Mr Walter Peirce was born in 1908. He was interviewed on 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 111
Mr P: So when Mr Bawtree moved to Wickham Bishops, he gave up scout master. Miss Pattisson took over. (Q: Oh I see.) Then when Miss Pattisson went to Wickham Bishops, George Keeble took over. I don’t know anything about who’s scoutmaster now. [???] Well our headquarters then was the downstairs of the Church House. Someone has just bought it for something ain’t they?
Q: I’m not sure what they’re going to do with it. I think the Army Cadets or somebody …
Mr P: Anyway we had the room downstairs for our gymnasium and all the rest of it. And that’s [???].
Q: But the cubs were, you didn’t go there for the cubs?
Mr P: No the cubs, beg pardon I’ve missed, I’m sorry, when George Keeble give up, Bill Evitt took over, in Christmas House, now that’s been pulled down hasn’t it, in Witham High Street [98 Newland Street] and he was the last scoutmaster I had. And I often see him, I don’t know whether he’s still alive now, married a girl Revett. Her father was agent for the Pearl Insurance. And Bill Evitt, I very often talk to him now, or did the last, I haven’t seen him for the last two or three years but I used to meet him in Witham, and he was the last scoutmaster, Bill Revett. Then his father moved down the Lound, Lound down Maldon Road. And he ended doing the collecting for that War Memorial.
Q: So you did, you did what they all told you did you, if Miss Round [probably meant Pattisson] said ‘March’ you marched.
Mr P: Oh yes. [???]
Q: What did you think of her at the time, were you frightened of her or …
Mr P: No, no no no. We used to. Now I’m saying the wife’s daft, but she don’t know nothing, see they lived at Boreham[?] village and they never took no interest or nothing in anything like that see, where we, course we never had no money [???] but that’s what we used to do. Not get up to the mischief they do today. We weren’t angels, I’m not saying we was, but we never got up to … See there was an evening for us at the Band of Hope and then an evening or afternoon or something at the Cubs. And then we went in the scouts, we used to go camping at Barn Grove, that’s up Blue Mills, there’s a lane goes right through to Braxted, called Barn Grove, well there was a grove there, and an old disused gravel pit, and a spring runs through Barn Grove, where we used to wash our feet and get the water to make the tea with, a spring used to bubble up, still there now I dare say. And so we used to load the [???] cart up at the Church House, and march right down Maldon Road and go to the wood up Blue Mills, what did we used to call it, I don’t know, and we’d have the weekend there under the bell tent, you see. Get the wood out of the wood for the fire.
Q: What sort of a cart did you have, did you say.
Mr P: Treck cart, just an ordinary big cart with just two wheels on it and a long handle, like a builders’ cart.
Q: Was that the Cubs or the Scouts?
Mr P: Scouts. Scouts.
Q: Did Miss Pattisson come camping as well or was that when you had the other ones?
Mr P: No that was when, yes, no, Miss Pattisson and them come but someone brought her in a car, cause there was about five or six cars in Witham then. I don’t know how many there is now.
Q: So what, she just come to see you?
Mr P: Yes, she used to come and see us. Mrs Pelly [???] she used to come up, Mrs Pelly. Oh, and then Mr Groves, Arnold Groves, he was station, scout master for a little while. His father was the tailor.
Q: That reminds me, there’s a picture in here of Scouts. That was 1917. Would you be on that one? [JG’s photo M157]
Mr P: Might do, we had our photograph taken in Collingwood.
Q: This was on the station, the Duke of Connaught had stopped. If not we’ll get to it. But seeing we were talking about the Scouts. The Duke of Connaught stopped to review the scouts.
Mr P: 1917. Well I was living in Church Street then.
Q: It’s got Mr Groves on it apparently, this is it. There you are. People have given me a few names of people. They reckon the tailor Groves is that one.
Mr P: This was taken on Witham station with the old gas lights.
Q: Not terribly clear but it’s quite an interesting one.
Mr P: I can’t think, whether that’s Bill Evitt there. This is the senior Scouts you see, the senior Scouts this was. No I don’t remember.
Q: Somebody said that was Doug Bowyer, from the White Hart, White Horse I mean.
Mr P: No. It looks like a Keeble there. See there was George, Alf, Fred, they were all in the Scouts. No I can’t.
Q: That little one there that’s Potter Groves was it, the tailor, they said?
Mr P: That’s Mr Groves the tailor. And that’s Susannah Vaux. That lived where Dorothy Sayers did. (Q: Is it really?) Susan Vaux. Susan Vaux. She lived. I’m certain of that. Yes that’s her. She lived where Dorothy Sayers did [22-26 Newland Street]. Well I’ll tell you why I remember her so well. She had a bit of a cheek. The wives who were left at home when their husbands were in the army, they got an army pay didn’t they. (Q: Yes.) And I’ve got a photograph of her with, she belonged to the Mothers’ Union or something or other. And she wanted the women to pay her so much a week to save up for them. My mother said, you know, ‘Where do think I’m going, got any money, it was only about twopence or threepence. She wanted to. I remember quite well. (Q: So your mum didn’t?) Oh no, she’d have not hide[?] of it, she wouldn’t do it. Susannah Vaux. And this is Easton Road.
