a signal arm, it’s quite large, extends about five foot, some of them. A small forge outside where they did various bits and pieces. The barrows were always left upside down, so they didn’t run away. And that, that track there led up to the turntable.
Just in the far [???] again, you can see part of Cullen’s trial grounds. This I’m pretty certain was taken from a signal. That little hut there I’m not sure. That had gone by the fifties, so what that was there for I do not know. And this was a fogman’s hut, could have been used for fogmen.
Questioner:    Are they trial grounds in the background there as well, behind …
JN:    No, they’re all the allotments on Canada. I think nearly every man on the station had an allotment in those days. A lot of them still in my day, they had allotments over there.
This one must have been taken about 1922, early 1923, because it was still Great Eastern, and the Great Eastern was absorbed into the LNER in 19, the latter part of 1923. And it’s surprising, some of those were still working when I was there.
Questioner:    Which one’s you, John? [laughter]
JN:    Thank you, Don. [general chat]
Questioner:    Who was the lady in the middle?
JN:    That was Polly somebody, I forget her name now, she was a ticket collector. You’ll probably remember this Joe Burch, he was a lamp man, he was still lamp man when I was there. Alf Griggs, the porter, Sam Bright, who was a shunter, he was still there, Arthur Chalk, who went as ticket collector at Chelmsford in the mid fifties. Jack Smith, the telegraph clerk. Old Ezekiel Griggs who was Alf’s father, he was the goods porter, he was in his seventies when he retired while I was there.
Questioner:    Are those service badges they’re all wearing?
JN:    They probably are, yes, but they’re definitely Great Eastern uniform.
Now, Dorothy [Hancock] remembers this. This is kindly donated by Dorothy. This is the station master’s house.
Dorothy Hancock:    There’s a date on that shield over the front door. 1840 something like that.
Questioner:    Is that near the level crossing gates, John?
JN:    No, this was at the bottom of Easton Road, yes, where that block of offices now is. You had this, and just beyond that was the Hawthorns, wasn’t it, where Captain Brice lived.
Mid 1930s, again, from Dorothy’s … (Dorothy Hancock: With father on it.) Yes, stationmaster Mr George Hancock on the platform. This is kindly donated by Dorothy, so I know … And this was a gas tank, which was used for gassing the lighting on the Maldon and Braintree coaches.
Questioner:    [???]
JN:    Where, this one? Here? That’s the Temperance Hotel [9 Albert Road]. Yes. That was still in use when I was in the booking office, cause occasionally I used to go and have a meal there.
Again, mid thirties. What the train is we do not know. We can’t, we’ve got the [???] boards on but we couldn’t find out what … It must be quite an important train, it’s got express head[?] coach[?], and the coach there towards the rear, is a Pullman coach.
[15 minutes]
So it was a train of some importance.
Again, I think Dorothy’s, train leaving Witham. We think this was the five o’clock from Liverpool Street to Clacton, by the engine etc.
One of the shunt horses, and the young Fred Gibson who was later head shunter at Witham. That’s the only one I’ve found a close-up of one of the horses.
Coming on now to mid-fifties. Baird’s had started to extend, we still have steam on the Maldon, we still had gas lights. Early fifties. Cause, gas was there till what, about 1955, 56, there was still gas then.
Again, putting down to about mid-fifties, with a Maldon train just leaving, going round the corner. And Hugh Baird’s, this part of Hugh Baird’s still unaltered.
Yes, we’re in 1960s now, we’ve got the wires up, and we have electric lighting. (Questioner: [???]) The train had just gone. And the old wooden structures on either side which controlled the lift gear, they’ve gone, and we’ve now got electric lifts. But other than that, the station is basically still unaltered.  (Questioner: The A12 had been built then.) Oh yes, the A12, yes, yes.
I spoke about the new turntable, there is a locomotive on the new turntable, which is 1951 or 52 – 51 I think that was installed. And it was automatic, it was worked off the braking system of the loco, which you connected up the spike[?] with a vacuum. Save them pushing it round, it went round automatically. I did actually have a trip onto the turntable once, I scrounged a lift on a Britannia, it was the first time the Britannias had come down to Witham. It’s the only time I ever had a lift on a Britannia, and it’s the only time I went on Witham turntable. (Questioner: [???]) It was there because Witham was a junction point, and you used to get, especially on Sundays, you had excursions coming off the Braintree branch, which required turning the engine round. It’d come in from Braintree, and you had the engine on the other end, and also you often, especially in those days, with engineering, you got diversions. There was quite a number of Sundays the continental trains used to be diverted across Braintree-Dunmow-Bishops Stortford to Liverpool Street. And used to turn the engines there, this was the reason they put in [???] see, so you could turn the Britannias round. That’s a big one, yes, yes. [???] [???]
The 1950 crash. There’s the remains of the goods wagons, see the engine on the side, down the bank, these are the coaches that surmounted the goods wagons.
[20 minutes]
Questioner:    Whereabouts was that, John?
JN:    Just the other side of Motts Lane. The goods train, the goods train was entering the up loop, about a third of the train had actually got in the loop, when it was hit by the Peterborough. A steam crane starting work on lifting the rubble.
That’s another view, looking the other way. It’s incredible that nobody was killed. Except for the fireman and the goods guard.
And that’s the loco.
Questioner:    What’s [???]?
JN:    A B1. B1 It was a B1, yes. That was after. It was brought up to Witham the following Saturday night, Sunday morning, after the crash. And it remained there for a week. And the following weekend, Saturday night, Sunday morning, they towed it back to Stratford. At ten miles an hour, having to stop every fifteen miles for inspection. (Questioner: [???]). That was the only one that was never rebuilt. Yes, it completely destroyed it, it knocked off …
That is the loco again at Stratford works, waiting, waiting up.
That’s the last one. Do we have any more questions? Any further questions.
Keith Ibbotson:    Those gas cylinders John, under the carriages, were they topped up each day?
JN:    Yes.
Keith Ibbotson:    So there could have been a terrible fire in, in something like that.
JN:    Mm, yes.
Keith Ibbotson:    What were they made of, the cylinders.
JN:    Cast iron, I should imagine. That was the general whatsername in those days, yes. Cast metal.
Don Pettican:     [???]
JN:    No. It was gas, I forget what, it was manufactured in the gas works at Stratford. I believe it was oil gas. But they had, there was, they had a separate gas works at Stratford. Besides the whatsername, the coaches, you saw the large tank at Witham, they also provided gas for virtually the whole of the area. And all major towns and all junctions had one of those, you know, to gas the coaches. At Norwich they had a special gassing point.
[Thanks etc., applause]

He was born in November 1928, worked in Witham Goods Office from November 1945 to January 1947, then was in the army for two years, and then was in Witham booking office from 1949 to 1957 before going on to HQ at Liverpool Street.

Side 1
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Just a brief, really, outline of Witham station. The Eastern Counties Railway was opened from Mile End to Romford on the 18th of June 1839, and from Shoreditch, which later became Bishopsgate, to Mile End and Romford and to Brentwood on the 1st of July 1840. But due to inclement weather, landslides, arguments with landlords, especially with Lord Petre at Ingatestone, and financial difficulties, the line was not opened from Brentwood to Colchester until the 7th of March 1843 for goods traffic, and till the 27th of March for passenger traffic, when the station at Witham was opened. It is recorded in the local press that the Witham Town Band joined the first train in an open coach at Witham, and played stirring music for the remainder of the journey to Colchester .[laughter]. Now can you imagine, the band playing ‘See the Conquering Hero Come’ being hailed with soot and smuts from the engine.

The original Witham station, basically in the same position as now, was a wooden construction offering very few facilities for passengers, with the entrance and booking office in Easton Road, and a wooden goods shed just north of the passenger station. The station was served by four trains each way on weekdays, taking almost two hours to reach London. The terminal was at Bishopsgate. Liverpool Street station was not opened for mainline traffic until the 1st of November in 1875. The main reason was, it was a very heavy residential area, and before they could extend it to where it is now, they had to pass an Act of Parliament to knock down, I think it was about four hundred dwellings. And after they’d knocked them down, then they extended to Liverpool Street, and there was a concession then, that all those who were made homeless, would move basically into the areas of Chingford and that area, and they were given special facilities and cheaper travel into Liverpool Street. Sundays provided two trains each way.

[At Witham]  considerable alterations, including the positioning of additional platforms and facilities were made to the station in 1848, with the opening of the Braintree and Maldon branches on the 15th of August of that year. The Braintree and Maldon railway was planned as a separate company, with their line crossing the Eastern Counties main line just north of the Eastern Counties station, and their own station on the Maldon side of the main line, but before completion, the line was taken over by the Eastern Counties Railway and diverted into their station as two separate branches, as we knew them. They obviously had their eyes on extra cash, and did not like the idea of the railway crossing their main line, which I can understand. On the 7th of August 1862, the Eastern Counties Railway was absorbed into, and became part, of the newly formed Great Eastern Railway. After the takeover, further improvements were made to the station, platforms were extended, and facilities generally improved, but still mainly of wooden construction. The train services were improved with eight trains each day weekdays, and five on Sundays, with an improved time of about one hour and twenty minutes then to Bishopsgate.

June 1863 saw great activity at the station, as the Essex Agricultural Show was held at Witham on Thursday the 25th of June. This was the forerunner of the Essex Show. And this would have involved the movement of very considerable numbers of livestock and agricultural implements, special fares being in operation for most of the Great Eastern stations, and special trains were run between Bishopsgate and Witham. There is a leaflet on the table here giving details of those, kindly provided by Janet.

On Tuesday the 1st of October 1889, a curve was brought into use between the Maldon branch and the main line near Motts Lane crossing, to allow trains to run through from Southend to Colchester. There is a map here to show that if anybody’s interested. This entailed the building of two additional signal boxes, Witham South Junction, where the curve left the Maldon branch, and Witham East Junction where it joined the main line.
[5 minutes]
The curve was only used by one train each way on Saturdays, between Southend and Colchester, and was closed after the passage of the last train on Saturday the 1st of March 1895, after a period of just over four years. Within a month of the closure, the curve had been removed, and Witham South Junction box signal had closed, although it was still in situ in 1911. Witham East Junction signal box was retained, but renamed Witham East signal box, and remained opened until the later 1920s when it was destroyed by fire. Now the following story has been told to me by several members of the staff when I worked at Witham, that on an August Bank Holiday Monday, a fire was reported underneath the signal box. I think Dorothy [Hancock] remembers this, there used to be a red fire tender on the footbridge at Witham. And this was taken down on the lift, put on a truck, and shunted down to the fire at the signal box, but when it arrived, the majority of the water had been slopped onto the floor of the wagon, and needless to say the fire had got hold, and there was no way of saving the signal box. It was completely burnt down and was never replaced.

On the 1st of September 1905, a major accident occurred at Witham, when the 09.27 express from Liverpool Street to Cromer became derailed approaching the station. Only the engine and tender remained on the rails, the rest of the train, comprising of fourteen six-wheeled coaches, ploughed through the station, some coaches mounting and severely damaging the down platform, and footbridge, and demolishing the porters’ and ticket-collectors’ rooms, killing the foreman porter. The third coach from the engine, a first-class coach overturned and caught fire, from the gas stored in the cylinder underneath, which was used for train lighting purposes. Fortunately, there was only one passenger in the coach and he escaped virtually unhurt. The total casualties were ten passengers and one railwayman killed, and sixty-six passengers and five railwaymen hurt, some of those seriously.

After the accident, the station was rebuilt in brick, much as it is today, the rebuilt station being in use by 1907. Now there is a query there – was the station rebuilt as a result of the accident, or was rebuilding of the station already planned, as one of the photographs of the crash, taken after the accident, clearly shows piles of new bricks and a crane on the up platform. The new station comprised of a gents’ toilet, porters’ room, general waiting room, ladies’ waiting room and toilet, foreman’s office on the down platform, with a gents’ toilet, a footwarmer room, lamp room, ladies’ waiting room and toilet, and general waiting room with a telegraph office, book stall, station-master’s office and refreshment room on the up platform. A new footbridge was also constructed, with the entrance hall and the booking office now in the Albert Road as it is today, the offices etc in Easton Road being demolished. Stables, and the permanent way inspectors’ office were constructed on land opposite the end of the Maldon platform, while the land between the station and Easton Road became a meadow for grazing the shunting horses. Photographs of 1911 confirm this, but also show that the original goods yard and shed was still in operation. A brick-built shed and office, this is where I started my railway career, were definitely built by 1915.

After the First World War, most carriages were steam heated, and the footwarmers were no longer needed, and the footwarmer room became a general storage for staff cycles. Now I don’t know whether you realise that, or have heard of footwarmers, but up until, oh, up to roughly the First World War, very very few trains, or very few coaches, were fitted with steam heating, and in the footwarmer room was a large copper, which during the winter was always kept boiling, and footwarmers were more or less like metal water bottles, and these were filled with boiling water, and handed to First Class passengers so they could keep their feet warm [laughter]. (Questioner: Were there any charges?) Well, I think they relied on tips, because they were mainly for the First Class passengers, and you know ‘Would you like a footwarmer, Sir?’. [laugh]
[10 minutes]
So after, when I was there, the copper was actually still there, in my days, but I know the copper has since gone and it’s still just used for general storage.

The stationmaster’s house, situated in Easton Road, was built in the early days of the Great Eastern Railway, and during the latter part of the 19th century was extended. Dorothy knows this, don’t you Dorothy [Hancock]. How may years did you live there (Dorothy: Oh gosh! Twenty I think.) Mm, yes. During the 1930s, when occupied by the stationmaster, Mr George Hancock, and his family, various internal alterations were made, and the house remained in use until the mid 1960s, when it was demolished to make room for office building. At about the same time, the last remaining shunt horse became redundant, and was put out to grass near Newmarket, the meadow then becoming a car park as we know it now [in Easton Road].

On the 7th of March 1950, a second serious accident occurred in the region of Motts Lane level crossing, when a freight train entering the up loop to clear the main line, was run into the rear by the 11 pm express mail train from Peterborough to Liverpool Street, in foggy conditions. The brake van and rear seven waggons of the freight train were completely demolished, the locomotive of the mail train overturned, the front four coaches mounted the wreckage of the freight train, and the next two became derailed, but the last four coaches remained on the track. Fortunately there were only about eighteen passengers on the train, plus the Post Office staff, and only two received slight injuries. The driver of the express was badly injured, but his fireman was killed, and the twenty-plus passengers, although shaken, escaped mainly unhurt. The guard of the freight train, a Mr Bert Balls of Witham, was killed. He had unfortunately changed duties that day, so as to finish early, as his son was coming home from leave after the forces (Audience: Sounds of sympathy.) Mm. (Question: Why Peterborough? [???]). From Peterborough it came via Ely, Bury St Edmunds, then Stowmarket and then to Ipswich. And at Hawley[?] it actually joined up with a fast portion from Norwich. So it was always known as the Peterborough mail, although there was a portion from Norwich on it.

Very little change took place to the station except for some minor track and signalling alterations during the 1930s, until 1951, when a new 75 foot turntable was installed to accommodate the turning of the new large Britannia locomotives which had just come into operation on this line. And then in 1956, when the present booking office was built, taking over part of the old booking hall, the original booking office was in the room facing you as you enter the station, which was also the parcels office, lit by gas, and warmed by a small open fire. I worked there seven years [laughter] and in the winter it could be mighty cold, believe me. At about this time, electric lighting was installed, thus displacing the gas lighting. During 1960, work started in connection with the forthcoming electric colour[?] light[?] signalling, and the proposed electrification of the line from Chelmsford to Colchester. This involved considerable alterations to the track at the Colchester end of the station, demolition of the water tower, the building … (cause diesels had now replaced steam anyway). The building housing the hydraulic equipment which was used for the lifts, which had now been replaced by electric lifts, was also demolished, as was the large Junction signal box, the working of all points and signals now being operated from the Station signal box at the London end of the station.

Sunday the 19th of November 1961 saw the commissioning of the new signalling, which was now controlled from the new signal box built on the site of the old stables at the end of the Maldon platform. The signalboxes at Blunts Hall, Witham Station and Rivenhall became redundant, and were demolished. Also in 1960, the bridge at the London end of the station was widened and rebuilt, and I think probably a lot of residents remember that. 1961 saw the first signs of electrification, with the erection of masts for the support of electric wires.
[15 minutes]
And the first electric passenger train to arrive at Witham ran in May 1962. Since the telegraph office had become the information office, the stationmaster’s office except for the wall facing the platform on the up platform, has been demolished, and further resignalling has made the signal box now redundant, and the booking office has been completely refurbished.

Witham had a large goods yard dealing with inwards traffic, consisting of coal, barley for Hugh Baird’s maltings, steel for Crittall’s windows, and agricultural machinery and cattle. Outward traffic consisted of Crittall’s windows, malt from Hugh Baird’s, seed traffic from Cullen’s and Cooper Taber’s, seasonal traffic of peas, sugar beet apples and pears. Eventually this traffic disappeared to the road, and the yard is now part of the industrial estate.

Now in my days, and we’re talking now the early [???] the 1950s, the number of staff actually at Witham was sixty. Plus four signal and telegraph staff, three carriage and waggon examiners, and approximately forty permanent way staff. The staff consisted of one stationmaster, four goods clerks, four goods porters, one waggon number taker, two van drivers, a goods yard foreman, three booking clerks, two telegraph clerks, two ticket collectors, twelve signalmen, one relief signalman, and one district relief signalman, two signal box lads, four leading porters, one of which was stationed at Notley and one at Wickham Bishops, six general porters, one lamp man, two lamp lads, six shunters, one horseman, and four gatekeepers [laughter]. I think now there’s a foreman on each platform and a porter and I think that’s about you have at Witham station now. The signal [???] they no longer exist, this work is all under contract, as is all the permanent way, it’s all under contract.

Now that basically is the story of, the basic story of Witham station, but just a few little anecdotes, I know you’d probably like to hear a few anecdotes. While I was there, we used to have a passenger come up from Maldon, by the name of Mr Frost. Now he normally come up on the five past eleven train from Maldon, to catch the eleven twenty-eight from Witham, and he used to come up once a week, sometimes twice a week, and he used to visit a hotel in London, and provided them with eggs, because he had a smallholding or something in Goldhanger. And he also used to bring up cut flowers. But the unusual thing was, the cut flowers were always in buckets of water. So consternation used to reign. Every time Mr Frost came up, these buckets of water containing the flowers, had to be transhipped from Maldon and put on the main line. Well the guards on the Maldon knew all about it, but I reckon there was some funny words said sometimes by the guards on the main line when they found these buckets of water. But that wasn’t the finish. Mr Frost used to return on a train that used to leave Liverpool Street about six-forty-five, which was a main line train to Clacton. So he didn’t, when he came back, he’d got rid of the eggs, he’d got rid of the flowers, but he still had the buckets, but the buckets were now full of kitchen swill for his menagerie. [laughter]. These used to have to be taken over and put on the Maldon train, and then I think he used to get a taxi. There were odd occasions when he decided he’d go from Witham by taxi. Now the Witham taxi-men all knew Mr Frost, and if they saw him come with these buckets of swill, they were all engaged and all disappeared. Now at one time I understand he had been a tutor at a private school, and he was rather eccentric. And I remember one night I was in the booking office, and there was a tap in the enquiry parcels office, so I went round there. ‘Oh, evening Mr Frost’. ‘Now I wonder if you can help me Mr clerk’, he says. He said ‘I was coming down on the train and it was exceedingly hot, so I took my shoes off to rest my feet, and unfortunately I’ve left my shoes on the train.’ [laughter]. And sure enough he stood there in his bare feet. So I said ‘All right, Mr Frost’, after I’d counted ten, ‘I’ll get into contact with Colchester’, was the next stop for the train, ‘see if we can find them’.
[20 minutes]
So anyway, I got onto Colchester and told them where they were, I said ‘They’re in the coach just behind the restaurant car’. About twenty minutes later Colchester rang back. He says ‘Yes, we’ve found those shoes, but’ he says ‘I wouldn’t give you twopence for the bloody things’. [laughter] I can remember the clerk. Anyway that was Mr Frost. And on another occasion, again Mr Frost. The down train, he came off the usual train, stood there ages. So Alf Griggs, one of the porters, come up the stairs, I says ‘What’s the matter with the down train, Alf?’. ‘Oh’, he said ‘It’s Mr Frost again.’ ‘Oh’, I said, ‘What now?’ ‘Well he said he had a little carton of day-old chicks. He said and after the train left Chelmsford, he got them out to feed them. [laughter] Somebody opened the corridor door and they all got in the corridor’. And they had to stood there while they caught these day-old chicks’. [laughter].

Then, lost property. We often used to get things left in the train which were handed out. One of the things that I always remember was the ordinary, [???] the old brown brief case was handed in, and they thought the passenger had gone to Braintree. Anyway, I said to the porter, Alf Griggs again, I said ‘Well we’d better check what’s in it, and make a note, and put it in the lost property book’. So we opened the brief case, and you’ll never guess was in the brief case. A plastic bag of horse manure. We’ve had all sorts of things left, but that’s the only time I’ve ever had that. But anyway it was claimed by somebody from Braintree, and when I told Braintree what was in it, he said he couldn’t believe it, I said ‘Well you open it and check it’.

And I think it was 1951 or 52, there was an epidemic, I think it was ‘flu or something, and we had three porters off sick, and Stratford sent down a relief porter. Now this relief porter, I never did know his name, cause he was always known as Cherry Blossom, because he always had highly polished black boots. Now he originated from Milton Constable, and spoke with a real Norfolk dialect, and he’d gone up to Stratford after the War, because there was more money being a relief porter. And one night, Cherry Blossom was on the platform, the down train ran in, and I was bursting to go to the toilet, and I ran down on the platform as the train ran in, and Cherry Blossom stood on the platform, and Ted Webb was the foreman. Ted Webb was announcing the train, he said ‘This train will call at Marks Tey, Colchester, Wivenhoe, Thorpe le Soken and Clacton’. So this old dear, she goes up to Cherry Blossom, she says ‘Does this train go to Colchester?’ Now in my best Norfolk accent I’ll try – Cherry Blossom, he looks at her and he said ‘Now look you here, Missus.’ He said ‘That man up there, he told you where that was a-going, and that had to come past you to get to me, and I heard what he say’. [laughter] That was a polite way of saying ‘Yes, madam’. Or a Norfolk way anyway.

Well, that basically is that, we’ve got slides to come. Any questions about the actual station or the working of the station?
Dorothy Hancock: [???] when you came in, there was this wooden structure [???] [???]
JN:    That was the original booking hall and entrance. We’ll come to that, when we come to the slides. Yes, that was the original booking office which was in Easton Road. That was part of the Eastern Counties Railway. Oh yes, I’ve brought this along [tin for holding string]. A genuine relic of the Eastern Counties Railway. It was in use in Witham, in the booking office, when I was there, and it was in the ticket collector’s office, and they tie the bundles of tickets up with the string. And oh, after they built the little ticket office outside, I come off one night, and I see it was still in there, so I said to the ticket collector,  Harold[?] Dick[?], I says ‘Cor’ I said ‘You still using that?’. ‘Oh’ he said ‘Do you [???]’. ‘Well, I said that’s Eastern Counties’. So the next night he come off, he handed me a plastic bag, so that’s a genuine Eastern Counties Railway string tin.
[25 minutes]
The only other relic [???] I have is a train staff. Now probably [???] of you have heard of train staffs. No train on a single line was allowed to go without one. This was kept in a special cabinet in the station at Witham. You probably had half a dozen in the instrument at Witham, and half a dozen at Braintree. And before one could be taken out at Witham, the signalman at Witham had to get permission from Braintree to withdraw one from the instrument. And once that was taken out, the whole business was locked, and neither could you put back in or take one out, until this was given to, this would then be given to the driver, who would check with his fireman that was the correct one for the line, Witham and Braintree. They would then travel to Braintree, where it would be put in the instrument at Braintree, and it would then release the section so you could take another one out. So this entailed that only of these were ever out at one time. And the penalty for a driver going without one, was instant dismissal. So that was a safety check for all trains on single line working.

Here is a diagram showing the curve that was put in in the late 1880s for trains travelling from Southend to Colchester. There is the timetable showing the trains on the various dates they ran. There’s also reports there of the two accidents at Witham, the 1905 and the 1950 accidents, so you’re perfectly at liberty to read those and take those and have a look at those. That’s another photo there that I haven’t got slides of of Witham station. There is the details of the Essex Agricultural Society Show at Witham, and train times for the original trains. Right, so, if you’ve got nothing further, we’ll break for coffee or tea, and slides afterwards.

Bill Beale:    Would the staff that you just held up, would that still be in operation, because that’s still a single line?
JN:    No, it’s all controlled by electric signalling now, Bill. And telephone communications and radio operated.
Questioner:    [???] the train from Southend, that came via where?
JN:    That came via Woodham Ferrers, Maldon West. There were curves put in at Woodham Ferrers and also at Maldon as well, from Maldon West round to Langford. It’s all shown on the plan there if you want to have a look at it. And it was used by one train per week, for about four years. Why it was ever put in, nobody’s ever really found out. Incredible cost.
Questioner:    What was the cause of the Cromer accident?
JN:    Read the report! [laugh]. It’s always been a matter of conjecture. The platelayers had been working on the points leading into the Braintree platform, and it was surmised that something had not been put back as it should have been. But there was never any definite conclusion. But certainly the platelayers were working on the track, and they were closely scrutinising it almost as the train got up to the point. And you’ll see on the slides, I’ve got a slide of the train approaching. It’s incredible that the morning of the crash, a young lad from Cromer was on holiday here, and he took a photo of the train approaching, and this was actually taken from the ‘Braintree and Witham Times’, and we have checked, and the identity of the engine, except it ties up with the crash. And also, you can see the fireman and driver, leaning right out of that loco as it approached Witham, so there was obviously something they were watching.
Questioner:    Why was there never an entrance made into Easton Road, why isn’t there a footbridge down to the car park?
JN:    What, now? Because Easton Road was the original entrance, until it was rebuilt in 1907, then the entrance was put in Albert Road. But there’s been arguments for and against ever since, and they say the cost is too high now to do it.
[30 minutes]

[Recorder turned off during refreshments, then restarting with slides]

Now here, we do have the original booking office and entrance, which was in Easton Road. This is taken out of the ‘Braintree and Witham Times’, actually it’s the otter huntsmen, so we’ll forget the otter hunt, but that is the original entrance to the station. That was in use till the station was built in 1906/1907. If you look at that you can see the Temperance Hotel [9 Albert Road].

Now, I’ve done a little research on this. This engine was built in 1904, so it must have been almost new when this was taken, because it’s in pristine condition, this would have been working on the Braintree line. I know it was allocated to Braintree, and it was there before the rebuilding of the station in 1906, and as I say it was built in 1904, so it was very probably a year or eighteen months old, the engine. And that’s the main road bridge over the station, as it is there, before it was widened. And this is a gas lamp, so it would be about that time.

This again was roughly the same period. It was taken a little while before the station was rebuilt, because it’s still got the original footbridge over the station, so this was taken before the crash. The engine was built in 1897 at Stratford. I’ve been trying to trace where it was allocated. And a colleague of mine who’s [???] more involved in train work [???], we cannot establish what the train was. We think it’s come off the Braintree branch, we’re not sure whether it was terminated at Witham or whether it was going further. The head code, this, which is a green, with a white circle, indicates it came off the Maldon branch, we are not certain [???]. But that was certainly taken before the station was rebuilt.

Now this is what I was talking about, the Cromer express approaching just prior to the crash. And if you look, you can see the driver and fireman distinctly looking out, obviously aware that something’s amiss. And we have confirmed that is the type of engine that was working the train. So we are pretty certain that it was a genuine photograph of the train approaching, seconds before the crash.

Now, this does show some of the damage that was done to the platform, the concrete platform was destroyed at that end. This would have been where the foreman’s and the ticket-collector’s office would have been, completely demolished by the train. The remains of a coach upside-down. You can see there the [???] underneath. That was not the first class coach, that was one of the third class. The first two coaches were virtually, remained almost intact, as did the rear of the train, this would be the rear of the train, but the middle of the train went all over the station, demolished part of the station, even finished up on the up platform.

That’s a close-up of the same coach. This would have been the Braintree and the loop at the back of the Braintree platform. Now again, as I understand, there are new bricks there, so was the station already down for improvement, see, there.
Question:    Did they ever know what caused the crash was it derailed first, before it crashed?
JN:    The, as I said, there is a report there, and it is inconclusive. The platelayers had been working on the points and the track just as it approached the station. Whether part of the track or part of the bolts had not been put back satisfactorily we do not know. But certainly the platelayers were very very concerned when the express came down, because they were working and looking at the track almost to the time the engine got there. And this is borne out by the way the fireman and the driver are leaning out of the cab, as you can see on the photograph. But the engine and tender basically went over, then the train just went all over the place.

That’s a rather similar one. In those days, basically all the coaches were wooden, you can see these are the remains of the coach. That’s the wheels and that’s completely upside down, completely smashed. The damage that, it wrecked as I said, the porters’ room and it also damaged the staunchions holding the footbridge up.
A rather similar one. It gives you then an idea of what the station was like, especially the footbridge. You’ve got one coach here which is on its side, there’s another coach there, so this coach has sort of by-passed that one, landed on the up platform. The other one is still basically on the track.

This was taken now looking the other way, towards London, they’re starting to clear the line, a crane has now arrived, you’ve got the policeman looking. Think now, within two days, everything was back, well I say, back to normal, because you had trains running, how long would it take today. They’d still be holding an Inquiry. You can see the devastation, not only to the train but to the station as well.
There again you can see, as I was saying you can see parts of the wooden structures of the station, all brought down by the train.

Questioner:    Have you got any idea how long it took to clear that line, John, bearing in mind that they wouldn’t have modern lifting …
JN:    No. Well, I’ve not seen official reports, but I understand that the train, they had trains running within two days. Mm. They didn’t hang about, no, they didn’t. You had breakdown cranes, so
Questioner:    They probably used the forces[?] did they?
JN:    I don’t know, I didn’t hear about that, but they probably did, they’d have brung in any person they could, no doubt, to do it.

[another slide] Yes. It makes you wonder there weren’t more killed, doesn’t it, when you …
Questioner:    [inaudible]
JN:    You see it wasn’t a case of just coming off the, there was no means, they only had wooden frames, and the coaches rust over-ran one another. So as it what’s-er-named, the coaches telescoped, one into the other.

This shows, this is now looking, one coach there as you can see, completely on the platform. The end of this one’s completely smashed out.
Questioner:    What speed would it have been going, John?
JN:    They estimate between sixty and sixty-five. The limit in this area I think was sixty-five, and it was timed basically up to the limit, so it certainly would have been doing about sixty miles an hour.

Questioner:    John, you said they were six-wheeled coaches, [???]
JN:    Yes. This is a bogey, yes, this one is a bogey, yes.
Questioner:    What was that one?
JN:    It’s third class as well. This is first and third, so it was a composite coach. Means it’s got first class here, it was a bogey coach, you’re right.

Questioner:    John, what kind of camera would that young man have had, then, to take a train at that speed?
JN:    I wouldn’t know.
Questioner:    It didn’t look as though it was travelling at seventy miles an hour [???]. Are you sure it’s not a train that has stopped and they’re looking at the wreckage?
JN:    What, the photograph of the train, you mean? No, no, we have whatsernamed, recognised that that was the engine that was involved in the crash. Yes.

