Tape 131. Gerald Palmer, sides 3 and 4, walking round town centre

Tape 131

Gerald Palmer was born in 1910. He was interviewed on 22 March 1990, when he lived at Abbey Cottage, Duton Hill, Dunmow. The interview was conducted whilst we walked round Witham town centre.

He also appears on tapes 123 and 132.

For more information about him, see “Palmer, Gerald, born 1910” 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 ero.enquiry@essex.gov.uk or 033301 32500.

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

Street numbers have been added in italics in square brackets in Newland Street unless otherwise stated. Sometimes I have also put the name of the occupant, or the usage of the property, at the time of the interview in 1990.

When Mr Palmer refers to my ‘notes’, I think this was to some preliminary notes on Tape 122 which he had seen, of a meeting at the library where people reminisced.

Summary of route

We started at the Public Hall in Collingwood Road, then walked down to Newland Street.
Turned left eastwards along the north side of Newland Street to about the Avenue, looking at both sides.
Came back westwards along the south side of Newland Street as far as the river.
Came back eastward along the south side of Newland Street as far as the Silver Fern teashop over the Co-op next to Kings Chase, and stopped there a while.

Then (on next tape, 132), up Kings Chase and into Maldon Road and into Parkside youth centre (formerly Council School).

Immediately after the interview, I also did some handwritten sketch maps with the information on, which are reproduced below before the relevant text.

Side 3

Part 1 of the walk
Part 1 of the walk, described below

[Starting in Collingwood Road]
Q:    Right, Public Hall [Public Hall, Collingwood Road]

Mr P:     This was opened in 1920 as a cinema on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays only. There was a tractor here to drive the power [traffic noise] In fact that appears in your notes, doesn’t it? Somebody said his grandfather drove a tractor or something like that. I read those notes through again last night and I found them so interesting. There were so many people there who I remember or who I … [tape cuts out] Lucy, Lucy Croxall, somebody Richards, people like that. And this was the Hall of course, where there was a public meeting in March 1918 at the time of the German breakthrough on the Western front. And I came here with my parents and there was a message to the people – because it was before the days of radio – a message to the people read by the Member of Parliament, Sir Fortescue Flannery, what a lovely name! And of course Witham was then with Maldon and Braintree in one constituency. And he went to Maldon first, then he came here. And he read a message from the Prime Minister, Lloyd George. ‘Hold fast!’ I remember that phrase ‘Hold fast’, and he spoke with that northern accent.

Q:    How old were you? You were quite young then, weren’t you?

Mr P:    I was eight.

Q:    Yes. Fancy remembering that!

Mr P:    Well, it’s the kind of thing one does remember. And this was the place, of course, I see it’s still used for the local amateurs. And occasionally you would get a travelling show. The kind of thing that you get in Dickens, of course. You know, ‘Murder in the Red Barn’ and ‘Lady Audley’s Secret’ and things like that.

Q:    Plays, really, were they?

Mr P:    Yes, little plays. A travelling company would come for a week and we would come and see it. And they were always dreadful melodramas, dreadfully done of course! Although I didn’t think they were dreadful, I thought they were marvellous! Lady Audley’s Secret, I remember and Murder in the Red Barn. So –

Q:    It’s seen a few things, then, hasn’t it?

Mr P:    Then there were the Constitutional Club next door to that.[Constitutional Club, Collingwood Road]. It’s there still, isn’t it? And then ahead, that was quite open [looking up Collingwood Road from Public Hall]. Quite open grassland, which during the War [First World War], of course, was occupied by the Army; tents, horses, and guns and all the rest.

Q:    The First War?

Mr P:    Oh yes! I’m speaking of the First War all the time. Yes, there was a hedge up there. None of those houses were built. And the hedge went right round, as far as a large house, Heddle’s [48 Collingwood Road]. (Q: Oh, I know) Who were kind of sort of travelling salesmen.

Q:    That’s still there, but that’s not Heddle’s. That’s a kind of computer firm or something.

