Mrs Bertha Lee (nee Messent), was born in 1903. She was interviewed on 24 September 1986, when she lived at 29 St Nicholas Road, Witham.
More more information about her, see Lee, Mrs Bertha, nee Messent, in the People category.
The original recording of this interview is held at the Essex Sound and Video Archive. To listen to the recording, please contact them at email@example.com 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.]
[looking at picture of the Avenue]
Mrs L: This was before my time. [laugh] Its beautiful isn’t it? That was lime trees. Lime. They were beautiful. [???]
Q: Did they just take them down to build I suppose?
Mrs L: It must have made them feel sad. The Grove you sort of come out here don’t you. The Grove House was this side and that was a sort of a drive to it. That little place there is the gatehouse, and that was where Percy Laurence lived at the Grove.
Q: Do you remember him? Used to see him about?
Mrs L: Yes, Percy Laurence and his daughter, little daughter, Grace. She moved up to Spa Place. That was beautiful.
Q: You could go through there could you?
Mrs L: Yes, you could go through, course you treated it with reverence. Of course there was no houses there and none round the Avenue Road, there was nothing here, you know the garage and round there, nothing there. A shame really isn’t it. [???]
Q: If it was still there now they’d be made to keep it. (Mrs L: Oh yes.) There’s more rules and regulations about that sort of thing.
Mrs L: Being so much older, probably some of them would have fallen down.
Q: [???] [another photo] I think that’s at the Whitehall[?] again [18 Newland Street]. Again that’s quite old, nobody seems to know who these people are. That might be the Bloods. I believe they lived there at one time, before it was a school. But not recent. This says something about a school. Do you remember it being a school? (Mrs L: No) Cause you came to Witham?
Mrs L: I came in 1916. I was 83 the other week. (Q: Were you really?) [???] I tell you another person who could be tell you a lot, that’s Miss Glass. Do you know her? (Q: No.) Lives opposite the garage. Braintree Road.
Q: I’m not sure if she’s still there.
Mrs L: Miss Glass is. She’s got a wonderful memory. (Q: Really? [???]) She’d probably help you a lot. My mother saw a Zeppelin going past the moon. (Q: An experience.) Yes, she saw it go past the moon.
Q: There were quite a lot of these [photos] are these pageant sort of things. That must have been quite an experience.
Mrs L: And Mrs Soper[?], because they were girls here you see, they would remember who they were.
Q: When you came, how old would you be?
Mrs L: I was about 14..
Q: You father came to work here?
Mrs L: Yes, he came to work here. He worked on the farm at Elm Hall. (Q: It was Suffolk was it, you came from? Yes, we came from Suffolk, near Sudbury. I went to school in Sudbury.)
Q: Did you live at Elm Hall then? (Mrs L: Yes.) Were there some buildings there that are not there now or just the old farmhouse?
Mrs L: The old farmhouse is there but they built some more. They built two more this side of the old farmhouses. [???]
Q: So who did that belong to?
Mrs L: Fairhead from Coggeshall.
Q: So were there quite a lot of people working?
Mrs L: Oh yes. [???] Of course that was all horses wasn’t it?
Q: Was your dad a horseman? (Mrs L: Yes, horseman yes.) So that was a bit above the sort of ordinary farm worker was it, he specialised?
Mrs L: They worked longer hours. Course horsemen were a bit special, because they had complete care of the horses. I mean they started about five in the morning and then in the summertime they’d work till dark.
Q: So he’d sort of look after the horses and go out and work?
Mrs L: Yes, working on the farm you see, cutting corn, I mean most of the course was gathered in, it was all done by hand. I mean they cut a lot of it by hand with scythes and then they had these horse drawn reaper things. Then they got so they had one that used to bind it up and tie it up.
Q: Did you have to help much at all?
Mrs L: I never helped, no.
Q: I suppose you went to school here for a bit?
Mrs L: I went to school here for a bit. I left school when I was fourteen and served an apprenticeship in a shop. Had half crown a week. [??] We had to work hard as children, we really had to work hard. We used to have to help with the garden a lot, you know. Before we came this way, I was older you see, before we came this was my father still worked on the land, there wasn’t much else to do was there. We used to have to, go midday and take his hot dinner into the field. Get there before that got cold. [???] A pudding, and vegetables hot in another.
Q: Not just a pack of sandwiches then?
Mrs L: Oh no, a proper hot dinner. They were hard times but they were really fair. I mean they looked after the men and their families. There wasn’t anything to throw about. Mother baked her own bread. She had a big oven across the garden. Ever such a big oven. That was really a day’s work.
Q: That was outside?
Mrs L: Yes, across the yard, mother used to bake all the bread. They worked very hard, very hard. I think about it quite a bit as I’ve got older I’ve got more time to think, think how hard my father, worked, I mean there was four of us. He really worked hard and drank like a fish [laugh]. I think I would have done it too in those days.
Q: Quite, especially working outdoors.
Mrs L: And he brewed all his own beer you see, yes. They worked very very hard.
Q: If you brewed your own beer you could have a splendid time.
Mrs L: Yes, And all that ploughing with horses, walking all day, that really was tough goiong, I mean pouring rain, snow, wind, anything. It would do some of the youngsters good today to have to live like that wouldn’t it? It would sort them out a bit, wouldn’t it to really have to really have to work.
Q: It’s hard to imagine what it was like if you haven’t done it isn’t it? Did they have somebody coming round to check up on them, a foreman or the farmer?