Q: Yes, I see. Yes. And that was to save up, what, for the men when they came back.
Mr P: To save up, well not necessarily to save up, but to save up for the women. She thought they women couldn’t manage with army pay so she thought she’d help out. That’s Susan Vaux. That’s Mr Groves, yes. And that’s where she lived, on there where Dorothy Sayers lived, yes. Oh is that the vicar there.
[chat about Mr P’s photo of Canon Ingles etc., not noted]
Q: [looking at other photos] It starts off before the First World War.
Mr P: Oh that’s the aeroplane at Little Wigborough. [JG’s photo M144, zeppelin] (Q: Was it?) Yes well I’ll tell you, that’s Great, not Great, it come down at Little Wigborough now I’m going to show you. Some pieces of that hang up in Great Wigborough church if you want to see it, and there’s a photo there, a frame thing, with some of this metal all on, and also a photo of a [???] and Canon Galpin’s on it.
[short silence while Mr P fetches something, and then long chat about pictures and information re zeppelins and other items in papers, including the Titanic, not noted.]
Q: [looking at JG’s photos again] Oh there’s the Avenue for you, that’s a nice one isn’t it. Going back to these, there’s the Avenue for you, that’s a nice one.
Mr P: That’s the Avenue, that’s right. Oh, the times I’ve been up and down there. Well you see, Mr Laurence that lived at the Grove, he used to go up there Sundays with his trap, cause he had the, the Lodge is there isn’t it. I think that was the Unemployment Exchange once upon a time. (Q: Oh was it?) And then I think the Conservatives had it, have they still got it? (Q: Yes.) Well that was Mr, the Lodge Keeper, cause there was two posts and two great gates and they used to open the gates and all that there. Well right in that corner there’s a house called North, North corner or North Cottage. That was the first house in Witham to have a Crittall window put in. (Q: Really? Is that still there then?) Yes. (Q: Which one was that, near the Lodge?) Right up near, no on the other side. This is Newland Street, looking up the Avenue, cause we used to have the market on that bit of green, that’s all done away with now. Well the Lodge is there, you see, well all the troops were all round through there [First War] cause they were great big conker trees and horse chestnut trees and all the rest of it. Well right in that corner Miss, oh one of the ladies of Witham. (Q: On the corner of the Avenue and Avenue Road?) Right on the corner of the Avenue and Avenue Road. (Q: A corner like that, yes I know where you mean.) Well that was the first house in Witham that had Crittall windows in. (Q: Was it really, oh.) The first house. I believe it’s called North House or North Cottage or North something. That’s the first house dear yes.
Q: That was when Crittall’s I suppose was it.
Mr P: When Crittall first started up, that’s the first house that had the windows put in, in Witham.
Q: Were they quite popular the Crittall’s windows, do you think.
Mr P: Afterwards. But that’s the first house in Witham. And all went and looked at it. When Crittall’s first started up. Well, that a novel to us boys to see windows coming out of Crittall’s wasn’t it, cause that used to be an allotment when I was a boy, belonged to the Co-op. And if it hadn’t been, now Miss Susannah Vaux, she tried to stop Crittall’s coming there. Into Witham. She did not want any industry in Witham. She tried to stop it. But the Co-op sold it to Crittall’s, that’s how Crittall’s got there. If it hadn’t been for the Witham Co-op, Crittall’s wouldn’t have been there. She tried to stop it, that Susannah Vaux. (Q: I wonder why she did that then?) She didn’t want no industry in Witham.
Q: A lot of people worked there didn’t they, in the end.
Mr P: That’s that Susan Vaux that’s on that photo.
Q: How did she try to stop it then I wonder.
Mr P: I don’t know dear, but she was one, what they called, they were the ladies of Witham to us.
[looking at photos of pageants etc., chat about whether in Avenue or Recreation Ground, not noted]
Mr P: That’s the Avenue, I’m certain of that. See because we used to go up the Avenue and you could sit all round those trees and all up the side and all that, that was a picnic park wasn’t it. That’s the Avenue.
Q: There’s a series, there’s Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. Did you ever go in for any of this acting, pageants and things? That one’s Summer you see.
Mr P: No. We used to do a lot of plays in the Scouts (Q: Did you?). But we used to have them all at the Grove. Where the Council Offices are, no, well where the Council Offices are now.
Q: Out in the open?
Mr P: In Newland Street opposite the War Memorial. Big, used to go in the main gate, they aren’t there now are they, no, they were sold and went to America or something didn’t they, great big wrought iron gates. Right opposite the Avenue they were, that’s where you went straight across the road to the big house. Cause my sister worked there for a while when Laurence was there, that was Laurence. And we scouts we used to have the plays, sometimes at the Public Hall, but in the summer always in the Grove. We never had to pay nothing there, did we. And all the money went to the Scout fund for bell tents, or anything else like that.
[more about photos, not noted.]
Mr P: That’s in the ‘Little Rec’, that’s where the library was yes, well they called that the Little Rec. [Maldon Road end of Park / Recreation Ground]. That’s in the Little Rec. That’s all open now. That used to be, was there swings in there or seats, no seats, there was seats in there, and there was seats along that wall, and that’s Maldon Road up there. Yes that’s right. Yes I know that little brick wall there, we used to call it the Little Rec.
