Mr Walter Peirce was born in 1908. He was interviewed on 25 and 31 October 1986, when he lived at Airlings, Ulting Road, Hatfield Peverel.
For more information about him, see Peirce, Walter and family, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.]
Continued from tape 110
[Discussion about photographs, not noted]
Mr P: My first job, before, my first job, I was going in for a butler. And I went for – the Reverend Eyre – when he retired – he was about the third generation of the vicars at Great Totham. Well, when he retired he bought The Temples [6 Chipping Hill, Witham] – that’s where the road goes through now by the Albert. They knocked his house down – oh, it was a gorgeous house. Beautiful house, three storey, oh lovely big house it was. And the garden run right through to Cullens’s factory at the back. But they knocked it down, that’s right where that road is, so his house stood there. Right next to The Grange [4 Chipping Hill]. Well, I went there for half a crown a week. He used to walk about, he used to have these here boots with all buttons up. Do them all up with a buttonhook. And when he walked about the village, he always used to walk about with his old stick. I never – he used to hold his stick there like that and he used to walk, always used to walk like that. And I was with – there was three servants there besides me. Miss Mary and Miss Lucy. Miss Mary died but Miss Lucy lived till she was well over ninety. And she give a great tea to all the church ladies, I don’t know if you ever heard about it, Miss Lucy Eyre. They are all buried at Great Totham. Well, she sent me to Doole’s shop one day, to get a tin of Bob Martin’s boot polish, [says ‘Bob’ then later changes it to ‘Dan’ RS] blooming stuff it was for cleaning shoes with. It was hard as anything, I used to have to spit on it sometimes to try and clean these shoes. Well, I never – when I left there was no end of them tins stick behind – I used to buy tins of Cherry Blossom boot polish. [Q laughs] Because when they went to shop and the things, if I went to the shop and things come to half a crown – in them days, probably charged another fourpence ha’penny for a tin of Cherry Blossom boot polish. That went in with it and of course they could never make out how I got their shoes to shine! [Q laughs] She sent me after a tin one day, after this tin of Dan Martin and a tin of soda water. Well, she only give me one coin. So I went to Doole’s and got it. Well, you ought to have seen the change that I had! You ought to see the great big change – I had a handful of it! I come back, of course. I give Miss Lucy the change. And Alice there’s the cook and Lil Tanner and Margaret Tanner and thing were there. So I said to Lil Tanner, I said ‘[???] tin of boot polish’. Because you see they used to go to church on Sunday and they used to like me to clean their shoes, because I could shine them. Because they only knew they had that Dan Martin boot polish, they never knew nothing about this Cherry Blossom. So I said ‘I just been up Doole’s,’ and I said ‘And look at the change I’ve got!’ She said ‘What did Miss Lucy give you?’ I said ‘I dunno, she just give me one coin.’ She said ‘What was it?’ I said ‘I dunno, I got all this change’. She said ‘What was it?’ I said ‘I dunno, it looked like a brass button!’ Sovereign! [Q laughs] I never knew what a sovereign was!
Q: You’d never seen one?
Mr P: Never knew one, did I? I never knew what a sovereign was, you see.
Q: That was after you left school, was it?
Mr P: Yes I left school and they always used to buy me couple of shirts at Christmas. [Laughs]
Q: What sort of things did you have to do when you were there, then? Apart from shining shoes.
Mr P: Oh, help in the kitchen and then take the stuff to the dining room, and then stand behind the Reverend Eyre, or the master. Stand behind him. And then the cook brought the stuff to the dining room. I can see it now. Great big marble – black marble fireplace, oh wonderful. And we all had to go in for prayers, you know. Everybody had to go in to prayers. Before the meal started. But I got fed up with that.
Q: I was going to say, what did you used to think about it.
Mr P: Oh, no fear. I got fed up with that.
Q: Why were you fed up with it?