Mrs L: No they didn’t have a foreman. The farmer used to work with them, a lot of them. Of course before we came this way we lived on, just this side of Sudbury. The whole village was more or less an estate, you know, belonged to a Colonel and it was let out in small farms. They were some good people, because the farmer where my father worked before we came this way, he used to have a bullock killed at Christmas (Q: Did you?) and all the workmen used to have a big joint of beef and the wives used to have either a length of woollen dress material or a blanket. You know there were some very good farmers.
Q: And this was the one in Suffolk. What was the name of that place?
Mrs L: That was Bulmer where we were.. Of course its all changed now. I think Burkes are still there, some of them on the big estate. Of course that wasn’t Witham.
Q: Did you get any of that sort of thing at Christmas when you moved?
Mrs L: Not here, no. Of course the War was on you see which altered everything didn’t it.
Q: Mr Fairhead was he the farmer? (Mrs L: He was the farmer, yes. He lived at Coggeshall.) He came from Coggeshall?
Mrs L: He had foreman, he did. They lived in one of the two houses you see. My father was head horseman. (Q: So you lived in ..) On the actual farm. (Q: [???]) Course the old water tower was there, on the hill.
Q: So you were quite a way out. Which school did you go to?
Mrs L: I went to the Church school. [Guithavon Street] It was knocked down. I wasn’t there long. Had to walk.
Q: Did you come home at dinner-time?
Mrs L: Well, yes, of course we had to provide our own dinners. There was nothing like there is now. If mother was short of bread that particular morning we had to go home to dinner. Sometimes we took our dinners but more often than not we came home.
Q: Then when you started work, the same sort of thing was it?
Mrs L: Well, yes, then we got so we cycled then, you see, you cycled backwards and forwards. Of course there was nothing up Cressing Road then, right from the Cherry Tree till you got to that row of cottages, red[?] houses, you know, the cottages that stand there. But there wasn’t that bungalow. And the Co-op wasn’t there. There was nothing on this side, only Brown’s farm, on that corner where the garage is, there was lovely little farm there. [corner of Braintree Road and Chalks Road] You never come across a picture of that?
Q: I think it was in one of the books I read, but I haven’t got a copy of at the moment. There’s a little brown book with photographs around the town. I think there is a picture of that, but I don’t where it came from. I haven’t seen one. But people say it was very nice.
Mrs L: It was very nice. I remember the little cottage on that corner, a little farmhouse.
Q: And that was actually a farm then?
Mrs L: Yes, and there were barns, they stood along where the garage is now and there was a big pond there. We used to slide and skate on that. Of course it belonged here you see, alonog Chalks Road there was nothing. Just a hawthorn hedge, along to the farm. There was a meadow run right down to Richards’ Yard [56 Church Street]. There were none of those houses there was just meadow run down there. It was lovely.
Q: Were the roads made up at all?
Mrs L: Tarred I think.
[LOUD clock chimes!!]
Mrs L: Of course there was the house where Mrs Grape lives, Mr Wadley lived there didn’t they. [Dean House, Chalks Road] Then there was nothing else until you got to where Mr Bradley lives [14 Chalks Road].
Q: Because on the house where Mr Bradley lives, I think it is, ‘JW’, I believe someone told me that Mr Wadley built those. (Mrs L: Yes, they were Wadley’s houses, they were.) So you cycled down to town, was there anything in the, there was Collingwood Road I suppose.
Mrs L: Not on the left hand side Heddles’ shop  that was there, Church House was there and there was nothing else until you got to where Doctor Foster lives [?18]. Then, I forget their name [???] went to live at Braxted. There was Miss Pattisson’s house where Cooper lived [?16] Public Hall, then there was where Miss Mens father used to live, there used to be redbrick house there. They pulled that down.
Q: Where the health office is. So, when you used to cycle what time did you have to get to work when you used to cycle down?
Mrs L: Half-past eight. And if we were late the boss was down, if you were a minute late.
Q: Who was the boss? (Mrs L: Can’t remember.) Were you in a separate department, in drapery? [Co-op]
Mrs L: Yes, I was drapery.
Q: You had a boss of your own as well ?
Mrs L: We had a manager, and there was a general manager.
Q: So what sort of things did you have to do when you were an apprentice?
Mrs L: Wait on everybody else. Learn, you know.
Q: How did you choose to do that job? Was there special reason why you chose that?
Mrs L: No, no, someone suggested it to my mother, that I should do that and she found this place for me. It was where Coopers is now [84 Newland Street]. There was a little drapers’ shop there where Coopers is. That was Miles then Mr Miles. Next to the Post Office. I was there..
Q: I see, you weren’t in the Co-op?
Mrs L: No, not till later on.
Q: Oh, I see, so Miles was all drapery was it?
Mrs L: All drapery, and haberdashery, and everything that that covered. Clothes, you know, and hats and materials and underclothes. The house next to that stood back didn’t it? [80-82], you know where the paint and paper shop is [80 Newland Street]. You went up steps to a big house there didn’t you.
Q: There are still some buildings up the back isn’t there.
Mrs L: That’s right, can’t remember who lived there. And after that there was a dentist.
Q: So how many of you were working at Miles’s then?
Mrs L: Two more and him himself. Two others and myself that was all.
Q: That was quite a long apprenticeship was it?
Mrs L: No, only I did a year. The War came and I went. [First War]
Q: Was that when you went to the Co-op or was that later?