This was taken now at the country end, clear of the station, so you can see that the train, the front of the train got through the, went right through the station before it became derailed. This is the remains of the first class coach which was burnt out.
Questioner:    Was that because of the gas cylinder?
JN:    Yes. Yes, they had gas tanks under the coaches, and the gas ignited. This was one of the dangers in those nearly with nearly all coaches, were fitted with gas tanks for gas lighting. Either that or oil for oil lighting.
Questioner: [Inaudible]
JN:    Well, yes, when you’ve got diesel oil spilt all over, yes. Yes, this would have been the turn out to Maldon, so the train, the front of the train did get right through the station.

That again is in a similar position but we now have the, what we assume is part of the breakdown train that has arrived to help clear the train. To give you an example, there’s wheels, there’s one buffer, and there’s another buffer, and that’s about all, steelwork, that’s left. And the frame and some of the brake gear, and that’s about it.
There’s the Colchester end of the platform, and this is what  I was talking about, new bricks [???], so, was rebuilding already planned.

Questioner:    Is that the maltings?
JN:    That is the maltings, yes, and there’s, you can just see part of the goods shed through there.

There we are, that’s taken from a postcard, postmarked August 1907, so there you have the new station, and it is basically as it is today, with very little alteration. You have the gents’ toilet here. And then, just there, was the footwarmer room.

This, if I remember right, was 1919, very little alteration. See how neatly everything’s kept. Still had the gas lamps, ornate gas lamps.
Questioner:    What [???]
JN:    Barrows. Barrows all neatly piled up. And in my day they were still basically in the same position. I think they were used in between yes.

There are a series of photos here now, I thought I’d give you an idea what the station was like in 1911. These were all taken, the next, I think, fifteen, were taken in 1911 [JG’s photos M580, M581, and M2776-M2788]. Somewhere along there is Highfields Road. Can’t see any houses, can you.
Janet Gyford:    What’s that ramp thing on the left? (JN: Where’s what?) There’s a ramp on the left, where’s that going?
JN:    Here? That was the ramp up to the cattle market. Yes, you unloaded your cattle there, then they was taken up … Now, going back to the site of the crash, the crash, it approximately came off there, those points there, that was where they were working.

Side 2

[slides continued]
Quite a few [???] there, well there’s a road[?] of some description there and that’s it.
Questioner:    That’s Armond Road?
Janet Gyford:    Armond Road wasn’t there.
JN:    No.
Questioner:    Highfields Road being right in the distance.
JN:    Yes.

This is looking down, this is the Station signal box, which controlled that end, the London end of the station, water column[?], [???] to take water, and the entrance into the Maldon platform. Ornate gas lamps.

There you are, now you get a better view of the barrows. Notice how ornate all the lamps were. Large sign showing refreshments, you had a refreshment room. I’ll tell you a little tale, about the gents’ toilet. When I was at the station, there was a, this was just after the War, and VD was quite prevalent. There was poster in there which says ‘VD can be cured’, and underneath somebody had written ‘So can kippers’. [laughter] And that poster was in there all the time I was at Witham. Anyway, side track …

This is taken from the, probably a lot of you remember, the tall Junction signal box, looking through the station. There you can just see part of the goods shed, the water column[?], local in the Braintree platform, and general view of the station looking towards London.

Taken from the other side of the track, there’s the steps up to the signal box, the wooden building next housed the equipment to work the hydraulic lifts, and here is the goods shed, the wooden goods shed which is still in use. And a lot of us did not realise that the wooden goods shed was still there in 1911. We thought the brick one in the yard had been built by then but it hadn’t. (Questioner: What was the building [???]) Oh, one of the departments, I think it was the engineers, not the engineers, the examiners had a room under there where they kept a load of equipment.

You get a better view of the goods shed now. Quite a large place. The maltings as they originally were. The building at the back we think is part of Cullen’s, the seed people, cause they had land there and that’s part of their trial grounds.

Looking the other way again, gives you a better idea of the goods shed. You can just see Witham East signal box down there. I think now, coming back, underneath the water tank, was the pumping equipment. Yes, it was the pumping equipment.

Now this, this shows the line going off to Maldon with all the various signals, and there you can just see where the curve was built, round there from the Maldon branch up to the main line, controlled by Witham East signal box which is there opposite in 1911. You notice those spare rails and everything, how neatly everything was packed.

You get a better view of the maltings now, with Harrison Gray, there shunting four cattle wagons, cause in those days cattle was one of the main sources of income, all cattle, basically, any sheep, the lot, was all conveyed by rail. It looks as if they’ve been emptied, because it looks as if they’ve been limed. Everything, after they’d been used, were limed out. Up until very, up until 1950-odd, that pond was still there. For some reason that little bit of ground was always known as Canada (Questioner: Known as what?) Canada. Yes, that piece of ground just there was always known as Canada. There were some allotments there as well. ‘Oh’, he says, ‘I’ve got an allotment on Canada’, so you knew where his allotment was.

That shows the sidings into Harrison Gray’s and the seed people’s. To get the wagons actually in, you had small wagon turntables, so you could put the wagon on the turntable and push it round to get it into the extra siding.

A general view looking down the goods. They’ve stopped shunting for a breather there, those days you had two shunt horses, the majority of shunting in the yard was all done by horse. Probably working out what moves they were going to make, between them, so they knew exactly what they were doing.

Questioner:    Where are these photographs taken from, John, are they sort of [???].
JN:    Quite a lot of them were taken from the Junction signal box, or from signals. Mm. These were all taken by a [???], I forget his name now, in 1911, he surveyed virtually the whole of the Stratford district taking photographs. [from the Windward collection at the National Railway Museum, York]. It gives you a good idea of the amount of traffic that was used, handled in the yard.

That’s the goods foreman’s office, as you can see there’s no goods shed there. That’s a very very good photograph of the Witham South junction box, which was built when the curve was put in, although the curve was taken out, the signal box, although not in use as a signal box, was still there. Quite a number of people were surprised that it was still there. We all thought it had been demolished.

A breather, for the horses.
Questioner:    What is that in the very far distance, on the horizon, it looks like buildings.
JN:    Hay stacks or straw stacks. Yes. In the very far corner you can just see the crane, well that crane, I’m pretty certain, was still in use in 1950, 51, after the brick goods shed had been built, which we think was about 1915.

That was the signal fitters and the signal and telegraph hut, where they did work on the signals. You can see now the size of a signal arm, it’s quite large, extends about five foot, some of them. A small forge outside where they did various bits and pieces. The barrows were always left upside down, so they didn’t run away. And that, that
track there led up to the turntable.

Just in the far [???] again, you can see part of Cullen’s trial grounds. This I’m pretty certain was taken from a signal. That little hut there I’m not sure. That had gone by the fifties, so what that was there for I do not know. And this was a fogman’s hut, could have been used for fogmen.
Questioner:    Are they trial grounds in the background there as well, behind …
JN:    No, they’re all the allotments on Canada. I think nearly every man on the station had an allotment in those days. A lot of them still in my day, they had allotments over there.

This one must have been taken about 1922, early 1923, because it was still Great Eastern, and the Great Eastern was absorbed into the LNER in 19, the latter part of 1923. And it’s surprising, some of those were still working when I was there.

Questioner:    Which one’s you, John? [laughter]
JN:    Thank you, Don. [general chat]
Questioner:    Who was the lady in the middle?
JN:    That was Polly somebody, I forget her name now, she was a ticket collector. You’ll probably remember this Joe Burch, he was a lamp man, he was still lamp man when I was there. Alf Griggs, the porter, Sam Bright, who was a shunter, he was still there, Arthur Chalk, who went as ticket collector at Chelmsford in the mid fifties. Jack Smith, the telegraph clerk. Old Ezekiel Griggs who was Alf’s father, he was the goods porter, he was in his seventies when he retired while I was there.

Questioner:    Are those service badges they’re all wearing?
JN:    They probably are, yes, but they’re definitely Great Eastern uniform.

Now, Dorothy [Hancock] remembers this. This is kindly donated by Dorothy. This is the station master’s house.
Dorothy Hancock:    There’s a date on that shield over the front door. 1840 something like that.
Questioner:    Is that near the level crossing gates, John?
JN:    No, this was at the bottom of Easton Road, yes, where that block of offices now is. You had this, and just beyond that was the Hawthorns, wasn’t it, where Captain Brice lived.
Mid 1930s, again, from Dorothy’s … (Dorothy Hancock: With father on it.) Yes, stationmaster Mr George Hancock on the platform. This is kindly donated by Dorothy, so I know … And this was a gas tank, which was used for gassing the lighting on the Maldon and Braintree coaches.
Questioner:    [???]
JN:    Where, this one? Here? That’s the Temperance Hotel [9 Albert Road]. Yes. That was still in use when I was in the booking office, cause occasionally I used to go and have a meal there.

Again, mid thirties. What the train is we do not know. We can’t, we’ve got the [???] boards on but we couldn’t find out what … It must be quite an important train, it’s got express head[?] coach[?], and the coach there towards the rear, is a Pullman coach.
So it was a train of some importance.

Again, I think Dorothy’s, train leaving Witham. We think this was the five o’clock from Liverpool Street to Clacton, by the engine etc.

One of the shunt horses, and the young Fred Gibson who was later head shunter at Witham. That’s the only one I’ve found a close-up of one of the horses.

Coming on now to mid-fifties. Baird’s had started to extend, we still have steam on the Maldon, we still had gas lights. Early fifties. Cause, gas was there till what, about 1955, 56, there was still gas then.

Again, putting down to about mid-fifties, with a Maldon train just leaving, going round the corner. And Hugh Baird’s, this part of Hugh Baird’s still unaltered.
Yes, we’re in 1960s now, we’ve got the wires up, and we have electric lighting. (Questioner: [???]) The train had just gone. And the old wooden structures on either side which controlled the lift gear, they’ve gone, and we’ve now got electric lifts. But other than that, the station is basically still unaltered.  (Questioner: The A12 had been built then.) Oh yes, the A12, yes, yes.

I spoke about the new turntable, there is a locomotive on the new turntable, which is 1951 or 52 – 51 I think that was installed. And it was automatic, it was worked off the braking system of the loco, which you connected up the spike[?] with a vacuum. Save them pushing it round, it went round automatically. I did actually have a trip onto the turntable once, I scrounged a lift on a Britannia, it was the first time the Britannias had come down to Witham. It’s the only time I ever had a lift on a Britannia, and it’s the only time I went on Witham turntable.

(Questioner: [???]) It was there because Witham was a junction point, and you used to get, especially on Sundays, you had excursions coming off the Braintree branch, which required turning the engine round. It’d come in from Braintree, and you had the engine on the other end, and also you often, especially in those days, with engineering, you got diversions. There was quite a number of Sundays the continental trains used to be diverted across Braintree-Dunmow-Bishops Stortford to Liverpool Street. And used to turn the engines there, this was the reason they put in [???] see, so you could turn the Britannias round. That’s a big one, yes, yes. [???] [???]

The 1950 crash. There’s the remains of the goods wagons, see the engine on the side, down the bank, these are the coaches that surmounted the goods wagons.
Questioner:    Whereabouts was that, John?
JN:    Just the other side of Motts Lane. The goods train, the goods train was entering the up loop, about a third of the train had actually got in the loop, when it was hit by the Peterborough. A steam crane starting work on lifting the rubble.

That’s another view, looking the other way. It’s incredible that nobody was killed. Except for the fireman and the goods guard.
And that’s the loco.
Questioner:    What’s [???]?
JN:    A B1. B1 It was a B1, yes. That was after. It was brought up to Witham the following Saturday night, Sunday morning, after the crash. And it remained there for a week. And the following weekend, Saturday night, Sunday morning, they towed it back to Stratford. At ten miles an hour, having to stop every fifteen miles for inspection. (Questioner: [???]). That was the only one that was never rebuilt. Yes, it completely destroyed it, it knocked off …
That is the loco again at Stratford works, waiting, waiting up.
That’s the last one.

Do we have any more questions? Any further questions.
Keith Ibbotson:    Those gas cylinders John, under the carriages, were they topped up each day?
JN:    Yes.
Keith Ibbotson:    So there could have been a terrible fire in, in something like that.
JN:    Mm, yes.
Keith Ibbotson:    What were they made of, the cylinders.
JN:    Cast iron, I should imagine. That was the general whatsername in those days, yes. Cast metal.
Don Pettican:     [???]
JN:    No. It was gas, I forget what, it was manufactured in the gas works at Stratford. I believe it was oil gas. But they had, there was, they had a separate gas works at Stratford. Besides the whatsername, the coaches, you saw the large tank at Witham, they also provided gas for virtually the whole of the area. And all major towns and all junctions had one of those, you know, to gas the coaches. At Norwich they had a special gassing point.

[Thanks etc., applause]



Notes about John Newman

He was born in November 1928, worked in Witham Goods Office from November 1945 to January 1947, then was in the army for two years, and then was in Witham booking office from 1949 to 1957 before going on to HQ at Liverpool Street.


 

Tape 175. Talk by Dorothy Hancock about Slythes the stonemasons, of Witham

Tape 175

Dorothy Hancock gave her talk about Slythes the stonemasons, of Witham, on 5 February 1996, to Witham History Group.

She also appears in lecture 166, and interview tapes 178 and 179.

For more information about her, see Hancock, Dorothy, in the People category.

The original recording of this talk is held at the Essex Sound and Video Archive. To listen to the recording, please contact them at ero.enquiry@essex.gov.uk or 033301 32500.

[???] shows words that are not clear enough to interpret and so have had to be omitted.
[?] after a word shows that its interpretation is not certain.
Later explanatory additions by JG or the transcriber are in square brackets [e.g. explaining locations etc.]


Side 1

Good evening everybody. I hope you’ll forgive me if I sit down to give this talk. There can’t be many family businesses, with have continued over the centuries[?] and are still carrying on, at least not in Witham. I was particularly pleased to be asked to give this talk about the firm of J B Slythe, monumental masons of Witham, as the two most recent heads of the business have been old friends of my family. If you enter the churchyard of the former Anglican church of All Saints in Guithavon Street, which is now the Holy Family and All Saints Catholic church, you will see only one grave in the [???]. All the other tombstones have been removed. The grave is near the south wall of the church, in the form of a white marble cross surrounded by green railings. The inscription reads ‘James Bernard Slythe, born March 22nd 1835, died June 13th 1912. J B Slythe was the founder of the monumental masons’ business, with office, yard and house in Easton Road. He was the head of the business from its inception in 1885 until his death. There were branches at Braintree, Chelmsford and Colchester. This photograph, which is here, it hangs on the wall of the office, and you’ll see his typical stern Victorian [???] with his luxurious beard. He’s said to have had a family pew in All Saints church.

When he died, his son James Dunsdon[?] Slythe became head of the firm, he was then aged 42. He will be remembered by many of us older residents of Witham. He had been given a thorough training at the Chelmsford branch, where he used to walk from Witham and back every day. It seems incredible doesn’t it. He was expert in the art of letter cutting by the traditional method, and he trained Gordon Blake, who continued as the firm’s letter cutter and managed first the Colchester branch, and when that closed he managed the Chelmsford branch until his retirement after fifty years with the firm. J D Slythe was a retiring but highly individual character, always in a hurry. He would have remembered the time when the entrance to Witham station was in Easton Road, quite near his house you see, and this was closed after the disastrous crash of the Cromer Express in 1905, and after that a new entrance was made in Albert Road. It was typical of Mr Slythe, always in a hurry, that he never went round to the new entrance, he preferred to scramble down the steep embankment outside his yard, then cross the rails of the Maldon line, and climb onto the up platform to take the train to Chelmsford, where he visited every week. My father who was then stationmaster could never persuade him to desist in this dangerous habit. In the days of steam and steam engines, specks of soot were sometimes blown onto the stones in the yard, which was a great cause of annoyance to Mr Slythe, and when John Newman worked in the booking office, he was often the recipient of telephone calls from an irate Mr Slythe, cause there were engines letting off steam again. (John Newman: ‘His language I wouldn’t repeat in front of ladies’) [laughter] His grave is in the rear of All Saints churchyard. It has a headstone of red polished granite. The inscription reads ‘James Dunsdon Slythe, over seventy years stonemason, born 1st of January 1870, died 11th of July 1958’. On his death his widow Mrs Anna Slythe, became head of the firm, and continued until her death in 1978, and the title then passed to her daughter, Mrs Nancy Chapman, who is still in charge.

Stonemasonry must be one of the oldest crafts in the history of man. The art of letter cutting continued into this century using hand tools in much the same way as the Romans, and [??] the Assyrians before them. But like many other traditional skills, [???]. Very few men are prepared to take it up, so this has led to a new technology using computers and sandblasting. The computer is used at all stages, from selecting the type of lettering to layout, producing examples for the customer to choose from. Then making a rubber stencil of the whole inscription with the lettering cut out. The stencil is then stuck onto the stone, and subjected to sand blasting, it goes into a special little house, little shed, in the yard, which contains the blasting equipment, and they feed the stone[?] in and it has the blasting, it makes a terrific noise, and the sand bounces[?] off the rubber and cuts out the actual letters. There’s a range of stones for tombstones. Granite is the most popular now, it is also the most durable. Most granite is imported from South Africa, but some comes from quarries in Cornwall and Scotland.  Black granite comes from India, granite is also available in three shades of grey, also red [???] and blue pearl. Marble used to be most favoured, this came in white [???] and [???], both from Sicily. Then there are Portland sandstones, and York sandstones, from Yorkshire and the West Country. Slate is also used, black slate from Wales and Westmoreland green from the Lake District. Granite is so hard that it requires special powerful machinery to cut into shape, so it has to be delivered already cut. But Witham yard is equipped to cut all other kinds of stone to the required shape. It used to be the practice to hammer lead into the letters, as protection from weathering. Nowadays enamel paint in a variety of colours is found more satisfactory. The lead used to wear and get weathered and fall out.

Each denomination, Anglican, Roman Catholic etc had its own regulations, as to permitted designs for tombstones. The more ornate sculptured angels etc beloved of the Victorians are no longer allowed. An application has to be submitted to the appropriate authority for permission to carry out the chosen specification. But there is more latitude in what can be put up in public cemeteries and parish council burial grounds.

Most of the work done at the yard is inscribing and fixing new memorials and cleaning, repairing and sometimes refixing old ones. Originally a great deal of work was found for the building trade, local authorities and private residents. Some of these ledgers contain entries from the last century for work done for the Local Board of Health. There are two such examples for Witham. One in 1864 was for boundary stone, June 1st, W P cut in the same [???] and June 6th [???]. Presumably W P stands for Witham Parish. Another in 1872 records what was to be done and materials to be used for [???] of the conveying of the supply of water from the springs rising in a field at the back of Blunts Hall, Blunts Hall farm, to a well in the yard near the engine house of Witham belonging to the Local Board of Health. I don’t know where that is. A recent job was providing an inscribed base of York stone for the statue of Dorothy Sayers. The most recent task undertaken for the town was the reconditioning of the War memorial in the Garden of Remembrance, opposite the Grove in Newland Street.

The cross which surmounts the panel, the bronze plaque depicting a kneeling soldier, with St George as the background, was set up using York stone to commemorate the men who fell in the 1914-18 War, and their names are inscribed on the curved wall sections on either side of the cross, I expect most of you have seen it, you’ll remember the very tall cross in the middle and the plaque, and then it’s like a wall with two curves. And on the inner curves are the names of those who fell in World War One. And then the other curved sections on the outside are those for the 1939-1945 War. The old inscriptions had to be removed and the surface smoothed using a sander. The new letters had to be sandblasted onto the clean surfaces using a specially made portable sandblasting cabinet. Black lacquer was used as a protectant instead of lead, and you could have the lacquer in any colour. I think it’s red used for the Dorothy Sayers inscription. It was after much persuasion by the Witham branch of the Royal British Legion that Braintree District Council put the work in hand. I think they were sort of agitating for it for about two years before it got done, but it looks very nice now. And the Women’s branch are responsible for the flowers placed on the steps in front of the memorial. Apparently the trees were overshadowing. They said you could hardly see the cross for the trees, and one of the Legions, men in the Legion said ‘We used to go there, you know, to pay respect to, you know, the people who had fallen, and you could hardly see the inscription in those days, so that is an improvement.

There are many entries for works done for private residents, such as supplying and fixing marble fenders, chimney pieces, doorsteps, water pipes, stone sinks etc. An interesting example is the following work done for Dr Gimson, in 1873. ‘Taking up old stones in stable, relaying with new bricks with cement, altering drains and time, cement, sand, bricks, junction pipe, [???] two large iron traps, iron grate, a thousand bricks, six pounds eight shillings and fivepence. [laughter] Seems a very low price for all that work. This Dr Gimson may have been the father uncle of the famous doctors Ted and Karl Gimson, because I expect some of you remember they practised in Witham in the early part of the century, and some of my contemporaries still remember Dr Ted with great affection. He came and saw me when I had mumps.

Loading, unloading and fixing tombstones is a job requiring great skill and precision. It is done by Henry Wattam{?] and Victor King, and sometimes the manager Eric Brown joins the team. First the precast concrete foundation or plinth, measuring about thirty-six inches by fifteen inches, is sunk below the surface of the grave. Then a base is made of the same stone as the headstone, cemented onto the plinth. In this base are two holes, into which galvanised iron dowels, fixed in the bottoms of the headstones, have to be lowered. The headstone is made secure by cementing to the base, so that’s why they don’t fall over.

The growing use of cremation means that churchyard burials have declined over recent years, and the three branches gradually closed, but the Witham yard continues to thrive, run by a staff of three men, the manager Eric Brown and his assistants, Henry Wootton and Victor King. And there is also a young lady book-keeper Mrs Anne Lee. All presided over by Mrs Nancy Chapman, who keeps in close touch with all the work of the firm. At one time there was a representative, Mr Geoff Brown, who started with the firm as a boy under Mr J D Slythe, that’s the one in the photograph, and for many years he used to visit customers in their homes to help them to choose suitable memorials for their loved ones. He was very well known.

They don’t have anyone travelling now, but it’s a very personal business calling for a tactful and sympathetic approach, and customers still receive this when calling in the yard. This is testified by a large sheaf of letters of appreciation from grateful customers. Those photographs  [probably of the War memorial] are of the old inscriptions, they had to take photographs to manage for the, plan for the new inscriptions. They’re not alphabetical, I’m surprised that, I imagined that they put them in order in which they died, so lots of well-known Witham names there of course. [Audience member] ‘There’s one civilian. Just one’. Do you know I hadn’t noticed that. Is there ‘Just one’. Another member of the audience, Sid Gurton ‘Do you know who it was?’ ‘I’ve forgotten’. ‘Well, it was a man who was killed when an unexploded bomb went off on a Sunday morning up in Cressing Road, where the school is now. It was Council workman by the name of Burmby’. Was that World War One? ‘No, World War Two’. Oh, I remember Mrs Burmby. Well that is all I have to say. You might like to look at the ledgers and so on, fascinating.

[Various comments from audience, not noted]

Tape 171. Talk by Helen Pitchforth about the Witham parish boundary

Tape 171

Helen Pitchforth gave her talk about the Witham parish boundary to the Witham History Group on 4 September 1995. She then lived at 10 Avenue Road, Witham.

The original recording of this talk is held at the Essex Sound and Video Archive. To listen to the recording, please contact them at ero.enquiry@essex.gov.uk or 033301 32500.

[???] shows words that are not clear enough to interpret and so have had to be omitted.
[?] after a word shows that its interpretation is not certain.
Later explanatory additions by JG or the transcriber are in square brackets [e.g. explaining locations etc.]

See also her book, ‘A Hidden Countryside: Discovering ancient tracks, fields and hedges’, published in 2001.


Side 1

I haven’t ever done anything quite like this before, so bear with me. I’m quite used to speaking at meetings, but that’s different, because you have to argue, and I’m not wanting to argue tonight, so that’s fine.

Well this all started in quite a simple way. We said one weekend, well, we’ll go for a walk, well let’s walk round part of the parish boundary. Well, here I am, two years later, with books and files, and all sorts of other interests that have spawned off it, and we’re no-where near the end yet, and the more you go into things, the more there is to find out, which is the usual way I guess. But, I’m also well aware that there are quite a lot of people in the audience tonight who probably know a lot more about, certainly various aspects of Witham’s history and archaeology than I do, so again, please bear with me, because I’m not an expert, I’ve just gone round looking at things.

When I was organising training courses, it was the custom at the beginning of the day to tell people what they should be able to do by the end of the day, like drive a tractor, or, what they should know by the end of the day. Well you may not actually know anything very much more by the end of this evening, but perhaps you’ll catch some of my fascination with the landscape that’s all around us, and try to glimpse something of the people who’ve gone before us.

The aims that have sort of evolved out of walking round the countryside are one that, using a tithe map of 1839 as a basis for the survey, secondly to research the species in the hedge count, so as to try and work out the age of hedges, third, fairly recently I’ve acquired a knowledge of the perambulation of the parish boundary in 1815, which is in the Essex Record Office, so that’s also part of the re-survey. And then using all sorts of available information to, as background knowledge for trying to understand the ancient landscape of Witham.

Perhaps we could start with the first viewfoil, courtesy of Braintree District Council. It’s a nice simple relief map, it’s like 1066 and all that, it’s a relief map, but the red line is the outer line of the parish of Witham as it was in the tithe map, not now, now we have Rivenhall added on, and we’ve lost the sort of leg at the bottom going up to Wickham Bishops. But that’s how I’ve been dealing with the parish. But coming more at the top you can see the Braintree railway, you can the main railway, you can see the old A12 and the by-pass, the river Brain and the Blackwater, and it’s just to sort of put you in the picture. It’s really quite a big parish. I reckon it’s about twenty miles round the boundary, and I have walked very nearly all of it, but not in one go.

I think probably what really got me started on all this was in 1977, I went to a seminar at Southend where people like Oliver Rackham and John Hunter were speaking, and I found the notes of that the other day, and I found the booklet, which is this one, and in fact quite a lot has changed since then, and there have been quite a lot of developments, so although it’s only eighteen years ago, quite a lot has changed in the understanding of the ancient part of the landscape. But that really set me going, and I came back and did some hedge counts in 1977, 78, and I have found those records. Some of the hedges have since vanished, which is perhaps interesting, so I’m trying to compare those with what they are today.

And then secondly, 1986 was it, there was an exhibition at St Nicolas, where they, for the 650 years, and they had out the tithe map, and that really opened my eyes, I’d no idea that such huge detailed maps, it’s a whole wall-full isn’t it, and that really fired my imagination. So I went to the Records Office and got photocopies from their copy, which look like this. That’s the northernmost part of the district, again, Hungary Hall right at the top, and that is the old road, obviously before the Braintree railway was built, and the new road, and the old green lane on the far side, the road to the Notleys on this side, and it’s just to sort of show you, if you haven’t already seen it, the amount of detail that’s in the tithe map. And I’ve gone round with a photocopy of that, seeing where the boundaries have changed, and if so how they’ve changed. So it’s a very interesting exercise.

Just a little bit more background interest, information, those are the contours, just the outline contours, because, it’s important for one or two reasons. Fifty metres at the top again by Hungary Hall, the highest is sixty-five metres, down by Snow’s corner, at Wickham Bishops. Fifty metres on the Hatfield Peverel boundary. And so although it’s not a very hilly place, as you know, there are rises, and the two main valleys.

Just one more of these, again for background information, because it’s allied to what the use of, what a parish is all about. Thanks to Janet for the two maps. The spotted is, it’s a very rough one. The cross-hatching is, by the rivers, that’s alluvial soil and usually quite rich. The spots are sand and gravel of various kinds. The red is London clay, the red dashes are London clay, and the green is the Boulder, glacial Boulder clay, rich, fertile, cereal growing soil, which forms the backbone of the agriculture of this district. And, I’ve put that in, because it gives you some indication that the London clay is on the Wickham Bishops extension, and that’s where Chantry Wood is, not surprisingly, that heavy London clay is not easily cultivated, and the only bit of waste, total waste, that we have in the parish is right at the top there, on that sandy soil at the top.

So, now we’ll start on our exploration round the parish, and perhaps we could have the first slide. These aerial photos are thanks to Barrie Foster, who’s sitting in the front row, who’s a member of the Braintree Valley, Brain Valley, sorry, Archaeological Society, and he’s very kindly lent me these. And this one is Cressing Temple. I know it’s just outside of the parish, but it’s such a gorgeous photo I put it in. And the railway, the Braintree road, and Witham, the north of Witham in the distance. Hungary Hall is there, and the field opposite, this one, with the road going right through the middle, that’s the boundary of it, is called Ozhod on the parish tithe, which way have been Oxhod, but it’s an intriguing name, so I don’t know what that means. But also, the intriguing part about Ozhod, is that there are four parishes meet there, and it’s, if you think back to the earlier map, it’s the only piece of land that side of the Braintree road, there must have been some reason, I’m sure there may be people in this audience who know a lot more about this sort of thing than I do, and I hope they’ll tell me the answers to some of my puzzles.

This again is Hungary Hall, it’s just outside the parish, but Ozhod, as I explained is this line going opposite. The boundary goes alongside the garden of Hungary Hall and turns down there. That field is called Church field, and used to belong to the Vicar of Witham. Why we had the field furthest away I don’t know, perhaps somebody knows. But the other reason for showing this picture is the strong lines, the hedge lines. You can see there that there are sinuous lines, virtually parallel, but not parallel, and the other hedges, the fields are not regular, but these very strong hedge lines, and that’s more and more becoming [???] that this is part of the Iron Age field system that’s survived all these years, and such a feature of this part of the world.

This is a view of Whitehead’s farm, taken from just outside Hungary Hall. This is a typical boundary hedge, many species, and a good view of the corn growing country and the boulder clay that it’s based on. Looking from the north towards Witham over there.

Now this one is taken from the north of Witham, that’s Runson[?] Close before [???] was built, I guess. That’s Elm farm, Elm Hall, and this is the Templars estate, it isn’t [???] the river walk. But there again you, it’s a splendid one for showing the long lines of the hedges coming right down here, another one there, another one there, and these are thought definitely to be a relic landscape still being used. The other interesting thing is that there you can see the line of the old road that came out of the top of Church Street, went along there, along that hedge, and joined up with the road just opposite Hungary Hall, just north of Hole farm, just there. You can see it quite clearly, certainly the lower part, down there, where it was.

Now we’ve come a bit further south. This is the old green lane just north of Rickstones Road, [opposite Rickstones farm, JG] and you can see it’s like a tunnel, it’s very much an old green lane, hedge and ditch either side, multi-species, and my feeling is that it’s a very old lane, and it’s probably part of communications from Braxted mill going further north up towards Cressing and Braintree. It has that feel that you expect it to go on into the countryside. But certainly there’s spindle and hazel and oak and ash and all the things that one associates with an old hedge, in that lane. This was a [???] exploration[?] for me, I regret to say I’ve lived to here all these years, and until two years ago I’d never walked up there, but it’s delightful in the spring, actually has primroses and violets, and it’s really lovely.

This is just for curiosity, but it’s Elm farm on the tithe map, and it’s now Little Elms public house, it’s surrounded by development, but it was a farmhouse 150 years ago. It’s now surrounded by [???] Witham. Just put that in for curiosity.

Another of Barrie’s slides. I’m sure you’ll recognise where it is, it’s the Colchester end of Witham. The boundary that we’re talking about is Motts Lane here, and that is Mott’s Lane. The boundary actually comes across this field and along there. It isn’t Motts Lane all the way, but that is, and then it comes up the road, and in the next picture, you can see the next part. But while that’s on the screen, doesn’t the Roman road look splendid, striding across the landscape, still very straight.

While that was on the screen, the boundary comes down Motts Lane, goes up there and comes back, and then it goes down Braxted Lane and across that field and down there to the river. Not quite, a bit further along than Braxted mill.