Mr P:    Yes. And then beyond that, there was a hedge again, until you came to the Church Hall [Church Hall, Collingwood Road]. I don’t know if the Church Hall is still there? (Q: Yes, that’s still there.) And then opposite that, of course, was the market. It’s now the Labour Club [Labour Hall, Collingwood Road]. I passed it this morning. A market for cattle on Tuesdays and for poultry. And then the road swung round and over the bridge [Collingwood Road bridge]. And the railings are still there that I stood and watched the solders at the outbreak of the War. I was four, I remember it. And there was a trainload of Belgian wounded in the station [railway station]. I think I’ve probably told you this before.

Q:    Goodness. And that was at the beginning of the War?

Mr P:    The beginning of the War, I was four. I remember it. Those houses were there but none of these were here [in Collingwood Road]. (Q: Further up?) There was a little alleyway that led through here [opposite Public Hall, between telephone exchange and 21 Collingwood Road]. (Q: You can still get through there.) A kind of sweethearts’ alleyway that led through to All Saints Church.

Q:    Someone told me that was called Blood’s Cut. Does that mean anything to you?

Mr P:    It doesn’t mean anything to me but I remember it being there.

Q:    Perhaps that was a different one.

Mr P:    Shall we just walk round? [General conversation, not noted]

Q:    That was Collingwood House, wasn’t it [Collingwood House, 15 Collingwood Road].

Mr P:    Yes. And that was lived in by Brown, the corn merchant. In your notes there is somebody who said her grandfather was Brown the corn merchant.

Q:    Oh yes, Mrs Coleman. Marjorie Brown, she was. In fact, I think it was her father, probably. Would that be – no, I think it was her grandfather, you’re right, yes.

Mr P:    There were two daughters, they were – we regarded them as quite affluent people, living in a house like that.

Q:     Yes. One of them is Marjorie Coleman now and she is still in Witham, yes

Mr P:    Yes. Well, I remember that. I used to come up here to the railway station every day to school, of course [up Collingwood Road]. (Q: Yes) Now my grandmother, who was born about 1860, remembered this road being built [Collingwood Road]. And until that was built, if you came to the railway station, and you wanted to get into the High Street, you had to go down the Valley and turn into Guithavon Road – Guithavon Street, yes.

Q:    She actually remembered it?

Mr P:    Yes, she’s gone now of course.

Q:    Yes indeed, but that’s wonderful to have someone who remembers it, because to everyone who lives here now, this has been here forever.

Mr P:    Now here there was a water tower [Health Authority building’s car park]. (Q: Oh, the car park.) A red-brick water tower which was out of use and it had been superseded by another water tower which has now gone, along the Braintree Road – there’s a dip [Cressing Road, outside Witham]. (Q: Oh, I know, I’ve seen that). And a house on the left with ochre-coloured brick and there was a water tower there which superseded this one. This was a red-brick water tower but it was out of action when I was a child. And here were the Council offices [also in Health Authority car park, next to pavement]. Just here, and with the red-brick water tower behind.

Q:    Because when I came that was the Electricity Board office, I think.

Mr P:    Oh yes. This was the coal office, Moy’s [4 Collingwood Road, Beacon cabs] [Tape picked up radio message from Beacon Cabs, which drowned out conversation!] And these were the stables for their horses that took the coal round [2 Collingwood Road, behind the George, Daman Heating].

Q:    Were they really? How wonderful.

[Radio message]

Mr P:    That was Mottashead’s chemist’s shop [probably 5 Collingwood Road, other side of the road, red brick and shop, Tudor Employment Agency].

Q:    What, the one that’s the employment agency?

Mr P:    Yes it was the shop that you’d never forget! I’ve never seen such an untidy shop in my life! He never unpacked any of the parcels that came in, but stepped over them. [Both laugh] And someone in your thing spoke of that.

Q:    Someone’s mentioned him before, yes. I think they all say the same thing. It’s very hard to imagine it, isn’t it, these days?

