Tape 126, continued from tape 125
Walter Peirce was born in 1908. He was interviewed on 19 December 1986, when he lived at Airlings, Ulting Road, Hatfield Peverel.
He also appears on tapes 92, 93, 110, 111, 112, 113, 114, 117, 125.
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.]
The transcriber noted that “Mr Peirce says ‘Well,’ ‘Well, now’ ‘see’ and ‘you see?’ at the beginning and end of sentences very often and on occasion, I have omitted this”.
Most of this interview relates to a large air photo of Crittall’s, taken between 1924 and 1930. A photographic copy is JG’s photo number M1042. I divided a photocopy of it, into squares to help identify which part he was talking about. The numbers of the relevant squares, e.g. A1, are given in the typescript below in square brackets.
The marked up copies are reproduced below in two sections, which would fit together horizontally, the first on the left and the second on the right. The captions are at the bottom of each section.
Mr P: – loading bay and so was all that bay.
Q: And this was all one big space in there, was it?
Mr P: This is the old original bit. You can see the old original bit [C2, C3, D2, D3 on photo).
Q: And that wasn’t all divided up inside at all?
Mr P: No, only iron stanchions and girders, oh no, open. All one shop. But you can just see this big loading bay there. That’s the concrete – that’s the loading bay. The railway come down there, the double line. Because I had a turntable here, you can’t see it. There’s a turntable back here. (Q: Where the crane is?) Yes, the turntable here. It might be on the turntable. Probably might be. You could bring your trucks down there on the turntable and you could either put them into there or you could put them up there. Or you could come down there and go that way. You see there is a turntable there. What’s on the …
[Conversation re magnifying glass, not noted and noises on tape] [Pause]
Mr P: Well, I don’t remember that name – oh! ‘Crittall’s,’ course it was, ‘Crittall’s’ done in blue and orange. That name [C6 on photo].
Q: Was that where they made wooden windows?
Mr P: That was wooden – and they moved from there to Sidcup in Kent.
Q: So that was a different sort of job altogether, really, was it?
Mr P: No, no! You had steel windows just the same, but they were wood surrounds.
Q: But you didn’t have welding or anything then?
Mr P: Yes! The windows were welded, the steel windows just the same, but a wood surround, what they call a wood surround.
Q: Sorry. I thought that was something different.
Mr P: So instead of your steel window touching the brickwork that was a wood surround. You’ll see – there’s plenty of houses in Witham with them on.
Q: Our windows are wooden, all wood.
Mr P: Your windows are all wood. No, they were all steel, every window steel. But a wood surround. And they had a big oak sill and the jambs at the side and the head. There was a head and the two sides were called ‘jambs’ and the sill. And they were all made – you had the great big nine by three oak wood come in and that went through a lathe and come out the sill. You know, for the windowsill and all that. No, wood surround, not wood windows!
Q: I’ve never understood why ours were wood. Seeing it’s so near Crittall’s, you would think they would have had …
Mr P: Because yours are all wood. When I built this house, I picked all my own windows and all that out. Because these are all steel windows so I picked out what type I wanted and everything. Yes. Wooden windows are all right but you got to be careful when you’re putting new glass in, you break the wood as easy as anything. Whereas them things you can bang away with them.
Q: I suppose the – did everyone go home at lunchtime in those days?
Mr P: I used to go up me mother’s! Used to come out this gateway here, look, out by Mrs Goodchild’s, [D4 on photo] and then just go up there to me mum’s. That’s where I used to go for me dinner.
Q: But there was the canteen as well, was there?
Mr P: Oh, there was a canteen as well, but Mother used to like me to go up there. Didn’t take me long to walk with that old steam crane down there. Because we had that electric crane for years. So this must have been taken before the Second War. Yes, this photo was taken – I dunno …
Q: After – those houses were built in 1938. Our was built …
Mr P: Yours was built in 1938, they’re not on there are they? [Chalks Road]
Q: And you clocked in down here, you say? Were you on piecework or anything?
Mr P: No, I wasn’t. Who was on piecework? Most of the factory – some of the – people who welded, they were on piecework. The people who cleaned the corners, they were on piecework. The people who made the cut bars, riveting and hand riveting they were on piecework. And the bloke that straightened all them bars out he was on piece – oh, there were lots of piecework jobs in there, but I never went on piecework in there. No.
Q: And those were each different jobs, were they? And you stuck to that? Like cleaning the corners out, you said. That was one person would do that all the time, would he?