Q: Was it divided up then, the Rec, was it?
Mr P: Yes. You came in, if you’ve got Maldon Road here and we’re continuing up, this is Maldon Road. Well now here, was two houses, this one was where Mr Shee, the Register of Births and Deaths lived. Continue up here to Maldon Road where the opticians and everybody else is now [c 30 Maldon Road] and right up here till you get to the back entrance of the, Spread Eagle. Well here, there’s another house stands there now where you go into the Sports and Cricket Ground. Well, this pathway went down by the Rec and down to the Co-op. Well here was a hedge along here and a hedge along here and this comes at the back, this comes along the backs of Mondy’s shops and all that in the High Street. Well then we had a gateway there and we called this the Little Rec. And then you come along here and along this back where Mondy’s and everybody else is there, and there was a fountain put there, Canon Galpin I think, there was a fountain. That’s still there now isn’t it. And the date’s on the wall that says when it was opened. Well we all went from school to see it opened you see. Well on this piece here was where we used to pay football. And the swings were back here. But that was what we called the Little Rec, and that’s where that brick wall is along there.
Q: So could you go into that bit?
Mr P: Oh yes it was all opened, that was never closed, but it was called the Little Rec. That was the green where we played our football at school, this was all open and then here, coming along this side, was the cricket field, the pavilion and all the rest of it here. Then you come down here, this is the complete Rec right along here, then you come in here at the gateway didn’t you. Well here, wait a minute let me see, this footpath here, we had the swings along there and then round here was a pond, with fish in. And you’ll notice that’s still low. And then back here used to be two big trees with swings in between them, but they’ve now got a roundabout thing. They’ve cut the trees down. This used to be a pond with fish in. And then you came in here and Sneezum, Mr Sneezum had his little hut there what used to look after the Rec. And there was a little wall there where the boys went behind. [laugh] He was the caretaker.
Q: Was there a division here between the football and the swings or not.
Mr P: This was all meadow, all meadow.
Q: Was there anything between?
Mr P: Oh no, no, just a footpath. There was a footpath went down here and this one continued on and picked up with this path down here, and then this one came right across here you see. It come across here to the fountain, and then you come across to the fountain I should say. Then you went back. That’s the little Rec. (Q: But there was an actual hedge there? [marking off the Little Rec) Yes, well, just a hedge and a bit of iron fence like you saw on that Avenue photograph. (Q: And that had what, seats in it?) That was all open, anybody went in there. (Q: What did they have in the Little Rec?) Only just grass, just the same, with a few seats, couple or three seats. Nothing. So we rough boys would be playing leapfrog and everything else about there [in the main Rec] but the ladies would be sitting perhaps on some of them seats with a parasol. (Q: So you didn’t go and play football on that bit [on the Little Rec]) No, we had to play in this bit. [laugh]
And if in the summer holidays, we had six weeks holiday. Well used to go fruit picking, pea picking, bean picking and all that, but if you left school a week before the holiday, and you, or you didn’t come back till the seventh week, you was penalised, you wasn’t allowed to go and play football on there on a Wednesday afternoon at school. They used to pay us out, the old school master. He used to penalise us, wouldn’t let us go play there see, that’s where we used to play on there. Cricket and football. Every Wednesday afternoon instead of being at school. I’m talking about All Saints School, Church of England School. So mother was glad of us to go and earn a shilling or two, a copper or two, wasn’t she, so if they’d started peapicking before the holiday, well we’d go, and then they’d penalise us they would, for a month or so, I think about a month, they wouldn’t let us, we had to stop in school and do lessons while our schoolmates went playing football or cricket.
Q: Hard. Did you go picking all summer. Did you go picking all the holidays then? (Mr P: Peapicking?) Or fruit or whatever?
Mr P: We used to go peapicking all over Witham and over to Hatfield, Faulkbourne, Terling, Four o’clock in the morning you used to get up, the women did, and buckets were rattling and the perambulators were squeaking. The kids were howling.
Q: What, they’d all go together sort of thing, all go together?
Mr P: All in the fields together, oh yes.
Q: So you’d actually do a lot of the picking yourself would you, the boys?
Mr P: Oh we boys had to pick, yes, well, if we picked, as a youngster I remember that if I picked a bag of peas then I could play about. But I’d got to pick a bag of peas and earn ninepence. About ninepence I reckon it was, a big old bag of peas. If we picked a bag of peas then Mum would let us play about. Well we’d play about in the stackyards or in the farmyards or wherever we were, anything like that, you know, go sparrow nesting, birds nesting or something like that.
Q: Your mother did most, picked most did she do you reckon? (Mr P: Eh?) Your mother picked more than you then you reckon?
Mr P: Oh mother was out in the field all day till they come and tied up, three or four o’clock in the afternoon.
Q: Must have got tired, mustn’t they, must have got tired.