Mr P:    Well, you could hardly get the door open, because it was such a mess! But he could always find something, even if it meant unpacking a parcel to do it.

Q:    So it was very well used, was it?

Mr P:    Oh yes, yes. There was one other chemist’s, which I will show you, Bellamy’s, in the High Street. But he was the photographer. He didn’t take photographs but he was the camera man.

Q:    What, Mottashed was?

Mr P:     Mottashed, you bought your films from him and he developed them.
[General conversation, not noted]

Mr P:    The electricity was the cycle shop, Glover’s [38 Collingwood Road, electricity shop]. And that is mentioned in your notes. And he used to stand the bicycles that were for sale out in that forecourt. And his shop was there. Shall we walk up here [Newland Street, north side]

[turning left, eastwards along the north side of Newland Street, looking across to the other side sometimes]

Part 2 of the walk, described below
Part 2 of the walk, described below

Mr P:    This was here of course [38, the George].

Q:    Is that much different [the George]? (Mr P: No, that’s the same.) Have you been back often? (Mr P: No.) Oh, so really you can just see it as it was.

Mr P:    Yes. This was Bull’s, the photographer [34, GK Motors] (Q: The motor shop, yes.) That’s mentioned in your notes. (Q: It’s wonderful to know where they all were.) This was Bull’s and these were private houses all along here [32-28]. And then there was a little alleyway, which is still there [between 28 and 26]. These were all private houses [26, 24, 22}

Q:    What sort of people lived in them?

Mr P:    I don’t know, I can’t remember. But I know who lived in this one. There were two gentlemen who lived here. One as called Gardner, who was an auctioneer, who is mentioned in your notes [24]. And the other [26] was called Abrey, Captain Abrey, who was the chairman of the governors or the managers of the Council school. He used to come and check the register. And of course, this was later on lived in by Dorothy Sayers. But when I was a boy, it was lived in by Gardner and Abrey. Abrey – I won’t say that I was his protégé but he used to come into my father’s shop and say ‘If your boy likes to come up, I’ve got a book or two for him’. And I would go up – I haven’t got them now of course, but …

Q:    What sort of books would they be, then?

Mr P:    Whitaker’s Almanac and dictionaries and things like that. He was an old sea captain, Captain Abrey. This was lived in by a weird lady, called Miss Vaux [22]. I mean, they weren’t in our social pattern.

Q:    No. What was weird about her, then?

Mr P:    She used to dress weirdly and her hair was all over the place. I always used to think she was a bit weird! This was lived in by two ladies called Miss Taber [20, Tiptree Villa]. (Q That’s Tiptree Villa now.) It was called Tiptree Villa. Now Whitehall [18, library] was a dilapidated house which was occupied by the Army during the War. And I don’t know – it had been standing empty, I should think, for a long time. And it stood empty for a long time after the War, and then it was turned into a cinema.

Q:    What did the Army used to do here, do you know?

Mr P:    Well, they lived in it. Because this place was full of troops during the War and they lived in it. They occupied it, they occupied a large number of – all property which was empty they confiscated and occupied. And here of course they used to have their parades [in the road here]. I used to have a photograph of the horses standing in line there. Horses with field guns.

Q:    On this – I suppose, you couldn’t have a parade here now, could you? [laughs]

Mr P:    Oh no! This house was here, I don’t know who lived in it [16, Roslyn House]. They were not our social milieu.

Q:     No. But you’d see them around and know who they were, would you?

Mr P:    I’d see them around. Now that farm, that is Freebornes [3, other side of road]. And I used to come up every morning, early, with a milk can to get skimmed milk. And I remember walking underneath that and thinking how marvellous it would be when I was tall enough to touch it with my head [overhang at Freebornes].

Q:    [laughs] What, that’s the over-hanging pieces? (Mr P: Yes) You did get there in the end then?

Mr P:    Yes, I got there in the end, but … You could come and get a ha’porth of skimmed milk. And you used to go down there, the dairy was behind. And there were about eight or nine children who used to do that every morning.