This is taken in Motts Lane itself, and I’ve put it in to show the devastating effect of Dutch Elm disease. This was obviously a more or less single species hedge on both sides, each side. Dutch Elm disease and there’s virtually nothing left. Whereas a few yards further on you’ve got a beautiful mixture, of maple and hazel and oak, and it’s still like a tunnel and it’s green and intact. And I’m sure that both hedges are just as old, but because we’ve lost the single species, it hasn’t been re-colonised yet.

That’s just a shot to put in, to show you the spindle. It’s, it has lovely pink berries in the autumn, obviously this was taken before the berries went pink, but that’s an indicator species, I’m pretty sure. Perhaps, just in case you don’t all know about the species, I’m sure you do, but the idea of counting species in a thirty yard stretch, is that the more species you have, or the number of species you have in a thirty-yard stretch is roughly the age of the hedge in centuries. So where we’ve found eight species in a hedge, that takes you back eight centuries, which is a long way back. I haven’t found, I’ve the odd one with ten, but I don’t think there are enough species that grow round here to go any further back. So my feeling is that any hedge that’s got six, seven, eight species in is very old, but how old, I don’t know. But I’ve gone round the boundary, and I’ve got surveys of most of the hedges. Some still need to be written up, but I have actually counted the species over a wide area.

Now this one is again showing the Colchester end of the by-pass, and Motts Lane, and the railway. But what it also shows is these very strong hedges here, are what’s called a detached part of Witham parish, and they still exist. That land in between belonged to Faulkbourne parish. And Faulkbourne had fields that went all the way down to Braxted mill, there. A continuous line of fields. Now I don’t know how far they went up north, but I think we run into Rivenhall, Cressing parish. So that was an odd bit of Faulkbourne that was cut off, presumably it was a change of ownership sometimes, way back, perhaps somebody can tell me, but there’s the detached part of Witham, and that’s why it’s detached.

I think the next one takes us down to Braxted mill. No. I put this in, couldn’t resist putting this one in, because it was such a lovely field of yellow on a summer evening.

And it’s a field full of ragwort, which is a notifiable weed. But I just put it in because that’s one of the boundary hedges and I just thought it was such a lovely colour. I don’t know who’s responsible for it, but there we are, a field full of ragwort.

Ah, Braxted mill  bridge, and the ford. That’s to my mind one of the focal points of the parish and the trade routes that must have been established way way back in the Bronze Age, Neolithic Age and before that. Long before there was a bridge. And I say that with some confidence, because Simon Brice, most of you know Brices’ Rose Cottage, and they farm most of the land the other side of Little Braxted, Simon Brice has the most amazing collection of flint implements, everything from two Palaeolithic axes to flintlocks and muskets in the middle ages, showing continuous occupation of his land, three thousand flint implements of different periods, and if that doesn’t show continuous occupation, I don’t really know what does. So I’m convinced that that ford has been used for trade and communication for an awful long time.

Now we’re looking down, you can see the by-pass and the industrial estate. This field is Broad field, and you can see the river, with the [???], but Braxted mill is just there, and we’re going south towards Chelmsford at this end. Broad mead on the Tithe map, is divided into about twenty-eight strips, it was obviously very valued for the hay crop, and of those strips, the Knights Templar had about half, but they were never adjacent, and some people only had fore-crop, I don’t know who had the other crop, but they had the fore-crop, some, the rest presumably had two cuts, if that was possible. [or possibly after the fore-crop was the grazing, JG] But because the, all, virtually all the landowners in Witham at that time were represented on that field, it just shows how valuable the meadow hay was.

That’s Whet Mead, nature reserve, with the two lagoons, and the boundary is following down the river to that point there. And those of you who’ve been to Whet Mead in the spring will know that’s the most marvellous blackthorn hedge when it’s in full bloom. There’s the by-pass, and the river Brain, the two rivers joining, and Witham was very strategically situated astride the Brain and next to the Blackwater, and one of the reasons why it’s been lived in and worked in for so long. Anyway the boundary goes up through that wood, we found it very difficult to establish exactly where it was, but there are several little streams going through that wood, and they come out at the top there. That field was called Fairbottom actually, the one we just [???] to.

This is Benton Hall, and Blue Mills, and the boundary is coming down across what’s now the golf course, it isn’t actually on that picture, but again, an important river crossing, the first one downstream from Braxted Mill, and obviously was a very important crossing, the Iron Age and Bronze Age settlements on this side of the river, and Iron Age and Bronze Age barrows and religious sites on the other side. They must have needed to cross the river. I’m also aware that on these slides, there are probably archaeological things that I’m not pointing out, because that’s not my expertise and it’s not my subject, so you’ll have to go and hear someone else talk about those if you want to.

Now a big jump, because I haven’t got any slides of the [???] bit between Whet Mead and here. This is Snow’s Corner, I’m sure you’ll recognise [Wickham Bishops, JG]. There’s a tiny little slice taken off that corner, called Pilgrim’s Croft, and then again, what were Pilgrim’s doing there, and why were they there. And this brings we on to the parish, beating the bounds of the parish. Because in 1815 in May, Rogation Time, May the 5th and 6th 1815, it was about six weeks before Waterloo, the worthy people of Witham set off from Latneys, at the Chelmsford end of Witham, and the first day they went north about and the second day went south about. And it says when they came to the top of the hill, we lunched at the Chequers. [Wickham Bishops, JG] So the next slide shows the Chequers, which I don’t think has changed all that much. But they lunched there and then they went on and finished by four o’clock on the great road to Colchester. But the other slide, the comment about that little piece of land is that Mr Hicks had taken it out of the waste, now that seems to, the beating of bounds, this notebook, doesn’t put in all that many personal comments, it’s usually ‘Turned left down the field, through the gate, turned right, there’s a tree marked, and so on’. So what Mr Hicks had been doing I’m not quite sure, but he’d taken that bit of land, and the waste, the so-called waste, was part of the parish, but in fact was very important for rough grazing, firewood, all sorts of things, herbs, wild flowers. So it wasn’t just waste land.

This one and the following two are taken from a corner of the meadow above the golf course. We’re looking, there’s Blue Mills, there’s probably Ishams Chase, but you’re looking more towards Colchester, so we’re going from right to left. It’s quite a steep hill down to Blue Mills, it doesn’t show, but I’ve put those in to show what a vantage point it is, we’re about ten yards from the parish boundary there, to show what a vantage point it was, with a view, sort of about 180 degrees, can we have the next two in fairly quick succession please. That one you’ve got Blue Mills on the right, and going right across to Latneys in the distance, not Latneys, Lynfield, and the next one is even further to the right, to the left. So, there’s nothing to mark the boundary, there wasn’t in 1839, it was just going across fields. The bottom field was called Long Mead, and that also was divided up into strips for meadow hay.

This is Olivers farm, Olivers farm nurseries, the boundary comes across what’s now the golf course, crosses the river, comes through this land right through the middle of that new reservoir, and across this field, and merges into Holder[???] road somewhere down here. There’s, it shows quite clearly actually the river meadows, they still were, before the golf course came, they still were meadows.

This is taken from the furthest point south of the district, of the parish, down Maldon Road, this bungalow is called Appynest, on all the maps, and I can quite understand why the present owners seem to have changed it to White Cottage. But you’re looking towards Witham, and Baird’s, Baird’s shows up wherever you go. But there’s a general indication of the arable landscape.

Now this is one of the old pollards, and it’s actually mentioned, that one, in the perambulation notebook. They went from mark to mark, and all the marks were trees, and most of them were pollards. That’s a very dead elm, but it was marking the boundary which came across the field, went across the field there. Pollards were not only used as markers, but very long ago, sort of, probably Bronze Age, Neolithic, somebody made the discovery that if you cut a tree down, either coppiced it, or pollarded it, what resulted was more useful timber than if you just let it grow straight. You got six trunks instead of just one, and you also got a marker. The people who went round beating the bounds actually marked the trees, and I haven’t found a mark, but presumably after 180 years it may have grown out. And the field, I think it’s two, the next one up, is called Clotty Pieces, and one of the boys on the perambulation was bumped there. They did this to make sure that the young people remembered where they were, where they’d been, the next time round. I’ve got his name, he was bumped in Clotty Pieces.

This, it was taken somewhere else but it doesn’t matter. This is what happens when you have a coppice. They cut it down at ground level, the growth in this case is not terribly significant, but look at the size of the root, they’re trying to dig it up with a big digger, and I took it just to show much there is below ground level, and how many shoots you could get coming out of that. There’s almost in, there’s nearly no limit to the life of a stool like that. I’ve found them ten, twelve foot across, particularly ash, in some of the hedges that I’ve looked at.

This and the next one are taken from the A12 bridge just beyond Lynfield café, the boundary comes across the fields and up the main road, but there’s little bit that goes down to Latneys, enclosing this field here. Enclosing this field, it’s a little sort of added on bit to the parish. I’m sure you all know where that is. And the boundary actually comes across the fields by Dengie farm and is actually on the line of the by-pass to those[?] cottages’[?] back hedge. So it’s completely [???] there. But that little wood there is still remaining, it’s just a fragment left of a wood that was there in 1839, and there’s still part of the old roadway, the old lane going to Dengie farm, in it, at the edge.

Now, this has been a complete surprise to me, this is one of Barrie’s star pieces. Where we are now, there’s the A12, Wood End farm, Lynfield, garage and junction there, we’ve come across the railway, past Job’s Wood, along the path, and this is where we join up with Hatfield Peverel, and that outline is Worborough. Most of these fields are called Great Worborough, or Mid Worborough, or Further Worborough, or Lower Worborough, but it was obviously commemorating a name that was very important, and Rodwell in his book says there ought to be some investigation, and there, I’ve no idea what it is, perhaps somebody can tell me, but there’s quite clearly something indicated by that crop mark, at Worborough, on the furthest extremity of Witham parish [probably a hut circle, JG]. I don’t think it can be defensive, because in fact, when you’re there, you’re slightly below the horizon, which goes across there, that corner there you get a magnificent view, virtually across the whole parish. But not from there, you’re just about five foot lower down and you can’t see. So, speculation as to what it might have been, I’m not venturing a guess.

Right, now we’ve taken another big jump, I’m sure most of you know where that is. It’s the junction of the Terling Road [and Powershall Road, JG], and it’s called Terling Releat[?], I don’t know what Releat[?] means, perhaps somebody can tell me that. But the hedges beyond, going towards Fairstead, along Peg Millar’s lane, I don’t know who Peg Millar was, those two hedges, I think they both had ten species in, and obviously, obviously very old. So you go along the lane, to the top end.

We find this, about thirty yards from the top-most north-west corner of the parish, again mentioned in the perambulation, is this splendid oak pollard, and I’m sure it was there 180 years ago, and it’s still thriving. That’s what an oak pollard looks like in full health. The boundary goes along, as I say about thirty yards, and turns sharp right, down what the perambulation calls ‘the great waterfall’. There wasn’t even any water in the ditch when we went there. Perhaps it’s comparitive.

This is where we’d come out if we came down that ditch, we’d come down that hedge there, no, sorry, we’d come across that field there, and the boundary goes through the edge of that wood, and across that field to Notley Road, and across that field, and down to the river walk there. That’s Flora Road estate, that’s the reservoir behind Powershall, and again you see the strong lines, sinuous lines going confidently right across the land, and this one I can assure you continues up here. But they’re going more or less at right-angles to the previous ones that we saw.

Splendid view of Faulkbourne Hall right in the middle. And again the north part of Witham, and where the old road went very clearly, going across there and up to the corner by Hole Farm.

There again, Faulkbourne Hall is there, just down here, there’s the Braintree railway, Braintree Road, Hungary Hall, Hole Farm, and a splendid view of the northern part of the old road, going up to the corner there. And the next one is right in the corner there, and what you’re looking at is the railway bridge by Hole Farm, and the last hundred yards of the old road. And that one brings us right back where we started from, outside Hungary Hall, and when the people who were on the perambulation go there, they had bread and cheese from the two pubs at Chipping Hill, and then they went on and finished the walk in the afternoon. I haven’t really finished it yet, and it’s taken me two years so far, but I hope I’ve been able to indicate something and the lines of thought that have been stimulated by what set out to be quite a simple country walk. I’ve got a lot of people to thank, Janet Gyford for lending me maps, and for introducing me to Barrie Foster, and encouraging me, and lots of other people who have helped.

And lots of books which have inspired me to carry on, and I put my records, hedge counts, and the boundary survey over there, books I’ve used. The records are not complete, I don’t suppose they ever will be quite complete, because just as you think you’ve got one pro forma right, you redesign it and then you have to start all over again. Such as they are, they’re there. Perhaps I can just finish off with a brief quotation from Oliver Rackham, ‘History of the British Countryside’. He says ‘In Essex, we have the England of primates, medieval farms in hollows of the hills, lonely moats, and great barns in the clay lands, pollards and ancient trees, cavernous holloways, and many footpaths, fords, irregular shaped roads, with thick hedges, colourful with maple, dogwood and spindle, an intricate land of mystery and surprise’. That’s how I’ve found it, and perhaps if I do no more than inspire some of you to go and have a look at bits that you haven’t already visited, perhaps that’s worth it.

Side 2

Questions not transcribed, not very clear.

Tape 170. Talk by Bryan Everitt about Moore's, bus and carrier company of Kelvedon

Tape 170

Bryan Everitt gave his talk about Moore’s, the bus and carrier company of Kelvedon, on 3 April 1995 to the Witham History Group.

See also Bryan’s book “Moores: the story of Moore Brothers of Kelvedon, Essex”, published in 1998, which contains many of the illustrations mentioned in this talk.

The original recording of this talk is held at the Essex Sound and Video Archive. To listen to the recording, please contact them at ero.enquiry@essex.gov.uk or 033301 32500.

[???] shows words that are not clear enough to interpret and so have had to be omitted.
[?] after a word shows that its interpretation is not certain.
Later explanatory additions by JG or the transcriber are in square brackets [e.g. explaining locations etc.]


Side 1

[Introduction of BE, not noted]

It was most appropriate that we did it in 1995, since it is the 180th anniversary of the founding of the company. I also hope the end of the year will see the publication of my book. I do realise some of you may have arrived here tonight with some trepidation, wondering what on earth a talk about buses could all be about, after all aren’t they the things that you get on, pay your fare, and get off again, some time later. Is there very much more to it than that? Well, I hope we can bring you some pleasant surprises. Mark you, if you’re a bus enthusiast, you’re going to know the answer to that anyway. Before we make a start, I’d just like to introduce you to John, who’s got the best job of the night, because he’s just going to show you all the lovely pictures we have, we hope.

And, so by way of an introduction, and so that we can all feel we are on familiar ground, I would like to show you this picture, which I hope you will all recognise. Now this is one of a pair of double deckers purchased in 1961. This particular one is preserved and owned by Joe Long. It is garaged at the Canvey Island bus museum, and is often on display. Now when you go and buy a double decker, or a bus for that matter, it’s a little bit different to going and buying a car. You choose with a car, the make that you want, you go along to the appropriate showroom, decide the sort of model you want, and the only thing is, which is the worst job of all, then you’ve got to pay for it.

With a bus it’s a little bit different. You have three major decisions to make, because there are three main components. The chassis, which in this case is produced by Guy Motors of Wolverhampton, and when we talk about the chassis, we mean the underframe, rather like the foundations of your house, on which everything is mounted. And Guy Motors therefore, would supply the chassis, the steering, the gear box, the rear axle, the wheels, the tyres, the brakes, and the batteries and the lighting. So you made up your mind you’re going to Guy Motors. The next decision you’re going to have to make is to say, well what sort of engine do I want, and in this case the engine fitted is a Gardner. And that’s an oil engine, so now we’ve got a chassis and we’ve got an engine. We now have to decide what sort of body we want, and who we’re going to get to make it. In this case it is Massey Brothers of Wigan. Now, it’s possible some of you may have remembered chassis’ coming through Witham many years ago, with a driver just sitting on a temporary seat, out in the open, on his way to Eastern Coachworks at Lowestoft. And he’d probably wear goggles because there’s no windscreen, or anything like that. And so that, I hope, has given you a little bit of start, and refreshed your memories a little bit.

But perhaps your memories go back further than this, and here we have a Guy single decker, once again a Guy chassis as before, a Gardner engine, but this time the coachwork is by Dupont. Those buses, you have even gone to school on them, or even to work at some time.

But  perhaps your memories go back even further than that. And here we have a Guy double decker, with its very very austere appearance, and these were purchased during and shortly after the Second World War. They also originally had wooden seating in, but they were replaced after the War, and as soon as materials allowed them to do so. You might be surprised that they were used on all the main services, but as new stock arrived, they saw service on less important routes, and ultimately were renovated for works and school services, as well as providing a back-up at peak passenger times.

Having got this far, you may be thinking to yourself, ‘Ah well, we must getting somewhere near the beginning of motorbuses, and soon we shall see an open-topper, as they are referred to today. And you would be absolutely right, even to the extent of having solid tyres. And here is Moore’s first double-decker. It was taken when new, in April 1914, and as you can see with the Moore family standing proudly in front of their new possession. Those seated on the top deck are mainly Moore’s employees. This is their steam bus, which was built by Thomas Clarkson in Moulsham Street, Chelmsford. And here, that’s worth pointing out the Moore family. That is Basil Moore; he was the fourth generation of the family, Horace Moore, William Moore, all brothers of the fourth generation, and here we have Edward Moore, who was the third generation. And on the extreme right, the first steam driver, Bob Richardson.

Looking at this picture, it wouldn’t be too difficult to imagine that we could be getting somewhere near the beginning of our story. And for a large number of operators this would be true. With the coming of the internal combustion engine, many saw this as an opportunity to get into passenger carrying, and indeed, the many young men coming out of the First World War, with plenty of army surplus lorries available, took such an opportunity. Many bus companies started in this way. But this is what makes Moore’s unique; at the time the steam bus picture was taken, they had already been in business for one hundred years. And so, we need to go back these hundred years to find out how it all began. However, before we embark on this, there are two items which deserve attention, and which I would like us to look at now. The first is very much of a general nature, and concerns the state of the roads in Britain over many centuries. The second is to correct a misconception that arises over the origin of the stage carriage bus, which is really what Moore’s is all about.

And so first, let’s look at the roads of Britain. It is not often realised, that after the Romans left, metalled roads did not re-appear until the beginning of this century [i.e. 20th]. The Romans built some very fine roads, and indeed set up the network of [???] [???]. They were of course built for military purposes, and served the purpose of linking their garrison towns to improve the movement of troops.

Once the Romans had gone, and the same military need was no longer there, the roads fell into disuse, and most of them gradually disappeared, although we still claim some routes are Roman roads. The movement of the population concerned itself in getting to the market, going to church for worship, visiting relations, and reaching the workplace. It is therefore not surprising that the network of roads we find today, and its Anglo Saxon cross-country tracks, are meandering, and give rise to the twist and bends familiar to us all. In more recent times, we find these things straightened, but this is in the interests of safety, due to the volume and speed of present-day traffic. With the disappearance of the Roman road then, our roads were without a proper surface, and in an appalling state of disrepair. Part of this was because of a blatant disregard of the road being a thoroughfare for all to use, and to respect it as such.

One of the first reported road convictions was during the 1300s, when a pedestrian walked into a hole in the road and was drowned. [laughter]. On investigation of how such a large hole came into being, it was discovered that a miller had dug it, to extract the clay. When questioned why he had chosen to take it from the road, his reply was ‘Well, it’s a drop of good clay.’ Various attempts were made to improve the conditions of roads, but it wasn’t until the Turnpike Act of 1695 that any significant improvements became apparent.

Before this, the Highways Act of 1555 provided that every household should make a contribution to the upkeep of the roads. For the poor, this meant that someone, generally the householder, had to spend one day a month working on the roads. Not surprisingly, this did not improve matters very much. You can imagine the build-up of resentment, having been forced to do a job on a regular basis without pay. Enthusiasm and conscientiousness would be very absent in this work.
Farmers and the better-off could contribute by supplying a horse and cart to carry the necessary materials to do the repairs. It was only the wealthy who could escape direct involvement by making a payment.

Understandably these poor surfaces made travelling very difficult indeed. In summer, because of the dust, it must have been at times like a sandstorm, and in the winter, large stretches of land were subjected to flooding. Now this picture is taken, as some of you may recognise, in Chelmsford High Street, taken round about 1907, 1910, but I’m sure you can see, as the bus comes down the High Street, the sort of cloud of dust that is thrown up, and remember, this is in the middle of a town, so you can just imagine how dreadful it must have been in the countryside.

As I said, in the winter, we were then subjected to large stretches of flooding, and obviously the reason for these ancient tracks keeping to the high ground which we know today as the Ridgeway. It is only in more recent times that river beds have been dredged, so making them deeper and preventing flooding on a large scale. Again, we have to remember that the track or road surface was formed by people, animals and carts, just treading down the natural soil. No attempt was made to construct a road as such. Even rivers had to forded, although wooden bridges could be found in places, but then the repair of the bridge was often in contention. Without a single authority prepared to accept responsibility for them, it was not unknown for a surveyor to report a bridge in a near state of collapse, and then have to wait until appeals[?] of money made, so that the local carpenter could repair it. But they still had to rely on the generosity of his nature. All of this is pretty well recorded history, but what is not often covered are the hills that had to be climbed. By this I do not mean such well-known hills as Porlock in north Devon, or Telegraph Hill near Exeter. It was not so much the length of the hill, but the gradient. Perhaps some of you can remember short sharp hills, as the one leading to Rivenhall Fox, or those by Durward’s Hall. Today, they’ve either been removed, or, as at the Fox, the gradient eased. You might say ‘What about Maldon Hill?’, or Brook Street at Brentwood, but I would like to come to those later.

Present-day motorways are constructed in a very similar manner to the railways, but for totally different reasons. Here, the hilltops are cut off and the valleys filled in, to give a level road, all in the interests of safety and ease of travel. I well remember just a few years ago, when we were holidaying in the Cotswolds and stayed on a farm, the track to the farm was off a main road and rather looked like a roller-coaster. We found our car really struggling to get up the short but very sharp hills. Because the road was very narrow, it was impossible to get up any sort of speed to give a start up the hill. Similarly, coming down the other side demanded severe braking. Well, after a few days I mentioned this to the farmer, who said his farm road was the old Cheltenham to Cirencester main road. This made me realise just how hard the journeys of the earlier traveller must have been, and the hard effort placed on the horses.

As I said earlier, after the Romans had left, roads were not metalled until this century. For the metalled road of today we have to thank Tom Macadam, who had the bright idea of using crushed stone as a surface. Whilst it was an improvement, it was not a complete answer. At this time the stone was compounded, but it lacked a bonding agent, and therefore easily broke up. Also there was still plenty of dust in summer. It wasn’t until tar was introduced as the agent, did we get a long lasting satisfactory surface. Today we know this of course as tar macadam. I hope this gives some idea of the appalling road conditions that horse-drawn traffic had to face, and the sort of things that Edward Moore would meet when he started his business in 1815.

We now need to look at the origins of the stage carriage bus, and confuse this with the stage coach. When Moore’s entered a donkey and cart in the Kelvedon Carnival procession, celebrating the Silver Jubilee of King George V in 1935, it had a banner proclaiming that they started in 1815, and that W E Moore was a pioneer of transport. When I started to look at the history of Moore’s, I was puzzled how W E Moore could be proclaimed a transport pioneer, when in fact stage coaches had been operating since the 1600s. So how could this be? If there was a distinction, what is the explanation for this. What we really need to understand is that firstly, to travel on the stage coach it was very expensive, also the journey had to be pre-booked, and the coach only stopped at fixed points such as a post house or inn. From this, I’m sure you will recognise a connection between this and the express coach of today.

If that is so, what are we then seeing is the predecessor of the stage carriage bus. It is the carriers’ cart, and that is exactly how Edward Moore started his business. Whilst the principal role of the carriers’ cart was the conveyance of goods, as the name would imply today, it would take passengers as well. It wasn’t a very comfortable ride, though, just a board across the back or side of the cart for sitting on. There was no means for pre-booking, nor were there fixed picking-up or dropping-off points. It meant sharing a ride with the goods, but for a small payment, you could do this even for a small journey. So if this was a recognised form of travel, what made Edward Moore unique and set him apart from the rest? If we look at a timetable from the thirties, we see Moore’s claiming to be the oldest established passenger transport in the eastern area. And here I’ve blown up a timetable which was given out free in 1934. And here we see at the top proclaiming ‘These services are operated by the oldest established operators of passenger transport in the eastern traffic area’. From my researches so far, I have no reason to doubt this statement.

So what do we know about Edward Moore? What prompted him to start this enterprise which was quickly successful, and led to continuing success through five generations of family, and for almost 150 years of passenger-carrying. Edward Moore was born on the 9th of November 1788 in Hatfield Peverel, and he was the third generation in his family to carry the name of Edward. He was the third child born to Alice and Edward Moore. Edward senior was a farm labourer, as was his father before him, and young Edward was destined to follow in their footsteps on leaving school. The family were extremely poor, and we know that young Edward’s parents more than once had to apply to the poor relief of the parish. On one occasion, money was given to buy a pair of shoes costing three shillings. The fact that they did not have to do this after 1815, is an indication of young Edward’s success, and his generosity to his family. At some point young Edward decided to leave Hatfield Peverel and move to Feering. What prompted him to do this, my researches have not yet established. Perhaps it was the attraction of a young lady, for on the 29th of September 1812 at the age of 24, he married Mary Ann May in the parish of All Saints in Feering. Another three years to pass before we see the start of the carriage business. We know that up until 1815 he was still farm labouring. And so what was his family like. Let’s just take a look. In 1813 his wife presented him with a daughter, would you believe, Mary Anne. Sadly Mary Anne was to only live ten years.

I do not know the cause of her death, but in those days the death rate in young people was very high. In 1815, Edward and Mary’s second child was born, and this was William Edward. So in one way and another, 1815 was a momentous year for the Moore family. As we’ve already seen, this was the year in which the carrier business was started, and remember, there was no-one he could turn to for advice. But undoubtedly he had good foresight and perhaps above all, determination. Perhaps we should now look at what his carriers’ cart might have looked like. This picture shows the cart being hauled by donkeys, but whether this was strictly true in 1815, is difficult to say. We certainly know donkeys were used during the 1800s, but exactly when, is the question. It is said that donkeys were used because of post horse licences costing £39 a year, which they couldn’t afford, or didn’t wish to. In 1815 and in the immediate years after, there is no question of a post horse licence being required.

We now have to decide from whence Edward Moore operated his carriers’ business, and here we have a clue. This is a picture of the Valley in Feering, and at the side you can see there are some outbuildings, part of which were probably used, you might ask why the Bell[?] inn. Well, those outbuildings, I’ve spoken to Gray and Sons, who owned the inn in those days and still do now. And those outbuildings at the side probably were stables. And that’s why one thinks that maybe that’s where young Edward put his cart and his horse. Well, the reason that we have shown the Bell[?] inn, and why we perhaps assume that the outbuildings were used for his horse, we know that he became licensee at that inn, in 1816. I think this is another indication of his business acumen, since Gray and Sons the brewers, who owned the inn and still do today, would not have entrusted Edward to run their public house without an ability to sell himself, thereby keep the beer flowing, and so producing the profit needed. Without doubt, these qualities were already being applied to his carriers’ business.

By 1825 we know the Moore’s cart was operating to Colchester to Chelmsford twice a week, with passengers on board, and a restricted speed of four miles an hour, the journey would be tedious, taking between two and a half to three hours in each direction. This assumes there were no diversions along the route to deliver or collect routes. These services were operated to coincide with market days in each town. As we’ve already seen, William Edward, Edward’s son, was born in 1815, and in the population census of 1831[sic], we find he is listed as a carrier, and therefore he had already joined his father’s business. In fact, by 1844 Edward had handed over the reins to his son. As the years rolled by, the family was facing increasing competition. Some fell by the wayside quickly, where others lasted longer, but none were present at the end of the century, and able to [???].

So far we have looked at how the stage carriage services all began, with the carriers’ cart running regularly to Colchester on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and Chelmsford on Tuesdays and Fridays, which as I said before, were run to coincide with market days in those towns. What we now need to look at is the way in which the business was expanding in other directions. As carriers, the Moores would be prepared to convey goods either as large single loads or individual consignments, as the customer required. I am sure you will recognise this as the private hire side of the business. Not only would this apply to the cartage of goods, but the carriage of people also. By 1843 the railway had arrived in Kelvedon, giving more opportunities for expansion. If we now look at Moore’s horsedrawn fleet in 1876, it consisted of a brougham, which was a one-horse closed carriage, a phaeton, which was a four-wheel open carriage, and a cab, and that would have been a closed carriage with luggage provisions on top, and five horses. Now that picture of that carriage is the only carriage I know that exists of Moore’s. It could have been a [???] but it could have been a cab. You can just a see the outline of a luggage rail along the top. But it was fairly common of carriages of those days, I just wish we had a better picture and perhaps even more of them. And so, with the five horses that you can see, there was one for each carriage if the demand was high, but no sign of the donkeys. We know donkeys were used to haul the van to Chelmsford, but by this time, they had obviously gone. As we said earlier, donkeys were used because of William Edward Moore’s refusal to pay the licence of £39 a year for post horses.

Now this is a bit confusing, because during William Edward Moore’s ownership, Moore’s did not appear to be in the post horse business. We now need to ask ourselves, what do we mean by post horses. To answer that, we need to first look at the stage and mail coaches, since this should help us. The coaches often travelled long distances and therefore there was a need to change horses at frequent intervals. This was carried out at a posting house or inn, such as the Spread Eagle, or was it called the Blue Posts in those days [no, they were different, JG]. Or the White Hart, where the passengers could also rest and take refreshments. Because the coaches operated very much on a regular basis, it is not surprising they entered into contracts with the staging posts, where horses would be reserved and available to the operator. These stopping places then arranged for the horses to be stabled and fed, and then be made ready for the return journey some time later, perhaps the next day. With horse changes taking place about every twelve to fifteen miles, it is not surprising that a huge industry was built up over the years.

These then were the post horses. Moore’s became part of the industry, but on a much smaller scale. Let’s just consider an example. We could have a lady in her private coach being driven by her coachman, travelling say from London to Colchester, or even Ipswich. Perhaps the last change of horses was Chelmsford, with a further change needed about Kelvedon, with Moore’s being the choice. Moore’s post horses would be fixed to the carriage with their post boy riding postillion, but with the coachman still riding in his place on the carriage. Assuming the next stop was about Colchester, the horses would again be changed, where the post boy and his horses would either wait or return to Kelvedon. Horses would also be provided in this way to the local fire brigade, or under contract to the Post Office for collection and delivery of mail. The local vicar would hire a pony and trap for visiting some of his flock. I mentioned earlier the difficulty of coaches, carriages and waggons climbing the steep hills, such as Maldon, or Brook Street, Brentwood. Here, jobmasters, as they were called, or a coaching inn, would provide additional horses to haul the heavy load up the hill. As you can imagine, these would be in greater demand during the winter, under severe winter conditions. So this huge industry, which reached its zenith in the early to mid 1800s, fell into decline as the railways advanced. And by the end of the 1800s had all but disappeared.

And so, with the disappearance of the stage coach, so the omnibus started to appear in rural districts. Firstly as a feeder to the railways. Moore’s first omnibus operated from Kelvedon to Coggeshall, and this started in 1881. It was still a horse-drawn affair, taking between eight to ten passengers. It probably looked something like this. This particular picture is taken outside Southend Victoria railway station. I don’t know who the operator of the horse omnibus was, possibly some local person there. But that’s a typical rural type of horse omnibus. Possibly that one might take about six to eight people, and again you can see the luggage grid on the top, but this one has a single horse only. For outside passengers they could sit beside the driver there.