Mr P: Yes, well, and I tell you what turned me off, too. He had people in Scotland and they used to send grouse down. Well, they used to hang up – there was a open-air cupboard place that went from the kitchen to the servants’ toilet outside – all under cover. Well these old grouse used to hang up there. Well, I know jolly well they used to get blooming maggots on them. Well, anyhow, I plucked – the first one I plucked, I tore it all over the place. Alice the cook, she got on like anything, she said ‘Walter, what have you done?’ I said ‘What have I done? I tried to pluck it’ I said, ‘But look at the mess it’s been!’ So, she said ‘Oh, I’ll have to do something to it’. So I don’t know what happened to it. Well, some more grouse come down, see. And I had to pluck them. So she said – they’d been hanging up there, I should think, several days. She said ‘Oh, I don’t know whether I better let you pluck them’. I said ‘I don’t care if you do!’ Alice, her name was. So I never plucked them, she done them. So, of course she said – I mean, after they’d been took into the dining room, we had ours in the kitchen. She said to me ‘You want some of this?’ I said ‘Want some of that?’ I said ‘No fear!’ I said ‘I can see the maggots in the gravy!’ She said ‘You’re imagining things!’ I said ‘Oh no I ain’t!’ I said ‘I can see them coming out in the gravy!’ Of course they weren’t! I didn’t fancy that! No fear! I like fresh meat. But they didn’t – they use to hang up – grouse – they used to come from Scotland. Mr – oh I forget the man’s name now, some friend of theirs used to send them grouse down. I think they used to come by rail. With just the necks tied together. With a label on, you know.
Q: Still, you were just a young lad then, were you?
Mr P: Oh yes, just fourteen.
Q: Did you get on all right with the other people in the kitchen? The cook and everything?
Mr P: Oh yes, yes.
Q: So how long were you therefor about then?
Mr P: Oh, best part of a year, I should say.
Q: What did you do when you left there, then?
Mr P: I went to Crittall’s, I reckon. No I didn’t, no I didn’t, I had an Irishman’s rise! I left there and went thatching. Learnt thatching. I could still do it today. I went with Bert Smith and Mr Ashby and Mr Baldwin – they’re all gone. There’s one of the grandsons is the foreman at Oak Farm at Faulkbourne. And – he had his golden wedding the other day I see in the paper. Well, I went thatching and hay-tying and straw tying and all that. I got a pound a week! Done well, didn’t I? So then I got tired – we used to – well, I say got tired. We was out in all weathers. Used to bike right out to Stisted – oh, miles around thatching houses and everything like that here. So I packed the job in. And of course Mother was short of the money. So I got a job on the bookstall for twelve shillings. For delivering papers all round Witham, and Wickham Bishops and Great Braxted and Totham. And on a Saturday I delivered the morning paper four o’clock in the afternoon. Because I had to take the money. I forget how much money I took then. Papers were only about a penny each then, weren’t they? And I was showing Angela, 1912 all the Titanic, I got the whole book and the paper of the Titanic was published the next day. And it’s got all the stores in that and the apples and everything that was on board. I’ve got that. And the shooting down of the Zeppelins during the war. I dunno why I’ve kept them!
Q: Well, why not? It’s interesting. Aren’t they?
Mr P: 1912 when the Titanic went down. And I’ve got all the photos of it. ‘Daily Graphic’ I think it cost a penny or tuppence, I don’t know what. And I then I left the bookstall …
Q: Which bookstall was that?
Mr P: On Witham Station, see? Used to have do your bookstall, do your round and then everything else. Then I had to serve the trains! All for twelve shillings a week.
Q: When you say serve the trains …?
Mr P: The trains! What came in. I had me basket and I’d walk up the train for the people …
Q: Did you really?
Mr P: Oh yes! Used to buy the papers all off you!
Q: While it stopped?
Mr P: While it stopped in the station, yes. Oh yes, you’d got to be quick, while it stopped in the station, yes. And then from there – and I had a row with Mr Reeves. He lived in Easton Road, Bert Reeves, I had a row with him. And I think I told him what to do with the job! And so I went into Crittall’s for ten shillings a week. So I got Irishman’s rise, didn’t I? [Q laughs] And then every six months we used to get one and sixpence a – I think it was about three ha’pence or three farthings an hour when I first went there. And then I stopped in there for several years. And then I went to Silver End.
Q: I see – Crittall’s again, you mean? What, and then you stopped there?
Mr P: And then I came back to Crittalls at Witham …
Q: Did you do any particular job in Crittall’s?