Q:    What did you get it in?

Mr P:    In a can, yes.

Q:    You took your own can, did you?

Mr P:    You took your own can and he took – there were big trays of milk, which had been stood there the night, and the cream was skimmed off. And then we had what was left. I mean, it was an economical way of getting milk. It may not have been so nutritious but I used to come every morning to get that. That wasn’t here of course [Old Post Office, and 5A and 5B, other side of the road].

Q:    None of this, you say?

Mr P:    None of this, that’s all new. Freebornes was there. Then there was a big space and then a large house, Dr Payne’s [5, High House, Chinese restaurant]. You can see it there with a white overhang over the door. (Q: It’s a Chinese restaurant now.) And then it was taken over by Cook’s the pork butcher. Harold Cook appears in your notes. (Q: That’s it, yes, I spoke to him, yes.) These were private houses [12, 10, 8, 6]. I used to know the lady who lived there [12] because they came to our chapel. That’s how I knew them. But these – all this were the grounds of The Grove which was a large house that stood there [other side of road, behind brick wall]. It’s gone now, hasn’t it? (Q: Yes. Who lived there then?) I don’t know. (Q: You didn’t know anything about them.) I just knew that they were there. Oh, during the War it was taken over by the Army. (Q: Yes, I see.) Now here [6] there lived a lady called Miss Bindon Blood. I think Bindon Blood may have been her father was a viceroy of India or something like that. And the local myth was that she was descended from Captain Blood, the man who stole the jewels. But I don’t know how true that was.

Q:    And she lived at number 6 did she?

Mr P:    This one, Miss Blood [laughs]. And this house is unaltered [4, Avenue House].

Q:    It’s rather nice, isn’t it?

Mr P:     Yes, it’s got a very nice cupola. [Pause] And this was the last house up here [2, Newbury House]. This was The Manse. For my, the Congregational minister.

Q:    So you would have known him quite well?

Mr P:    Oh yes. There was a dreadful tragedy in this house. A soldier, an officer who was at The Grove, was billeted on these people. He was the Reverend Picton. And the officer brought a hand grenade to show it to him – a stupid thing to do. He thought it was a dud. And he pulled the pin out and it went up. And he was killed, the officer, the parson was killed and his daughter, who was in the room, was blinded in one eye and his wife was injured. (Q: Oh dear.) I remember coming up and seeing that glass shattered. I don’t think my parents ought to have done it but still they did (Q: To come, no.). And I was very upset at the time. Picton, 1916 that was.

Q:    And that was that window there, on the left?

Mr P:    That window there. That was the room that it happened in. But of course, it was given up by the Congregationalists later and they built another Manse, just opposite the Public Hall. I don’t know if it’s still there?

Q:    I think it is, yes, in Collingwood Road.

Mr P:    This was all open country [eastward, past 2]. Up as far as the Catholic church [old Catholic church, corner of Avenue Road and Newland Street]. Is the Catholic church still there?

Q:    Just about. The Catholics have just taken over All Saints. (Mr P: Oh, have they?) So although the church still stands up here, it’s empty. And they plan to build on it.

Mr P:    This was a marvellous avenue of lime trees [The Avenue]. Right through, up there’s a lodge, isn’t there is it still there?

Q:    Yes, it’s still there.

Mr P:    This was put up about 1920 of course, the War Memorial.

Q:    You can just see the Church, through there, what’s left of it.

Mr P:    Yes, and the railway bridge [Colchester Road]. Is the bridge still there? Because the Maldon line was closed, wasn’t it?

Q:    The bridge is still there, because the line is still there, in effect.

Mr P:    This was a marvellous tall avenue of lime trees [The Avenue]. It’s a great tragedy that they were cut down. And I remember being told that that was just a quarter of a mile and I always think of that distance when I have to –

Q:    That’s useful, I never thought of that.

Mr P:    A pair of gates here (Q: At the bottom.) and a pair of gates at the other end, with a small gate for pedestrians, but there was no traffic through there at all. And that was the entrance to The Grove.