Mrs L: No, I went onto Smith’s bookstall after that, during the War. War work, but more money of course.
Q: Whereabouts was that?
Mrs L: On the station. Is that still there?
Q: There is a sort of bookstall, its not Smith’s any longer.
Mrs L: That used to be W H Smith. Yes that was W H Smith and son. That was quite a big stall, bookstall and paper stall and they run paper rounds from there.
Q: Did you like that then?
Mrs L: No, I didn’t care for that much. No I didn’t. I used to have to get to work at six o’clock in the morning. (Q: Oh goodness me!) I didn’t like that at all.
Q: Why was that in the War why was that, was it because people had gone away that were working there. (Mrs L: Really don’t know.) Anyhow you got more money!
Mrs L: Yes, I got more money, I got thirteen shillings a week. That was quite an attraction. Then I left that and went to the Co-op. And I was there for a few years really.
Q: That must have been quite a big place then, the Co-op, was it?
Mrs L: Oh yes, they did everything there, you know. Of course that was only the old shop, what is now call the kitchen shop and grocery shop. The other, where the furniture was, there was a cycle shop there, Mr Claydon had a cycle shop there. And there was houses up the Chase, you know, Kings Chase, on the left, and a cottage up the top. Then there was a private school down there (Q: Was there?) Yes, near where the Co-op is now, where the fancy[?] shop is, run by Miss Algars.
Q: What sort of people went there? Local people?
Mrs L: Oh yes, it was a day school. There was another one higher up the street. Where one of the banks is, I’m not interested in banks, I forgot where they are. The big one opposite Guithavon Street (Q: Midland) [57 Newland Street]. Then next to that there’s another one isn’t there. (Q: Trustee Savings.) [55 Newland Street] No, the other way.
Q: Barclays is it?
Mrs L: Yes, there was a private school there [59 Newland Street].
Q: You wouldn’t have thought there were enough people in Witham to keep all these schools going would you?
Mrs L: No, you wouldn’t really would you?
Q: Because I mean at the school when you went to the Church school.
Mrs L: I don’t know whether that was a school, whether that was sort of a little home. Mrs Sach would remember more about that. And so would Miss Glass because they were girls at the time.
Q: You’ve got a good memory really haven’t you? I suppose you spent a lot of time in the High Street if were working there?
Mrs L: Working there. Yes. There wasn’t so much going on, you know, like there is now. Things were more kind of a life weren’t they? [???] It was an interest because there was nothing else was there?
Q: When you were at work did you have to go around on errands and things?
Mrs L: No, not much really.
Q: Because I remember Mrs Howell, Vera, telling me she worked for you, is that right?
Mrs L: She worked with me, she was apprentice under me, yes.
Q: You obviously got on well then, if you had apprentices under you? Did you have to finish your apprenticeship after the War?
Mrs L: No, that finished, you know, they weren’t like they are today, signed and sealed and all that sort of thing.
Q: So you just did ordinary work after that?
Mrs L: You just learned for so long and that was it.
Q: Because she was an apprentice then wasn’t she?
Mrs L: Yes, she was an apprentice at the Co-op.
Q: But you didn’t have to, although you’d just done the year, of being an apprentice before, you didn’t have to do any more.
Mrs L: No, if you knew enough you took a job, that was it you see. [???] Of course in those days you learnt the three Rs, didn’t you? Reading Writing and ‘Rithmetic.
Q: There was a lot of that in it I suppose. A lot of arithmetic you had to do?
Mrs L: Oh yes, they were the most important things, you see, arithmetic and reading and writing. Writing was most important. So was arithmetic was the thing, you really had to get that into you.
Q: Did you do sewing and that sort of thing as well?
Mrs L: Oh yes we did, and knitting, and needlework, a bit of drawing and painting at times,. a lot of, one thing I could never remember was history.
Q: Really? You had the chance to do that did you?
Mrs L: We had to do history. I was never good at dates [laugh]. I quite liked geography. We used to do that. It’s very different.
Q: I suppose the girls’ school was still separate?
Mrs L: Yes, in some places where you went it was. At the church school we had the boys’ school and infants’ school and girls’ school. Miss Compton was the headmistress then.
Q: So you stayed till you were fourteen?
Mrs L: Yes, I was turned fourteen, you left school at thirteen. You just had to go out into the world and earn a bit. You just had to.
Q: There were four in your family you said? (Mrs L: Yes.) Were you the oldest?
Mrs L: No, I was the second one. My brother left home when he was ten and went to live with my grandparents. I expect they kept him to help. Then I was the next one. Then my sister and then my brother. It was my elder brother who left home. It used to happen quite a lot in those days. The grandparents used to take the elder one to help them. [???]
Q: They lived up near Sudbury did they?
Mrs L: Yes, they did.
Q: So you didn’t really know him?
Mrs L: Well yes, we saw quite a bit of him. After he was ten we didn’t have him at home very much. He used to come home you know. I think they did it to sort of help, you know.
Q: So you were the first one at home earning money? (Mrs L: Yes.) Did you have to hand all your money over?
Mrs L: Oh yes, I didn’t keep what I earned, till I earned a bit more, then I earned a bit more and then you did get about half-a-crown. I remember they were really glad when I went out to work. People talk about being hard up today but they don’t know what they are talking about. They really don’t. I mean, it shouldn’t be like that. [???]. People expect so much don’t they?
Q: Yes, I think the more you have the more you expect. And things like clothes and so on, did you have enough to buy yourself things?