Mr P: All the time. With a hammer and chisel. To clean the weld off. Because when they weld the corner, they was probably so, well, the glass had got to come in there. So they had to have a hammer and chisel and they’d grind that side and grind this side – put it underneath and bring an emery wheel down on to it and turn the wheel over [makes grinding noise]. And then they would have a hammer and chisel and cut out the burr that was inside where the glass had got to go. And of course there ain’t none now, with electric because once they touch one another, they weld, don’t they?
Q: And so presumably the frame had a sort of groove …
Mr P: The frame was put in a clamp! Oh, you put the frame and you put the loose bars in a clamp and clamp em down so they can’t move while you’re welding. And the men used to wear goggles and have the acetylene oxygen welding.
Q: Did the bars have to be made up, I know they were cut to the right length but did they have to be shaped at all?
Mr P: The bars come – you had the long bars come as a T-shape. That was the glazing bars and then they would cut a bit off the end and on the top bar they would make slots and then they’d poke that bit in there and they had to rivet that all down so that couldn’t come out no more. Well now they don’t, they’re done by machine that clamps them on.
Q: So the bars all came ready shaped?
Mr P: The bars were the right shape, oh yes! You just had cut them to the length and put them in.
Q: So you didn’t have to do any …
Mr P: See Crittall’s patented that. They called that ‘the fenestering joint’. And Crittall patented that, you see. That’s where one bar poked through the other one and then they’d split the bar and a little bit would come up. And then you’d poke that bar across and they’d tap that bit down in it. And that was patented as the fenestering joint. That’s what it’s called. And Crittall’s patented that you see. That’s what put them on to success when they patented that fenester joint. Because with a wooden window, you got to mortice and tenon all them in. They never, they used to cut the T-bar and the press would come down and cut a bit and they’d lift that bit up so you could poke the other one through. That was made to take that ‘T’ and you just tap it down and that was fit inside in time.
Q: And that was all done on a machine?
Mr P: All done by machinery.
Q: So I suppose they were doing that at Silver End first, or Braintree?
Mr P: No, Witham. But I used to go to Silver End. I never went to Braintree – I went to Braintree once or twice with the trailer but I never worked at Braintree or nothing, no. That’s a beautiful photograph. You see, with that lot [C7 on photo] when they bombed it and all that, that lot all knocked down, at Crittall’s and they come and photographed all that. But of course the Government had to pay for that to be all rebuilt.
Q: What, the powerhouse?
Mr P: Mmm. I had a big ladder put up the side of that wall – about forty-five foot. Straight up the wall, I used to go up there. And I had another one down this corner here and I had another one down that corner there [C6 on photo].
Q: What, just for you to get up … ?
Mr P: That was for fire – so we could get up on the roof quick for them incendiary bombs and all the rest of it. That’s what they were put there for.
Q: I know you said about the bomb here. Were you there other times when it was bombed?
Mr P: No, only that one time there. The first time it was bombed, I saw the plane come over. And Marion Seeborn, she was with me. And we shot into Thompson’s coal yard. When that plane come down the line. And that bombed them and oh, slates up on the coal shed and you know, and the clothes – all the dust come down on us. And the next time when it bombed again. The observation hut was on the top there. And they spotted the aeroplane coming, he sounds the hooter. Well, all the men had their own shelters to run to, there were several shelters and here, [D7 on photo] look, we had shelters all here, and the staff they had shelters built there, look [D3 on photo]. So they got the staff. And you run into – they had shelters there, the staff did. And you run into them shelters and I was in this shelter here, my shelter was here, look [D7 on photo]. In this bank here, when he bombed that there. We were down in the shelter. I think Adams and Mortimer built the shelters, he did. Concrete shelters.
Q: And there was some more up here, you say?
Mr P: Yes. There was three along there, in the bank of the railway it was, really, look, in that bank [D7 on photo]. And then the staff was built, where’s my shed? There’s my shed – oh yes [C2 on photo], another one built there, in that doorway there. And then the staff had one built here in the front. And in that corner here was one there, right near my old shed. Yes. That got – we planted all rose trees and all that on the top of it, you know on the dirt that was on top of it. Because they were all covered with dirt, camouflaged.
Q: Thompson’s coal yard, where you said you were running to, was down …
Mr P: Yes, opposite – in the station yard, it’s still a coal yard, now, ain’t it [1A Braintree Road]?
Q: There is one there.