Mr P: See all the women would start here, see, and then that, the peas were in stetches then, about four foot stetches, and you all worked your way up you see, and then filled the peas up, and then the man come along a ganger, and tied them all up and paid you, Gunnery, Gunnery was the market gardener, auctioneer, like, he was at Ilford, but they all went to Covent Garden and places like that, you see, well then it was three o’clock you had to stop picking, then the ganger come round, and he’d have a big bundle of string, through his braces like, bits of string that length you see, and he’d tie all your bags up, and he’d pay you, and then so all over the field would lie heaps of these peas tied up, then the horse and tumbrel come along, and pick em all up, and take them to Witham station, load them in the trucks for Covent Garden, for London.
Q: You got paid, did you get paid every day do you think, or?
Mr P: Bar, you were paid every day bar, Gunnery, [???] Thompson, and Mrs Shelley there, the girl Baldwin, what married young Shelley, his mother and stepfather was ganger, they would give you a cheque thing you see, and you cashed that the end of the week. But most of the other people’d pay you, the bloke when he come round, he’d come round and he had a cloth bag with the money in, and he would pay you, whatever it was, so much a bag. You know you pulled the pea rice up and picked the peas off of them you see. Then you would, then the farmer would come and collect all the pea rice after you’d gone, [???] then they would pack it all up and stack it up for the cows in the winter. Never got burnt or nothing like that. During the six months[?] we always had peas as vegetables.
Q: Did you bring some home with you?
Mr P: Oh everybody did, yes, everybody did in the old prams, the prams used to have a bottom in didn’t they, you know the pram bottom went along like that and down like that and up like that. And then when the baby was small you had a pad to put over that didn’t you. Then when the children growed up they could put their feet down that hole. Well that’s where the women used to put the peas. Oh yes the ganger always knew you took off. Some of them went off with a pail, with a pail hanging on the pram. [???]
Q: Did you do strawberries and that as well?
Mr P: Yes. Strawberries. They’d be a farthing or a halfpenny a pound what we used to get for them. We used to have to come to Hatfield Peverel strawberry picking. Yes. Oh. And I used to come to Hatfield Peverel. I liked fruit picking better than I could peas. I think they were better to eat, weren’t they, strawberries, currants and things, and raspberries. That was better than eating peas wasn’t it. So I used to come to Hatfield Peverel. Now when this zeppelin was shot down at Wigborough, before you get to Hatfield Peverel there’s a hill called Claypit Hill, that’s before you get to the Terrace. Got me? (Q: Coming from Witham?) Coming from Witham. Just before you get to the Terrace you have to branch off to the left, don’t you, a slip road. Well before you got to the Terrace there’s a little field and that had a big army hut in it, and that’s where the soldiers were. Now what were they doing there. Well, on the hill they had a searchlight, in the next meadow called Claypit Field. Well they were billeted in this army hut. Well Mrs Smith, Mrs Brown, Mrs Goodacre, she’s still alive, and after the War, that was turned into a bungalow, and that was there for years. Well we boys used to walk from Witham down to the White Horse, down the Chase, out by the Co-op creamery, along Spinks Lane round by Bridge Home, and walk to Hatfield Peverel, to watch these searchlights. They were done by acetyline, carbide gas. Now. I collect, I’ve got nearly all the pennies form eighteen something or other, lots of pennies. Well three or four years ago I was going to Witham. Well in this Claypit field it’s still there there was a big gateway where we used to go in. Well talking to you, I wanted to do a job for myself. So I got my bicycle, I used to bike from Witham. I went into that field and done what I wanted to do, and laying down at my feet was a penny …
[about collecting pennies etc, general chat about old photos, not noted]
Mr P: This Jack Bawtree, Hugh Bawtree and Jack Bawtree. They were both in the business. [solicitors] Of course that still goes under the name of Bawtree doesn’t it. Mr Church has got it now hasn’t he, he was only a clerk. But Jack Bawtree, so when my wife’s sister married George Smith at Wickham Bishops, he was the gardener for him, they lived in that little house there [???], but when he, they had one boy, when he died he left all the silver to the wife’s sister and brother in law and the money he left to my nephew. (Q: This fellow?) This one, Jack Bawtree. He never married. He lived with his sister on the corner of Kelvedon Road at Wickham Bishops if you know where that is. It’s a bungalow there.
[chat not noted]
Mr P: When Austin [Beardwell] was born he was born right opposite the garage at the top of Chalks Lane, where you live, that was a big farmhouse, oh a beautiful farmhouse. As I said, where you was was all meadow with the cows, and I lived in Church Street with my father and mother, well after ten o’clock, we used to go in the meadow where you live [north side of Chalks Road] pinch some mushrooms. Cause you can pick mushrooms in the dark, they’re illuminated, they show up. Cause they had horses in the meadows then. Where you live (Q: That was a meadow was it, not corn or anything.) No, meadow. So I lived in Church Street, used to come up the garden just over the fence, and we used to get mushrooms, and have fried mushrooms, lovely they are, I love mushrooms, the wife don’t like them but I do I love them. There used to be lots of trees and all that along there but I don’t know whether they’re still there, or whether they’ve cut them down. (Q: There’s a few horse chestnut trees.) There was birch trees, and horse chestnut trees and sycamore trees that run across to St Nicholas Road and then there was a hedge run up to the railway bridge. Fir trees. Well we used to climb up them fir trees, in fact one of them fir trees has got my brother’s initials carved all in it. Course he’s dead now and buried. As I see I’m the only one left now.