We now have a timetable dated 1884, and as you can see the service was operated to coincide with arrival times at Kelvedon railway station. Now this is very interesting. The original of this unfortunately is stuck in the owner’s book, and it was stuck there many many years ago. With his permission I tried to lift it to see if there was something written on the underside, and there was. Moore’s, for reasons that I haven’t fully established, I’ve only heard the Moore’s side, they were in great dispute with the Great Eastern Railway over their omnibus service to Coggeshall. Whether the Great Eastern Railway had intentions of running a bus themselves, I don’t know. There is a Great Eastern Railway enthusiasts’ group, and the Board minutes are published from time to time, but unfortunately they haven’t yet been released for this sort of date. And on the reverse side of this timetable, I was just able to glean that there was writing on the back which said that anybody, that passengers could only be picked up at the station if they had booked the cab in advance.

And so by 1884 you can see down at the bottom, we also see times GER timetable, so by 1884 the rift between the railways and Moore’s had been healed, and to such an extent that their times were given in the GER timetable. However, we mustn’t assume this brought to an end the carrier’s cart to Colchester and Chelmsford, although by the 1880s the cart had been replaced by a van. And we do have a photograph of exactly how this looked. For those who couldn’t afford the railway to Colchester and Chelmsford, there was always the carrier, as there had been fifty years earlier, although slightly more comfortable now. The passenger who was not ashamed to have her picture taken is Alice Cobbold, and the driver there is Horace Moore. Whether there were other passengers sitting in the van, who didn’t want to have their picture taken, I really don’t know. I think the time has arrived now, where we should pause for a moment with a story, and explain the arrival of C and E Moore in our picture.

We said that Edward Moore, the founder, handed over to his son, William Edward, in 1844. It is said that William Edward didn’t advance the business very much. If true, this is hardly surprising, since his wife gave birth to eighteen children. [laughter] It’s amazing how he had time to work at all. But then, men must have been tough in those days. William Edward sadly died aged 50, in 1865, of tuberculosis. For the next two years his wife Anne carried on the business, until William Edward’s two sons, Charles and Edward, took over in 1867, aged 26 and 22 respectively. If we now take a look at Charles and Edward’s business card, we see they are jobmasters as well as carriers. As we have seen, a jobmaster hired out horses and provided the livery stables. It was Charles and Edward who built the Temperance Hotel in Kelvedon High Street, later to become Roslyn[?] garage. This was built in 1879, and apart from accommodation, it ultimately had provision for twenty horses and carriages. And here, the picture that I showed you a little earlier in the carriage house, you can just see the outline of it. We do know who the two people are the front. The one on the left is Ernie Dale[?] and he was about eighteen years old at that time, and to the right is Jimmy Pitchford[?]. Probably stable boys, post boys who would go out on the horses and ride postillion when necessary.

So, I think you’ll all agree the business was expanding at a very rapid rate, or as they would say today, they were increasing their market share. Whilst this being far from the end of the horse era, for it was to continue well into the 1900s, Charles and Edward decided to retire in 1905. And so in that year, Charles and Edward sold the business to Charles’ three sons, Horace, William and Basil. Thus threw the boys into the business at the dawn of the motorbus, which the drivers of the horse-drawn vehicles found difficult to get used to, and initially disliked them so intensely. However, this seems to be a good place to take a break, and perhaps a very well-earned breather. [applause] I don’t know if there’s any questions at this stage that anyone would like to ask, or have you been [???].

Fred Gaymer:    Donkey power, we’ve seen horse power, [??] combustion engine.
BE:    Well, the thing about the donkeys was that Moore’s apparently used the donkeys in uniform, that is three – two and one. And that was [???]. But I haven’t been able to pin a time down yet when the donkeys were [???]. They were certainly used, there’s no question about that, but precisely when is the difficult … It’s amazing how things are said, after many years, and you find that what was said was correct, but it was used out of context, and it doesn’t really quite fit in, so you really have to take note of what was said, and then apply it to the overall history and to see in fact, in that way you can see how it’s progressed. And I’m afraid sometimes you come to a quick stop for a time.

Jane Jones:    Donkeys would need quite a bit of experience to control them, wouldn’t they, cause you know they have those fun donkey races, whereas the donkey could turn right round in the middle and go in the opposite direction.
BE:    I know, I think [???] well disciplined.
[???]

Fred Gaymer:    Before the tar got used for the roads, they used to water the High Street in Witham, maybe twice a day, to help keep the dust down.
BE:    Yes, they did, yes, they did that in almost any town, it was absolutely dreadful. And of course you got to winter and you had this terrible flooding. You see, people don’t realise the extent of the flooding that took place at that time. Where during the winter the route would have to follow a different place, simply because they just couldn’t get through. You see all the rivers have been dredged, deeply dredged over the last ten or twenty years, and so large-scale flooding in pretty well [???] now.

John Newman[?]    Where did Moore’s really start off, not [???] garage, did they?
BE:    No, they started, well I understand[?] the [???] theory[?], simply because he was one who would be there …
Questioner:    They started down Swan Street?
BE:    No, that to Swan Street later
Questioner:    That’s where they started [???] [???] told me.
BE:    Yes, that’s true but it’s not completely true. The reason being, you know, if you look at directories, of round about 1830, Edward Moore, who was the founder, was living in Feering, and it shows the Colchester services actually starting from Feering, so that backs that one up. He did come to Swan Street, I agree with you entirely, but that wasn’t where he actually started.
Questioner:    So where [???] garage was, that was the farm[?], wasn’t it.
BE:    That was the [???] [???].
Questioner:    That was the farm, [???] near the station.
BE:    Yes.
Questioner:    [???]
BE:    [???].

Jane Jones:    Is there a Quaker burial ground somewhere …
BE:    Yes there is.
Jane Jones:    Where is it?
BE:    Well, that’s a little bit on the Witham side of where the Moore’s premises were, [???] still there.
Questioner:    That was up the back that Moore used as a store-room.
BE:    That’s right, that was the meeting house. And that was bought by Moore’s round about the 1950s. But the covenants that were on that building were unbelievable. There’s no amusements allowed, anything like that whatsoever. Of course that was because it was a meeting house, obviously. And in the selling of that property, as I say, they put very very strong covenants, I haven’t got it here. You’ll have to buy the book to find out. [laughter]
[Inaudible chat to end of side]

Side 2

Bryan Everitt continues:
Over there with his back to the camera and talking to Basil Moore, furthermore he’s got an ordinary hat on, so it seems a very very funny way in which to take a publicity shot. But anyway, last year, another picture turned up, and this solved many of the problems. It confirmed what we suspected, it was a posed shot, there is the National driver having woken up now, conductor gone back to his own bus, where he should be, the Moore’s driver now sitting where he should be, and the Moore family, William Moore and Basil Moore, looking ahead at the camera, as indeed all the other people are in the bus.

But there is still a mystery to this picture. As I said, the National does not have any registration in there and we’ve looked at that under a magnifying glass, and there’s no number there, whereas you can see Moore’s one there is very very clear. The other puzzling thing is, it has a Coggeshall destination board up there, and we know that the National Steam Car were not running to Coggeshall in 1914. But what is even more intriguing is that that destination is covering another one up, and you can just see the end of an ‘N’ there, and perhaps the outline of a ‘D’ there, and some people have concluded that must be Nayland underneath there. Well that’s an even greater mystery because Colchester depot did not open up until 1920.

So all in all I think one can conclude without a doubt that Moore’s were one of the very first private operators in the area to buy a steam bus. Obviously Clarkson[?] were making the maximum of that, and what is interesting is that the livery of the Moore’s bus is exactly the same as the National. So without a doubt the Moore’s bus was supplied off the production line, in other words one of the National buses being stolen, if you like, and the only thing they really changed was along there where you can see that one reads ‘The National Steam Car Company Ltd’, and here Moore’s is ‘Moore Brothers, Motor Proprietors, Kelvedon’, and really there’s still some strange detective work really needed to establish exactly what those strange destination boards were doing there. Other interesting thing is you can see the waterproof covers on the National top deck, can you see them, which people would put over their laps to try and keep them dry. And in fact if you look at the Moore’s bus there, you can see the same covers, and they’ve even got stencilled on ‘Moore Brothers’. To stop people stealing them I presume.

As you can imagine then, if the simple steam bus was literally the only one in the area, and remember I’m saying the National did not come out in this direction at all at that time, it caused quite a stir, and generated a lot of interest. We have a timetable of its service, when it operated Colchester on Wednesdays and Saturdays via Coggeshall, and via Tiptree on Tuesdays and Fridays. The fact that it was steam driven, and the only one outside of Chelmsford, excited a great deal of interest and indeed, a Miss Blyth from Tiptree, who was a Sunday school teacher, composed a poem about the bus journey to Colchester for her children. And here it is, and I’d like to just read it out to you. It is entitled ‘the ABC of the Tiptree bus’.
‘A for anticipation of Colchester town.
B for the bus, at Tiptree renowned.
C for the crush, which sometimes is bad.
D for the dust, which makes us so mad.
E for the engine, which goes at some pace.
F for the fumes, unpleasant to face.
G for the gossip, which goes on inside.
H for the hats which crush on the ride.
I for the infants who never keep still.
J for the jolts on Hecklebridge[?] Hill.
K stands for Kelvedon Place, where we start.
L for Layer Marney, a small rural part.
M for Moore Brothers who take all the [???].
N for ‘No room unless you’re a [???]’.
O for the outside, which truly is grand.
P for the patience required when you stand.
Q for the queue which waits at the store.
R for the rush when the bus starts at four.
S for Shrub End, with clock on the church.
T for the talking, which gets worse at Birch.
U for the umbrellas you can never find.
V for the victims who get left behind.
W for the windows, through which you can glare.
X for the exit, by way of the stair.
Y for the yearning to go once again.
Z for our zest, which never shall wane.’
[laughter and applause]
Lovely, isn’t it.

Now, I thought you would like to see this picture of the Moore steam bus outside Pinkham’s. [JG’s photos M500 and M1453] An article about this picture appeared in the ‘Braintree and Witham Times’ some years ago. It’s very difficult to say when this was taken, but the bus had been in operation for some time, because of the condition of it. I think you can see it’s getting a little bit dirty and a little bit ropy after previous pictures we’ve seen. It was possibly taken about 1915, 1916, but it might have been a little later. Descendants of the Pinkham family were able to identify some of the people in the picture. Apparently the person with bowler hat was Mr W Pinkham, with his little dog Curly. The person to his left was Rebecca, his wife, and the person the other side was his son Leslie, who ultimately took the business over. The person in the straw hat is a Mr H Keeble, whom I believe became a manager much later, and in front of him, there we are, in front of him is his sister there. And that’s all the information I’ve been able to glean.

Now if the charabanc, which it obviously is in front of the steam bus, was a Moore’s, then certainly it was after 1915, because the only large[?] on the charabanc Moore’s owned was a Thorneycroft purchased from Holmes and Smith in Southend, in 1915. And this is what it looked like, while still in Holmes and Smith ownership. Now, you can see at the back right at the bottom, Holmes and Smith Ltd., Southend and Westcliff, and you can see the title of their firm was the ‘Royal[?] Red Motor Coach’. Once again you can see doors all along the side to get access to the longitudinal seats, and also the two steps needed to get up inside.

Although the vehicle was second-hand, Moore’s must have been very impressed with its performance and reliability, because they went on to buy more Thorneycroft buses. This particular example was owned by A W Berry at Colchester, and when this picture was taken in 1919, it had just come into Moore’s ownership. In fact they were so anxious to get it into service, that they just painted the Berry name out, added Moore’s and their phone number. Now that’s quite interesting, I’m sure you can see right there where Moore’s is, is where Berry’s name obviously was, and they cram in below, ‘Telephone Kelvedon 6’. Now, no other bus of Moore’s had ‘Moore’s Motor Omnibus Service to Colchester and District’. That was clearly a title that Berry’s used. And the addition of the telephone number is quite interesting, because I’d hoped I could date some of the Moore’s publicity by seeing if it gave a telephone number or not. However this doesn’t work out. The telephone arrived in Kelvedon in 1908, when the exchange was a sub-exchange of Witham. Witham was obviously of great importance in those days. Witham and Maldon exchanges having operated from 1905. It is interesting, since neither Moore’s business cards, nor timetables, included a phone number in 1915. Clearly this form of communication was still in its infancy. Of course the exchange was not manned twenty-four hours, but only a few hours a day. However, by 1919, the number seemed worthwhile adding, due to increased use of the phone, although generally for business purposes only.

As we move into the 1920s, we should see how Moore’s were expanding their services. As we’ve already seen, from 1914 they were providing a service from Kelvedon to Colchester four times a week, connecting Coggeshall and Marks Tey for two of those days, and Tiptree and Birch for the other two. However by 1926, this had increased to five days a week on both of these routes. There was not service on Thursdays because of early closing in Colchester. They also opened up a service in 1919 from Kelvedon to Coggeshall, Earls Colne, Halstead, and Braintree, but on Wednesdays only. There was only one trip, leaving Kelvedon in the morning at 9.45, and arriving at Braintree at 11.15. As you can see, things were now speeding up. Heavy vehicles were now allowed to do twelve miles an hour. [laughter]. The return journey left Braintree at three thirty p.m. By 1928 a service had opened up from Braintree to Colchester for one day a week on Wednesdays. Also on Fridays, a main road service was started between Kelvedon and Colchester.

So whilst we saw Moore’s services expanding at the end of the 1920s, and therefore their vehicle fleet increasing, we also saw the competitive element really hottening up. I mentioned earlier that many prospective busmen had seized the opportunity of using surplus army lorries, and having bus bodies mounted on them, whereas others bought ex-London open-topped double deckers. Small fourteen-seater buses were beginning to appear, as new operators believed passenger carrying was a lucrative business. These then were the times of the pirates, where every possible tactic was employed to gain passengers. Cutting fares, running a few minutes ahead of the rivals, ignoring a single waiting passenger and heading for the next stop whereby three, four or five people might be waiting. [laughter] Needless to say, these pirates did not work to a recognised timetable, but appeared to gain maximum traffic and therefore profit, always assuming their bus was still working. Some operators’ vehicles received little or no maintenance, and were probably already clapped out when they were first bought.

Although District and Borough Councils had the powers to licence all vehicles plying for hire within their boundaries, generally they restricted them to carriages and taxis. It wasn’t until the 1920s that they decided to apply these powers to buses also. However, not all local authorities did so, and when they did, they exercised them to differing degrees. Moreover, some Councils had other good reasons for introducing licensing, in protecting their own transport undertakings. For example, Colchester had a tramway system, and here we see their licensing powers taking effect. This is a conductor’s badge, issued by Colchester Borough, and as you can see, the Borough arms sitting there at the top of the badge. These were obtained from the local police station, and there would have been one very very similar for the driver also. The vehicle too would have had to have a plate, and if you look at some old pictures of the backs of buses, because they’re not very numerous, because people don’t take the backs of buses, you’ll often find an oval white plate, which meant that that had to be fitted if they were to enter in the boundaries of that particular town. If they entered more than one town, and they had they had applied their powers of licensing, then they needed more than one badge, as did the conductor and the driver. The other thing too that the Boroughs were able to do, was to impose their own fare structure, and this applied to anybody entering the Borough boundaries. This one is issued by Colchester Borough. I’ve chosen this particular one as I thought it’ll be here for you to look at afterwards if you’d like to. But basically, this is the one for the route entering the Borough at Lexden, and finishing up at the old bus park. And all of those fares are laid down so that anybody entering the Borough who picked up or dropped off passengers had to charge those fares, that was laid down. So this particular route covers Lexden to the bus park, but it would have applied to any route coming into Colchester. And as I say, the operator would have had to conform with those fares.

So this really was only a prelude to what was coming. The Road Traffic Act of 1930 provided total regulation for the whole of the bus industry. Traffic Commissioners were installed in each area of control. This area was the Eastern Traffic Area, which was operated from Cambridge. Licensing was total, owners, vehicles, fares, drivers and conductors, all had to be registered. Licences were issued every three years, and could be revoked for non-conformity. To continue after this could mean prosecution. This had a profound effect on all operators, since it brought large expansion of services to an end, and the only hope of enlarging their network of routes, or increasing the frequency of existing ones, was to buy up other operators, and so secure their licences. Moore’s services from Chelmsford to Maldon via Hatfield Peverel, and the extension of the Tiptree to Colchester service to take in Tolleshunt Knights, were obtained in this way. They were originally operated by A V Brand[?] Bluebird Service of Tiptree. They were taken over by Moore’s in 1932. Any intending operator who was not running services by 1930 was unlikely to be granted licences. Regulation was to continue for the next fifty years, until Margaret Thatcher arrived on the scene, and paved the way for de-regulation in 1980.

By 1930, the open-topped double deckers had gone, and Moore’s replace these with single-deck buses, the interiors of which were more up to coaching standards. At this time, Gilford was the favoured make, with either Petty or Wycombe coachwork, having thirty-two seats. This particular shot was taken at Colchester, the old Colchester bus park, that particular body was a Wycombe one, and that was delivered in 1930. Beside it you can see there’s another vehicle, that’s GMC[?], which was also owned by Moore’s, and beyond that you can just get a glimpse of another bus which was also Moore’s, and that was a Gilford, which had a Petty body. And you can just see the curtains at the windows there. And they really did have quite luxurious interiors. If you like there’s a picture, a blown-up picture there of the Gilford, which you’re very welcome to look at afterwards, and through those windows you can see they had a handrail behind each seat, and the ash trays were done in cut glass, as were the lighting bowls. They were quite luxurious. And Hillmans[?] had a six wheeler which even had little vanity mirrors to each person. So Gilford was, they reigned supremely for a few years but died a death in 1934.

By 1934, Moore’s had now switched their allegiance to Albion, and Dupont. They continued to receive this make up until the outbreak of War. Now this particular shot is taken out of Dupont works which were in Hendon, and you can see the placard in the window there advertising Dupont, and this shot was taken just before it was delivered. This particular bus was my father’s, and when we say, you know, a particular person’s bus, it means that they were allocated that bus, and that’s the one they used all of the time. As long as that bus was on the road, so the driver and the conductor would remain with it. As an example, if that was on the main Colchester – Chelmsford service, that would probably start around about half past seven in the morning, at that time, and perhaps come in at eleven or half past eleven at night.

And that same crew would be with that bus all day and every day. The bus would come in one day a week to be maintained and cleaned. The driver would be responsible for checking, getting it greased up, making sure all the oil in the engine was all right, or had to be changed as the case might be, and the conductor would be responsible for cleaning out the interior and other maintenance items that were needed. And I can always remember that on that particular day of the week, my father coming home at five o’clock and it almost seemed as though we were on holiday. [laughter] (Questioner: What year was that?  BE: 1934). Now the, I don’t think that Moore’s, perhaps somebody can correct me, but I think the changing of crews, you know, on a scheduled basis, really didn’t come in until the double deckers arrived, I think that was the time in which the allocation of buses to individual driver and conductor, stopped.

Right, OK, so what we were saying was then, that by the late thirties, due to increased passenger loading, AEC and Leyland double deckers arrived on the scene. But these now had covered tops. This is an AEC Regent, I think it’s Brush[?] coachwork, it was bought second hand and originally was owned by South Wales. That subsequently had a new body put on it, but that’s there as it was bought in from South Wales. And that had a petrol engine in, not oil, they hadn’t gone over to diesel. But there were diesel engines in some of the later Albions that arrived, but not on the double deckers.

From this you can see that there is a whole range of chassis and body work in service, and no real attempt had been made at standardisation. However, this was to arrive very shortly, imposed by chance by the Second World War. The outbreak of War caused many changes. A huge demand for buses to take workers to their factories, the curtailment of certain services, and withdrawal of others. So what we’re talking about now is the smaller bus, which in this case we can see is a Bedford, and that has Dupont[?] coachwork, this was delivered in 1937, Moore’s first Bedford was delivered in 1932, and they had a number of Bedfords ranging from that time, 1932, right through until 1950.

Bedford was a very favoured make with the small, if somebody wanted a small bus, and Bedford of course, was the successor to Chevrolet, where Moore’s had some of those vehicles prior to the introduction of the Bedford name. The outbreak, I can’t remember if I said this, to be honest with you, the outbreak of War saw, caused many changes, a huge demand for buses to take workers to their factories, the curtailment of certain services, and withdrawal of others. In fact at the end of hostilities, some services were never restored, and in fact if you look at those timetables there, there’s one there 1939, and one there 1950, and you will see a number of the services had in fact gone.

And so, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to claim that the 1930s was really the heyday of the motor bus. We’ve already looked at the expansion of the stage carriage services, but if we look at other services on offer, it is amazing what was available. Let’s just take a look at the 1938 programme. Now, this is entitled ‘Holiday Tours’, and these were the August holiday arrangements for 1938. And those range of tours operated from Braintree, very similar from Coggeshall, perhaps a slightly shortened list from Kelvedon, and others from Tiptree. And if we just look and see what was on offer, we find there were day excursions to Clacton on Sea, and they operated three or four times during that week. They left Braintree at nine o’clock in the morning, and left Clacton to come home at six thirty in the evening, all for the princely sum of four and sixpence return. [laughter] They operated to Mersea Island daily, and here again there was two services, one at nine o’clock in the morning, and two o’clock in the afternoon. And here the return fare was two and sixpence. They operated each Sunday to Mill Beach.

There were also evening tours, and that was very very popular in the thirties, to go along and find the bus at Braintree waiting in the bus park at six thirty p.m., sometimes where they were going would be advertised, other times it would be known as a mystery tour. And what would you believe, one and sixpence return, that was. There were also, and this applies really right back to 1932, they were operating from Yarmouth, and Lowestoft and Yarmouth, as well, and one route would be via Bury St Edmunds, and the other, and coming back it would be via Ipswich, so you got a different set of scenery. And that applied also to Lowestoft. Felixstowe, they were running, again on Tuesdays, and that was five and sixpence return, Southend on Sea, not surprising. But then the surprising thing was, they were running a service for Lowestoft and Yarmouth on a Saturday. And here you bought a period return, and the object of that obviously was, holidays were beginning to get into, becoming popular now, so you could go down to Lowestoft or Yarmouth on one Saturday, and obviously come back the next, you only got a week’s holiday in those days. And here again, if we look, for Lowestoft it was twelve and ninepence, and for Yarmouth it was fourteen shillings. So that was really what was available from Braintree. And Coggeshall was very very similar, Kelvedon slightly less, and slightly less again with Tiptree. So, you know, it really was quite amazing what was available.

Also, the private hire side of the business wasn’t short of a few customers either. This was the first outing of the Coggeshall Co-op in 1937. [‘Ooh’s from the audience] As you can see, almost all the buses are Moore’s, all very smartly turned out. Yes, that’s quite a good picture I think, on the Market Hill of course at Coggeshall, I’m sure you recognise that. All the buses up on this side are Moore’s. There’s one different one there which might have been Blackwell’s of Earls Colne, or perhaps Hicks, not really sure, but all of those are certainly Moore’s. You can presume that most of them would be Albions, there might have been an AEC in there, but they certainly were dominated by Albions. And if you look on the [???] there, you can see the row of drivers, can you see them there, all in, turned out in their nice white coats, and white dust caps on their hats. A lot of people must have been employed by the Co-op in Coggeshall, mustn’t they. [muttering from audience, one probably says ‘members’].

Now, before we leave the 1930s, there is one point that should be mentioned. On October the first, 1932, Moore’s became a limited company, and from then on was known as Moore Brothers, Kelvedon, Ltd. Horace Moore became the director, and William the secretary. These brothers were the fourth generation of the family in the bus business.

By the early 1940s, Moore’s were getting into a desparate state for new or replacement vehicles. The vast majority of bus manufacture was made over to War work. However, there were one or two minor exceptions, but these were under strict government control, both in manufacture and release to operators. The first bus to be released, or unfrozen, which was the correct term, was this Bristol, with a Dupont[?] Utility body. This was delivered in 1942. It was the first and only Bristol that Moore’s ever owned. It was delivered in a matt grey finish, that some people might call battleship grey, those who worked in Marconi will know what that looked like, and they also would have had wooden seating, and again it was very very austere appearance.

And you will find that the other Utility buses that we look at, the coachwork is very similar indeed. Thereafter, the only double deckers to be delivered during the War were Guys, which was Moore’s introduction to this make. This one was delivered in 1945. All were fitted with Utility bodies, having a very austere look, and wooden seats. Although these buses had bodies from different coachbuilders, they all look very similar. The quality was very poor, either unseasoned timber being used for the framework. Single decker replacements were supplied by Bedford, who also had Utility bodies.

Although soon after the War, the wooden seats were replaced by upholstered ones, but this didn’t change the appearance of the vehicles, which were really dreadful. You only have to look at this bus in Colchester bus park, to realise how awful it was. This was the first Guy to be delivered. Here you can see that the garage staff had made an attempt to stop the leaking front windows on the top deck, and it really didn’t enhance its appearance. It was fairly common practice in the bus industry to fit replacement bodies on the old chassis, but apart from one or two minor exceptions, Moore’s hadn’t done this before the War. However, they really got into their stride during the late fifties, with a replacement programme for most of their double deckers. The differences made can be seen from this photograph, which is exactly the same chassis as previously shown. I think we’ll all agree it looks totally different. It’s got a very nice rounded shape to it, it was produced by Massey Brothers of Wigan, who were supplying most of the coachwork for Moore’s at that time. Moore’s I think chose Massey because both Colchester Corporation, and also Southend were takers of Massey Brothers coachwork, and they really did produce some very fine service.

During the late fifties and early sixties, a number of new double deckers and coaches arrived, which really had a modern look. Here are some examples. Now you can see on this one, they’re beginning to cover the radiators up now, with an ornamental front, 20 PVX, that was delivered in, have it in just a moment, 1959, no change, a Gardner engine and the body work was by Massey. You can see another Moore’s bus with the Utility coachwork to the right there on the stand, and I think you’ll agree it’s totally different altogether. They really were very very smartly turned out.

The next picture we have is of the same bus in America. One or two Moore’s buses were shipped out to America, and this is one of them. I think this one, but I’m not a hundred per cent sure, was in service on the east coast of America, but eventually it got shipped out to the west coast, where they then altered it, and it really did look hideous. They mounted a huge bumper on, I suppose to conform with Californian law, but you can see the 20 PVX, they still retained that at that stage. Also the bonnet was elongated because they fitted a much bigger engine in it, and it really did look a mess, but nevertheless it was still very nice to see some Moore’s buses going international.

The next one we have, this is a Guy saloon, again, Guy chassis, Gardner engine, but this time the coachwork is by Straughan[?], and again Moore’s had a number of single decker buses with Straughan[?] coachwork, and slightly different to Dupont[?]. The bus to the left of it, as you can see, is a Leyland, which belonged to Blackwell’s[?], and also a double decker the other side of that, which also most probably belonged to Blackwell’s[?]. And here we really have a flamboyant looking bus, don’t we. We’re really getting into the American stride now, with mouth organ fronts, and very very flamboyant outlining along the side, and these little corner windows here in the front. This coachwork was by Yates of Loughborough, and Moore’s only had one of those. The chassis, by the way, I should have mentioned that, that was Connor, a Connor Avenger with a diesel engine in it. So quite a difference, I think you’ll agree, to some of the buses we’ve seen earlier.

Therefore, by 1960, Moore’s had a very up to date fleet. The old buses had been disposed of, and those which still had life in them, received new bodies. And so the firm seemed to be in good shape, having progressed from a single horse and cart to a fleet of some over forty motor buses. Both Harold and Percy Moore had succeeded to the directorship, after their fathers had died in 1940 and 1956. Neither Percy’s son Kenneth, not Harold’s daughter Patricia, had entered the business. Percy Moore’s illness of Parkinson’s disease, was beginning to appear, and one can only presume the cousins faced the dilemma during 1962 of what to do for the best. Staff considerations must have figured prominently in their minds, for some had served fifty years with the company. This line-up of staff, which featured in the ‘Braintree and Witham Times’, in April 1952, shows six of the seven staff whose combined service amounted to 243 years. I don’t know if anybody here would recognise the faces, I know the Moore’s staff here would, but apart from that … That one on the extreme left is Harry Went, George Mayhew, my father Hubert Everitt, George[?] Newport, Alfred Taylor, and once again, Jimmy Pitchford comes into the picture. And the person who was missing off the picture which build up to the 243 years, was Frank Clarke, because he happened to be away for that day.

A contract of sale was signed with the Eastern National Omnibus Company on the 31st of December 1962, for taking over the business on the 3rd of February 1963, subject to the transfer of road licences. Thus on the 3rd of February, Moore’s appeared on service with notices in the front window showing that they were on hire to Moore Brothers Kelvedon Ltd. This meant that whilst the business was now in Eastern National ownership, the licences had not yet been transferred, but this was to follow in a few days. And so ended the family firm, with 148 years of passenger carrying to its name. In all those years there had never been a strike, but within a year under Eastern National, the Kelvedon depot was involved in a dispute.

However, let this story not end on a low note. In 1992 I discovered the Essex Bus Enthusiasts Group were planning to make thirtieth takeover commemorative run in 1993, over the Moore’s service routes, using a Moore’s bus. I asked if arrangements could be made to stop in Kelvedon, and pick up any ex-Moore’s employees who might wish to join the run. This was agreed, and I informed the Vicar of Kelvedon, David Thornton, who is also a bus enthusiast. He agreed to publicise the event in the parish magazine. As the bus entered Kelvedon, the driver and those who were already on board, just couldn’t believe their eyes. It was like Carnival day, with people lining the streets. A total of twenty-seven staff joined the run at the old garage in the High Street. It was the first time they had all come together in thirty years. A number of pictures were taken, and these particular ones were taken at Kelvedon, and the legendary hill, Coggeshall. This one, is, as we said, I’m sure you can see, the legendary hill, Coggeshall. That was taken travelling over a route to Earls Colne. And you know, that, I hope, was a memorable day for all the people who joined the run, especially the ex-Moore’s staff. And this one is taken into the entrance of the old Roslyn[?] garage, and as you can see, they had at last all been well-trained, and were not standing in front of the name, nor were they standing in front of the number plate. Well, what was the date of this event? April the 3rd, 1993, just two years ago today. Thank you all very much indeed.

[Applause]

Questions:
Jane Jones[?]:    How were Moore’s related to Cable’s[?] of Hatfield Peverel, Cable’s[?] garage.
BE:    Not to my knowledge. I know of no connection there.
John Newman[?]:    There was [???] in Cable’s garage.
BE:    Was there?
[???]
BE:    What generation was that connection, do you know?
Questioner:    I don’t know, but when was delivering parcels [???] [???].
BE:    Ah, but was he just an agent?
Questioner:    No, he was something to do with them.
BE:    Oh that’s interesting.
Jane Jones:    His wife was something, was married …
BE:    Oh, I’ll have to pursue that, because I’ve got a family tree going back to 1760, so it would be very interesting to see, you know, to see if that fits in.
Jane Jones:    I’ll see if I can find out, if …
BE:    Oh yes, anything like that. When I mentioned about agents, reminded me really, that like most bus companies, they carried parcels, so in a sort of minor way they were still carrying on the carriers’ business. And if we look at Braintree, we’ll see the agent was a Mr Rudkin, Market Square. In Coggeshall there was a Mr Humphries of Market Hill, and Kelvedon of course would be at the garage. But at Tiptree it was a Mrs Moore of Church Road, they had a shop there didn’t they. I don’t think they were any relation, that was just a chance.