Q:    So you could walk through?

Mr P:    Oh you could walk through, yes. Oh it was a great pleasure to walk through. But that was the entrance to The Grove [opposite The Avenue] and all this was the grounds of The Grove and at the end of that there [Chess Lane] you could turn round and there was a football field and that’ [now Grove housing estate].

Q:    Oh, I see.

Mr P:    And that’s mentioned in your [???] You talk about the chestnut trees and the football ground.

Q:    I’ve never been quite sure, that was behind The Grove then, was it?

Mr P:    Yes, there was The Grove grounds and then behind there, there was a field which was used by Witham Football Club, after the War, of course, not during the war, but it started up about 1919. And a row of cottages there, and a pump [Grove Cottages]. I don’t suppose the pump is there anymore?

Q:    I don’t think so. That was in the road?

Mr P:    Just by the side of the road, where the path is now. And the people from those cottages would get their water from that pump.

Q:    Because, there’s still a path down there. You can still walk down there but it goes to the industrial estate now. It’s quite a useful path.

[General conversation, not noted].

[Cross Newland Street and start walking westwards on the south side]

Part 3, described below
Part 3 of the walk, described below

Mr P:    It’s interesting to cast the mind back and see it as it was.

Q:    Yes, I can see it now.

Mr P:    It’s virtually unaltered.

Q:    Yes, it is, isn’t it? I suppose this end was the rich end, in a way, wasn’t it?

Mr P:    Yes, the classy area, yes. Newland Street was a cut above High Street.

Q:    Now people are always having this argument –

Mr P:    This end was called Newland Street.

Q:    – about this end was called Newland Street? Yes. [Tape breaking up slightly]

Mr P:    Yes, High Street began at the Collingwood Road corner. But I mean that’s how I remember it.

Q:    Because the addresses are all ‘Newland Street’ now. But people are always having these arguments about whether it should be Newland Street and which bit should be Newland Street. But that’s how it was used?

Mr P:    Well, as I remember it, it was ‘High Street’ from Collingwood Road and when the houses came to be numbered, they started there, at Collingwood Road. [Pause] I remember coming up on Armistice Day in 1918 and seeing soldiers drilling outside Whitehall. And my mother called to them ‘You won’t have to do that any longer!’ [Q laughs]

Q:    So really, you’d see quite a lot of the soldiers, then?

Mr P:    Oh yes! They were billeted in my house, they were billeted in all the houses. And over the bridge, those fields were used for training, trenches and so on [out along Colchester Road]. And they used to have a line of bags hanging, stuffed with straw and the men would run at them with their rifles and bayonets, stabbing them and pretending they were Germans. That was their training.

Q:    That was out in the fields?

Mr P:    Out in the fields beyond that bridge.

Q:    Did you used to go and watch them?

Mr P:    Oh yes.

Q:    That must have been quite a change then for a … Can you remember when it all started? Was it a big effect on you or …?

Mr P:    No, I don’t remember it. I remember incidents about the soldiers, and I remember having soldiers in the house. (Q: Yes, of course). And wounded soldiers. Because there was a little military hospital at the end of Bridge Street. There’s the Bridge Home and attached to it there was an annexe which was a military hospital take over by the VADs, the Voluntary Aid ladies.

Q:    Oh, I see. So that wasn’t actually in the Bridge Home?

Mr P:    No, it was a little annexe – red brick annexe [Hospital annexe, west side of hospital since demolished].

Q:    What on the other side, do you remember?

Mr P:    It was on the other side of Bridge Home, a red-brick building.

Q:    Yes, I have seen pictures of VADs and wondered where they were, that would probably be there, wouldn’t it?

Mr P:    That’s where they were. And the soldiers, in there, when they were wounded and well enough to come out, used to come out of course, in their bright blue loose-fitting jackets and trousers. White shirts and red ties.