[chat re photos not noted]
Mr P: Coming up past the Jack and Jenny. Past Nitrovit, that’s closed down now cause Marriages have got it. [Maltings Lane] It’s all closed down and all the machinery has gone. Well then you come to a cross road, and you can turn to the left and that brings you back to the bridge, where the army and air force thingummy place is, don’t it. Well right on that corner there used to be a big pond. Well the pontoon waggons that stood outside where you lived and all that [First War] they used to take them up into that pond and scrub them down. It was a big pond on there. We called it Pondholton. We used to ride in with the soldiers, and all sorts of things like that, that was what we had to … It was, pass the time, mother didn’t want you always at home or anything like that. Here you’d be out all day, roam around the fields and all that, well, during the War of course, you’d get the troops and we used to get these biscuits …
Well, now [photo of interior of All Saints, JG’s M154] This the vestry door, and this is All Saints isn’t it, this is the vestry door. All along of here there’s, on the wall, is painted a grape vine, all along the wall, you know, there’s a grape vine with grapes on it, all along that wall, see. Well here, (Q: On the right hands side there?) All round this wall (Q: All the walls?), all on the end of the pews. Are the pews and that still there? No they’re all took out now, I haven’t been inside you see. Well, the organ back there, Mr Howlett was the organist, have you heard anything about him? Howlett. He lived right opposite the school. You see. They’re all angels up there, they’re all painted. (Q: What does it say?) ‘Thou art the King of Glory, oh Christ, thou art the everlasting son of the father’ that’s right. I remember it quite well. Well, when anybody came in to be buried, you came up there, come up here on the right hand side, and you stood the coffin there. And then after the service was over, you went out there (Q: What the right?) out through there, and come out there into the churchyard. Well, now, when, there was another row of seats. This row of seats face that way, and now up the other end there’s a row of seats face this way. You can’t see them, facing the other way. Well when we went to school, there was something, ‘Then shall they fast in those days’, that’s right, that was right at the back of the altar. Well, when we come in, I told you, All Saints Day, we all came in, we sat in all these pews, that’s the vestry door and the organ there, look. And then after the service, we all went out that door with the flowers, and that’s where they took everybody out, you come in that door with the coffins.
But this row of seats here, well then when the service was on, and you said the Apostle’s creed, you stood that way facing there, you sat there facing this way, we all had to stand up and face that wall, we all had to face the altar. (Q: I see. The altar’s …) The altar’s here. It’s not a very good photo cause it doesn’t show the pathway, the pathway through there is like this pathway just the same, and the seats that way face this way. And then the vicar come out there, that’s the vestry door, and then you went into the vestry door then you come out into the churchyard didn’t you.
[more about interior, repeated, not noted]
Q: But you mainly went there with the school, did you? You went to St Nicholas for your own church?
Mr P: Ah, no no no. When I was at the Church of England School, near All Saints, this was the church we went to. But when I was in the choir I went to St Nicholas’s. But if a posh lady like you was getting married and you wanted a choir, we used to come down. I don’t remember them pipes there, but that’s the organ with Mr Howlett, what Mr Howlett used to play. And Mr English, who owned that thingummy, he used to sit here, the choir all set up there. I can see him now, tall fellow with loose neck, but that’s, that’s where we used to come to, so as I say, if there was a special, any of the lady’s and the people got married and they had the choir, well then we used to come down with them, and, shilling or two shillings.
Q: How did you get into the choir.
Mr P: Get in the choir, we went to Sunday School.
Q: Ah, you went to Sunday School.
Mr P: Went to Sunday School and then if you could sing you then you went through. I could sing, cause I tell you for why. During the War, or just after the War, round about the twenties, there was the London Dramatic Society came down to Witham and hired the Public Hall, and they put on Jane Eyre, and the Girl who sunk the German Submarine, and Lorna Doone, no not Lorna Doone, East Lynn. Well the Girl who sunk the Submarine that they put on you see, and the bloke, I can see it now at the Public Hall, the bloke played the piano, and then they would have a sort of competition, and they’d give sweets, somebody’d come, in the interval, would come onto the Public Hall stage, ‘Anybody in the audience with a shirt button off?’, see? ‘Anybody in the audience with odd socks?’ See like that here. So, I remember on one occasion, they said ‘Anybody in the audience with their hair falling off, falling out’. I said, I put my hand up, I said ‘Yes’, he says ‘Right, come up here.’ So they give me a box, they said ‘That’s to put your hair in’. Then they give me a tube of Brylcreem. But anyhow, I’m forgetting about my singing. Well, they wanted some singers for this play, the Girl who sunk the Submarine, and you’d got to lead the Chelsea Pensioners, round to a memorial.