Questioner:    About the carrier business, my grandma lived at Rivenhall, and she, if I remember right, she’d drop a postcard to Moore’s, to say that she’d like to be picked up on this market day or whatever it was, and I used to climb aboard with my grandma and have the day in Witham, and were picked up, I suppose on the return journey from Chelmsford. But that with the old ‘Lizzie’[?] called Lizzie[?], (BE: {???]) Yes, that we’d got out of the shed, you’d hardly[?] be able to sit on the seat at that time.
BE:    Well, you know, when Moore’s operated as a carrier into Chelmsford, they stopped at the Kings Head, which was, I don’t think it was a coaching house, it was just a public house, and, which was where Woolworth’s is now, and at Colchester it was the Horse and Groom in Crouch Street. They were the two terminals.

Questioner:    I remember the last shots[?], I was a conductor on Moore’s for a long time, and often meet the man who was in the last picture, who comes into Witham for a drink every day, or practically every week, I should say. And I often speak to him, cause he used to come to our club as well. Name of Walter[?]
BE:    I see. That’s right. Well we did try very hard to locate everybody that we could. There were some, I’m very sorry to say, we missed, and had we known, and in the end I was limited to the number of seats I could have anyway, because when I asked if we could join in this run, it was run by the Essex Enthusiasts Group, it was nothing to do with Moore’s in that sense at all. So they then asked me at first, how many seats did I want. And frankly I hadn’t any idea, and I said, well, I don’t know, let’s say twenty. ‘Oh, that’s all right’. And never knew really that I would get up to twenty, well we did get up to twenty, and then I had to ask ‘Could we have twenty-five’, and they said ‘Yes, all right’. Well we got a few more, and I had to go back and say ‘Can I have thirty’. And they said ‘Yes, but that is it, no more, that’s the lot’. And they didn’t really want to fill the bus to capacity, that was one reason, cause we went over all the routes, we went up to East Ford[?] and round, didn’t go to Messing because we thought that was too dangerous, but it went to Crockford[?] Green and all round there. [???] [???] So at the end of the day, whilst we would have loved everybody to have been there, and I know we didn’t have some, as I said, we may have had to have some disappointments because as I said, they restricted us to thirty, and as I said, there were twenty-seven, so we weren’t far off. It should have been thirty but because one or two were ill, they didn’t turn up, and therefore it’s a pity those seats could have been used by somebody else, but there you are.

Questioner:    I remember those trips to Mersea, they were one and six.
BE:    Did I say it was one and six from here then, I’m not sure.
Questioner:    It’d be half a crown today.
BE:    Spot on, it was one and sixpence in 1938.

Polly Wheaton[?]    I travelled on Moore’s buses to school, and the half single from Chelmsford to Witham was fivepence, and a half return was sixpence.
BE:    And that was five old pennies.
Polly Wheaton[?]:    Weekly it was two shillings.
[???]

Questioner:    Did any of the buses get to Malta[?]
BE:    Not that I’m aware of, I’ve never been told.
Questioner:    I don’t know if you’ve ever been there?
BE:    Yes, I know, it’s an absolute paradise. ({???]) Of course Portugal as well, took a lot of brand new British manufactured buses, and I don’t …

[tape runs out]

Tape 169. Talk by Brenda Watkin, about some historic buildings in Witham

Tape 169

Mrs Brenda Watkin was then of the Historic Buildings section, County Planning Department, responsible for Witham (inter alia).

Her talk was to the Witham History Group, on 15 March 1995, and was about some historic buildings in Witham.

The original recording of this talk is held at the Essex Sound and Video Archive. To listen to the recording, please contact them at ero.enquiry@essex.gov.uk or 033301 32500.

[???] shows words that are not clear enough to interpret and so have had to be omitted.
[?] after a word shows that its interpretation is not certain.
Later explanatory additions by JG or the transcriber are in square brackets [e.g. explaining locations etc.]


Side 1

Well, I think in actual fact I’ve been very lucky over the last two years, because there’s been an awful lot of work going on in Witham, and thankfully, I have got something to talk about tonight. And then you suddenly start to panic, because I had comparatively little time to put the talk together, and I must say I’ve got to thank an awful lot of people who’ve come to my aid to produce photographs for me, and some very very good slides. And I haven’t got a lot of interior shots of The Gables [125 Newland Street], but placed around, and you can have a look at them when you have your coffee break, there’s some photographs of the interior of The Gables, there’s an isometric of a lovely house at Chipping Hill. So wander round and have a look at them.

26-30 Chipping Hill (later known as 30 Chipping Hill; fronts the green and backs onto the churchyard)

Well, I found a copy of this black and white photograph when I was going through our slides at County, and I thought this would be an ideal one to start off with, because so much of our legislation tells us to protect the cherished scene. And if there’s ever a cherished scene, it certainly is the green at Chipping Hill, and I’m sure all of you have looked on with great interest as work was undertaken to this house. And it’s one that I’ve always looked at with great interest, because it’s got the two cross-wings, it looks such a typical double cross-wing Essex timber-framed building, so the chance to look at it and record it was extremely useful. But going back just a little bit in time, and this is a black and white print that appears in the Royal Commission volume of Essex, of Chipping Hill at Witham, and there is our double cross-wing house, but look at all the buildings on the frontage there. And I did wonder, what response would there be from Witham if we had a planning application in to put those houses back again [laughter]. So much for protecting the local cherished scene. Which is the local cherished scene? Obviously the one that we know during our lifetime, and not necessarily the one that went before. And I think those would have caused a tremendous amount of problem now when you have your medieval fair.

And this is an isometric sketch that I did, while I was recording the frame of the building. And what was of great interest to me was the fact that it wasn’t once double cross-wing house. In actual fact it was one cross-wing, the one the nearest the path and the entrance to the church, which had a recessed high end, and its hall coming in this direction [?across the entrance to the churchyard], and the lower cross-wing, away from the church, in actual fact belonged to another property, and had its hall coming off towards the river. So in actual fact the hall of this one has been demolished and a two storey hall built in the centre and that is what you now read when you look at the house. So you’ll have to stop and think now, what was that like, and how it would have looked with another hall range on the property. And this is one of Mike Wadhams’ lovely models. Mike made many models, and at County we’ve got a lot of his documentary work that he did on Witham, and I must admit I used a lot of slides of his models. And this gives you the idea of a typical cross-wing with its jettied front to the front. And you can see more or less the various members of the timber frame. So bear that in mind as we go round the house.

This was one of the first pieces of evidence that we were presented with when they started to do some stripping, and all of this had just been covered with a rather tacky piece of hardboard. And what you can see are some very very black timbers. And to us timber-frame freaks, this is something that is always exciting. Because what you’re looking at there is the build-up of soot from an open fire in an open hall house. So at least that’s given us some idea of the age of that cross-wing at Chipping Hill. We know that it went with an open hall house. And we know that most properties in Essex by the late 1500s, early 1600s, had had their open halls replaced either with a two-storey hall or a floor inserted and a new brick stack built. So at least it goes back to the 1500s. And again you can see this lovely build up and encrustation of soot, and how the decorative braces are actually cut in, they’re trenched into the stud and also halved, and again, a sign of high quality work. Normally they’re just trenched into the face of the stud. And that shows further stripping having been done, and there you can see the braces going through.

And this is a shot on the ground floor of the cross-wing nearest the church, and you can see a rather interesting shaped post here, which actually formed the opening recess at the high end of the hall. And a doorway framed by the side of it, which most probably gave access to a stair trap, and you can see a mortice here which would have trimmed the floor. Unfortunately like so many of these timber-framed properties, it had had quite a lot of going over at various times, and none of the original floor survived. But still enough evidence left behind to at least give some idea of what was going on. And here you’ve got a dovetail and again we now know that that cross-wing was jettied towards the church and also towards the green.

And that’s a sketch showing you how you had the two jetties. That one to the front of the cross-wing and facing the green, and that has now been extended out at a later date. And here’s the wall towards the church, and again originally jettied in that direction as well. And that’s the post that you saw with the swelling at the top, which again would have been echoed by one on the other side, giving this rather nice opening as a high end recess. And the typical W brace wing of the fourteenth century. And this is when you really start to get excited, when you see a splayed scarf joint, used to join two pieces of timber, and Cecil Hewitt called this a trait-de-Jupiter, or a thunderbolt, but you can see how simple it is, and what you can’t see, but I hope you can on the drawing, are the pegs that secure it in place. And again, going by Cecil’s dating, we can put a date of somewhere around 1350 on that joint. And certainly that fits in with the bracing and other evidence that we were seeing in that cross-wing.

And I put this in as a little exercise to show you why we are still relying so heavily on Cecil’s research that he did on carpentry technique in Essex. We’ve now got a marvellous process of dating timbers, called dendrochronology, where you take a bore through a timber, and with a vernier scale you calibrate the width of the annual growth rings. But I think all of you can see how few annual growth rings we actually get in a lot of our Essex timbers, and Ian Tines[?] from the Museum of London at times throws his hands up in despair when he comes to Essex, and says ‘Oh no, it’s another one of those timbers. And right towards the part[?] more or less you can actually see, one, two, three, four, five annual growth rings, and counting out how few you actually get, on quite a substantial piece of timber.

And another reason why I enjoy timber-framed buildings so much, is, it doesn’t matter how much has been taken out, how much the building has been changed, it leaves all the clues behind, and looking up at the underside of this bridging joist, you can actually see the pressure mark of where the brace went, and you can almost see the shape of it, look, it had a lovely chamfer on that corner, this corner is square, there’s the mortice that’s now been just daubed with infill, and again another line here, where you had another timber crossing. And if we look at it from a little bit further away, you can still see your mortice for the brace, still got the mortice here, but suddenly you can see a post. Well what was the post doing in that position, and a brace slot, but surely the brace didn’t go in this direction? And what they’ve done is just taken the post out of that position, and changed it round. So originally the post would have been on this line, with a bracket up at this position, and then the very nice rounded edge of the bridging joist, denotes that we’ve got an internal jetty. So again, a recessed high end, towards the hall, and here you can see the grooves for the wattle infill and another mortice for the partition at the back of the high end recess.

And if you hunt around long enough, people never threw anything away, and there’s the brace, re-used against the back wall of the cross-wing, and there’s it’s chamfer on one side, and the sharp arris[?] to the other. And that shows you where you had the recess, at the high end of the cross-wing. And this set back, and most probably with the bench just over one section of it. And then an access through here and up the stair trap to the first floor. And I hope you can all see it, that you get very nice marks as well on the timbers, and that’s a carpenter’s face mark, so again he was marking the best side of the timber before he actually started to cut out the mortices, and again you can see his scribe-marks, for where he was going to cut the mortice. And what’s interesting that again the face mark faces the front of the building. So as you came into that cross-wing, you saw the good side of the timber. In some ways still exactly the same as we do today. I mean to say, if we’ve got a good piece of furniture, we make sure people see it as they come in, and exactly the same, you were showing off the quality of the timber that you could afford to buy. And heavy section joists, and again with centre tenons. So again on this cross-wing we’re most probably looking at a date of about 1400.

And on the rear wall you can see evidence of diamond mullions, so again a simple diamond-mullioned window, unglazed, but with the groove for the shutter. And there you can see where one of the diamonds has actually been infilled with plaster. And again lovely evidence of how the carpenter actually cut the groove. So there’s the spoon[?] bit that he would have drilled in and then taken it out afterwards. And a brace and a tie-beam, what we term as an open bay of a house, so that it means all of this is just later infill, as they decided to divide the volume of the house up and use it in a different way. But again, all of the little clues that help us to put together the history of the house, and to actually make it work.

And now we’re standing in the two-storey replacement hall, and looking back at the very early cross-wing against the church, and there you can see the door opening, and the very nice moulded bridging joist that went in when the two-storey hall was built, and the partitioning now being done with solid planks of wood, set into grooved studs

And what I find interesting is that this type of construction is usually very early, but we’ve still got it being used in this house at a date most probably late 1500s, early 1600s. And unfortunately only a very very small piece of the wall painting had survived on a mid-rail[?] at the back of the hall. But again, evidence of the over-painting of the timber-work and the studs, and how elaborate that hall must have been at one time. So all evidence of a very very high quality house. And interesting dates as well. Mid-1300s and then into the 1400s. And we know that we had the market at the end of Church Street and the open area of the green below the church, and this infill starting to take place, even be allowed, once the new market at Newland Street has become established and is taking off, and the market at Chipping Hill actually starting to wane and lose its influence. And Janet Gyford the local historian, has done some research in the Essex Record Office and again has come up with evidence, certainly by the 1440s, of the two properties at Chipping Hill, and I think they’ve got lovely names, because one of them was called Struggles and the other one is called Druggles. And also evidence in documentary form that one of the first non-conformist preachers actually was a tenant in the cross, well, whether it was just a cross-wing then or whether it was still a complete hall house, but was actually a tenant in the one nearest the church, and again that rather appealed to my warped sense of humour, about the stranger outside the gate. And that is a shot of the house as it was undergoing its restoration, and I must stop one day as I go by and now take a photograph of it completed.

Avenue House, 4 Newland Street

And I don’t know how many of you have read Warwick Rodwell’s book, but he wrote a very intense book on the origins and the early development of Witham, and he talks about the separate areas of the medieval development, starting from south of the river, and then slowly building up along Newland Street until the later development, and how he feels that most of it, this area, was infilled at a later date than this area, because it was most probably in the ownership of the King because of the medieval earthworks, and so it was the Knights Templars having to apply to the King for their charter of land that unlocked this area and then slowly through from the 1200s into the 1300s, the houses started to develop along Newland Street and then later into this area. And again, he’s done it in fairly easy stages, so this is the earliest development, this is the earliest development, south of the river [Note by JG, this part is wrong, south of the river was not part of the Templars lands], and then the plots slowly working their way up Newland Street, and again, interesting plot sizes of half an acre or an acre, giving a frontage onto Newland Street of thirty-three foot or sixty-six foot, the market area and then further development.

And it’s in that area of further development that we find Avenue House. And this is an engraving, and the date given on it is 1732 [Should probably be 1832?, JG} And what’s very interesting is that in the restoration of the house, there are so many re-used timbers. And still a little bit left of the medieval house, that obviously this was a very prestigious house being built on the site of a much earlier medieval house. And you can just imagine the impact that that must have had on people travelling out of London and through up to Ipswich and beyond. Really a very prestigious house. And some very prestigious repairs and gentle restoration has been done to it. And to me this is always one of the signs of a real craftsman at work, where you’ve got the very very finely gauged brickwork, and the lime putty actually used to joint it. And it’s certainly been interesting watching the work being done in Witham and luckily you had some very very good craftsmen actually being used, and I think that’s to Witham’s good. It’s not always you get craftsmen of this competence. And some of the internal shots showing the Georgian fireplaces, again in the process of restoration. And so many times you go into a house and you find all of the internal shutters have either just been taken off and perhaps carted up to the attic first, and then somebody gets fed up with them being in the attic, and then eventually they get thrown outside and burnt. But again, Avenue House still has original shutters. And very very interesting early sash windows on the front elevation. And I think you can see from the profile of that, how it differs to the much later Georgian glazing bars with their very very fine profile, and almost paper-thin leading edges. And these are what we call anobolo[?] moulded mullion. And not every one of those windows slides from the top and the bottom. We find that alternate ones have only got sliding sashes to the top.

And this is a sash pane from a similar window from the Charles Brooking collection. But because he’s taken the paint off one section of it, I think you can see the profile a little bit clearer. And what we often never see are the intricacies of the construction of these sash boxes. And again I like the Brooking collection because he cuts through sash boxes and you can actually see how intricate all of the work was, and where you’ve got the boxes and the divisions were the weights for the shutters. And I think now we can start to understand why it’s so expensive now to actually have to replace sashes, and why we try nearly all the time to get people to repair them, rather than just take them out and put in modern ones.

And again, the staircase being repaired and re-sited. Work had been undertaken previously, and it really hadn’t got the setting that it should have. And it really has made a lovely space. And again, the incredible amount of love and care in restoring the panelling, and all of this is belection[?] moulded panelling, which has actually been taken out and turned round, and then hessianed and papered over. And when it was found, the owner thought that it was worth the time, the trouble and, I have to say, the money, to restore it, and I must admit, it’s a real treat now to go round the house. And again, an interesting example of graffiti, somebody leaving their name behind, call it what you like, but a nice date of 1805, and there’s also pencilled notes as well, on other panelling, so that we can very firmly date the time when the changes were made to the architrave and the mouldings around the door. And this is something that quite often we can go to pattern books, and you can see that yes, in London they were doing it at such and such a date, but it’s always difficult to find how it slowly moves out, and at what date things are being done in a local area. So again, it’s nice to know when I see that sort of detailing on other houses in Essex, I can go back and think, well, it’s going to be somewhere around 1805.

61 Newland Street; now Town Hall

And again, another building that I’m sure you’re all very familiar with, and this is a fairly old photograph that was taken from the book of Witham in postcards, and this is when it was Barclay’s bank, and then it went to the newsagents and Building Societies and various others, and now is restored and become the Town Hall. And I think it’s only the start of the renovation, restoration, as far as I can tell, because there seem to be some very exciting plans for a garden at the back as well, so I think it’ll certainly be one place where I shall be going and sitting in my old age.

And why have I put this shot in? As if that bears no resemblance at all the 61 Newland Street. But look at this long-wall jetty, and in actual fact that’s how 61 Newland Street started its life. Inside the building is a timber frame, and it had a long-wall jetty right the way along its front, fronting onto Newland Street, and not only that, but only part of the building is still there, where you’ve got the gap between the Town Hall and the bank [59 Newland Street]. Previously the Town Hall would have continued right the way across that gap. And it’s rather nice because the construction of this room, with its side purlin and the lovely wind-bracing, is almost identical to the roof in the Town Hall, which unfortunately has had to be covered in. And that’s some of the timber framing that was exposed during the renovation work, and again, I mean to say, that’s a door, standing against it, so I think that gives you some idea of the height and the impressive nature that that building must have had before it was re-fronted. There’s the floor joist running through, and the jetty would have been at that height. This is again unusual in Essex, but you find it on more prestigious buildings, where you get a rail actually dividing the studs, half-way up a wall. So you’re going to come across it in places like Codham Hall at Shalford, and other prestigious buildings. And again, evidence of the dove-tail underneath the floor joists at ground floor level, where the jetty plate would have sat before the building was flush faced.

And there was an article written in the forties about wall-painings that had been found in this building, and there’s a photo-copy of it there, and they were showing some of the most super Jacobean figures and designs, and on the first floor tie-beams, you can just see a small area of painting, and that gives you a close-up of it, and when you think of the whole of the building being painted out in this fashion, it certainly was something that I would have liked to have seen, but at least it’s been recorded and the ceilings have been put back and it’s still there. Unfortunately I don’t think anybody knows what happened to the wall painting that was previously found, whether it’s still there or whether it was just lost. And again on the ground floor you can still see remnants of the painting still surviving on the main bridging joists. And evidence here, and again showing the quality of work, with the chamfering, and detailing, where you have the main bridging joists meeting.

So you really are lucky in Witham. Just think what you’ve got, lurking behind all of these buildings.

Side 2

115 Newland Street, The Gables, and 117-119, Fern House

And this is the last one that I’m going to talk about, and this is the Gables and Fern House, at the end of the High Street. And as I said, unfortunately I haven’t any internal slides of it. But again, there’s something very interesting going on behind this façade, and I think you can just about see where you’re getting the cracks in the plaster, and definitely this section, again had a long-wall jetty onto the front of Newland Street. Unfortunately most of this section is covered, but again I wonder whether there was a similar treatment to this side, because you’re getting the cracking in a very similar position. And I think this is really a lovely example of what has happened in Witham where in some ways this one still has kept its vernacular feel, but the Town Hall has been re-fronted and given a very polite architectural façade. And again you’ve got the very polite architectural façade of Fern House, with its lovely Georgian doorway and the fan-light. And I hope when you all walk through Witham, you won’t just go along looking into every shop window, but you will lift your heads occasionally and look at what has gone on above those shop-fronts, because it’s amazing how much still survives. And the lovely Victorian porch onto the front of the Gables, with its carved barley-sugar twist supports, and quite interesting because in the list description, they actually say that those are cast iron. Well, they’re not, they’re carved timber, and certainly the carpenter who did those, I think must have had quite a few laughs at how many people he fooled. And the entrance door to Fern House, with this very intricate fan-light, and the very very simple Georgian railings. And I think you’ll be able to see a tremendous difference between the arch detail at Avenue House, and the arch detail here at Fern House. We’ve got no lime putty, no nice white joints, and what has happened here, you’ve still got very very small remnants of very very high quality tuck pointing, so a completely different approach here to Avenue House. The mortar was coloured the same colour as the brick, it was then incised and the lime putty put on in a very very fine line, but put on all over the building, so again, evidence that somebody there had a tremendous amount of money to spend at the time. All of that is very high quality work, and I would hate to think how much it would actually cost the practice to now have that completely tuck-pointed over the front façade. Most probably as much as the rest of the
building.

And again look for the clues of the way buildings have been extended. This has got quite an interesting set back in the brick-work, and when you go inside it certainly looks as if this is a later extension, and again the bays that have been put on. But it really does make such a feature, doesn’t it, with the lovely simple parapetted form of Fern House, and then these incredible Gables. It’s almost as if somebody thought, well, make sure that if we’ve got something simple there, we’ll have a really sort of finish there, something that’s going to compete with it.

And again, as you go down Witham High Street, if you could more or less look at the back of all of the buildings, it’s happened to so many of them, the way of living changes, and suddenly people don’t want to live in the front rooms any more, it’s becoming noisier, actually getting more carriages through each day, and so you decided to actually extend out the back, either with a very very nice Regency bay, or with a complete extension. And in Regency times, suddenly you find all of the houses changing emphasis as the people decide to put on their garden rooms, and then that becomes the best room of the house, and you spend more of your time looking out into your garden than looking onto the street. And I think that is an exceptionally fine bay, with its lovely curved sashes [back of Fern House]. And at the Gables they were doing something very similar as well, so again they were more or less putting an extension on, and here you’ve got very find glazing bars to the later sashes, and you can see how thin they are, and those are the type that we call sashes with marginal glazing lights. And they had tremendous problems with the roof spreading, so again additional support was introduced and then the brickwork rebuilt, and I’m sure it’s only going to be another two years and you’ll find that most of that has all weathered in, and you’ll hardly even notice the scarring of the building.

And that brings me to the end of my four buildings of Witham. So I hope I haven’t more or less confounded you all with too many terms, but if anybody feels that they’ve missed a point, or want to take it up with me afterwards, then I’d be only too pleased.

Chairman: Right, let’s thank Brenda very much indeed. We’ve got some photographs and plans to look at over there, we’ll have a cup of coffee, and then perhaps we’ll come back and see if anyone’s got any questions for Brenda, anything we’d like her to enlarge on. But that was fascinating, thank you very much, as we knew it would be.

[Applause]

Questions

Q:    Really nothing to do with what you’re talking about (BW: Oh I like those sort of questions.) What do you think of the sort of national heritage people sort of settling on Harlow railway station as a place of beauty. [???]
BW:    I always think sometimes these things are extremely difficult, and as I’ve had to deal with Silver End for quite a long time, you can imagine that I get asked that sort of question all the time. ‘What on earth do you want to more or less control what I do in Silver End?’. And I suppose it’s like everything, the powers to be say ‘Yes that is an important building’, and unfortunately I can’t pick and choose which ones I choose to abide by the legislation with, and then use a different criteria for the others. Though in some ways, once something’s been listed, then I have to treat it the same as, well, almost the Thomas Tait modern movement houses at Silver End I have to treat in the same way as I would more or less the medieval houses at Chipping Hill. But certainly it is difficult sometimes to actually quantify why things have been listed, and it’s even more difficult when the powers to be list a building such as Gilbey’s building at Harlow one month, and then six months later give Sainsbury’s permission to demolish it. And then, that really leaves you asking questions.

Q:    It was very nice hearing you refer to the Gables and Fern House. I was wondering if we could request that these names be restored. They’ve really disappeared.
BW:    Ah. Well, I was going to say, perhaps we can ask Roy to answer that because he …
Roy[?] [probably from Braintree District Council] Well, we’ve got a couple of doctors here as well.
BW:    Oh [laughter]
[???]    Fern House is now called Fern House surgery.
[???]    Originally that was Fern House and is now the name of the practice.
BW:    Oh good.
[???]    It’s now known as Fern House surgery. [???]
BW:    So more or less when you’re in conference we’ll now be told you’re Gabling [laughter]

Q:    I didn’t know that the names had been lost, I’ve always called them Fern House and the Gables.
Q:    Well, the name the Gables was on the front of the house, till [???] it isn’t there.
BW:    Ah, so that most probably had disappeared under the previous owners’ occupancy.
Q:    Were both houses known as the Gables [???] Are they both the Gables or are they separate [???]
BW:    I’d always referred to both of them as the Gables, but I don’t know whether they had been separately named.
Q:    They were in common ownership, weren’t they, when Mr Horrell was there, the whole thing was called the Gables in those days although they’re actually different numbers. Certainly the building was raised[?] at the same time, [???] four gables.
BW:    Yes. Oh yes. Yes, I mean to say if one had been in separate occupancy then, or separate ownership, you would have felt that they would have just had three gables and left one plain.

Q:    [???]
BW:    Well the earliest section is the, well there is actually a surgery isn’t there, in one part of the Gables, with the close studding and the arched bracing, and certainly that part of it is going to have to be more or less either very late 15th century or 16th. And again was long-wall jettied form, very very similar to 61 Newland Street that’s now the Town Hall. But this is always one of the frustrating things, you see, when so much is covered up in the other half, I mean to say, you’ve got interesting bridging joists that you suddenly see, but you’ve got no idea what section the joists are, whereas where you’ve got the exposed timber framing in the gable, you’ve got the horizontal emphasis floor-joists, which again we know go on till about 1600 and then they start to change to vertical emphasis, and the modern concept of flooring joists. So it more or less, because we’ve lost the roof, that was lost when they did the roof raise, then you’ve got no dating features in the roof, and you’re more or less trying to do it by stud work, floor joists, and general size of the timber and construction. So that was why in some ways, when you’ve got scarf joints, when you’ve got more or less the good dating features of crown posts, and floor joist joints, things like this, you stand far more chance of getting a good dating date for the house than when you’re just looking at isolated features.

Q:    Brenda …
BW:    There was a lady behind …
Q:    Can you tell us anything about the cottages behind the Gables [123 Newland Street], they’ve intrigued me for years, and I just don’t know anything about them. They look very old to me.
BW:    I can’t tell you a lot about the, unfortunately, no. This is always one of the problems, we tend to get blinkered towards more or less the buildings that come in as an application, or buildings that we’re asked to go and look at, and the time to more or less come and do a dating exercise on the whole of Witham is just impossible.

Q:    Those buildings there were completely refurbished, surely they must have had some kind of application to do it?
BW:    Yes, there must have been some planning application, but unfortunately at County, we tend to more or less change areas, so in the time that I’ve been at County, I’ve given advice to Thurrock District Council, I’ve given advice to Chelmsford District Council, and so you’re more or less moving through different areas, and you don’t always get continuity to say ‘Oh well, I’ve been looking at Witham for twenty years and virtually now I know every building. So we see parts of areas and unfortunately somebody else is most probably overseeing the restoration of those, and I haven’t had the chance to look at them in detail.

Q:    When you look at Andrew’s cottages up at, on the green at Chipping Hill [26-30 Chipping Hill], are they going to deteriorate now? I know they’ll be all right as long as he’s there, but, what’s the life of cottages like that?
BW:    How long is a piece of string? I mean to say (Q: Are they actually deteriorating?) Well, I mean to say, as long as oak is kept dry, I don’t think anybody has determined how long it would last. I mean to say, we’ve got buildings in Essex, Fyfield Hall in particular, where there’s original structure that most probably goes back pre-Conquest. Yes [laugh]. I mean to say, somebody came along in about 1190 and more or less re-vamped it, but certainly that’s revamping and there’s earlier structure still there. You’ve also got a very early cross-wing at Tiptofts at Wimbish, and, there’s certainly, well, even, you think of the barns at Cressing, where you know, we’re getting dates of 1220, 1230, you know, 1350, that’s a mere youngster, isn’t it. [laughter].

Q: [probably Helen Pitchforth]:    I was at a planning meeting last night, we had a list of buildings at risk, which the County kindly compiles and then sends out to the District. Now before we all worried about the house with the shop at the corner of Guithavon Street [68 Newland Street] (BW: Yes.) is there anything we can realistically do apart from worrying about it, to, we were told last night that there wasn’t much we could do except express our feelings to the owners, where they were known, obviously. But is there anything we as a Society, or as individuals, can do, to save a building like that?
BW:    Certainly I know Braintree have put in a tremendous amount of work on that, the enforcement officer has done a lot of research trying to find owners, and it seems to be one where everybody passes the buck, and they’re having great difficulty in actually serving a full repairs notice on somebody. As a society certainly it’s always interesting to get articles in local papers and raise people’s awareness. Otherwise if you’ve got some money in the coffers, buy lots of lottery tickets. [laugh] Or I suppose make a bid for some of this lovely lottery money that there’s going to be around to do various projects. But … it does seem a great shame that with buildings like that, that are problem buildings, it’s just trying to get to the bottom of ownership, so that Braintree could actually serve a full repairs notice.

Q:    Do you believe it’s a deliberate policy on the part of the owners, whoever they are, to let it become neglected so it’ll eventually be demolished?
BW:    I was going to say, it’s very difficult, because sometimes yes, you feel that, and certainly I’ve had it quoted to me, usually by farmers, who more or less, ‘Well, I’ve got a farmhouse, the family doesn’t really want it, and I’m not really interested in selling it to anybody else, and I’ll just leave it to fall down’. And the same with listed barns. But with a property like that in the town centre, I would have thought that it would have been extremely difficult to say that it was a deliberate ploy, because it affects various parts of the building. I mean to say, within that building you’ve got parts that are let out, leased out, and you’ve got flying freeholds, flying usage, and things like that, how do you more or less allow it to fall down without damaging other parts and other uses.

Q:    [???] with that property, some years ago, the County kept a revolving fund [???] Is that, does that still exist?
BW:    It doesn’t still exist. They are looking at trying to get it working again, but as far as I know at the moment, unless you can find an owner, so that you can serve compulsory purchase on somebody, how do you buy it and use it as revolving fund target?
Q:    [???]
Q:    It seems extraordinary that an owner can’t be traced, doesn’t it? It does to me, anyway.
BW:    Yes, I think certainly Carol Brothwell, the Enforcement Officer at Braintree, had done a tremendous amount of research and it was, seemed to going through various companies and things like this, and she was finding it very very difficult to be able to pin-point who actually did own it.
Q:    [???]
Q:    I expect if you moved in there and set up a stall or something, you’d soon … [laughter]. Start a charity shop.
BW:    Yes. I think it’s a charity shop in its own right. Wanting charity.

Q:    You’re not involved in bridges as well, are you? We’re interested in Sauls Bridge [Maldon Road]
BW:    I started the ball rolling on Sauls Bridge, because Highways engineers have now got to look at the loadings and various other things, and they had come to the Historic Buildings section with an interesting scenario. ‘We want to strengthen it, we’ve got to do something, so can we more or less take it down and display it somewhere perhaps in one of the Country parks?’ And I’m afraid our response to that was ‘No, it’s a listed structure, there’s no way that if we suddenly said to them, oh well, the Town Hall’s in the way and we’d like take it down and move it to a Country park, that that would get consent, so why are we treating bridge structures in a different way.’ And they’ve been told to go away and have a look at the possibility of strengthening the structure.
Q:    It’d be so nice, if we could just move it a few yards down the stream, it could then be used, displayed, and we could all admire it, without crawling underneath. We don’t see it at all.
BW:    Yes, and then it’s a very difficult thing, isn’t it, because if it’s moved, it’s almost lost its reason to be there. Because then … it’s to cross it.
Q:    [???] [???]