Mrs L: Well you had to save up till you got them you see. Get your own things when you could afford them.
Q: Did you make any clothes at home?
Mrs L: Oh my mother made a lot. Oh yes. We got all our long black stockings and she used to make a lot of clothes for us. Our mother was a very very good woman, a very good mother and housewife too. She used to cook and work very hard. She used to work in the fields. She used to do stone picking, picking up stones to make the roads. She used to go stone picking and then she used to go weeding, and used to do a lot of pea picking when we came this area you see. They didn’t do that in Suffolk.
Q: Did you have to help with any of those things?
Mrs L: No, ‘cos I was at work you see. I used to do all the housework at home while mother was out working. I used to help with the bread making a bit.
Q: Of course you were older then, I think when they had young children they used to take used to go picking.
Mrs L: They took the younger children. They used to go at four o’clock in the morning you know, pea picking. Because that’s quite a laugh when some of the older ones meet and we laugh about it – rattling the pails at four o’clock in the morning you know. (Q: I don’t suppoes they laughed then, well perhaps they did laugh then but it was hard work wasn’t it.) It was hard work but people were happy then, more than they are today. You knew what you’d got and you knew that was no good looking for any more cause you wouldn’t get it.unless you worked for it.
Q: Was there anywhere else you could have gone to work if you hadn’t gone …?
Mrs L: There was the glove factory wasn’t there. Pinkham’s glove factory.
Q: Oh yes. Did you think about that at all?
Mrs L: No, never appealed to me at all, factory life never appealed to me whatsoever.
Q: What did your mother used to do, did she go out to work before she married do you know?
Mrs L: Yes, my mother worked at the corset factory in Sudbury, making corsets. And used to have to be there at eight o’clock in the morning. And she had to walk about a good three miles into Sudbury. To hear them talk that was really interesting. My mother and her sisters used to walk to this corset factory and they used to work till eight o’clock at night and they had to walk home.
Mrs L: Oh yes, but she had wonderful parents. I remember them. But my mother’s parents were wonderful they really were. Her father was a wonderful man. He did a spell in the army before they were married. My grandmothers mother died and left her with a nine month old baby to bring up and she was only nine. And she nursed him through smallpox. She had a father that drank and he used to go [???] And those were things to think about. And my mother’s father and mother they were a very good living family. My mother used to say her father used to say, ‘Come on girls, it’s church this morning’, and they had miles to walk to church and they used to get them up to go to church on Sunday morning. I mean, they were very poor. They didn’t used to get paid till very late on a Saturday and then they had to go shopping after that. Walk into Sudbury. Mum used to say put a penny in your pocket in case you see a tramp. There were tramps in those days, you don’t see many around. When there was the old fashioned tramp. You must remember there was no gas stove. Nothing to help you. You had to get up and light a fire before you could boil the kettle to make yourself a cup of tea. As soon as you’d got the smoke going up the chimney, the tramps were there for hot water for their cup of tea. But they used to bring little tins, of course they hadn’t got any tea, used to give them their tea.
Q: Do you remember them?
Mrs L: I remember them coming yes. (Q: This was at Sudbury.) I remember really more about that than I do this. And I think it’s things that frightened you in your young life that you remember.
Q: I suppose Suffolk hasn’t changed quite as much as Essex has it really?
Mrs L: No, it’s not as built up, although Sudbury [???] .because I saw Gainsborough’s memorial unveiled. Gainsborough’s memorial stands on Market Hill. (Q: Oh I see.) And I was at school in Sudbury you see [chat about tape, not noted] and we had to line up the Market Hill for the School and this memorial was draped with the Union Jack, and there was a stage built round it and that was all done in roses lovely. I think it was Princess Louise who came to unveil it. And we were so amused because the flag got caught on his paintbrush, he’s standing like this you know, and she couldn’t get it down so they had to get up and unhitch it [laugh]. That was outstanding. A bit of mischief. I saw that unveiled.
Q: It’s something you remember isn’t it.
Mrs L: When I think back sometimes, you know they’ll bring something up on the box or you’ll hear something way back and I think [whisper] ‘Crumbs I was part of that’.
Q: Yes, they talk about it as if it was history don’t they?
Mrs L: Yes, talk about it as history. Those wedge heeled shoes come back you know and I think ‘Oh crumbs I hated those’ for the simple reason we wore them, and all those dark dowdy clothes that have come back, I hate them, for the simple reason, we wore them.
Q: But you didn’t have the choice did you?
Mrs L: Oh no, well you see mother [???]. We just had to, I remember my mother went to the rummage sale on this big estate, you know at Bulmer. [???} I remember she bought a little pair of men’s boots and she was thrilled with them for sixpence.
Q: I suppose when you were working in the drapery business, what sort of materials and that did you? Were there any clothes?
Mrs L: Well, there was everything there. Clothes, material, curtain net. I mean in those days they were used a lot. All curtains, lace curtains you know. And we sold sheets by the yard (Q: Really?) There was unbleached sheeting and white sheeting, sold all that by the yard. Well, [???] a roll of sheeting, that was double that width, they were about eighty to ninety inches wide and the rolls were about like that when they were new, and we had to hump them up onto the counter and measure them all out. [???] We never came in contact very much not ready made. And there were all these children’s socks, boys wore grey socks with a turnover top with the coloured patterns round the top. There was all those. Velvets. Of course in those days there was a lot of millinery sold. Everybody wore hats and veiling. They used to wear veils. I was amused the other night because one of the princesses had got one on had they? Well they used to wear them round here you see, tie them round their hats like that, wear them under the chin. We used to sell that and that used to be about one and sixpence three farthings a yard and one and elevenpence three farthings a yard. Always dealing in farthings. And you see when there was a farthing, often there wasn’t a farthing change and instead we used to up, we use to give them a small packet of pins, or safety pins or hair pins. And we used to ask them what they wanted. Safety pins or pins or if they preferred the farthing you see.