Q:    Did they? Very patriotic. So they would come out –

Mr P:    None of this was here, Freebornes – fish and chips now [3]. [Q laughs]

Q:    When were you last here?

Mr P:    I came about two years ago. But I hadn’t been then for many years. I came – I really came to see my parents’ grave which is in the cemetery along the Braintree Road. Now this is all new.

Q:    The Post Office is new, even, isn’t it,  to you I suppose [Old Post Office, part of 5]?

Mr P:    Oh yes, I’ll show you where the Post Office used to be. That was built after I left. I left Witham in 1928. But my parents went on living until 1960 in Collingwood Road. After my father retired.

Mr P:     Now this belonged to a retired doctor, Dr Payne [5, High House, Chinese restaurant] He didn’t practise at all.

Q:    I’m sure I’ve seen a picture with them having three storeys on?

Mr P:    I can’t remember that, but that was certainly Dr Payne’s house.

Q:    I looks much the same though otherwise. So really all the bits between would be his garden, would it [5A and 5B, opticians and Tudor Employment Agency]?

Mr P:    Yes, yes. There was a lovely conker tree standing here. It came over the garden, Dr Payne’s garden, and there were conker trees in it. No conkers to pick up now. Now this was here of course [7, Red Lion].

Q:    So the trees were next to it. Is that much the same?

Mr P:    Yes. My father never went into a public house so I wasn’t really aware of it, or any of our friends went. Somewhere where you noticed that  it was there.

Q:    So was that something to do with being in the chapel, do you think?

Mr P:    Yes, that was his way of life. Yes. This was – I don’t remember what this was except that that was the little sweet shop. Miss Green, who’d sell ice cream [9-13].

Q:    So was the ice cream the same, as it is now?

Mr P:    No, they had it in a tub, then they would take a cornet, put a spoon in the tub, and fill up the cornet. Push it down – you hoped they’d push it down so there was plenty inside! Or they’d have a little gadget on which they made wafers. A little oblong, they’d put one side of the wafer in, fill it up and put the other side in, turn it over, a wafer.

Now this was Cutts, the fishmonger [29-31 or part]. Yes, he appears in your books. He was quite a character. (Q: In what way?) Well, shall I say he was a personality. I can’t really describe him but – a man of about fifty and he had a son called Cyril who went into the business with him. And that was occupied by the Army [across the road, 40, Lisa Marie]. I think that was their cookhouse. This was Brand’s the baker’s [33]. And this was a little pork butcher.

Q:    Where Woolworth is? [actually probably 33]

Mr P:    And then there was a house which was occupied by Horner, the veterinary surgeon [35]. That appears in your notes.

Q:    Yes, that rings a bell.

Mr P:    Gone now, you see. The house, a red brick house and you went down a yard there and he’d got his surgery behind there.

Q:    And was that right up to the yes, so his house was right up to the White Hart was it? [probably not, just number 35].

Mr P:    His house was here, then there was an alleyway and his surgery was round the back. My father knew him very well, because they were both in the same kind of business, you see, dealing with horses.

Q:     Of course, yes.

Mr P:    My father was the – although he lived until eighty, he was not a strong man. And he was told he ought to take cod liver oil and he used to get the cod liver oil in large gallons from the vet, though it was intended for horses! [laughs]

Q:    Oh dear! Really? [laughs]

Mr P:    And I used to have to have this. I hated it! It was so fishy and it was so strong.

Q:    I should imagine – but it obviously did you good! [laughs] Did the people have children that you knew, some of them? When you were young?

Mr P:    Yes, and it’s some of those children I’m going to see, later today. Because they wrote to me – as a result of my article they wrote to me and said they hoped I’d go and see them, sent me a Christmas card and that sort of thing.

Q:    So did you play with them quite a lot, or were you too busy?

Mr P:    Oh, I played with them, yes. I played with them. I don’t suppose I – you see, I went to the Council school down here and then when I was eleven I got a scholarship to the Braintree High School and that really cut me off. (Q: Yes) Because not many children did get scholarships, one a year, you see, or perhaps two. And that really cut me off from local children.