And we’d got to sing ‘Lead, Kindly Light’, and I was one chosen out of the school choir, cause I used to be in school plays. The school plays I used to be in and that. And that’s why, I used to do a lot of recitation even when I was in the army, used to do a lot of recitation, poetry and all that. [???] And Mr Rowles the schoolmaster, he, anyhow I was one of them. He was the choirmaster as well. So I was picked out, and I used to lead the Chelsea Pensioners, two or three of use, there wasn’t about three of us, with the Chelsea Pensioners, on the stage at the Public Hall, and we used to sing ‘Lead Kindly Light amid the circling gloom’, and for that I used to get a half a crown, a week. Six nights a week you see. Just for that play, and I always remember that I used to get half a crown for that. I could sing, yes. And I tell you I got two and twopence when I first started in the choir, two and twopence a quarter. It started at one and a penny a quarter, two and twopence and three and threepence, about four and fourpence the highest, I never got up to that. And that’s how I come to get into the choir, see, cause I said, I never had my photograph taken in my cassock and surplice, with Canon Galpin.
Q: You enjoyed being in the choir, did you, or …
Mr P: Oh, well, we did enjoy it, see, cause there were little treats with it weren’t there. There was little treats. Even at the Chipping Hill church, people who got married then, course they used to walk to the church and all things like that and things like that here, then I told you I used to take the bread round to the old, widows I should say, in Witham, and I mean as I say, we used to get tips here and tips there and things like that here. We was poor if you like, but we was happy.
Q: Would you say you were, were there people in Witham that were poorer than you would say?
Mr P: Oh there was some I reckon, some, I dare say there was some perhaps that were poorer than us. Because you see, me two brothers they were at work you see, and then mother went out nursing for maternity, mothers, you see, that used to bring in a little bit, things like that here. And then we always had chickens up the yard, and rabbits up the yard, and I used to have pigeons, but I never got nothing out of them. But that was a hobby like, you know, pigeons.
Q: So that made a bit extra over what your dad was …
Mr P: See, we was more contented. We had less, we had less than what yours do today, I’m not being nasty or rude, but we had less, but we was more contented like you see.
Q: Did you think of yourself as being poor?
Mr P: No, we didn’t know any difference did we. We just knew that the Vicar and Tuffy[?] Round and Bloods and all them, we knew they were sort of better off like than what ours was. And then you see during the War [First War] we used to go up the Vicarage and we’d get this soup I was telling you, penny a pint. But no, well, we didn’t know any difference, did we, not then.
Q: So it didn’t bother you that they had more? You don’t think it bothered you that they had so much more?
Mr P: No, no, no, no. You would … then some of the ladies, what I call the ladies of Witham like, for argument’s sake. If a woman had, she had, say a miscarriage, well some of these ladies perhaps would send up little dishes of soups and things like that. I know one woman in the Avenue Road, I used to go and get it for some woman, Nurse Kentfield, one of Nurse Kentfield’s patients, I used to go and get it for her, she used to cook a couple of mutton chops, I used to take, one woman used to do you see.
Q: Who’d cook the chops then?
Mr P: No no, oh this woman in this house in Avenue Road. Like that. Then you see there was always these rummage sales, you see, the gentry in that time, they never wore their clothes sort of out, they’d put them in the jumble sales, rummage sales that’s what they called jumble sales you see. Well mothers would buy suits and things all that for us from there. See. Now they call them, I don’t know what they call them now, rummage sales they call them now. But used to pay a penny to go in, they used to hold a lot of them at the YMCA hut that used to be opposite the [cattle] market [Collingwood Road], there used to be a big YMCA hut there, didn’t there. Great big … (Q: Near the Church Hall?) Right beside the Church Hall to Heddles [48 Collingwood Road]. Great big one. YMCA that was, yes.
Q: So were the other boys in the choir, were they mostly your friends or were they …
Mr P: Oh yes, all, school age and all that. There was no big pot’s children, no, there weren’t, I say big pots, I suppose that’s the way I used to talk. There were sort of none of them children in the choir, they’d have something else to do on a Sunday wouldn’t they, they’d have something else to do on a Sunday I suppose. They’d probably go out coursing, or hare coursing or something like that with their parents or something like that here.
Q: So if you met somebody like that in the street, would you … If you met one of these people, big pots in the street, would you …
Mr P: Oh, you raised your hat to them.
Q: Did you?
Mr P: Yes, oh yes, and that was always ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’.
Q: Would they speak to you though?
Mr P: Yes, Sir or Madam. Now Miss Butler, that lived in Hollybank in Mill Lane, you see, she’d be out driving with her landau, coach, with her groom and all that, she’d give us kids rides, but we had to sit on the floor, she wouldn’t let us sit on the seats, we had to sit on the floor. But we used to think that was grand to ride from Witham station down to Guithavon Road or where she lived on that thingummy. That’s all been pulled down now. Hollybank, that’s where, you see. You went to Hollybank down the side, the end of All Saints churchyard where the vicarage was, there’s a drive there, there used to be some almshouses there, and right on the corner, Mrs Murrells the school teacher of the girls lived there. No not Miss Murrells, Miss Compton. Miss Murrells lived right near the Spread Eagle. What’s Kemsley’s land agents, that’s where Miss Murrells lived [53 Newland Street]. And Miss Eldridge, she lived down Maldon Road, just the other side of that little old shop that’s always being broken into. Well you went by hers to get to the Peculiars chapel. Used to be the Peculiar People’s chapel. What’s happened to that now is that still there?
Q: I think they use it for the Masons. I think the Masons use it. Freemasons.