Q: You know they have stamps now at the Co-op. They didn’t used to have them did they?
Mrs L: No, they used to write cheques, paper cheques. They had a little square cheque like that, and they had a carbon underneath so there was a duplicate see. You gave the customer that coupon, that cheque and that duplicate went to the office. And they were all checked up and put down to that customer’s cheque number account. At one time they were given disks, metal disks.
Q: So was there any difference between the Co-op and the other shops? Did different sorts of people go to different shops at all?
Mrs L: Well, yes, the Co-op was sort of, well, I‘d think a poorer persons shop. It wasn’t rubbishy, don’t misunderstand me, but poorer people went there. Now Spurges had a shop at the top of the town, you could get from a pin to an elephant there. [42 Newland Street] People who were a little bit better off went there. (Q: I see.) And then there was another Spurges shop near where the undertakers is, which was more of a poorer person’s shop. (Q: I see.) But the underclothes they wore in those days you’d kill yourself if you saw them, you would really. I mean those long combinations. [???] Then they used to wear little camisoles in my day in summer, very dainty things.
But in the winter time they used to call them bodices. Some had long sleeves, some had short sleeves you see. Some were natural, some were cream. You see everything was kept in packets. Had them packed like that so you could read all the labels. You had to keep them all tidy. When they used to come in for bodices we used to ask them what size they wanted, and whether they wanted white or natural or whether they wanted short sleeves or long. That was before you even started. We used to sell an awful lot of handkerchieves, and used to have to say ‘Do you want them ladies or gents, plain or fancy.’ It was very different, you know.
Q: There was no walking around helping yourself! (Mrs L: No.) Did they try things on there?
Mrs L: No. We used to send out a lot of things out on appro. You know with rounds, you know, rounds, that the carts took out. That were carts in those days. Then it got so they had cars and vans of course. But you see people in the country used to send in an orders, used to send out things on appro and they’d send back what they didn’t want. (Q: Yes.) People used to run up bills and the kids used to come and say ‘Would you take a shilling off mother’s bill’.
Q: What would they be for?
Mrs L: Drapery. Clothes, socks, all sorts of clothes.
Q: They’d come and buy their own?
Mrs L: They’d come and buy their own things and have it on the bill, back payment. They’d come and pay a shilling off their bill and want another pair of socks to put on.
Q: Did you work there till you got married?
Mrs L: Yes, right up till I married. I was twenty-five when I married, that was a good many years.
Q: Did you have to leave when you married?
Mrs L:; Well, I just went back on the odd occasion if they’d got a sale on or if somebody was leaving. But you never went to work in those days. It just wasn’t done.
Q: Even when you didn’t have children, even before you had children or anything?
Mrs L: Oh no, no. (Q: I see.) You didn’t. You know on the odd occasion but only on the odd occasion for a short time.
[talking about husband?]
Mrs L: He came from Bures to here.
Q: Milk roundsman?
Mrs L: Co-op Milk roundsman. He started this milk round. (Q: Did he?) Co-op milkround. (Q: Was there not one there before?] That used to be Mr Newman from Bridge Street. Oh he had a lot of interesting people you could talk to about him (Q: I’m sure I could.) I mean Mrs Redman. Her father was one.
Q: Oh yes I did speak to her So there was only the one before he started up the Co-op one?
Mrs L: Oh yes, there was Everett’s. At Spring Lodge.
Q: So did the Co-op not used to do milk before? (Mrs L: No.) Did they do groceries and things?
Mrs L: They did groceries and bread. Because in those days they went round with bread you see and they came to your door for orders for meat one day and they’d bring it the next. (Q: Gosh.).
Q: Milkmen are always a bit competitive aren’t they with each other. Was there enough trade for the Co-op?
Mrs L: Naturally they took trade from other people didn’t they but …
Q: The others kept going though did they?
Mrs L: They kept going yes. I don’t know when Everetts went out. They didn’t go on for ever and ever, you see Newmans and Everetts were old people you see.
Q: So when did he start up the Co-op one? That was before you were married?
Mrs L: Oh yes, he was at the Co-op then. He worked for Wakelin. Wakelin had a milk round didn’t he, Freebornes. [3 Newland Street]
Q: So he worked for them first (
Mrs L: He worked for Wakelin, then he went to the Co-op and started the milk round at the Co-op.
Q: So he was in charge – it would be quite a complicated job I should think, isn’t it, organising all that.
Mrs L: He used to have to bottle all the milk, when they first started.
Q: Did they have a machine for that?
Mrs L: I think he had a machine, I can’t remember about that. He used to wash bottles by hand, up the Co-op yard what is now. [???] He worked all the hours God made. Cut his hand very badly once.
Q: [???] I wonder how he started getting trade when he started up?
Mrs L: He just went round canvassing.
Q: Presumably everybody already got milk from somebody else. Make himself unpopular for a bit wouldn’t he. Of course they wouldn’t always have had bottles would they?
Mrs L: No, no, I mean Newman, and Wakelin and all them that was big churns on a cart.