Mr P: Near the Albert. We shot in there – we see this plane coming down, we shot in there. So we was in there. Although when they bombed it first inside here. And this tin on the roof, what they bombed. And then he machine-gunned it and put the – the bullets went through. When we pulled that all off, and put new tin on, I’ve got some of it on top of my coal shed with the bullet holes still in it. [Q laughs] On the lid of my coal shed. That’s got holes in it! A lot of people want to know – that’s where he – as he come over to bomb he had this machine gun going and he sprayed all the roof with the bullets! So it made all holes, because it’s tin. And it went through there.
Q: It’s lucky more people weren’t hurt, isn’t it, really?
Mr P: Yes, we got – see he had time enough to see – well, what happened was he come over and the spotters spotted it. Well, them he turned round over – he come round and he’s turned over, here, well, we had guns there and they fired at him. And he wanted to get away quickly and that’s when he dropped the bombs there.
Q: Where were the guns then?
Mr P: Here. In that hedge. In the hedge along there – ditch, they had guns there. Then afterwards, the army come then. That was Crittall’s Home Guard, more or less what hit it. They had rifles, they shot at it. They reckon they hit the wing off. But, anyhow, he turned round and on his way back he dropped his bombs and they hit there. Well, then the next day or in a day or two the army came over with their Bofors guns and they had them in there. That’s a little electric light sub-station there. Well, that’s where the Bofors guns were there and then they slept on this floor, in here [D7 on photo]. Slept on the canteen floor.
[Talking of photo – brings back memories – mother’s house on it, not noted]
Q: That little one there, is that where the Chalks lived?
Mr P: Mrs Chalk lived in there and she owned them. Then, Mrs Butcher, Mrs Dodridge lived in there and then another Chalk lived in that end one, Percy Chalk. They lived in that end one. And that was their – Chalks’ garden run round to there. And that was another Chalk lived there mhe was the foreman ganger on this line.
Q: The one that was in the first little house – the one that was actually opposite Crittall’s, was the one who was Mr Chalk who was the builder, was he?
Mr P: No, they were private ladies. They were some relation but she owned most of them houses. They lived in there, two sisters. And another one lived in that house. And then Mrs Fisher lived in there – old lady went off her head in the finish.
Q: So who was the one that Mrs Fisher was going to pour the oil over, then?
Mr P: This one here, next door. (Q: Actually in the terrace?) Yes next door, went up to next door, you see. But you got a clearer view of them fences haven’t you?
Q: That photo you gave me.
Mr P: I told you they were put in when they made that road round there, they were put in there. That’s where they lay. And only you and I know where they are now, I reckon.
Q: In the actual road?
Mr P: When they made that roadway round there. But that aerodrome what they got – that come from Stow Maries.
Q: What did they actually use that hanger for [C2 on photo]?
Mr P: To store the wood in. (Q: I see.) Stored the wood all in there.
Q: And the metal and stuff the used it more or less straight away did they?
Mr P: Oh, more or less. Still, that was all stored along here, that was [C2, C3 on photo]. That held hundreds of tons along there. Because you see this was an open yard when I first worked there. And they used to bring the steel down by trucks but the men used to have take two or three bars on their shoulder and walk with it all in there before they had this overhead crane put in. Seen the men unload and take it in on their shoulders and cart it in all day long, carting the long bars of steel in.
Q: What, that was what some of them had as their job did they?
Mr P: Oh yes! That was their job all day.
Q: That was hard work wasn’t it?
Mr P: This wood shed here was where we used to put all the wood for the packing cases [C6, C7, D6 on photo). You know, they used to put them in cases. That was all the packing case wood. But that was the wood there for the wood surrounds [C2 on photo]. That was for.
Q: I see, where the hangar is.
Mr P: That was special planed wood. But this wasn’t, this was rough wood for making packing cases with.
Q: Complicated, isn’t it?
Mr P: I suppose I’ve opened all them windows and cleaned them in me time.
Q: There’s a lot of windows, I suppose they needed them. Did they have lights – could light get in the – how was it – it was such a big area there, if you were in the middle, where would you get your light from?
Mr P: Oh, lights, thousands, hundreds of lights, big green shade with great big bulb in the lights. Because you see, when Crittall’s first started, the power station was the other side where this fire engine is. The power station used to be there, with steam. And there used to be steam engines to drive the belt, used to drive the dynamo to make electricity and then the electricity used to go underground, like, and across this loading bay into the factory. And the switchboard was up in the roof.
Q: And that was steam driven?
Mr P: That was steam driven, and they had the pump out here. And then they bought an oil engine with a great big old wheel on the side, they bought an oil engine then. But they used to have a portable steam engine, stood on wheels. Then another engine stood on concrete blocks, that was two steam engines. That’s what supplied the power for Crittall’s first of all, when I first went there.