BW:    I still feel that it can be strengthened sympathetically, and still be kept in its original position.
Q:    But you don’t see half of it.
BW:    And half of it’s already been changed, hasn’t it, because more or less one of the parapets has already changed.
Q:    Yes, the bridge is still underneath. Whereas what we would like to see is it moved about a hundred yards downstream to where the trestle bridge used to be for the old railway, because that’s going to be a rail trail, going to, how lovely to be able to see it in its splendour, rebuilt and then [???] bridge and the road, it just seems so much simpler and most straightforward.
Q:    It would be in daily use.
Q:    How do you strengthen a cast iron structure anyway?
BW:    The engineers were looking at it, Highways engineers.
Q:    They’ve been looking at it for a long time. How much of the original Sauls bridge is actually there under the [???], any of it?
BW:    Yes, I think most of it is still there, certainly [Q: One cast iron side] side, and then more or less it was widened wasn’t it, and more or less a new parapet put on the other side.
Q:    So there’s still some of the original bridge underneath the road?
BW:    Yes, oh yes. And certainly the report that was done for the Civil Engineers’ institute talks about most of it being complete underneath, and I think the surveys that were done by Highways show it complete underneath.
Q:    And is the, there is one face, that as I say, you can see by climbing down the bank. The other face as you say is no longer there. (BW: Is no longer there.) But could possibly still be there under the road?
BW:    I don’t think it is, I think it was lost when it was widened, and certainly I’ve never seen any evidence that it’s still there. But certainly it’s an interesting bridge and I was very disappointed that it hasn’t featured in lots of books rather like the one that was done by Ironbridge on iron bridges and iron structures, because it’s, I think it’s 18 – 1814, 1816 [Q: 1814. Ransome of Ipswich] But again, more or less one of the first of the bridges that they were turning out, and certainly the earliest one that’s still surviving.

Q:    Really? Where does the name Saul come from in Sauls bridge, does anybody know?
BW:    Pass.
Q:    Was Mr Saul a carrier? [???] [???]
BW:    Normally it’s taken, you know, the name comes from a local feature or something like that, but I can’t think of anywhere that I’ve seen anybody make reference to how the name came about.
Q:    [???]
BW:    Yes, it was Ransome’s. [Q: Ipswich] And it was Sir William Cubitt? Who was the designer.

Chairman: We’ve lost Brenda now, she’s gone to pastures new. [ Thanks etc.]

Tape 168. Talk by Polly (Olive) Wheaton about Freebournes (Freebornes) farm in Witham, and about other memories.

Tape 168

Miss Polly (Olive) Wheaton was born in 1932. She gave her talk to the Witham History Group on 5 September 1994, when she lived at 14 Tiptree Road, Wickham Bishops.

It was especially about the Wheaton family and Freebournes (Freebornes) farm in Witham, where they lived and where she was brought up.

The original recording of this talk is held at the Essex Sound and Video Archive. To listen to the recording, please contact them at ero.enquiry@essex.gov.uk or 033301 32500.

[???] shows words that are not clear enough to interpret and so have had to be omitted.
[?] after a word shows that its interpretation is not certain.
Later explanatory additions by JG or the transcriber are in square brackets [e.g. explaining locations etc.]


Side 1

Well, those of you who were here last winter will know that I was bounced into being here tonight by someone who shall remain nameless. This is going to be a bit of a hotchpotch of this and that, and I’m going to probably  jump from hither to thither, and it’s a sort of mini ‘This is Your Life’, I suppose. To those of you who don’t know, I was born at number 3 Newland Street, which is also known as Freebournes farm. In those days, Witham was a small market town. According to the census, the previous census, there were 4,267 inhabitants there, so it was very different to what it is now. And if you walk the length of the street, and the side streets as well, there was a great variety of shops there, which served this small market town.

The London, LNER, London North Eastern Railway, puffed its way from London Liverpool Street to Norwich, and being a junction we were very well served, plenty of trains stopped here, because the people wanted to go to Braintree and to Maldon. Well from Braintree in those days you could go to Bishops Stortford, and on the Maldon side, once you got over the river, you could go out to the Dengie Hundred. On the Maldon platform I seem to recall these, those vending machines that had the little flat chocolate bars, Nestles chocolate bars, what were they, a penny? I don’t know, I suppose they were something like that, weren’t they. And the train journey of course was absolutely marvellous, wasn’t it. You came back black. The younger you were, your hands, your face, everything of you was really black.

Buses went through frequently as well. There was Eastern, I suppose it was Eastern National, there ought to have been a different name, I couldn’t think what it was. Anyway the Eastern National buses, Moores of Kelvedon, going through from Chelmsford to Colchester, and they went through every half hour. Quarter to the hour to Chelmsford, and quarter past the hour to Colchester, on Moore’s buses, which I used to travel. When I went to school in Chelmsford, if I missed the Moore’s back to Witham, then I could catch the bus that went to Maldon via Hatfield Peverel, and the theory was it only cost me from Hatfield Peverel to Witham, but it didn’t work that way because we used to go into Wood’s shop and buy a bag of apples, so we were rather out of pocket, along the way. The bus stops are still the same, as I remember, that I used to get on and get off. The one to Chelmsford, outside what was Dick Stoffer’s little chemist’s, which later became  Nobby Clarke’s, Bernard Clarke’s opticians, and is now an optometrists, or whatever it is [5A Newland Street]. And on the other side of the road, going to Colchester, it was, it wasn’t quite outside Mr Bull’s the photographers [34 Newland Street], but just a little bit this way, and I can’t quite remember what it was precisely outside. If you went to Maldon, you would go via the Eastern National, but if you went to Braintree they were Hicks’ buses. They were, always seemed to be double deckers, maybe they had single ones, I don’t know, but I only remember the double decker buses, blue with a yellow trim round them, which were quite distinctive. The other bus service of course was the inimitable Osborne’s, going from Witham through the villages to Tollesbury, well more correctly the other way round, from Tollesbury to Witham, and you could go along that journey, pass a message, and Ken Osborne, a little man, slightly bow-legged with a very cheery expression, would get off, he’d take a message from A to B, or take a parcel and just drop it in for someone, as a courteous gesture.

The, while I’m mentioning I suppose Tollesbury, I could also mention the railway, the ‘crab and winkle’ line that went from Tollesbury to Kelvedon. Like Osborne’s, I think, if you didn’t get up in time to get to the station, you could nip down the embankment, and I understand the train would grind to a halt, they’d haul you aboard, and away you went and got up to your junction. Those were the days.

Of course also in those days there was a driver and a conductor, and of course he had his, I think it was a little board, wasn’t it, with the tickets in it, and he could ping ping his, your ticket for you. When I went to school at Chelmsford, I had a little white ticket, about that size, for the week, it cost me two shillings, it was a half ticket. What’s two shillings, 10p. The half return fare was eightpence, so that’s just over 3p, and the single, half single, was fivepence, that’s what, 2p? And also, when I wanted to go from Hatfield to Witham, that was three halfpence, well that doesn’t really exist any more does it, or it should have been three halfpence if I hadn’t have bought the apples. Mentioning Osborne’s coaches, at a much later stage, which I was, a little story I love. Some friends used to sail down at Tollesbury over many years, and they didn’t have a car so they also went on Osborne’s buses, and in later years one of them was shopping in Witham and they were just going home, and suddenly a single-decker bus drew up, and there was a cheery Ken Osborne, ‘Going home?’. So she said yes. ‘Well hop on’, he said, so she got on the ‘not for hire’ single-decker bus, and he took her out to the other end of Witham and dropped her off, and then he went up to the station to carry on his business. [laughter] Which is, I think it’s rather nice. The only time I’ve heard of someone having a lift on a bus. I think also, and it may be it happens now, I don’t know. But with Osborne’s coaches, the last bus that went from the station out to Tollesbury, would always wait for a train, and apparently in the winter if the train was an hour late, well then the bus was an hour late leaving, because they said they were the only link between Witham and the villages and Tollesbury, and I think you know that’s, that’s rather nice.

Having mentioned that this was a market town, the cattle market was where the Labour Hall is now, and I can remember the metal railings round the side. And an auctioneer, I suppose associated with it, was Hugh Page, and he used to, I can visualise him wearing leather buskins, and his office originally was between the market and the [Collingwood Road railway] bridge, which later became ‘The Cabin’, which probably many of you remember. And then I think Hugh Page moved down into the town. There was also of course a, with the cattle market, it was associated, there was a goods yard, there was a spur off from the railway line, that went to Cooper Taber’s, the seed merchants, and of course they sent a lot of their wares by rail, and so that went round alongside the building. And also along from the goods yard, which was round the corner by Hugh Baird’s, there was Blyth’s the millers, and the cattle would come through there, perhaps going to the market, or perhaps going down to the slaughterhouse, which was at the back of Guithavon Road [means Street], sort of well behind, behind where the school used to be. Along, along there somewhere.

I was, I am blessed, having been born into a loving family, mother, father, sister, brother, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and my father was the eldest of nine children, and most of them lived in Essex, and there was a very strong family tie, and I think there still are very strong family ties. My mother was the youngest of her family, she had four elder brothers. There were no children on that side, and no grandparents. Her father died before she was born so she never knew him, and her mother died when I was, well, less than three months old, so I sort of don’t remember. So all the activities, of Freebornes and the family gatherings which I associate with Freebornes are all, mostly, mostly to do with my father’s side of the family. Perhaps I should, could mention at this point that since leaving Freebornes, I’ve never been back inside, and I mention that with an ulterior purpose.

I thought that I would, well I’ll just mention that grandfather bought Freebornes in 1927. And it had previously been farmed by Robert Wakelin, who I think, am I right, was the first owner-occupier? His father had been I think, the tenant before, Joseph Wakelin, and I think Robert was the first owner-occupier. I believe he bought it in 1905. There are some records of Freebornes in Latin, which I don’t understand, in the Record Office, that I came across some years ago, to do with St John’s Abbey at Colchester, but what it was I don’t know, but there, so presumably there must have been some link there at some stage. In 1927 the farm consisted of 141 acres 1 rood 28 poles. I looked this up, and there are 40 square poles in a rood, four roods in an acre. A rood as opposed to a rod. Rod, pole and perch, but a rood is a quarter of an acre. The house as it was described in the catalogue, it said that it was a farm residence, of distinctive character, probably dating from the Tudor or earlier period, it is rough cast with a tiled roof, and in several of the rooms there are fine oak beams and supporting timbers, while in the drawing room is some antique oak panelling. And it goes on to list the accommodation.


Freebornes house, left side

Freebornes house, right side
Above, the ground floor of Freebornes farmhouse. Shown in two parts, with the left side first and then the right side.

Well, I though perhaps I would just go through Freebornes as I remember it, and just point out a few of the little bits and pieces that came to mind when I was trying to do my homework. This is the, this is the ground floor, and this is the upper floor [showing plans]. This is the main road, Chelmsford that end, Colchester this end. If you look in the front of the house, you’ll see a great big grating on the pavement, and I’ll mention that when I come along. We’ll come in down the side through the back door, because this was the, where we were the whole time, we were in and out of there. In actual fact in my early years, this end of the house was let off, and I suppose I didn’t go into the dining room, the sitting room, until probably I was about ten years old.

But then, it was a big house, it was a lovely house for children, but it must have been pretty hard work for the women of the house. In those days you bought the farm, because that had to provide you with a living, and the house would have been of secondary importance. And the poor old housewife had to get on with it, whatever it was, large or small, good condition or bad condition, and I suppose most of the houses in those days were, well, this was pretty draughty for a start, so we were used to putting on woollies and things like that, but of course this is late twenties and coming into the rather hard years of the thirties when times were bad, and even the farming concerns of the thirties, there were suicides, and emigration to the Americas, New Zealand and Australia as well.

Anyway, let’s come into Freebournes and just wander through here, down the gravel side. There were huge wooden gates there which were seldom shut, only if any cattle got out and there was fear of them going into the road, but they were open all the time, and down the gravel [???] into the scullery. This had a square tiled floor, black and red tiles if I remember, and on the side was one of those stone sinks, wide things, little shallow things, the one cold tap, and they were always high up, weren’t they, if you put a bowl underneath, if you turned the tap on, it always came out. But the thing that I do remember was that mother used to clean it with a brick, and I can still see that half brick, worn at one side, very sort of rosy on the bottom where she scrubbed away, and I also remember, that used to put my teeth on edge, even when I was small – she had false teeth so she was all right. But it really was quite a, quite a, I suppose, an old-fashioned sink. And on the other side, just a little anecdote here, was a gas cooker, and if this is the relevant bit that goes with it, it was a ‘Radiation Cooker, for use with the New World Regulo controlled Gas Cooker’. So it’s evidently been much used over the course of time.

Well, grandfather Wheaton would have been I suppose in his seventies by this time, and had lived his life in the country and been used to an oil stove and this sort of thing. And so you didn’t leave anything burning, that was a waste. So he came through the back door and happened to see that the gas was just on with nothing on it. So he went across and blew it out. Well I think probably for someone of those years, to blow out a gas jet and hang onto his false teeth was pretty good. Someone came back and smelt gas, they went to put, I think the kettle back on the stove, and discovered what had happened.

But if you come through here into the, into the kitchen, well the farmhouse kitchen was really the centre of all activity in a farmhouse. You went there, you did your cooking there, you gathered there, everything, everything, you always used to orientate back to the kitchen. There was a big kitchen table in the middle, some lino on the floor, which I’d always thought was a sort of browny colour, but when eventually my brother changed it, because part of it had worn through and had become dangerous, we discovered round the edge, although I suppose we had noticed it without realising, there was a bit of colouring, and it was tremendously thick. How many years it had been down there we don’t know. I mean it was there when my father went there and it had probably been down many many years before, because I only ever remember it being brown, so I mean obviously the colouring had been worn off over the course of time. There was the old black-leaded stove on the side, and, do you remember the old brush, wooden brush, with a thing at the bottom[?] and then you had the handle on the top, so you could get hold of it and give it a good brush, that was there originally, and then there was a ‘cook and heat’, which used to cook, or heat, but not both, depended which way the wind was blowing, it would do one or the other. And then eventually when my brother married he went and then he put in a, not a Parkray, the other one, Raeburn, and that one worked very very well indeed. There were six doors here, one we’ve just come through, one on the other side, and four down the side of the wall. The first one was at the bottom of the front, the back stairs, which were in a sort of well, so you went up some steps, upstairs and then a couple of steps round to a landing. The next one was a door into a cupboard under the stairs, in which we kept the wellington boots, and newspapers and oddments and things like that in.

Then the next one was for the cellar, and this had some pretty rough brick steps down into it, and right at the bottom, which I never quite could understand, there was quite a wide, the beginning of a spiral stair, the steps were quite shallow, and it went round a short distance and then there was a blank wall. And even if you tried to follow it up, it would have come up in a cupboard or something, I mean it just didn’t, couldn’t, never fathomed that one out at all. But there was some concern because my brother told me that there were lions up there, and if I went down the stairs I used to go down, look there, run like mad till I got past it. I never saw any lions up there, but he assured me that there were. There was a drain in the middle, fortunately, and if you looked across, you looked up, and there you’d see the grating thing which was out on the pavement.

Coming, sort of, in much later times, when was that big storm, 1957, 8, 9, somewhere there [perhaps 1953?] when Chelmsford was awash with the river I think and so was Witham. Well Freebornes is lower at the back than it is at the front, and the front is lower than the road. And of course the water came over the road, across the pavement and down through the grating into the cellar, and also under the front door, which fortunately had quite a large mat well there, and a knot hole, which was just big enough to take the water which came through the door, so it didn’t come in one end and go out of the other. And my sister-in-law said ‘Come and have a look at the cellar’. And we opened the door, and the, it looked as though there was a sort of nobby tarmac [???]. My brother had had some coke delivered during the week, and of course this had all come in and floated, and anyone not knowing could quite easily have gone to walk on it and would have gone down to about two feet, I would guess. Anyway, in the morning, because of this drain, the thing, all the water had gone, and there was this sort of washed coke on the floor. But I’m still puzzled as to where all this water could have gone. Cause there might have been a sump there, but even so there was an awful lot of water in there.

If you come back up into the kitchen, the next door went through to the rest of the house. So let’s come round to the corner into this other door, opposite the one I’ve just come in, and this was what we called the dairy.

And if anything was, mentioned Tudor there, if anything was Tudor, it must have been this bit, this was the Colchester end. They had big stone flagstones, it was low, it was dark, it was dank, and there was an odd concave shape here which had windows along there, so whether it had been an outside bit at one stage, I don’t really know. We had a dresser in front of it, in the kitchen, but there were cupboards all round. It was more a general floor store space, I suppose. The old mangle, a big mangle with the wooden rollers, you know, going round, and who remembers pulling, pulling the sheets when you’d washed them, to get them all square, that’s another little job that used to arise from time to time. We used to keep bags of potatoes in there, and bags of things cooked, or things for the house. So it was a sort of storage place. Also of course, the old flat irons I think were in there when they weren’t on the stove, and would you do your bit [laughter] to see how hot it was, it was quite a, it was obviously a very very old part.

So then if we come back into the kitchen again and through this little door here, the fourth door which was into a little passage way, and there was a green baize door, probably stopped the draught a bit I guess. You had to go up a step into this, this little passageway, and then there was a door off the right, which was the, what we called the cloakroom, got pegs in for coats and things, and then just round the corner was a glory hole for toys or anything that we couldn’t think where else to put it. But on the side of the cloakroom wall was a medicine chest, with just a few bits and pieces in, including, and I feel sure, this bottle was in it, all those years ago. It’s witch-hazel, and I was going to use some some years ago, I thought I can’t open that, and so I went off and bought another one, and I’ve kept it as it is. And it came from Bellamy’s. Bellamy’s was in the High Street, what is the shop now, is it a, television shop, that’s right. [64 Newland Street] ‘Bellamy’s pharmacist, Chelmsford, Witham and Brentwood’, and it cost one and sixpence. Someone said ‘Is that the right colour?’ but I didn’t really know. I don’t know whether it’s just gone off over the years, or whether it was that colour to begin with, but anyway it’s quite a prized possession. [Question: it’s never been opened?] Never been opened, no. So it must be sort of, it’s probably sixty years old anyway.

Well then if we come up a step, open the door, and we come into the hall, and this room, I suppose I associate particularly with Christmas, with all the decorations and the family gatherings which we used to have. One year, because this was one of the larger houses in the family, we’d have Christmas one year, and an uncle and aunt at Great Leighs, White House, Great Leighs [???], had Boxing Day, and then the next year they’d have Christmas and we’d have Boxing Day. And there again, if you’d been a child you could enjoy it, but I think if you were those having to provide, it probably was pretty grim. The hall has the big open fireplace in it, we used to have it alight at Christmas, not at any other time, and we’d have about four foot logs on there, you could stand and look at the ceiling, look at the sky above, sometimes drops of rain or hail would come, come down. This was over the cellar actually, and so it’s just as well the water didn’t come in one end and go out, because probably the floor would have, it used to give a bit, and I remember my mother saying, when we were small, ‘Don’t jump up and down, or you’ll land in the cellar’, and I suppose maybe, so looking at the poles underneath it by the time we left, it was possibly so, because it was pretty well sort of punctured with woodworm. There was a big beam across the middle, a huge great oak beam, central [???], very very hard, and at Christmas time, my mother would say ‘Don’t knock nails in there’ when we were putting up the decorations, and, but you couldn’t knock nails in there anyway, we tried knocking a tack in once and the tack turned round at the end. There are obviously little holes, little slits in the wood, and so you could poke something in there which would hold your decorations up, we had the same decorations year after year.

If we come back to the corner of the hall, into the dining room, this is facing the back of the farm, and that had those lovely wide oak floorboards, which would polish up nicely, as long as somebody else did it of course, and that, that was rather a nice room. Also associated with Christmas, there were [???] quite a crowd of us there, and very often we’d have, the adults would have their meal in the dining room and the children would be in the hall. And a great calamity one year, when there were two Christmas puddings, made by different people, and one had the threepenny bits in and the other didn’t. And of course the inevitable happened that the adults got the one with the threepenny bits and the children got the one that didn’t have anything in there. This is also the scene of a Christmas time. When I, was sent to bed about, oh six o’clock perhaps, I was being a bit reluctant to go upstairs to bed, and Evelyn Ralling, I don’t know whether any of you remember her, but anyway she used to help my mother, and Evelyn was trying to get me off to bed, and she said ‘Can’t you hear Santa Claus coming?’. And I can remember standing there listening, and I couldn’t hear Santa Claus coming. ‘Can’t you hear his bell?’ And I can remember not hearing anything, but visualising this sleigh, with the reindeers coming charging up the road, and they were at the bottom of the street, the High Street, just round from the gas works, in that little kink, coming up by Shelley’s the blacksmith [130 Newland Street], and past the doctors [129 Newland Street], they didn’t seem to get any more, but they were galloping along, and things were jingling but I couldn’t hear it, but I remember scampering off to bed at great haste, just in case, because you mustn’t be around. The other actual reminiscence of that room, there was just an ordinary fireplace in there, and as children we got the various complaints like chicken pox, and calamine lotion was the thing to use, and of course we got it in winter-time, and Freebornes was pretty cold anyway, and my mother putting the calamine lotion bottle in the hearth to warm up, well I mean it just doesn’t work, does it, and of course she said ‘That’s all right’, she’d shake it up, and dab a bit on your tummy, there’d be screams and yells because it was so cold.

Off the dining room, down a couple of steps, was the office, which had the phone in and where all that sort of business was done. There was a door which you could come outside to. So if we come back into the dining room, the hall, and then each, on this side the hall there was the entrance, a small entrance, behind the front door. The front door was a nice big solid oak door, with great big bolts on the inside which were never used, or very very seldom, no they weren’t used, until my brother married actually. You just didn’t lock houses in those days, you didn’t lock the doors nor the windows, there was no, no need to do it. Then there was a door each side of the fireplace into the sitting room, and this was the one that had quite a nice brick fireplace, brick surround, brick hearth and a brick edging, and the panelling was each side of, on the wall each side of that. Where it came from we never knew. I mean it was here, in this, in 1927, and presumably it had been there for some time then, but it was a bit of a mystery to us, you know, it was rather nice. Then there were French windows out into what we called, what was called the verandah, which probably had been a conservatory at one time I would guess. There was just a bit of glass covering over the top here, and this was all brickwork, and if ever we dared to ask for pocket money, then we were sent out for threepence to go and weed the bricks, we’d rather go without any pocket money than actually have to do that.

If we come back, through this door of the sitting room, into, this was a sort of a pantry place, I don’t know whether it was a sort of butler’s pantry, or quite what it was, if it was a butler’s pantry I don’t know what that was doing in this sort of house, but it had cupboards and things one side, and there was an apple store at the end, and there again there was another door to go outside. Then we come back along here, up a step, and there’s a door to the front cellar. We didn’t use that very much, it was a small one, I probably only went down it maybe half a dozen times in my life, probably for no purpose. I don’t think there were any lions there.

In this area at one stage, probably in about the, about 1950 I suppose, we had an Australian cousin staying, and my father was having the house re-wired, and when the floorboard was up, the Australian cousin unfortunately came out of the room and stuck his foot through the ceiling, and the ceiling, which had been perfectly good until that point, nevertheless it was quite interesting, because it showed that it must have been part of the original plaster, straw, cow dung, hair, beautifully,  beautifully all made, and you could, when father had a, I suppose just had flat stuff put back, you could see before it was decorated, you could see how it waved around, which we’d never noticed before, it had all been very wobbly, but, it was rather a pity.


Freebornes house, first floor, left  side

Freebornes house, first floor, right side
Above, the first floor of Freebornes farmhouse. Shown in two parts, with the left side first and then the right side.

We then comes the stair, and there was the newel post, and a spiral stair that went up. It went round almost the circle, and then onto a little top landing, and then there was a door, and then it continued on, this spiral up into the attic, but two thirds of the way up the stairs, there was another door, and we, off to another bedroom [pausing to unfold plan]. A bit of ingenuity here. It worked when I tried it before. You’d come up the stairs and you’d come two thirds of the way up and there was this door off to this bedroom here, which is overlooking the, [???] looking towards Chelmsford way, and it was mighty cold up this end. After my brother married I had this as a little flat that end, and I had mumps at one stage, and he came up to bring me up a cup of tea in the mornings in January time, and he said ‘Goodness me girl’ he said, ‘it’s cold in here isn’t it’. And I think I had a little jug of milk up there, and I got ice on the top of the jug of milk. It was cool. But you got used to it, if you just sort of jumped about, jumped into bed and panted like fury and then you got hot. Then up a couple of steps and there was a little, I suppose box room there, which in my time was a kitchenette, and you came up. came out, up the stairs, onto this small landing, there was a small banister there with a story to tell, there was a toilet at the end with the inevitable green baize door between, with all these little brass tacks all the way round.

And then there was this long corridor, right the way the length of the house. The thing is, I’ve got reasonably straight lines, they weren’t straight, they were all nooks and crannies, that’s why it was so marvellous for children to play around in. There was a bedroom here with a little box-room off it, and that was the chimney of the big fireplace going up, and that was a peculiar shape. There was another bedroom here, [???] to another one here. Then down a couple of steps into this bedroom which is the one which is  over the jettied part of the house, the, the little part on the Colchester end was always a delight for children, because they’d go along, first of all they’d try to jump up and touch it, and then they could reach it, and then they could just touch it with their head, and then of course they couldn’t get underneath it. It was this bedroom which was jutting out there. But you could come up, you could actually go through the whole length, through doors there.

If we come back here, at this point, that’s where we used to put buckets and baths when we had flash floods, because always, there’d be patter patter platter, and the water would come down, and so you just ran along and put your buckets there, and took them away when they were half-full and the rain had stopped. Just a fact of life. Then up a step into what we called the big bedroom, there was another entrance here. This I think had been two rooms at one stage, though when the change was made I’ve absolutely no idea, many many years before. There was a fire, one fireplace here, so I don’t know whether, quite what this other room it would have been. But there was a big carpet in there, and it had been there obviously many years, I think when my parents went there, and it was there all the years we were there, and it was well used. There was only one worn bit in it, [???] sort of through, where I think something had been spilt on it, before our time. So it must have been down there for eighty or ninety years I should think.

Then if we come along here there’s another bedroom here, and this one had a gas fire in it, so that was a real treat, and a corridor, this is the stairs which went down to the kitchen, another bathroom, bedroom there and a bathroom at the end, and that had a gas fire in it. And the bathroom of course was the place where at some stage it had a key on the inside, and invariably there would, the thing would be locked, and there’d be laughter on the other side of the door, before someone would venture to unlock it, but then when you were very small you couldn’t always unlock it. And I think John may know that his father on more than one occasion got the ladder up on the outside, pushed at the window to get in, to get the wretched child out, and to unlock the door.

I think I’ve covered most of the bits and pieces that I was going to say about that. I suppose when I was in the kitchen area I could have mentioned that mother’s cooking, that she used to do all her cooking in there, and, we used to like having a spoon, when she’d finished making her cakes, to go round the bowl, did everyone have a go at this little business? And I remember my brother was very upset, and eventually probably my sister in her time, because she got one of those spatulas which would get everything put in the cake, well he felt very deprived, and also when you mixed up the Christmas puddings, having a wish, that was, I don’t know whether they still do it, do they, I don’t know? Well, I suppose they buy them. [Question: Sunday[?] wasn’t it?] Yes, that’s right. There’s one recollection there when I was in the high, I think I was still in the high chair but I was old enough to know better, and sitting at the kitchen, the big kitchen table, and I had a mouthful of tea, and thinking, no I mustn’t do it, no I mustn’t do it, it’s naughty, but not being able to resist, and [???] this tea over, and my mum smacked me, but grandfather Wheaton was there, and he was an old softie really, and he was a Devonshire man, and he said ‘Oh the poor maid, she cries, she [???] cry’, and so of course I was all right in the end, because grandfather sort of sorted me.

Rice pudding and a blodge of jam on the top, stirring it, getting different sort of colourings and things. Mashed potato, I lived on potato, given half a chance, and you could make forts and things out of them, before you ate them, just encouragements, weren’t they. We used to have sprats sometimes, I think, in the winter, and shrimps, I got some shrimps, perhaps it would be about two years ago I [???], a little nostalgia, [???] and I took them home and I was fiddling about with these things, but the novelty goes off, doesn’t it really, it really is a sort of, there’s a time for doing things, and a time for not.

Oh, the bathroom, that’s another thing, we used to play bridges. It was a big bath, I think Mr Wakelin had it put in, he was a big man, and it was a very high bath, and usually sort of two children were in it, and maybe three sometimes, usually two, and one would lay, well one would lay across the top, and then the other one had get one side to the other before the one, before the bridge fell down, so of course, you know what happens with water, don’t you, my poor mother, you know, it must have been rather hard on her.


Freebornes fields, east side

Freebornes fields, west side
Above, some of the farm land of Freebornes. Shown in two parts, with the left side first and then the right side.

I’ve got a, if we move onto the farm, I have sort of tried to make a little layout of the farm, just to give you a rough idea. There’s, this is the road, the farmhouse and buildings, and then there was the first meadow, and there’s Hack pits or Hat pits, it goes under two names on the maps. I seem to recall that if I, over the years, that the K and the T used to be absorbed into something unknown to me, and you’d finish off with the pits, and I never quite knew which it was, so I was quite relieved when I saw on some maps that it was, both words were used. And then this one was called Brick field, which I hadn’t sort of realised, although there was a hole in it, and I, there again it was just grassed over and we didn’t really take much notice of it.

But I presume it must have been used for brick making, had been taken out in sort of years and years before. This is the Maldon Railway line, and you could go over that onto what they called Big field, with, Great field recently described, and this was, well a hedge, or [???] a hedge each side with a track through it to get down to the road. This was Step fields. The bridge, the road rather, the bridge over the top of the line, and there are steps down there still I suppose, and there was a path across to Braxted. And this is the Blackwater. And we used to go down there getting tiddlers, and the, on the verandah, there was this, I suppose it was the water for probably what had been the conservatory, and we’d go down to the river with our jam jars, with the little string round it to carry and gather the tiddlers and take them back and put them into the place. In some ways it was quite a long way to walk, but I suppose it kept out of too much mischief. And the boys used to swim in a part of the river, there’s a wide bit, which was deep, and if I may be so bold to call it, I think it was called the Pee Hole, but anyway it was deep enough for them to jump in and swim about.

In 1947 when it was very very cold, where the river goes along, well beyond Benton Hall, back of Benton Hall and off towards Blue Mills, I can remember it was so cold, and the ice must have been extraordinarily thick, because there were dozens and dozens of people on there, some skating, ice skating, some sliding, some sort of dancing, and some just, you know, just charging about, as much as one can on ice, but it must have been very very thick, because it’s quite a fast flowing river really, isn’t it, [???] underneath, but it was thick enough to take all that weight.

Freebornes garden
The farmyard and garden at Freebornes.

Into this area, are the, were the buildings, this is not terribly accurate, but it’s a rough idea. This is the house. It’s probably a little bit narrower than that, but the garden went right up here. It was described in the catalogue as the Pleasure Gardens. ‘The Pleasure Gardens are a feature of the property, and include wild gardens, rose gardens, borders, and are prolifically stocked with rose trees, flowering shrubs etc. The Kitchen Garden is well stocked with vegetables and fruit trees’. Well I think it had been extended and extended and extended, and I would guess that in its heyday it probably had been a lovely garden, and there was still residue, of some nice trees there, there was cobnuts I remember, there was a tall pine, a yew, walnut, and all sorts of different sort of variegated shrubs and things. I think the Wakelins had a full-time gardener, and Mrs Wakelin spent a large amount of her time there as well. Although she did fretwork and all sorts of things, she must have, but I think she had Mrs Fisher was the housekeeper there wasn’t she, at one stage, the Fishers’ mother, I think, I believe so, and so that she could spend a lot of time, but you know, if you like being in a garden that’s a good place to be.