Q: I see. So maybe the Co-op was the only one that did the bottles. The others would do it eventually. I expect one of these [photos] is of Wakelins when they were in the Chelmsford Carnival, I think it was but that’s a bit later on. Did you ever do any of these sort of dramatics or things?
Mrs L: No, nothing of that sort, I was more the [???], I wasn’t dainty.
Q: They seem to have got all sorts on some of these things. Some of these [photos] are the First, yes, the First World War would still be on when you came wasn’t it?
Mrs L: Oh yes I remember it finishing you see. (Q: Do you?) People went mad. I remember the day the Armistice was signed ever so well. That was November the eleventh of course and that was a foggy still day. You could almost hear a leaf come down, a horrible day, eerie sort of day. I remember it ever so well.
Q: How did you find out about what was happening?
Mrs L: Well, it just sort of got noised abroad, the War was over and that sort of thing. Then they had a sort of bonfire and celebrations and that sort of things. Yes, said the War is over, sort of got noised around, I can’t remember how.
Q: So you knew quite a lot about what was going on then even if you didn’t have radio and everything you just sort of … ?
Mrs L: Well, we didn’t know the sordid details like you do today. But I saw the first daylight raid on London. (Q: Really?) I was at work then at Miles’s and we saw the planes go across by Danbury and puffs of gun firing. That was the first daylight raid on London. Old fashioned little old aeroplanes with the twin wing.
Q: You say you can’t remember Witham so well, but you remember that, you must have been quite young then (Mrs L: I was young.) because aeroplanes were unusual then, that must have been quite something? A lot of these [photos] are the First War because there were soldiers in Witham.
Mrs L: Oh yes, lots of them, masses of them.
[General chat about photos, not noted]
[First World War soldiers:-]
Mrs L: They were camping a lot of them, you see, on the Avenue.
Q: You remember that do you?
Mrs L: Yes, I mean, down Collingwood Road on the left hand side. In the First World War they had Army bakeries in there. They built their own bakeries. There was no houses you see. Army bakeries. (Q: Buildings did they have?) They weren’t buildings, they were sort of little ovens on the ground, you know low things built. There was no buildings. I mean they did have tents and things like that.
Q: Did you have anybody billeted? Soldiers living …?
Mrs L: Soldiers did billet but we didn’t have any.
[General chat about photos, not noted]
Q: Did you have any photographs taken of yourself when you were young?
Mrs L: Yes, there was a photographers, you know the George. There used to be a ladies shop there didn’t there ?(Q: Mmm.). Mrs Bull kept that and her husband was a photographer down the garden at the back. You used to go there to have your photograph taken, it was an event. [34 Newland Street]
Q: When you got married or something would you have a photographs? (Mrs L: Yes.) Were you married in Witham?
Mrs L: Yes, married at Witham, married in the Congregational. Really I’ve always been brought up Church, christened, confirmed, everything, in Church, but was married at the Cong because my husband was Congregational. I was Church of England.
Q: Which did you used to go to after?
Mrs L: I used to go with him a lot but I also went to the Church.
[General chat about photos, not noted]
Mrs L: That’s Dr Payne’s house [High House, 5 Newland Street]
Q: Was he actually a doctor?
Mrs L: Yes, he was a medical doctor. There was a young Dr Payne he was at Colchester hospital. (Q: I see.) Actually the young Dr Payne, there was an old Dr Payne, Mrs Tabor’s father was old Dr Payne and her brother was the young Dr Payne. Actually operated on my mother in Colchester Hospital.
Q: Was that when she was older?
Mrs L: Yes, I was about twenty-four.
Q: That was quite a big thing to go to hospital in those days?
Mrs L: Yes, it was. My mother had gall-stones. She was 67.
Q: She got over it all right?
Mrs L: Yes oh yes.
Q: Did you have to pay to go to hospital in those days?
Mrs L: I can’t remember.
Q: You didn’t have to go yourself at all for anything? Were you ill at all when you were younger?
Mrs L: Not really, oh I had all the usual complaints, measles, whooping cough.
Q: When your children were ill did you have to pay a doctor to come out?
Mrs L: Well, we belonged to a National Deposit, you see, and they used to pay the doctors’ bills. National Deposit. A Mr Stiff used to collect that. He worked at Spurges and he used to collect it and they used to pay the doctors bills for you. You’d pay so much a year you know. Then of course when you had the children we belonged to a Nursing Association. You went into that bungalow, you know, it’s occupied by people now isn’t it, the Nurses bungalow you know where that is opposite the Jubilee Oak, you know where that is don’t you. [46 Collingwood Road] We belonged to the Nursing Association so we went in there, paid about four pounds a week. You were in there a fortnight you see.
Q: How many children did you have?
Mrs L: Only one.
Q: I see, so you paid to go in? You saved up for that and paid.
Mrs L: Paid about four pounds. We belonged to the Nursing Association that we paid into all the time. That was for maternity.
Q: That was a bit different then, staying in a fortnight.
Mrs L: They were, I only got up the day I come home. Hadn’t handled Carl at all till that morning.
Q: Did you wonder what to do? [Laugh]
Mrs L: I did wonder what to do. Of course the nurse used to come in. Very different.
Q: So how did you manage when you got home?
Mrs L: You had to manage. That was it. Just had to get on with it. You know neighbours were friendly with you and help you, advise you and all that sort of thing, and your own mother but you just had to get on with it. There was nothing like there is today. You had to provide all your own powder [???].