Mr P:    Yes. Starting from the lights there was a large house standing there] [still on opposite side of road]! A large brick house and one end of that was occupied by Potter Groves, who was a breeches maker. Because men did much more driving, er, riding then of course, and they needed breeches, you see. He was the breeches maker.,– a large house, Luckin Smith’s from Chelmsford, then Gage’s the hairdresser and tobacconist. Then Brown’s the corn merchants, before Spurge the draper. Mr Groves used to spend a good deal of his time in the public house!

Q:    I see. And so Mr Groves actually made the breeches as well as selling them? (Mr P: Yes) But it was a sort of a shop, too?

Mr P:    He used to spend a good deal of his time in the public house!

Q:    [Laughs] Did he? Which one did he go to? (Mr P: I don’t know.) Because you weren’t an expert on public houses. (Mr P: No) Do you want to go down Maldon Road?

[Continuing along south side of Newland Street, after crossing Maldon Road]

Mr P:     Well, let’s cross now, shall we?
[general conversation, not noted]
Now this, this was a very narrow corner and the road was half the width it is now [Maldon Road]. And on this piece of ground that we are standing on now was a public house [pavement next to 39]. Rather a rough public house called ‘The Angel’. The kind of public house that you’d hear singing coming out of at night. And down there, where the end of the building is [east side of Maldon Road, behind the White Hart] there was another place which was called ‘The White Hart Tap’. And that was a rather rough – you could hear singing coming out of there on Saturday nights. Certainly my parents would never think of going in them.

Q:    No. So you just thought of them as places …

Mr P:    They were wicked places!

Q:    I can’t remember whether there were licensing hours – I mean would you see a lot of people hanging around?

Mr P:    Oh yes, there were licensing hours, I don’t think they were very different from now. And that shop is practically unaltered. That was Dowsett’s [across the road, 56, shoe shop].

Q:    That was shoes was it, isn’t that wonderful.

Mr P:    That was shoes and he was also a shoe repairer. You would take the shoes in to him for repair.

Part 4 of the walk, described below
Part 4 of the walk, described below

Mr P:    Now this was the International Stores [43, Coral’s betting shop].

Q:    That’s not been gone very long.

Mr P:    And this was Palmer’s the saddle and harness makers [45].

Q:    The famous one [where Mr P lived]. It looks a lot different.

Mr P:     Oh yes.

[Traffic noises drowns voices]

Q:    Was that the whole lot or just part of it?

Mr P:    No, the whole of it.

Q:    It was quite big, wasn’t it?

Mr P:    It was quite big, it was a double fronted shop, and here there was a kind of alleyway which led round to the back.

Q:    What, between here?

Mr P:    Between here and that building, yes. I’ve got a picture of the High Street. I’ll send it to you. I couldn’t get it this morning because we’ve got the decorators in and it’s in the desk and it’s all covered over. But I’ve got it somewhere, I’ll send it to you. (Q: That’s very nice of you.) Yes, there was a long narrow overhead –

Q:    It was built over?

Mr P:    Yes, a tunnel really. And the house itself was very old – it was supposed to be, well, it was fifteenth century. And it had got a shop front built into the front. But it appears in the book of historical monuments – 45 High Street, fifteenth century, so it was very old.

Q:    So you lived up above?

Mr P:    We lived above it, well we had two rooms behind, a living room and a scullery. And then there were five or six rooms above. Because it went back a – quite a long way.

Q:    So you just had the one floor above again? (Mr P: Yes.) So really you would – with a set-up like that you were always – you couldn’t really get away from your work much could you?

Mr P:     Oh no! No. And of course we used the shop as the way in and out, except when the shop was closed in the evenings or on Sundays when we used this alleyway. This was a private house lived in by two ladies, two maiden ladies called Miss Barwell [47]. And it’s now been taken over by the Spread Eagle. But it was a private house in those days.

Q:    Did you know them well?