This was the yard, there was, to the house, with a little wall round it, what was called the dairy or the brew house there, and a little square there which was the ice box, where the milk was carried, it sounds quite horrific now, in I think they were two and a half gallon cans with a lid on, from the cow shed to the dairy to be cooled, and when you had your milk in the churns, you had to keep it cool. Well there was this big chest, with a lead lining, and it used to be filled with blocks of ice. I don’t know where the ice came from, I was talking to someone the other day and they thought perhaps it might have been Maldon, but I don’t honestly know. But I can picture it coming, in a lorry, an ordinary, ordinary open lorry, huge, huge blocks of ice, I think someone said they were a hundredweight, so they must have been all a hundredweight plus, and they had sort of like two big, a big pair of scissors for want of a better word, tongs, I just don’t know, I just don’t know how they managed to lift this stuff, and then they’d put it into this chest and put the lid back on, and then the churns could stand on top and it kept it cool. Evidently it was actually very efficient, it had a, it always had a roof on the top so that in the summer time it would be all right

[Question: How often would it have to be renewed?]. That’s a question I wish you hadn’t asked. [laughter] I don’t know how often it came. I can remember we used to run round to the lorry, great delight when it came, and there’d be bits broken off and we’d take them off the floor and suck them, and I’ve thought since, heaven, they’d been walking all over it, where on earth it had been I really don’t know. [???] [???] that’s how we had the constitution that we’ve got, I suppose.

Mum used to be in the dairy separating the milk for the cream, and they had a milk round, and I know we used to go, rush home from school, get a cup, dash out to the dairy and put it under the cream spout, and see how much we could get before she saw what we were doing, half a cup of cream. There was also a pump, an old water pump just outside there. This was all sort of gravel here, the hole in the middle here is the, was the old walnut tree, it was a lovely old tree, huge thing – huge wide, not huge high. And they used to pick the walnuts for, green, for pickling, and then there were still loads and loads that used to fall off, for us to munch away. They were funny little things, I don’t know what, they were fairly small and they had two little holes, invariably used to appear at the end, I don’t know why, it wasn’t [???] or anything like that, it was just sort of how the stuff worked. And I remember we used to make fish bones out of the leaves, very cruel, take the end and just pull the thing between the veins and then we used to have our fish bones.

Alongside were some garages, two old, well I say garages, two were garages and I suppose two really were for machinery. And then this is the granary, standing up on staddle stones, you know, the mushrooms, so they were well off the ground and rats and things didn’t get in there. And at the end there were stairs all the way up to a pigeon loft, which obviously it had been used in its day. I took a bit of licence here because I had to, there was a barn here at some stage and I was having to rack my brains to think precisely where it was, I don’t know whether it was a barn or a covered yard, used for both I think, perhaps, probably it was a, probably a cattle shed, a high one, combination job I guess, but that’s long since gone. And this was the big barn. It was very large for the size of farm that it was, it had a partition in the middle, and one end was for corn, it had a concrete floor, and wooden partitions to put the different lots of ….

Side 2

I’ve just got a few sort of snippets here, various headings on bits of paper. I think we had cows and sheep, and obviously then horses to work on the farm. And I remember the cows were dairy Shorthorn. I guess most herds I think in those days were probably mixed, maybe an odd Friesian at that stage, and probably a Jersey or a Guernsey to bring up the butterfat. Years later it turned over to Friesian cows, but as I say, they were dairy Shorthorn to begin with, and I can remember [???] Shorthorn more in the corner.

The sheep, I don’t know, they possibly would have been Suffolk, maybe, Suffolk cross Border Leicester I would imagine, and we had those when I was a small child, and you had to have them dipped, and I don’t recall that we had facilities, I think they went up to Arthur Brice’s next door, you know, where you have this big sort of trench full of disinfectant, and you had to put them through, you were required by law to have them dipped, and they would go up there. And one thought about the sheep of course was lambing time, when we would have lambs indoors. Invariably they were born at night or late in the day, and they’d be breathing their last, and out in the sheds they’d try and do something for them, and if they couldn’t then they’d put them onto a sack and bring them indoors, and put them on the front of the fire, maybe in the kitchen, maybe in the dining room, it made no difference, the thing had got to live. And eventually it would begin to show signs of life, and then you’d give it a bottle, and in next to no time, you’d find this little old spindly thing was running round the room, and then probably after a couple of hours they’d take it back to its mother, and it would usually survive.

But the sheep went at the beginning of the War, when I think the Ministry of Agriculture realised that the country had got to be self-sufficient as far as possible, and so they asked for, I think it was two million acres of grassland to be ploughed up, and I think there was great concern amongst the, most of the small farms, and mixed farms, because one had come through the thirties when times were pretty hard, and sheep and cows at least would provide some form of existence, and they were very, farmers round about were very reluctant to plough up their grass. Anyway, this was required, so something had to go, and my father thought, well he’d get rid of the sheep and keep the cows, because with the cows you had a monthly cheque, which would help the turnover of life.

I guess it was probably round about then, that the milk round went as well. Earlier days, Mr Piper used to go round with the milk float, with a seventeen gallon churn, and the old measure, and people would come out with their jugs and they’d measure out, and then what stage these things [bottles] appeared I don’t really know, but we had, this was probably an unusual bottle, I think in actual fact I retrieved this from the cellar, before I left, I found it down there. But most of them would have been the smaller one, or a third of a pint, with a straw in the middle, and I went to Miss Murrells [school] and she’d stand them on top of the heater in the winter so we had a little bit of probably curdled milk I would think. I do have the cardboard top to go on top, I couldn’t bring it because I was frightened it might get damaged actually. But, you know, cause you stick your finger in the top to hike it out.

Then horses, I guess they would have been Shires, principally, though no doubt there’d be a bit of hybrid [???] in there somewhere. They were lovely things, and of course with small children we could be humped up on the top, we’d hold onto the handle[?] at the top and liked riding round, beautiful.

Hens of course, we had eggs, and there must have been some pigs around, because I don’t, yet I can’t visualise them, because having cream you’d have your whey, and something had to be done with it, it usually went to pigs.

In time of course the horses gave way to tractors, not quite so exciting, but I can remember the very wide mudguards that the early tractor that we had, you could sit on the top, be allowed to sit on these things in those days, and this was one way of getting from A to B which was quite fun.

We grew, I suppose obviously grass, wheat, barley, oats, wheat for sale, and straw for bedding. And well, the straw and barley and boats could all be churned out for the animal feed. We used to have mangels and turnips, kale, potatoes, sugar beet, peas for picking, and during the War cabbages, runner beans, and we had rhubarb at one stage. And seeds for broccoli, and I remember millet being grown at one point.

All the business was done by word of mouth, between farmer and merchant, and was sealed with a handshake, and your word was your bond, there was nothing, they didn’t have any paper about. I think nowadays sadly you can sign a bit of paper that doesn’t mean very much.

I thought I’d must mention some of the people who served the farm, serviced the farm, they were all very skilled in their own ways. There was the blacksmith, who was also part vet, and we used to go to Mr Shelley at the bottom of the town [130 Newland Street], just the other side of Blue Posts, next door to Miss Brockes, who was the dressmaker, opposite roughly Mr Sorrell the butcher. Shelley, father and son, son certainly, perhaps father was as well, was in the fire service, which, the voluntary one that Witham had at that time. And I remember hearing that they won a cup for being sort of the smartest outfit in the county, and they filled this cup and celebrated, and they said had there been a fire that night, well it was just too bad, it would have burnt [laughter]. There was a saddler, we used to go to Mr Brewster, and he was down Maldon Road, where Crofters is now [25 Maldon Road], and there again, you needed to have all your equipment to fit your animal, otherwise you’d get rubbings and damage to the horse. He had a place at Boreham as well, I believe, on the main road, just before you turn down to Boreham itself. There was also Mr Palmer in the High Street, he was another saddler and leather worker.

The vet was Mr Horner, who lived in the Grove. I don’t remember him, but round the Grove was a width, difficult to remember, perhaps it was what, half the width of this room, don’t know, of wood, which went right the way round, went up to the Maldon railway line and down the other side, known as the Planny, and we used to play in there, and there was a path through it, you could walk right the way round, and when we were small, we could just go through from the cart lodge, into the Planny, and play there, and my brother, when he was fed up with young sister being there I suppose, used to say ‘Look out, here comes Mr Horner’, and I’d scramble out and run home, but of course they’d got rid of this five-year old sister who they didn’t want, Mr Horner wasn’t there at all. But he wasn’t the ogre that they made him out to be, but following, I think probably his assistant was Sandy Dalgleish who I do remember, a lean man, fair-haired with a moustache, and I believe he married a lady who was a Land Army girl, at Tiptree Priory, so no doubt when he went up there to see the horses he met this lady and had every reason to go back, perhaps repeatedly, and they went out to New Zealand after the War. And then Johnny Walker came on the scene, who many of you probably will remember, and of course Johnny Walker is retired, and I suppose his practice went from farm animals to a lot of domestic animals, in later years.

[???] a seed growing area, there was Cooper Tabers. who I’ve already mentioned, there was also Cullen’s, Thomas Cullen and Son, two very, very local companies, but you dealt with various people, and I seem to remember seeing a Milnes of Chester catalogue in the office at some stage, possibly we would have got root[?] seed from there. The millers, Blyth’s, who were round the corner from the old grain people who had the trouble with all the smells, I’ve mentioned them already. [Audience: Baird’s] Baird’s, that right. Just down the side there, towards the goods yard, they were there for many many years. Grinding their grain for flour [i.e. Blyth’s], different grades of it.

The wheelwright, I don’t remember the wheelwright, but I spoke to someone the other day, and he said well they thought they used to go to one in Bridge Street, and he thought his name was Mr Wright, but, and thought it was somewhere near where the RAFA Club is [Audience: Fleuty’s]. Was it? I remember the name Fleuty, certainly. And there was a Miss Fleuty I used to remember seeing come to church at All Saints there.

And of course the thrashing tackle, that was Bill Randall, who I think was also mentioned here [???], lived up Church Street, short stocky man, with a red face, rosy face. And he’d come down into the yard at the crack of dawn, and wheeled in his wheel at the top. And I always used to think that the wheels were sort of very disjointed, they all seemed to wobble about, and I believe the, these chappies, they could always have a very quick breakfast, because they had a very long shovel, that they could put the coal into the engine, and if they wanted a breakfast, well they’d just put their shovel in, got it jolly hot, took it out, threw on a bit of bread and an egg, bit of bacon, and of course in a trice it was all cooked, and so they’d have, they’d got a very quick meal. He used to have a bottle, and he had his ‘bait’, or ‘judy[?’, a light, you know, his lunch for the day, and he had a bottle, which I discovered contained cocoa, and I suppose this was the easy way he could make it in the morning before he came out, and he had his liquid in his bottle, which was cocoa I think, probably made with water, what I remember the colour of it, rather than milk. I’ll mention the thrashing tackle later on, that was always great fun for children.

I suppose in a way, those who were part of the farm was the doctor, because one thing I learnt at a very early stage was that Essex was very bad for tetanus. And eventually, if ever anyone did anything on the farm and broke the skin, then they would be taken straight down to the doctor for an anti-tetanus injection. And there was Doctor Ted Gimson, Tom Benjamin and Bob Little. And they were all very nice and kind. Weren’t so keen on Dr Benjamin, I think the adults liked him, but I didn’t, he was a bit sharp for children I think, and so, we liked, well Dr Little used to come round if need be, and he was very kindly. Apparently he said once that the one thing he didn’t like, he played with children if they were in bed and had toys and things, one thing he didn’t like was plasticine. And so I suppose he sat on some at some stage in his life and not been able to get it off.

The dispenser at the doctor was Mr Appleby, and if, the waiting room, if you went, if you went, if you go up to the front door and up the steps, and in through there, that was the waiting room just behind the front door, and I think Mr Appleby was on the left hand side shaking up his bottles and doing all sorts of things there.

I’ve got a little note here called farming year, I just thought I’d mention different things that went on. Potatoing, where you had, they’d get the potatoes out with[?] the plough. And you’d have gangs of women gathering up the potatoes, and then they’d riddle them in a, well it was like a large sieve, you’d shift it backwards and forwards and they got the potatoes of different sizes. The small ones were for chats[?] weren’t they,

The sugar beet, well that would be got out with a machine, but then it was, they were picked up by hand, first of all the tops would be cut off, and they would be used for cattle feed, but then you had to pick it up and throw the sugar beet into a cart that went by, you’d have two rows, I remember doing it when I was probably twelve of fourteen, well fourteen, fifteen, perhaps, very wet year, and you were bending down, slithering away in the mud, and picking down, and you got into a rhythm, and you would have, at least, I, having small hands, I’d have one on the bottom of each, a sugar beet looks like a large parsnip, and throw them up. Well then sometimes you’d perhaps you’d pick up two in one, and they wouldn’t be quite placed as it should be, and you’d throw that one, so two would go into the trailer, and other one sail over the top and you’d hear a shout from the other side that someone had his [laughter], because they were very big and very, well, quite hard.

During the War, a Land girl, we had a few Land girls, I don’t think we had an awful lot at a time, but I seem to remember that they might have been involved probably in hoeing sugar beet, which you don’t do now, and actually, it was a very skilled job, because you had, you just sowed the whole lot and then you had to hoe out so that you got a gap between each beet so you could get it growing to a proper size. And you know, it was quite ticklish, I went once, I tried it, and it was not very easy, as easy as it looked. And the, some sugar beet had been grown on the other side of the Maldon railway line, and there were wires along the line of course, for demarcation line, and it was a very hot time, and I think my father went down there, and he suddenly saw rows of overalls, and all these girls coming from, I suppose some from the city and round about, there they were in next to nothing really, sort of getting a nice tan, and I don’t know who was in charge of them but, maybe they found it quite interesting, I don’t know.

Also, we had prisoners of war, sometimes German, sometimes Italian, and I seem to remember hearing that the Germans were very good workers, the Italians not quite so good, and I remember my father saying once he felt very sorry for one lot of Germans, who, the soldier in charge had been a prisoner of war, and he’d escaped, and I think he thought he’d had a rough time, and he took it out on these German prisoners who were working very hard. Obviously he couldn’t touch them or anything like that, but he made them work, and they would never stop, other than what they were permitted to do. My father felt quite sorry for them, but he couldn’t interfere.

The other ones I say were the Italians, and they were a bit more laid back in their approach I suppose, and they had big diamonds on the back of their jacket I think, didn’t they. I remember once, one apple time, we had a lot of windfalls, and my mother, I remember we had a big enamel bowl, and she sent out some of these, a bowl full of these windfall apples for these Italian prisoners of war, and they were so grateful, I suppose someone had shown them a bit of kindness really, and my father said, oh they worked awfully well, that day. [laughter] It wasn’t done for that purpose, but …

Thrashing, well I shall come back to Bill Randall. The old engine used to come, come in, and you’d have the engine and the thrashing machine here, and there’d be a big wide belt, attached to the engine and to the thrashing machine, and eventually they’d get it to the right tension I suppose, and they’d start up, and this thing, I can still hear the roaring, roaring, roaring as it whizzes round, and it used to move up and down a bit I suppose, cause the slack took from the end of the wheels, and thinking about it, I suppose being brought up on a farm, you were always very, well you learnt to be careful, of animals, or machinery, or anything like that, because I suppose maybe these two big belts were this height, which was just about head height for a child, be chopped off, we’d duck underneath. I think we kept our distance, and we were, you know, we were told to get out of the way if need be, but there were all sorts of lethal things there if you weren’t careful. Wilf was the man who dropped the, who cut the sheaf string, and dropped it down into the hold of this thing, and then it all churned up and you got corn out one part and straw out of another, and then there was the cavings[?] at the back, which was the chaff, and it was a rather dusty, dirty place. Well lambing I’ve really sort of mentioned, there.

Pea-picking. That’s another quite exciting time. You used to get, the gypsies came along in their painted wagons, and what we called the first meadow, which was behind the farm buildings which went up to the Maldon railway line, would often be filled with these gypsies’ caravans. I think one family used to turn up a few days early, and persuade my father that the carts needed painting, well, whether he though they did or not, invariably they were, which would probably do them a bit of good, really. And what still sticks in my mind, how quickly they picked the peas. They’d pull up the pea rice, which is what it grows on, and then their hand would move so fast, that you just couldn’t see it moving, and they’d throw it down and pick up another bit. But they’d pick the fat pods and left the flat ones, and how they managed to see it in that time I don’t know. I suppose they’d picked from the cradle really, but they were quite quite remarkable. I believe the bags contained forty pounds of peas, so they worked their way down the row, and then the person in charge would come along and he’d check the weight and tie it up, and then hand over a token, either, I seem to remember they was a metal disc at some time, or otherwise a little card, and at the end of the day they would come along to whoever was paying out, and hand over the tokens, and they’d get paid for whatever they’d picked.

We had during the War, some people who were called Walter and Ivy Collins and they had a son, little Walter. And they were I suppose, the gangers, and  they were absolutely marvellous. They could neither read nor write, but they used to handle hundreds of pounds, which was a lot of money in those days, and they were never a farthing out, and they were as honest as the day was long. If they needed a letter read, or one written, then my mother had to go out and sit down there, and read or write the letter. I had to read one once, and it was all, possibly written by a child, and all the words were stuck together, and I had to sort out which was the end of one and the beginning of the next [laughter]. My mother went down one day, and the letter was dictated, and she was writing away, and it got to the end, and Ivy said ‘Walter sends his love too’, And then started to reel off a whole lot of names, then she got rid of that, and then ‘Ivy sends her love too’. And he started to reel off the whole lot of names again. Then ‘Little Walter sends his love too’. And started to reel off the names, and suddenly there was a voice from the back of the caravan ‘Little Walter don’t’. [laughter] Little Walter wasn’t going to send his love to anyone.

Haymaking was another time, I suppose slightly a picnic time, but you cut the grass with a mower, and then gradually you’d have the horse rake, which had a shaft in front, like a big comb on the back, and they’d go across the field, and then when they’d got a comb full they’d pull a lever and it would come up, and they’d go on their way, so by the time you’d finished you had a lot of rows of hay across the field, and then they’d be forked into big heaps. And then when they were dry enough, they would, we had an old car, I don’t know what sort it was, which had a sweep on, a hay sweep on the front, which was like a flat comb, a long bar with arms going out and metal bits on the end, slightly turned up, and so you just went around and got a hay cock on there, and then went round further and got another one, so you’d fill it up, go round to where you were going to have the stack, draw back, and of course you’d got a sort of heap there, so while that was being made into the stack, you’d go up get another heap. And we rather enjoyed our time at haymaking.

But the, I suppose the best time was harvest, and I have a picture of my mother walking up the first meadow to the other side of the railway line, laden with a basket for the picnic for the men, and walking beside, I suppose I would perhaps be about five years old, but I mean this was a ritual that had gone on for a long time. While I’ve been doing this, I was thinking about it, my mother must have had a terrible time during those times, because it was all food, wasn’t it. They were up early and they had their big breakfasts, and you’d got to get your meals ready, you’d got to do your picnics, and you’d got to walk all that way and walk back, and do the, well the washing and the ironing, and it must have been quite a, quite a task. It was all right being a child rather than someone else. The harvest, well we had the traves[?], with the sheaves made into a little house, so I mean we could sit in there and enjoy your picnic there. When we were big enough, I mean the men could pick up two sheaves and put them together, and if you got the first one all right you were OK, you could get the other bit or pairs together, cause you didn’t want them to fall down, cause you wanted the wind to go through and dry them all up. But when we were small, we could only pick up one sheaf, and it’s extraordinary, there was always on the other side a thistle [laughter]. I don’t know how it happened, but which ever one we picked up always had a thistle on it. When we were a bit bigger, probably seven or eight years old, we were part of the system, and we used to be raked in to help unload the waggon, and so a friend used to be at one end and I’d be at the other, with these forks, and we’d put a sheaf onto the elevator, and this was quite a long thing, from here to the  door[?] I suppose, and it had a little put-put motor which worked the movement of it, you had a bar across, with three prongs on it, about a yard apart, and so we got more of them on a chain[?], so as it moved round, you put a sheaf onto one of these rows of prongs, and it would go up, and drop off onto the stack, and then the chap there could pass it to the chap who was making the stack, or maybe to the big one, to the next one, who would then pass it to the fellow making the stack, and making the stack was a very difficult thing, not an easy task at all. Occasionally you’d see a pole put up beside a stack, and that was all a thing you didn’t want anyone to see, that someone had to put a pole up against your stack. But what we used to do, I remember, was to, when we got to the last layer of sheaves, we’d say ‘Right, come on’, and so we’d put one sheaf on each row of these prongs, and as they went up and falled off, the person at the top would pick up with a fork to get the sheaf to pass it, and one would come down and knock it off, and so then you start again and another one would come down, and then of course we’d see someone down there saying ‘You young varmints’. But I mean every time, and I think they knew what we were doing. The stacks of course had to be made carefully, because of combustion, and you had to make sure that everything was dry.

The, got their carnival time, going on to something else, Mr Hawkes, who was the horseman in my young day, used to like going into Witham carnival, and that was something in those days, I suppose all the local carnivals were. And he used to do very well with prizes. He would either decorate a cart, or, I’ve got a photograph of him with a plough I think, which he took in, and you know, dressed the horse up in the way that they did in those days, plaiting their manes and tails, and took a great pride in things.

We’re virtually there aren’t we. I’ll just mention a few things here, that the games we played, we played sort of skipping ropes, and hoops, and those wooden tops, with a whip, marbles, the big ones were the alleys, and during the War you couldn’t get the glass ones, they were all clay. We used to make parachutes, we’d have a, probably a handkerchief, with a string on the four corners and a stone on the bottom, throw them up and then they’d come down like parachutes, very easy little things these. Gob stones?. Find flattish stones, throw them up and try and catch them on the back of your hand. As I say we used to play stalking in the Planny, in this wooden, wooden part. Bows and arrows, this was absolutely lethal, why I’m here I don’t know. We’d have a bit of hazel twig and a bit of string, and in the garden there was a lot of cane that was grown, and so we’d cut a bit of this cane off, sliced a bit off the end, put it into this arrow, and the boys could send them straight up to go up and come down, I mean why we weren’t nailed to the ground I don’t know, it’s, well, it’s just as well you don’t know about these things.

We had evacuees [Second World War]. Four boys and a girl, five evacuees, three of us. My sister was the oldest at twelve, and so my mother had, what, seven children under nine years of age, which was a bit much. And the first, first night, time there was an air raid, she got us all up and then there was the all clear and went to bed, and she was tucking the last one in when when suddenly there was a voice from the depths of the blankets ‘What you making all this row about?’, and of course we’d left one behind. [laughter]. So we had a bit of a roll call after that.

We played hopscotch and things like that when they came, and also of course they brought street songs, and one, if I remember it, I had remembered it yesterday, we used to play skipping, ‘Me mother called me Archie, me father called me bald[?], they didn’t know what to call me so they called me Archibald, Archibald bald bald bald, choo[?] choo choo, [???] [???] pair of shoe shoe shoes, when the shoe shoe shoes began to wear wear wear, Archibald bald bald began to swear swear swear, when the swear swear swear began to stop stop stop, Archibald bald bald bought a shop shop shop. When the shop shop shop began to sell sell sell, Archibald bald bald bought a bell bell bell, when the bell bell bell began to ring ring ring, Archibald bald bald began to sing sing sing, doh ray me fah soh …’ [laughter and applause]

We’re actually ten o’clock, Barbara, so I think I’ll forget about the other bits, I was just mentioning about the, in the War time, the, we saw one thing that might interest you, we were playing in the stackyard one day, and we heard a plane, and of course we just looked up, and suddenly we saw a swastika on it, and obviously it was a fighter bomber come along the river across to come to Crittall’s, and it was just the height, it was over the first meadow, just above the trees of the Planny, and we looked up, sort of absolutely agog, and the pilot looked down, and saw children playing, and he waved to us, and then he went on, and then we sort of saw the bombs come out, and of course in cartoons or pictures, bombs are always that way round, aren’t they, so we had to explain that they came out that way first, and they couldn’t see beyond that, so seeing the bombs come out, we laid flat down on the straw, and I’ve laughed since, I thought ‘Goodness me, if any had come in, they would have gone up like a tinder box really, all the straw about’. Well I had a note there about this and that and other people, but I think we’ve come to an end, you’ll be getting trouble with the keeper of the place.

Tape 166. Talk by Dorothy Hancock about Witham Station

Tape 166

Dorothy Hancock was born c 1915. Her talk was given on 7 March 1994 to the Witham History Group.

She also appears in lecture 175 and interview tapes 178 and 179.

For more information about her, see Hancock, Dorothy, in the People category

The original recording of this talk is held at the Essex Sound and Video Archive. To listen to the recording, please contact them at ero.enquiry@essex.gov.uk or 033301 32500.

[???] shows words that are not clear enough to interpret and so have had to be omitted.
[?] after a word shows that its interpretation is not certain.
Later explanatory additions by JG or the transcriber are in square brackets [e.g. explaining locations etc.]


Side 1

[Introduction]

Good evening. I hope you’ll forgive me if I sit down to talk, and if you can’t hear me, please indicate. Your programme states that I’m going to talk about this history of Witham railway. Well this is not quite correct, because I cannot claim to be a railway historian. What I propose to do is to tell you about my personal memories of Witham station. But I must make one exception. One certainly couldn’t talk about Witham station without mentioning the wreck of the Cromer express, which occurred in 1905. And as I only had a very hazy idea about what happened, I consulted Mr John Newman, here. John started his career on the railway at Witham when it was still London and North Eastern Railway. After a short time in the goods office, he left for a few years to do National Service, and then when he returned to work in the booking office at Witham, it had become the London and North Eastern Railway. And then it came British Railways eventually. Were you there when it was British Rail? (JN: When I came back to it, it was British Rail.) Ah, right, thank you. Well I should think John knows more about the railway in general and Witham in particular than anyone I know, and I’m very grateful to him for lending me his collection of documents and photographs of the crash, and it’s nice to see him here this evening.

Let’s start with the wreck of the Cromer express. It happened on the first of September 1905. The train had left Liverpool Street at 9.27, and was entering Witham station at 10.30 a.m., at about sixty-five miles an hour, and it suddenly left the rails. It was drawing fourteen coaches, one coach mounted the platform, the island platform, and turned upside down, one coach crashed into the porters’ room, killing one occupant there, foreman porter. Another, which was the first class coach, caught fire owing to the ignition of gas in the cylinder under the framework. Trains were lit by gas in those days. Fortunately there was only one passenger in that coach, and he escaped. At this time the up express from Cromer was approaching at full speed. Normally the two Cromer expresses passed each other through the station. On hearing the crash, Mr Sainty, the signalman, slammed on all the signals to danger, and the up express came to a halt six hundred yards from the wreckage. The Norwich City team, with their manager, was travelling on the train, and they all went to help the rescue. Ten passengers and one railman, Mr Doole the foreman porter, were killed. Sixty-six passengers and five railwaymen were injured. Claims for personal injuries amounting to five thousand pounds were met by the Great Eastern Railway.

The off-duty railwaymen at Witham station, some having had St John’s Ambulance training, came in to join in the rescue. The lamp boy went to call the doctors; he was young Arthur Chalk. There was an exhaustive Board of Trade inquiry. A great many witnesses were questioned, but the precise cause of the crash was never established. But Lieutenant Colonel Von Donnop[?], who was conducting the inquiry, said in summing up, ‘It is impossible to resist the conclusion that the derailment was probably due to a weakening of the line, as a result of the work done by the platelayers. I have an idea that I missed out reference to the platelayers earlier, did I? Well, the driver of the wrecked train had noticed three platelayers working on the right hand of the rail on the down line, where the derailment occurred. They moved away only seconds before the train approached. So it appeared they were anxious to get the job done ahead of the train. There was a great deal of structural damage, the station footbridge and part of the down island platform were partially destroyed, and a cast iron column on the up platform was broken. Up to the time of the accident, the station entrance had been in Easton Road. When the rebuilding was carried out, this was closed. A new entrance was made on the opposite side of the station, in Albert Road, where it is today.

Now for my own memories of Witham station. These date from 1927. This was when my family moved here, when my father was appointed stationmaster. Until 1923 it had been known as the Great Eastern Railway. It then changed to become the London and North Eastern Railway, and continued so until the advent of British Rail. Witham was a great contrast to father’s previous station, which was at Wood Street, Walthamstow. In 1926, the year before we moved here, at Wood Street there had been stressful times during the General Strike. All the staff were on strike except the station master, who was marooned in his office for two days and nights. There were no trains, and father used to walk along the line to the engine shed every now and then, to make sure no-one ran away with anything. Stones were thrown at him on these forays, and he kept one as a souvenir. And one day he was tidying the drawer of his desk, this was at home you see, and I said, ‘Oh what are you keeping that old stone for?’. He said ‘Oh I had that thrown at me during the strike.’ My mother managed to smuggle some food to him, she couldn’t get into the station, but Mrs Kenny, who saw the papers outside the station, showed her a private way up the side of the embankment.

After this, Witham must have seemed rather peaceful. I still remember the names of some of the staff, Mr Davey and Mr Webb in the booking office, Mr Arthur Chalk, ticket collector, very smart, always wearing a buttonhole, and he had been the lamp boy who went to fetch the doctors during the crash. Other names which come to mind were Mr Ashby, and Mr Collins, who were signalmen, and Mr Griggs and Mr Howells. There were a lot more but their names escape me. I dare say John will be able to put you right, because he’s brought a photograph of the staff taken a few years before, 1920 was it?

Wood Street was on the suburban line from Liverpool Street to Chingford, and it catered almost entirely for passenger traffic. Witham was a double junction with branch lines to Braintree and Maldon, but was also important for passengers. There was a great deal of goods traffic such as sugar beet, peas, cattle etc from the farms, and from Crittall’s, locally pronounced ‘Critt’lls’. So there was a lot of shunting, moving trucks about, and goods wagons. Two important members of staff were a pair of lovely Shire horses. Their job was to give the initial pull to get the trucks rolling. After this, the man in charge controlled them by a hand lever. The horses were stabled in a brick shed near the Maldon line, and they were lovingly tended by Mr Pounds[?]. Sometimes they would be put out into a paddock in Easton Road. That is where there is now the commuters’ car park, and it was lovely to see them, great creatures, gambolling about and rolling over like kittens when they were off-duty. They had new shoes every month, and in John Newman’s day, it was part of his job to call and pay the blacksmith every month.

The 8.24 am was an important train for passengers commuting to London and Chelmsford. Hardly anyone had a car, so they walked to the station, and a lot of the business men lived round about, Chipping Hill and Avenue Road and so on. And of course this was only nine years after the end of the Great War. Many of the business men must have survived from active service, as they were known by their army titles. Captain Evitt, Captain Hill, Major Blackett, these are names that came to mind. We used to think they worked on the Stock Exchange, but I dare say it wasn’t quite, I think some of them were in banks, and Lloyds, one of them was an underwriter at Lloyds.