Mr P: Oh yes, I was in the stores first of all. And then I went on the tractor, and I used to do all the shunting with the trucks and all that, see. Because everything used to go by train – there ain’t no rails or nothing in Witham now. Used to do all the shunting and all that. And the shunting pole I’ve got out there now, with the big rake on the end what we used for chrome. I’ve still got the shunting pole. I’ve still got my big whistle! And if I blowed it you’d have to hold your ears! Yes, big whistle what I had for shunting, you know. Because, you see, you had that pole with the hook on and various signals and signs and things that made. And I’d have thirty trucks – the engine would come round and I’d have thirty trucks or more to pull out of Crittall’s siding. Some were loaded and some weren’t loaded. Them what’s loaded you’d put an ‘O’ on with a ‘K’ in the middle. Well, I’d got to cut them all out, send them on the Braintree line back towards Witham station. And the others that weren’t loaded, send back to Crittall’s. Then I’d got to cut them out and couple them all up, you see and they’d put the engine in and take them to Witham station. Well, as the buffers hit and all that, you’d got to swing that train up and hook them on.
Q: I see.
Mr P: You see, there’s a knack in it. Oh yes. And then you’d put the shunting pole on the buffer and you’d give the signal to the driver and he’d give it an extra bang and then at the right moment you’d lift it off the hook. You see, well, that’s what I’m saying – they don’t have a guard on the train now. Well, what happens if the train breaks in half? Because I’ll tell you what happened. Right in front of the stationmaster’s house – station master’s office in Witham one day, the ‘up’ train – that’s ‘up’ towards to London and ‘down’ to Colchester. The ‘up’ train stopped right – and started off. Because they used to get the water at Witham station, then, didn’t they? Fill up the steam engines. Well, the ‘up’ train was right in front of the stationmaster’s – it steamed and pulled one day and snapped that link right in half and left that train in two halves! Well suppose that train would have been going up a hill? If there was a guard on the back he could put the brake on and hold it! There’s no guard now is there? (Q: No.) I don’t know what happens now.
[General conversation, about stuff he’s kept etc.,not noted]
Mr P: Well, as I said, we used to stay round Witham. I said, walk right up to Hungry Hall, whether blackberrying or crab apples or something like that. Right, throught to Faulkbourne, all the way back to here.
Q: Did you ever go away on holiday or anything?
Mr P: No, I don’t remember – no. Well, the only holiday that I do remember – in the choir. They give us a holiday to go to Maldon. Ninepence – fourpence ha’penny – the fare was to Maldon. And fourpence ha’penny back. And ninepence they give us to spend. Well, we went by train, I’ll never forget it. I’m sure it was when I was in the choir. We got out the station at Maldon and that started to rain. That poured of rain and that kept pouring and pouring. We walked down, I’d get soaking wet, to the marine lake. And there was one or two little huts there what was shops with the blind thing down. That was when crisp potatoes first started to come out. I forget how much they were a bag. And I stood at this here thingamy underneath this shelter and it poured and poured of rain! And there we stopped all day. I bought two or three packets of these crisps and eat, spent me ninepence. And had to walk back to the station. And that’s a holiday I remember!
Q: [Laughs] Oh dear! That’s a shame isn’t it?
Mr P: Well, that’s the thing, I know it ain’t of interest to the history of Witham, but that’s the thing that all that carving was done with. [i.e. on Chipping Hill bridge by soldiers in First World War, as mentioned on tape 110]. That just lays in my tool box. Might be handy for something. That don’t cut nothing. (Q: As you said they all had those.) Every one had one of them and a tin – and a mug. Billy-can; some called them billy-cans, some called them dixies. And they had a crown on them with two broad arrows. And puttees. They all wore puttees then. Wrapped round the leg, yards and yards of them.
Q: It doesn’t say where they were made or anything.
Mr P: Yes it does! I think so. I thought I saw it on the side. There’s something on there, there’s some name on there, ain’t there?
Q: It says ‘EP’ which is electro-plated or something. Dickens I think it says. If they made them for everybody in the army, they did all right, didn’t they?
Mr P: Everybody in the army had one. Yes, everybody was issued with one of them. …
31 October 1986
[Discussion of names on Mr P’s photos, in JG’s collection M73 to M82, noted on m photos database. Also looking at various items in Mr P’s collection. Not noted]]
Continued on tape 112