Q: You just had to pick up what to do with the baby on your own account, did you, you didn’t get any advice?
Mrs L: Well, you could get advice, there was a kind of visitor, she came, but she didn’t do anything, she just came in, I think the nurse came in for a bit afterwards, I can’t remember now. But not much. You had to go to them.
Q: Did that worry you, or did you enjoy having and looking after the baby?
Mrs L: Well, it was an anxiety really. We used to go down to a clinic. I never went very much. I only went once. [???]
Q: Really? Was the clinic part of the same Association?
Mrs L: Well, you didn’t pay there and you got advice, and you got your dried milk things, used to get help with that you see, Cow and Gate, you got help with that. But I never went a lot, I can’t remember.
Q: So you used to feed them bottles, or did you feed him yourself.
Mrs L: Well you fed them yourself if you could, but I wasn’t able to. So I had to go onto bottles right away, sterilise them and all that sort of thing, you know.
Q: [???] Did they make a fuss if you didn’t do it yourself?
Mrs L: Oh yes, they preferred you do that, because it was the best way, and of course that was the cheaper way (Q: Quite.) but with the other that was …
Q: Where were you living then when you …?
Mrs L: Braintree Road.
Q: But you went to live there straight away did you when you married ?
Mrs L: No, I went into Guithavon Street, opposite the church, then Braintree Road then we came here. The other way round. Braintree Road then Guithavon Street and then here.
Q: Were they rented the Braintree Road houses?
Mrs L: Yes, and Guithavon Street. I hated Guithavon Street. (Q: Did you?) I hated it. (Q: Why was that?) Well, the house was horrible. I didn’t like it all. Then we came here.
Q: I thought it would be quite a nice place to live. Perhaps its different now.
Mrs L: Well, they’ve altered it you see.
Q: What was the matter with the house?
Mrs L: Well, it was very old and inconvenient. We had no bathroom in those days, the toilets were all outside. I mean you were used to that, you didn’t take no notice of it. But it was very old and dark and dismal and depressing, the back of it. I didn’t like it all.
Q: Why did you go there then?
Mrs L: Well, it was near my husband’s work you see.
Q: He was still at the Co-op was he?
Mrs L: He was at the Co-op.
Q: Did he stay there all the time?
Mrs L: He stayed there till he retired.
Q: He was always on the milk side was he?
Mrs L: Yes, and then he did part-time he was caretaker up the school for bit.
Q: Did you ever go back to work again later on, after you were married?
Mrs L: No, no, that wasn’t done.
Q: Would you have liked to have done?
Mrs L: Not really, you see you devoted your life to your home and family and looked after your husband, looked after children. I mean you didn’t get the help you get today. You just had to do those things. You had to make jam, you had to do these things. And not only that, you enjoyed it.
Q: Well there was so much more, wasn’t there, you didn’t have all the machines and that?
Mrs L: No, when people married they became a housewife and a mother.
[chat about women working today, not noted]
Mrs L: A lot of things are greatly improved. Because for instance pensions for older people. I mean that’s a great improvement. But there again they abuse it don’t they?
Q: Mmm. What did they used to do. Did your father did he ever retire or did he just work all the time?
Mrs L: Well, he worked at Crittall’s you see. He went into Crittall’s. Well actually from the farm he went up to work for Sir Valentine Crittall when they were at Crockies[?}, Wickham Bishops. Do you know where that is? (Q: Don’t think I do, no.) Well I think it’s a home or something now. Well he went up there and my father laid all those gardens out. Then after he finished there he came into Crittall’s to work and he was there during the War and after that he went part-time, here and there. He worked till he was eighty. [???] And he read the newspaper from one end to the other without glasses. (Q: goodness!) He never did have a pair of glasses of his own. He used to have a pair of my mother’s [???] and then he had a pair some other man gave him and he thought they were it because they were gold rimmed.
Q: Do you think he liked Crittall’s?
Mrs L: Well, yes, I think he did? In those days you adapt yourself to anything didn’t you.
Q: Because that made quite a difference when that came didn’t it really?
Mrs L: When Crittall’s came, yes, my brother, my elder brother, used to drive Lord Braintree about. (Q: Did he.) He was a chauffeur, with others, but my brother did a lot for him. Very close to Lord Braintree my brother was.
Q: That was his job, sort of chauffeur? (Mrs L: Yes, he used to chauffeur him.) What this was when, was that always, all the time he was working.
Mrs L: No, taxi work before.
Q: Did he come to the factory in Witham a lot himself, Lord Braintree himself?
Mrs L: Oh yes, he was a wonderful man. He was a wonderful man. The whole family were.
Q: I think this picture here at the swimming pool. [behind the Swan].
[general chat about pic of opening pool, not noted]
Mrs L: Mr Burrows was Mrs Groves[?] father wasn’t he? Do you know Lil Groves?
Q: I don’t think so. Is she still about?
Mrs L: Oh yes, she’s on Guithavon Rise.
[more about photo]
Q: So where did Mr Burrows live?
Mrs L: He lived in the Valley. He was the Labour agent. [noisy clock!] he lived in that house in what is now, where the wallpaper shop is, you know, that’s where the Labour agent’s office was wasn’t it? [80 Newland Street?] Then he lived in the Valley, you know where Ebenezer Smith lived did you? The two older houses that are built in the sand pit. (Q: I see.) The two old ones. One of them Mr Burrows lived in.