Mr P: The Peculiars moved from there down to Mill Lane didn’t they. They were called Peculiars then. Then the Sisterhood had it for a while, the Brotherhood had it for a while. Used to hold meetings there.
Q: It’s still there.
Mr P: It’s still there. It’s quite a good building there like. When Whybrews and all that used to run it, and Heddles. The Heddles and the Whybrews. Mr Heddle of course was specially Peculiars. (Q: Was he the one that had, I remember you said you got a suit or something?) Clothing shop near the Nurses bungalow, yes. [48 Collingwood Road]
Q: Did they come round with them as well did they?
Mr P: Used to come round, bob a week.
Q: Did they come round to the door with them.
Mr P: Used to come round to the door with the clothes. Then you paid your shilling a week. That was Heddles, oh yes.
Q: A salesman would come would they?
Mr P: A salesman would come round, not Mr Heddle wouldn’t, or his son, they’d be at the shop, you could go in the shop like an ordinary drapers’ shop, but they used to come round. So did MacLeods, from Braintree, they used to come round, and, who else was there? Moodys, they used to come all the way from Braintree they used to come round, you see, and, the salesman come round, and you’d have a pair of boots perhaps, or a pair of trousers or something like that here.
And, that’s what we went pea picking for you see, cause, with pea picking, mother used to buy our boots, with the pea picking money. Mind they didn’t cost ten or fifteen pound a pair then, did they. Good job they didn’t.
Q: These chaps would come round and knock on the door and see if you wanted anything would they?
Mr P: No, no, you got to know, they used to come round regularly you see. Then when you’d finished paying for the shoes, you could order a shirt or something like that.
Q: Was there, now what’s the place that somebody mentioned, Sammy Page was it [86 Newland Street]. What sort of a shop was that?
Mr P: Sammy Page was the, ah, he was the pawnbroker.
Q: Was it actually a pawnbroker.
Mr P: That’s where the gas office is in the High Street. Well, he was, they still advertise in the paper today. He used to go and buy all old people’s stuff up what’s left in the houses. They still advertise today, they come and clear your house out. Well he used to do the same. And I’ve still got a blow lamp I bought off him. You know what a blow lamp is don’t you. What you fill with paraffin and light with methylated spirits. Paint stripper. I’ve still got one in there. Well, Mr Wager, you know where Brown’s is in Maldon Road. Well Mr Wager used to be there, the plumber and decorator, he wasn’t a builder, he was a plumber and all the rest of it, painter and decorator. Well, he sold out, and came and lived in those houses right opposite Crittall’s. Well him and his daughter came. Well he died, and old Sammy Page come and he bought the lot I think, well I don’t know how much he give for it, about thirty pounds he give to the whole lot of the house. And anyhow, there was Mr Wager’s, all his plumbing tools and things and all that, and I bought the club hammer and the blow lamp and all that off him, I gave him seven and sixpence. I’ve still got the blow lamp there. And then I remember Mr Compton used to be the foreman of Harrison Gray’s maltings what’s now Hugh Bairds [station maltings]. Well Mr Compton used to be the foreman, he had a daughter. Mr Boutwood, lived in the house in the school playground, that ain’t there now, where the car park is, he was the verger at All Saints Church.
Q: In which car park was this.
Mr P: What’s the car park in Guithavon Street. Well right next to the churchyard, Mr Boutwood lived, he had a boy what was spastic, he was in Severalls, well he died in Severalls. He also had a daughter, well Mr Compton lost his first wife and he married Mr Boutwood’s daughter and he went and lived with Miss Boutwood his new wife, and old Sammy Page bought all the lot, Mr Compton’s down there, carted it to and fro, and you went there and you took clothes, took shoes, watches or rings to Sammy Page. If I took that watch for argument’s sake in them days, he’d probably give me five shillings. Well then I could go and get it within, I think it was within three months or something. If I wanted to buy it back I’d got to give him about six shillings see, so he’s make a bob out of it.
Q: Did you ever do that with anything.
Mr P: No, I remember, I didn’t go there, myself, but I did go, Mrs Butcher, an old lady that lived up the fields at Rickstones Road, right Rickstones farm up the fields, Mrs Butcher, she used to come peapicking and turnip pulling[?] with us and she give me a ticket one day. She’d pawned a pair of Harry’s, her boy’s boots, Harry, he worked for Moy’s the coalman down Easton Road. And she give me the ticket. And I went and bought, and she give me the ticket [???] this pair of shoes, I think they cost me about two shillings. A pair of her boy’s what she’d put in there.
Q: You got them for yourself?
Mr P: I got them for myself, she give me the ticket. I think Harry had left home or something, or grown out of them or something, but she give me the ticket and I remember going to Sammy Page’s, and he’d take the ticket, and about two shillings I had to pay for.
Q: It must have been an interesting … you’d enjoy it now, going round, looking at all the stuff.
Mr P: Yes, yes, and then you see, he used to clear all these old houses out, you see, and then anybody died or anything like that, bought all the clothes and all that, and they’d be hanging up in the shop the next day. And you went up two or three steps to it, well they’ve levelled it down now, used to have to go up three steps to it. He’d got two daughters, I don’t know, somewhere about Witham they are, I have seen them, not lately, but I have seen them a few years back, he had two daughters. Sammy Page we called him.