Anyway, they wore the uniform of a City gent of the day, black bowler hat, black suit, rolled up umbrella and newspaper under arm. In contrast to these, there were two handsome young men, informally dressed, wearing broad-brimmed hats reminiscent of the French Impressionists. These were the sons of Mr Geoffrey Holme, who was editor of ‘The Studio’. ‘The Studio’ was a very prestigious arts magazine, with offices in London and New York. One well-known passenger on the 8.24 was Mr Christopher Parker of Faulkbourne Hall. He was the grandfather of Mr Parker who resides there now, and he used to be driven to Witham station by his groom, in what I believe was a pony cart. He travelled to Chelmsford, where he was local director of Barclay’s Bank. Other regulars on this train were people working in Chelmsford shops, offices and industry, because, although it was a busy station, it was a very quiet sleepy town, and there wasn’t much scope for employment, so a lot of people commuted to Chelmsford and elsewhere.

Also pupils going to King Edward VI Grammar School, Chelmsford High School for Girls, and Convent[?]. I was one of those going to the High School. Some used to cycle in from villages, such as Coggeshall, White Notley, Faulkbourne and Terling, to join the train at Kelvedon, Witham or Hatfield Peverel. The Notley and Faulkbourne girls used to leave their cycles at the Temperance Hotel, Witham, which was opposite to the station [9 Albert Road]. Travelling on the train was great fun. We usually had a compartment to ourselves, possibly other passengers preferred to travel in peace without the disturbance of chattering schoolgirls. At the end of term, a bevy of excited brown-uniformed schoolgirls, bearing lacrosse racquets, used to come off the Maldon train. These were pupils of Langford Ladies College, they were going home for the holidays.

In those days, professional people coming to places like Witham used to come by train. During the twenties and thirties, well-known soloists came to perform in the Public Hall, at concerts arranged by Mr Bernard Afford. One afternoon, I was returning from school, carrying my violin case, and I was preceded through the barrier by a distinguished-looking man, also bearing a violin case. That evening I was taken to one of the concerts, and I recognised my fellow-passenger resplendent on the platform. This was Albert Salmons, and at that time he was considered the finest English violinist that we had.

Some of the well-known passengers at various times, who used the stationmaster’s office as a waiting room, were Sir Claude Champion de Crespigny and his family, Major and Mrs Fleming, Dorothy Sayers to us, and Mr Geoffrey Holme. Sir Claude was then in his eighties, and still very active. He used to settle his wife by the fire, and summon father to stroll along the platform with him, which he did at great pace, although in his eighties, and he regaled father with stories about the river Blackwater and the marshes. And he presented with a copy of ‘Mahala’, if you don’t know about ‘Mahala’, it’s Sir Baring Gould’s novel, set in West Mersea in Napoleonic times. Sir Claude lived at Champion Lodge, Great Totham, which is now a residence for the elderly. But he didn’t use the Maldon line, instead his chauffeur would drive him to Witham station. He was a colourful character, a keen huntsman and renowned shot. Some of the partridges used to come our way, when they had a shoot. There are all sorts of stories about him. On one occasion he is said to have challenged Mr Christopher Parker to a duel. Fortunately this never took place. His sons, one a General and the other a Commander, were also frequent passengers.

Mr Geoffrey Holme lived at Rivenhall Old Rectory, and he used to travel up occasionally. Once, when waiting in father’s office, he noticed one of my very amateur schoolgirl efforts, it was a calendar, I blush to think of it now, I’d given it to father for Christmas and he’d dutifully hung it up in his office, you see. And he asked who had done it. And father said ‘My little girl’, and he said, he kindly sent me a stack of back numbers of ‘the Studio’ magazine. They were very beautiful. Wonderful printing, lovely illustrations, and I’ve always been grateful to him, I’ve never seen him, mind you, but I’ve always been grateful for the introduction they gave me to the artists of the period, people like Augustus John, Eric Gill, Laura Knight and so on.

Mrs Fleming often travelled to town. At Christmas time, a goose was delivered by Loveday’s, the butcher to the stationmaster, with the compliments of Major and Mrs Fleming.

When we had weekend visitors, they used to be taken out at about 10 pm to watch a famous train, the Continental, thundering through Witham, a long plume of steam, sparks flying, and a streak of pink, pink light from the lampshades of the table lamps in the dining cars. This train took passengers to Harwich to sail on the ferries to the Hook of Holland and Zeebrugge. The boats were railway-owned, and there were very beautiful posters, with captions like ‘Harwich for the Hook’, and ‘Come to Holland’. Railway posters, those who are old enough, will remember, they were very fine, well-designed by top commercial artists of the day, and I think they used to be on sale. They’d be very collectible now. On rare occasions, when we were returning from a visit to London, this was, you know, when we were children, we sometimes saw the Continental, standing at Platform 9. I used to look at it enviously, wishing I might travel on it one day, but no such luck. Of course we came home on the notorious mail train, which stopped at every station. One day the continental did stop at Witham. It was returning from Harwich one morning, when a message was received that the staff at Witham must be prepared to receive two injured passengers. They turned out to be foreign seamen, who’d been in a knife fight.

Something our visitors did not enjoy was being woken up in the night by shunting. One friend described the noise as being like hundreds and thousands of cups and saucers being smashed. The family got used to this and didn’t wake. But something which did wake us, and it was usually a foggy night, the rattle of stones being thrown at my parents’ bedroom window. This was followed by the sound of the window being thrown up, and a husky voice calling out ‘Engine off the line, sir.’ Within minutes my father was dressed and out to spend the rest of the night helping to get the engine back onto the rails.

Anyone who remembers Witham between the Wars, will know about Hedley Cook’s famous pork pies. He had a pork butcher’s shop near the Red Lion. When the railway directors had occasion to travel down to Ipswich or Norwich, they used to look out of the window at Witham, and ask for someone to get pork pies to be handed to them on their return journey [laughter].

You will have gathered from all this that the job of running a station like Witham was very demanding. But it suited my father. He had gone straight from school to work for my grandfather, who was stationmaster at Woodford. During his time as a relief stationmaster, father had two interesting jobs which gave him the sort of experience which was useful at Witham. One was standing in for the manager of Temple Mills marshalling yard, when the latter was ill. And similarly, he relieved the manager of the Southwold and Halesworth line. This was a small independent company, and they applied to the LNER for the loan of someone who could manage the line while the official manager recovered from illness. By contrast, being a stationmaster on one of the rural lines could be very leisurely. We heard of one who used to take his gun and dog for a walk along the line, shooting rabbits. One day he took aim at something behind a bush, and he was horrified to see a man rearing up clutching his side, calling out ‘You’ve shot me sir.’ Fortunately the wound was not serious.

You may be interested to know about the station house, because there was always a station house that went with the job. And it was called ‘The Hollies’. It was at the bottom of Easton Road, and it was a charming little Victorian house, dated 1860. It had once been a farmhouse. There were several outhouses, and stables adjoining Moy’s coal yard. The horses which hauled the coal carts were stabled there, and sometimes in the night we could hear the stamping of hooves. Harry Butcher, Moy’s man who looked after them, said that it was probably because there were rats about. There was a charming garden and a small orchard. Also a field where we used to keep chickens. Sadly the house was demolished, and also ‘The Laurels’, the fine house next door. ‘The Laurels’ used to be occupied in our time by Captain Brice, who reared racehorses at Great Braxted. He liked to be near at hand, so that he could be there when his horses were sent off by train.

My father retired early in the Second World War, from what was still the LNER, still run on steam. Ideas of nationalisation an electrification were then very remote.

[Applause]

[Questions]

DH:    I know nothing about the technicalities of running a railway. But John Newman does, so don’t hesitate if you want any technical information.
Questioner:    We hear a lot about the Cromer express, but you don’t hear much about the crash in the ’50s, 1950s.
DH:    It’s a funny thing. No, I remember very little about that. It was on a Bank Holiday, wasn’t it?
Questioner:    1939[?].
John Newman:    There was another one in ’52, is the one …
Questioner:    That was Colchester side of the station, wasn’t it.
John Newman:    This was when the up mail ran into a freight train just before you get to the loop, in fog, in dense fog.
Questioner:    That’s right, yes. You don’t hear nothing about that, do you?
John Newman:    Yes. B1.
Questioner:    B1. [???] was completely scrapped.
John Newman:    Yes. I was actually down [???] [???] down on the crash, cause that was when I was working in the booking office, to check the parcels out, including one which was a live rabbit which was going up for experiments.

Questioner:    Didn’t they have a bit of loop[?] and all go on there?
John Newman:    No. [???] [???] was killed. He was in the guardsvan at the rear of the train. The fireman in the engine was killed and the driver was seriously injured.
Questioner:    I do remember it.
DH:    Was there a picture of it in that folder you lent me? In the folder, there was something about it wasn’t there?
John Newman:    There was a report of it.
DH:    Oh yes, there wasn’t actually an illustration. There are a lot of photographs of the crash here [probably 1905] on that table, which John kindly lent me, and you’ll see the engine is actually still standing up. Nearly everything was haywire, but the engine is still recognisable, isn’t it?

Questioner:    You mentioned the branch lines to Maldon and Braintree. [???] the Braintree line ran right the way to Bishops Stortford and other places.
DH:    I think it did.
Questioner:    It wasn’t a branch line as such.
DH:    They called it a branch line, and they had this system of the staff.
Questioner:    Could you repeat the question, because we couldn’t hear at the back?
???:    Can we ask you to speak up please because we cannot hear. Would you like to repeat that one, Ken?
Questioner:    Yes, the speaker mentioned the branch lines to Maldon and Braintree. I believe [???] the line to Braintree, that went far beyond Braintree and joined up with Bishops Stortford, I believe.
John Newman:    [???] the Braintree branch was worked as two separate branches, basically, because it came in two districts. Braintree was in the Stratford district, and beyond Braintree was in the Cambridge district, and it was basically worked as two branches. Or there were about two through trains a day. But basically it was worked as, although it was a through line, it was worked as two separate branches.
Questioner:    Maldon had two stations, didn’t it, east and west.

Questioner (possibly Sid Gurton):    I remember the Braintree line, I was, with my wife I went up to London, this would be back in the 1950s, to a show, came back on the last train, and I was intending to come back on the last train, and there was track work going on in the Shenfield area, so we were put on a train which went all the way round Cambridge way and back through Braintree to Witham. Well, there was a peppery old gentleman in our carriage, who actually wanted to go to Braintree, but he was prepared, if the train had come straight through to Witham from Liverpool Street, to try and find a taxi to get back to Braintree, and he was highly delighted to think we were coming through Braintree. But it didn’t stop in Braintree [laughter]. Miss Hancock mentioned Arthur Chalk. He was the ticket collector that night, and this was by then about half past three in the morning, and this poor gentleman was blue in the face with rage at having come right through, and so he tried to lead forth to Arthur Chalk about what had happened to him. Arthur said ‘You’ll have to pay the excess fare for it.’ [laughter]

[Questioner ] There was of course another Cromer express crash, wasn’t there, in 1939, those who read the ‘Essex Chronicle’, Stan Jarvis writes in there every week, and he mentioned this second Cromer express crash in 1939, one coming the other way, towards London, and something broke on the engine and ripped up the track for about a hundred yards, and the train came to rest leaning up against the platform. Nobody was killed in that one, though. I remember that, I saw that one.
DH:    Something about the big end[?] dropping off and ploughing up the track.
Questioner:    That’s right, yes. Remember that?
DH:    I remember hearing about the big end, yes. When you look at the pictures, this, which is it, this one, there’s a nice picture of the station looking towards Colchester, and there’s a brick building here, with some little parcels and things, I think, and a lorry up the side. But that’s the building, it was part of that which is off the picture, where the shunting horses were stabled. [???]

Remember me saying that Mr Sainty, the signalman, heard the crash, slammed on the brake, all the brakes [meaning signals] to danger, and thereby saving what might have been another nasty crash, this is an address, and illuminated address, to, acknowledging his work from the High Sheriff of Norfolk and the Mayor of Norwich. So you can see that, but appreciated the job he did diverting an even worse crash. And these are all about the crash, That’s the one about the staff at the station. This was taken in 1923[?] and John tells me that most of these men were still there in my father’s time, of course people worked on the railway for life.
John Newman:    Quite a lot of them were still there when I was working there.
DH:    Yes.

John Newman:    Olive.
Olive (Polly) Wheaton:    Can you tell us why [???]
John Newman:    Why did they change the entrance from Easton Road to Albert Road?
DH:    I don’t know why, but it was quieter for Easton Road, wasn’t it.
Questioner:    I think it was because it was smashed up so much, the other platform.
John Newman:    It was rebuilt after the crash, 1907.
Questioner:    Well, better access to it I suppose, too, from Albert Road than from Easton Road.
DH:    Incidentally, that Board of Trade inquiry I told you about, they got that out in two months, which I think was pretty good going. I can’t see them doing it so quickly today. And the name of the inspector is interesting, Von Donop[?]. German, Dutch?
John Newman:    [???]
Questioner:    Were they not all Royal Engineer officers, who inspected. I think they were generally, weren’t they?
John Newman:    Yes.
DH:    Oh that’s why he, that’s why he had a military title then.

Fred Gaymer:    Can you tell us how long the name of Cressing station’s been altered? It used to be Bulford.
DH:    Ah.
John Newman:    Yes. I could probably tell you a little bit about that. It was changed during the First World War, because there was an army train, with, I think it was eighteen carriages of guns, horses, and military men, going to Bulford instead of Bulford in Wiltshire. [laughter] Yes. Because I did see the correspondence, which was still in the stationmaster’s office in my day. It got as far as Witham, it didn’t get as far as Cressing or Bulford, it didn’t get to Bulford, it got as far as Witham, and they realised there was something wrong. [laughter] [???] [???]

Fred Gaymer[?]:    My father worked on the station at Marks Tey, but this is nothing to do with Witham really, you see, but he used to be a porter on the Marks Tey station, and when the trains come in from Chelmsford, and people had got to go on the other line, he used to call out ‘All change for Chappel, Bures and Sudbury’.

DH:    They did call out in those days, I mean father and the staff used to go up every train, calling out ‘Witham, Witham, change for Braintree and Maldon’. You never had to look up and read what was on the noticeboard.
John Newman:    The stationmaster did the up platform and the inspector did the down platform.
DH:    Ah, thank you.

John Newman:    You were talking about Chappel. When I was at Witham, we used to get quite a few people go to Chappel, they had tickets to Chappel. But I’d never notice it, one person come down, and said ‘Have you ever looked at your tickets?’ And they were printed ‘Chappel and WC’, Chappel and Wakes Colne. [laughter]. Chappel and WC.

Don Pettican:    I’d like to ask if the speaker remembers the somewhat colourful characters that used to frequent the area of the railway station, between the Wars. There, I think they were mostly male[?], there was one called Mossy. (DH: Oh, Mossy Hayes, yes.) Another old gentleman, I’ve forgotten his name, but he was quite short (Questioner: Hayes, Mossy Hayes). There was another old gentleman who was quite short, and always immaculately dressed in a green tweed suit, waistcoat, deerstalker hat, used to smoke a pipe, and I can remember, as a young man being completely enthralled, because on a sunny day he would always light his pipe with a magnifying glass. [laughter] And there were quite a few other characters as well, but I don’t remember the others. Do you remember any others?

DH:    I don’t think I do. Oh, there was one, er, Tom Abrey, does anyone remember Tom Abrey? Very big man, he used to live in, next to Dorothy Sayers, that’s right. He was very very interested in railways, and he used to come on a Saturday evening. My father never came home very early, and at about eight o’clock, Tom Abrey would perhaps come in and engage him in conversation, and he used to go on long railway journeys, just to look around and see.
Sid Gurton[?]:    I remember him.
DH:    Do you remember? Very tall.
Sid Gurton[?]    Huge man, with an Austin Seven, he used to overlap it.
DH:    That’s right, yes.

Fred Gaymer:    The first accident,  what was going to be the first, probably the first accident was about 1907 or something like that [actually 1905], I wouldn’t be sure about the date, but they used the Corn Exchange, which was where Miss West’s shop used to be [on Collingwood Road bridge] if you remember, they used the Corn Exchange as a mortuary. There was about twenty bodies, weren’t there.
Questioner:    That was [???] café then.
Albert Poulter:    1905, Fred, that was the 1905 crash.
Fred Gaymer:    1905. I wasn’t sure about that. My father helped with the bodies at that time.
Albert Poulter:    The passengers that were able to go home, my father took them home in a buggy and trap.
DH:    Did he? Gosh!

John Newman: Anybody else?
Questioner:    I had an uncle who used to work on the line, maintenance, I think he was called a platelayer or something like that. And it was right[?] on[?] to be working for the railways because it was pensionable. I understand anyway [???] his pension was one and sixpence a week. The other thing I would like to draw your attention to. It was very fascinating to see the porters wheeling two churns, two churns of milk along the platform to put it in the goods van. And they …
DH:    What, rolling them over? Not on the trolley?
Questioner:    In each hand. No, on the rim at the bottom.
DH:    Gosh, that was a tough job.
Questioner:    That was quite fascinating, that.
Questioner:    [???] was butter by the time it … [laughter]

Polly Wheaton:    During the War, I think our milk went to Letchworth, from the station, and go all the way through [???] arrived. It must have been all right, cause it went on for a long time. The other thing I remember as a child, a treat perhaps, we went to Maldon for the day, and on the Maldon platform were the Nestles chocolates (Questioner: machine, yes) [???] twopence or a penny or something. [???] [???] I remember the other time, perhaps going up to London, we’d all come back with black spots all over us. [laughter]

Fred Gaymer:    How long [???] goods yard, has been closed for a goods station.
DH:    Ah, John, can you tell?
John Newman:    It must have been about the seventies, late seventies I think, cause I was already in London then.
Fred Gaymer:    [???] great years ago.
John Newman:    I can vouch for that that even in my day, it was very busy.
Fred Gaymer:    Especially market days.
John Newman:    Early seventies.
Fred Gaymer:    Especially market days. They used to drive the cattle from the market, which was a busy market that time of day, you see, where the Labour Hall is now, they used to drive the pigs all together down to the goods yard, put them in trucks, and also the bullocks, you see.
John Newman:    And also we used to get cattle coming for Loveday [butcher], cattle coming the other way for Loveday. Coming inwards as well. During the pig season, we used to have a train, a load of pigs, anything up to twenty-five, thirty wagons apiece.
DH:    There’s a picture of one such here.

John Newman:    During the fruit season, anything up to forty wagons of fruit would be loaded here a day, apples and pears. Within two years the lot went on the road.
[word about tea and coffee, not noted]

Pam Robinson:    I wanted to say how kind the porters used to be on the station. I arrived during the War, the train had been delayed by bombs on the railway, and my father used to bring my cycle in from Silver End, and Bert Webb used to have it in his ticket office. But anyway, when I got to, I was the only one that got off the train, when I got to the ticket office, my bicycle wasn’t there, my father had slipped up. Anyway, the porter said ‘Never mind dear, come with me’, he took me to the little, you know, their little room, and he made me a lovely mug of tea, and I laid out on the bench and went to sleep, and he said ‘I’ll wake you up when Bill Anderson comes to fetch the mail for Silver, fetch the papers for Silver End’, which he did and I went to Silver End with him. [laughter]

[Break for refreshments etc.]

Side 2

Polly Wheaton:    This may be before your time, but in the photograph with all the gentleman, the photograph taken in the twenties, there’s a lady sitting in the middle. Who would she have been, what role would she have formed?
DH:    Oh now.
Polly Wheaton:    Because I think she’s in uniform.
DH:    Which one is it in, Polly?
John Newman:    This one, Dorothy.
DH:    Ah, no, John, can you put that right?
John Newman:    No. No idea at all.
DH:    1920. Who was it said … It wouldn’t be the guard, would it, that used to, there was a lady guard.
Albert Poulter:    Yes, there’s a lady here that …
John Newman:    What’s her name?
DH:    Val[?] Would this [???] be your sister?
[General muttering!]
Questioner:    We’ve got a good cross section here tonight.

Questioner:    Yes, well it was during the War, that’s when she was, is there a name there, I wonder. [???] Polly Reynolds[?] But my sister was a guard all through the War, on, yes, on Braintree station, but she travelled to Witham, from a certain time in the morning till two o’clock. And I understand she was the only lady guard in the country. And she loved it.

John Newman:    Any more?
Questioner:    These horses, how long did they work for?
DH:    You mean when did they stop having horses?
Questioner:    Yes.
DH:    Do you know, John?
John Newman:    1956. I remember them when I was there. So. They turned the field into a car park.
DH:    Did you say 1966?
John Newman:    1956.
DH:    1956.

Questioner:    Someone talked about going to Maldon, you talked about going to Maldon, no it wasn’t you was it, somebody else. Polly was it? Going to Maldon in the summer time. Do you remember the weekly tickets, ten shilling tickets, where you could travel every day for a week, but only to certain places, you couldn’t go as far as Southend, for instance.
Questioner:    You could go to Walton and places like that.
Questioner:    That’s right, you could get down to Clacton and Walton, and Maldon.
DH:    Oh, I had one for a week, and we went to Frinton every day, except one day we went to Walton.
Questioner:    Yes, and they were ten shillings for an adult, five bob for children.

Questioner:    Did Witham station have one of those aluminium name plate punching machines?
[Mumbling]
Questioner:    I found one [i.e.. a name] in my shed the other day, that I made when I was a boy. I couldn’t remember which station it was.
John Newman:    They certainly had a Nestles chocolate machine ..
Questioner:    Had a big pointer went round the alphabet [???].
John Newman:    That’s right.
Questioner:    There was one at Chelmsford. There was one there.
John Newman:    Yes.
Questioner:    I don’t think I would have been, I don’t remember ever going to Chelmsford station, so it was probably one of the seaside ones.
John Newman:    Could I just [???] something about the chocolate machine earlier on. They had this chocolate machine that I think that Polly was mentioning. But it was a penny, you could put a penny in and you got a very thin bar of chocolate. Well the children of the junior school found that they had counting pennies at school, and they found the cardboard pennies would work the chocolate machine. [laughter] So when the old man went to empty it on a Saturday or Sunday morning, he found half the coppers were cardboard pennies.

Dorle Potten:    This didn’t happen at Witham station, but there were a lot of machines where you inserted the old type of sixpence. And I had some French boys staying with me, my goodness, they found out almost the second day that you could use a sou instead, which was worth about a halfpenny. [Laughter]

Questioner (female):    [???] did earlier describe putting a bicycle on the train. My father used to put my bicycle on the train at Maldon, and I would arrive at Witham on the last train, and cycle home to Maldon. And my heart was in my mouth, was the bicycle going to be there or not. Was there a left luggage office there, because I seem to remember having to go to the porter to get the bicycle.
DH:    There was a left luggage, wasn’t there?
John Newman:    Yes.
Questioner:    What time did you come back?
Questioner (female):    On the last train.
John Newman:    Ah, the booking office was closed then, yes.
Questioner (female):    I worked and I came back after [???].

John Newman:    Albert?
Albert Poulter:    Yes. Somebody said earlier, was there any looting on the 1950 crash. I was working on the railway at the time as a lengthman, and the accident was flashed pretty well in the Daily Mirror, rabbits and potatoes strewn all over the place. Well the Stratford gang came down, and one of the Stratford gang, I’m not going to use the language he used ‘Where’s all these bleeding rabbits lying about’ he said. They didn’t get any rabbits because there was no rabbits on it, but I believe all the lengthmen got free seed potatoes that year. [Laughter]
John Newman:    There were rabbits on it, Albert, there were rabbits. They were live rabbits in cages going up for experiments.
Albert Poulter:    Oh, live ones.
John Newman:    Yes, because I was down there when they were taken out. Because I had to check them off. There were live chickens, rabbits and mice.
Albert Poulter:    Oh I see.
John Newman:    Plus the mail. The mail looked after theirselves and I had to go down and check the parcels out.
Albert Poulter:    OK.

Sid Gurton:    I mentioned Stan Jarvis who writes in the Essex Chronicle earlier on. A week or two ago, he mentioned Crittall’s being bombed during the War. When, well, attempts were made to bomb it three times as I remember, and I did see this one that particular morning. But Stan Jarvis said that the main railway line was badly damaged, but I don’t think it was, can anyone remember?
Questioner:    No.
Sid Gurton:    There was the Braintree line, just beyond the Crittall factory, between that and that little sub-station, was hit, but it must be [???] very small bombs because I remember going and looking at it, and it had blown the clinker out from under the rails, and left the rails and sleepers there. So Stan Jarvis was a little bit wrong there. I don’t think they hit the main line at all.
Questioner:    [???] [???] damaged the crane[?] held[?] between the substation and the railway line.
Sid Gurton:    That’s right. The sub-station was hit by a bomb that bounced, went through the railings, slid over the roof and took out the parapet. But no-one remembers the main line being damaged. No.

Questioner:    I watched the bombs fall, from our kitchen. We were under the table, and we looked out of the window, and we saw the bombs coming down.
Questioner:    I watched it too.
Fred Gaymer:    They went almost in line with Chalks Road, didn’t they.
Questioner (female):    We didn’t live in Chalks Road, we lived in Cressing Road, we could see them.
Fred Gaymer:    Yes, I saw one lot coming right across the [???]
Sid Gurton:    There was another one on another occasion across here, by Spring Lodge, wasn’t there. From the church across to Highfields Road.

Questioner [female]:    Oh, they hit Hodges, where Mr Hodge lived, they hit his house.
John Newman:    Just beside the railway bridge.
Questioner:    Got away from the railway there for a moment.

Questioner (female):    Did you have a lost property office?
John Newman:    Fred.
Fred Gaymer:    I was a fireman during the period when we talked about Crittall’s being bombed, you see, and the pilot knew exactly where he was making for, and he actually dropped one bomb right in the engine room. And that was all repaired, and another time they came and, on the same sort of run, the bomb hit a girder and went outside. And you know, I can see that girder now, where that bomb hit this girder and skidded outside, instead of going in the power house, which shows you how accurate they were. Course they were really low, really low, we used to see them come when we worked at Richards [builders, 56 Church Street] you see. They seemed to come in line with Chalks Road, and you could see the bombs coming.

John Newman:    Yes.
Questioner (female):    I just wondered if you ever had anything amusing left in your lost property office, if you can remember.
Questioner:    Anything amusing left in the lost property office.
John Newman:    Would you like me to go in on that one?
Several:    Yes. [laughter]
John Newman:    I can remember two. One was, involved one of the men on there, Alf Griggs, he was then the senior porter on the station. And he was a dab hand at finding lost property. And I remember him coming up with a brown paper parcel about that size. He says, ‘John’, he says, I’ve found this on the’, whatever it was for Liverpool Street. He said ‘Would you put it in the book?’ I said ‘Yes, when I get time.’ I forgot. Anyway, this parcel was on the rack at the back of the office, it was there about a week. Alf come in, he says ‘Still got that parcel?’ cause he thought there might be a reward, you see. ‘Good lord’ I said ‘I’d quite forgotten all about it. So I said ‘I think we’d better have a look’. Well we picked it up, and you could hear rattling, or a noise inside of it. When I opened it, it was a damned great lump of dogs’ meat full of maggots. [laughter] It was very fortunate at the time that the Braintree shunting engine was in the back platform.

And another occasion, the same man was involved, he come up with a brief case. He said ‘John’, he says, ‘I found this on the’ so and so train, he says ‘I think the man got off and went to Maldon’. So I said ‘All right Alf, I suppose we’d better look in and check the contents, we got into this briefcase and there was a portfolio and one or two, and, a bag of horse manure. [laughter] I think he must have been [???].

But, talking about one of the funny occasions, we had a man used to live [???], lived at Totham or out that way, and he used to go to Maldon. His name was Frost, and he was rather peculiar. And he used to go up to London mail[?] office, with boxes of eggs, he had a smallholding, and buckets of water containing frogs. And he used to come back to this hotel with swill. Also day-old chicks, anything. And one night the train come in, I think it was the 5.42 from Liverpool Street, I should think it was about 6.50. And I see this commotion on the platform, and the train stood there ages. And eventually the porter come up and said, ‘B old Frost again’. He said he’d got some day-old chicks and was feeding them, he said he’d got them in the compartment. [laughter].

Another time the same old man came off the train, come round the, there used to be a little parcels office where the booking office is facing the other way, in the old days when I was there. He came round the little alcove where the parcels office was. He said ‘Mr Booking Clerk’, he says ‘Can you help me?’ I said ‘What have you done, Mr Frost?’. He says ‘I’ve done a very silly thing’. He said ‘It was very hot in the train and I took my shoes off’ And I looked down, and he stood there in his stocking feet. He says ‘I’ve left them on the train’. [laughter] So anyway, I phoned Colchester, and Colchester found them, the booking clerk at Colchester says ‘I wouldn’t give you bloody twopence for them’. [laughter] Anyway we got his shoes back.

Right, anybody else. Yes.
Jane Jones:    Just to say, I always remember this thing on the wireless, a Father Brown[?] story, and she’d come in from Harwich, and I suppose she was going on to Liverpool Street, back to London, and you could hear background noises saying ‘Witham, Witham station, change here for Braintree and Maldon line’, and I thought ‘Oh’. I think this was when I was sort of when I was in Northamptonshire, but it seemed so familiar, I’d heard it so many times.

Edith Willsher:    Somebody was talking about the live rabbits that had been transported. Well, I believe, I don’t know whether it was done very much down this area, but up north, where there was a lot of pigeon fanciers, I believe it was quite common practice for the railways to carry baskets of pigeons, and probably [???], and you know, they put them on the train, and then at the destination the station staff would release them, and they’d fly back home.
Questioner:    Yes, that would be as I understand it, yes, the station staff …
John Newman:    The station staff used to yes.
Questioner continued:    open the baskets and let them go.
John Newman:    There used to be a charge of whatever it was, and it used to be fourpence for the return basket. [laughter].
Edith Willsher:    They had to be released at a certain time.
John Newman:    And the time of release had to be recorded on the label.

Jane Jones:    Were there nice flowerbeds here at Witham, Dorothy?
DH:    Sorry?
Jane Jones:    Were the flowerbeds kept nicely here?
DH:    They didn’t have flowerbeds at Witham, but White Notley was famous, Mr Lucy.
John Newman:    Old man Loosit[?] at Notley, yes.
DH:    Cause Notley station and, what’s the other one, Wickham Bishops, and I think Langford, they were all, they all came under Witham. Had to be visited once a week.

Questioner (female):    What sort of station refreshments did they serve [???], Dorothy, if anything?
DH:    That’s a good question, you know I can’t remember.
John Newman:    Well, the refreshment room was where it is now, it was just the regular railway sandwiches and tea. [laughter]
Questioner:    When did they have a licence first, then?
John Newman:    I don’t know. But the licence was there when I came in 1945. And of course [???] was market day, and they had an extension, although there was still the market, they had an extension for four o’clock on market day.
Sid Gurton:    Oh, that’s right, I remember that, yes.
Janet Gyford[?]:    No Brief Encounters then.
John Newman:    Oh, there might have been some, yes. Probably quite a lot.
Questioner:    It was Tuesday, wasn’t it, wasn’t market day Tuesday?

[Conclusion and applause]

Tape 204. BBC Radio's Any Questions from Witham

Tape 204

BBC Radio made the programme Any Questions at Witham Public Hall on 1 April 2005.

The original recording of this event is held at the Essex Sound and Video Archive. To listen to the recording, please contact them at ero.enquiry@essex.gov.uk or 033301 32500.


Not transcribed.

Tape 208. Talk by John Gyford about the history of the Witham Labour Party


Tape 208

This talk was given at the annual Essex Labour History Conference on 27 October 2007

John Gyford’s talk was about the history of the Witham Labour Party.

The original recording of this talk is held at the Essex Sound and Video Archive. To listen to the recording, please contact them at ero.enquiry@essex.gov.uk or 033301 32500.


Not transcribed