Q: Was it quite hotly contested the Council then, different parties and things. You say he was the Labour agent. Do you remember the elections and things?
Mrs L: Oh yes, people went mad.
Q: So it’s quite peaceful now is it?
Mrs L: Well, its not so nice. People weren’t so spiteful. Everybody had their opinion. [???] There weren’t the people that went to it like they do now. My father used to go out speaking on Labour platforms.
Q: Really, Was he a good speaker then?
Mrs L: Yes. He used to take meetings, when Lord Braintree put up for the Government.
Q: That was when he was working at Crittall’s would it be? (Mrs L: Yes.) Was he always involved in that then, since it started?
Mrs L: Yes. He was involved. Cause there didn’t only used to be two parties years ago, Liberal and Conservative, that’s all.
Q: Did he do anything like that when you were still at home ?
Mrs L: Oh yes. [???] [???]
Q: So he’d have them come round the house for meetings and things. (Mrs L: Yes.) He didn’t rope you in to help or anything? (Mrs L: No.) What about your mother, did she ?
Mrs L: No, wouldn’t have anything to do with it? My father [???] was a great Labour man. Lord Braintree, well he was Sir Valentine Crittall then wasn’t he, he put up for Parliament and he got in didn’t he. (Q: I believe he did. Must have been an exciting time.)
Q: They’d have more meetings and that in the town then didn’t they, I suppose?
Mrs L: There were public meetings weren’t they, they used to have them in the Public Hall, and they used to have open air meetings didn’t they in various places and that. My mother never entered into politics at all.
Q: That was his main interest then I suppose was it, your father, outside of work. If your brother lived in Witham was your brother involved at all?
Mrs L: No. [???] None of us went into anything like that, no. Just my father.. He never brought it home with him. We never had politics in the house.
Q: You were a bit embarrassed about it really?
Mrs L: Not really, no. Didn’t bother, we didn’t bother about it. He used to work very hard you know.
Q: Did your husband do anything like that, or anything else, what did he used to do in his spare time?
Mrs L: My husband was a singer (Q: Was he?) Yes.
Q: What sort of singing?
Mrs L: He used to do a lot, and used to do a lot for the Congs. Used to go up there quite a bit.
Q: Did you join him?
Mrs L: No, I couldn’t sing and I’m tone deaf.
Q: How did you meet him?
Mrs L: We just [???] Well my sister-in-law actually knew him [???] He came from Bures and she came from Cornard quite close and she knew him you see. We all came actually from that area you see. My brother’s wife, she came from Cornard. My husband (Q: He sang solos did he?) Yes, he had a lovely bass voice. He was in the Cong choir for years.
Q: What was his first name?
Mrs L: Reg.
Q: And what was your father’s christian name? (Mrs L: John.) Just in case I come across him. (Mrs L: I don’t think you will.) And what was your mother’s name? (Mrs L: My mother was Maria.) [Talk about callers at door, not noted]
Q: Because you do a lot for the church now don’t you?
Mrs L: I do a lot of flower arranging. Got a big festival coming up.
Q: When your husband was alive you say you went to both? (Mrs L: Yes.) But when you were a girl did your family go to church?
Mrs L: Yes, we were all brought up there. My father never went. My mother went. My mother was a staunch person. Right up until she died my mother. She used to go at eight in the morning and again at eleven. She really was a church woman.
Q: And you all went too? (Mrs L: Yes.) Do you think that bothered her you your father not going?
Mrs L: No. My father was a bit of a lad and drank like a fish. He drank like a fish. He was very strict with us, very strict.
Q: I’m surprised he could manage all these meetings and things, if he drank so much.
Mrs L: Well it was only weekends. Weekends. He made her life a hell. Really. My mother had a very hard life. (Q: I think there was a lot of that.) Well you see, they worked very hard. Really and truly, if you don’t remember it you don’t know how hard they worked. Women and men both worked very hard. And as soon as you were old enough you had to work. But if he had had a chance and the education I think my father could have gone a long way. He had a good brain.
Q: Very frustrating for him really.
Mrs L: Yes, you know, during the War, I mean he’d sit and read the papers and everything and he knew where everywhere was. He educated himself. He didn’t neglect knowledge at all. (Q: He didn’t have the opportunity.) He left school at ten. (Q: Quite.). There wasn’t the money, there wasn’t any opportunities.
Q: Did he live to a good age? He was the one that lived till? (Mrs L: 93.) So it didn’t do him any harm all this. (Mrs L: Hard work never killed anybody.) It was the drink, I was thinking, they say that finishes you off but it obviously kept him going.
Mrs L: He didn’t drink spirits you see. At the end he did. He went into Park View for a bit [chat about that, not noted]
He was very hard working. My sister, you’d like to talk to her, believe me, she can remember. She often said we’ve got a lot to thank the old man for because we haven’t got a lazy bone in us. He worked very hard. I mean when we were children, I mean they did have to provide for you there was no other, you got no help from nowhere, and he had a very big garden. Ever such a big garden and he did all that. Full of vegetables. He also went about a mile to an allotment and he used to do all that. And we used to have to go with him. [???] they gave you everything. Now today if anybody’s got anything, its how much are you going to get for it isn’t it? (Q: Mmm.) but in those days you just gave to help one another. My father used grow a lot of potatoes and onions and things, and he used to go after work and dig them all up and leave them on the ground the next day, to dry. And after school, we had a sugar box on wheels, and we had to go and bring them home.
Q: And he had a great long day’s work as well didn’t he.