Q: Did the daughters marry then, what would they be called now?
Mr P: I don’t know, they’re both married like now. I know they had these two daughters, Sammy Page and his wife, I can see him now, used to go up three steps into the shop.
Q: So presumably when he collected all the stuff with a horse and …
Mr P: No, he never had a horse cart, he had to pick it up in just an ordinary, an old builder’s barrow. Oh yes, he used to round and collect all this stuff in an old builder’s barrow. You’d see him coming lugging home the stuff in this builder’s barrow. Anybody’d got like a sideboard, or chest of drawers, they’d stand out on the path. See. And then …
Q: How many wheeled barrow, when you say a builder’s barrow, what sort ?
Mr P: Oh just a big, a flat barrow with just two wheels and a long T handle. Builder’s barrow.
Q: I see. Did he have anybody working for him?
Mr P: No, he worked only for himself.
Q: So presumably when he come out for this stuff he had to shut the shop did he?
Mr P: No his wife was there, and the two daughters, but his wife, I don’t think they had anything to do with the shop, because I believe they went to High School, but his wife used to serve in the shop as well. See because the shop next door, what’s Holt’s the butcher’s [88 Newland Street] was Beard’s the oil merchant. Now he went round with a horse and cart, paraffin oil and candles and all that. Well in 1927 was when I bought that willow pattern china service I’ve got now, there’s about thirty odd pieced or more ain’t there. Dozen plates, dozen cups and saucers, I don’t know what they’d be worth now. They cost me thirty shillings. Well in 1927 that was a week’s wage. All right, what’s a week’s wage today, that’s a hundred or more isn’t it. So what’s that tea service worth. Beautiful willow pattern china. They was in the window one day I was courting[?], was I courting[?], yes I think I was, the wife said she’d like it, and I bought it. Anyhow it was before we was married. We had it all our lives, it’s in the cupboard now, I believe, there’s one plate I think, we lent it out for some occasion or something or other and I believe there’s one tea plate got broke. I dare say the girls, one of the girls’ll have it when we go.
Q: You’d have a job buying that sort of thing, tea service in Witham now?
Mr P: Oh, bone china they have [???] now. As I said, right, that cost me thirty shillings.
Q: That was when you were working at Crittall’s was it, by then?
Mr P: Yes. I’ve still go my receipts for my wedding things, and like that, and my wedding cake. Now my wedding cake, I’ve still got photographs of it, cost me three pounds the wedding cake, two-tier. With a basket of sugar flowers or something on the top. You wouldn’t get one tier for that now would you?
Q: Where did you get that from then?
Mr P: Palmer’s. What’s now, in the middle of the High Street. (Q: Gilbert’s.) Palmer made it, that was Burrell’s and then Palmer and then … Gilbert’s, that’s right [83 Newland Street]. About three pounds that cost me.
Q: That was a week’s, that was more …
Mr P: That was more, a fortnight’s wages.
[looking at photos, not noted]
Mr P: [re policeman] That’s Gates, and I’ll tell you why I remember him, shall I? Mr Grove the tailor, used to have his tailor business right next to where Dowsett’s or where the thingummy shoe shop is now, what you call it now, it’s pulled down and what’s their name’s there now, Foster’s isn’t it. [54 Newland Street] Well you went up steps to his house and another big house called the Wilderness, and they had all their garden run back where the precinct is. Well Mr Grove the tailor there, you went up four flight of steps, and I told you, he had a marvellous knocker on the door with a man’s head. And when you rattled the knocker the tongue kept coming out. (Q: Oh, how lovely.) Well, Mr Grove complained to the school about it you see. And schoolmaster told us all about Mr Grove making a complaint about it and all that. And this Mr Gates he brought the birch to school and that’s the only time I ever saw the birch, he never give it to us, but he threatened us with it. I never rattled that knocker no more. [laugh] See we used to rattle that knocker, then run like the devil round be Green’s the chemist, that’s a wireless shop now, isn’t it [64 Newland Street] and just hide up there where the wine shop was that Drake used to have [66 Newland Street]. You see. Well that was another thing we used to do. Hang about outside the drug stores in Collingwood Road, or Francis, what used to be, Farthing’s had it for a fruit [???] [???]. Well Mr Drake would come out and Mr, what kept the wine shop, oh he was a big photographer, anyhow he’d get us boys, or anybody out there, to go and deliver some medicine, or bottles of soda water or mineral water or something like that, and he’d give you a halfpenny.
Q: Oh I see, yes, just to take it to a person’s house?
Mr P: Yes. Mr Mottashead. He kept the drug stores. [1 Collingwood Road] How he knew where the stuff was I do not know, he used to step over it, and then his staircase was all loaded, he used to step over the stuff to get up his stairs. Everybody reckons my shed’s like old Mottashead’s shop when they come in. People from Witham. Say ‘here’s Mr Mottashead’. He was a druggist, a doctor and everything else. People used to go there and he say ‘Well you want to take this or you want to take that and you want to take that’. That’s PC Gates, I remember him bringing the birch. PC Gates.
Continued on tape 113