Mr P:    Yes, yes.

Q:    Because they didn’t have a business or anything?

Mr P:    No, they were private ladies of private means.

Q:    So did they go to the chapel or anything?

Mr P:    Church of England.

Q:    Because the Barwells, as far as I can see, they actually started in Witham in the seventeenth century. (Mr P: Did they? Really.) Not many families went on that long so I’ve always been quite interested in them.

Mr P:    Yes, two ladies. Now this was here, of course [49, Spread Eagle].

Q:    Is that much the same?

Mr P:    Yes, just the same. A bit smarter looking, but – this is where the Hunt, the East Essex Hunt used to meet. And that was a great day. Two or three times during the autumn and the spring. At eleven o’clock in the morning the hounds would come from Braxted Park with their huntsmen in scarlet. They would come along here, and go in there and wait until it was eleven and by that time, from half past ten until eleven, all kinds of gentlemen and ladies, the men in scarlet, the ladies sitting side-saddle with bowler hats or top hats and little fringe veils would ride up and down here, flirting and asking how each other was and that kind of thing, until eleven o’clock when the hounds would come here and either go off in that direction or go in that direction – they couldn’t do it now, could they?

Q:    That’s wonderful. You were well placed to see that, then?

Mr P:    Oh, it was a wonderful time. And of course, all the local inhabitants would line these paths and the people on their horses of course rather enjoyed showing off! They were the hoi-polloi! My father was busy that day, he always put on a clean apron! [Q laughs] Because people would come to have something – a girth adjusted or something.

Q:    Yes so it was good for business that day, yes.

Mr P:    Yes. And Powell Jones, who was the jolly innkeeper here, used to provide drinks for the huntsmen.

Q:    What, treat them?

Mr P:    Oh, give them a drink, down there.

Q:    Did you know him at all?

Mr P:    No, no.

Q:    That must have been a wonderful sight.

Mr P:    Yes. It’s amazing to think that the Hunt was in here. This was a little greengrocer’s shop, Hasler [51]. His wife was a chronic invalid with rheumatism or something like that, and he used to have to turn her over at night. She was in bed all the time, and she used to scream! I heard it so often, quite loud. This was the solicitor [53, Kemsley]. It was here that the tribunal was held that my father had to go before, because his employer was appealing against his being called up for military service. [First War] And he came here one evening and came back and said – much to our pleasure, telling us that he had been deferred. And he never was called up.

Q:    That was your father, deferred?

Mr P:    My father. He went before the tribunal.

Q:    So when you say his employer –

Mr P:    His employer at that time was Crickmore, a man who had a business in Braintree. And my father took over the business on the first of January 1924.

Q:    So before that would Crickmore be here? Or –

Mr P:    No, he was in Braintree.

Q:    Oh, you father worked for him, I see.

Mr P:    He lived in Braintree and he used to drive across in a horse and trap once a week.

Q:    So it was called ‘Crickmore’s’.

Mr P:    Yes. That was a chemist shop [across the road, 64, DER]. Bellamy’s with a very nice entrance on the corner. Up three steps and an oriel window. This was the Army headquarters during the War [57, Midland Bank]. Midland Bank now. A large empty house with guards – sentries on duty here and the bugler giving the bugle calls – ‘Last Post’ for example, I used hear.

Q:    What, every day?

Mr P:    Yes, every night. He’d stand outside here.

Part 5 of the walk, described below
Part 5 of the walk, described below

Mr P:    That place, Martins [across the road, 70] was a newsagent’s and it was there that a hand-written notice was put up if there was anything special. For example, my father ran across and read the Armistice had been signed. Or I remember his coming to say Kitchener had been drowned, and things like that. He would come across to read it outside there.

Q:    Because I suppose not so many people took a newspaper then, did they?

Mr P:    Well, no, this was stop press news. Today what we would call a ‘news flash’! Now this appears in your notes – this is Barnardiston House, or ‘Blackie’s School’ [59, not actually Barnardiston / Blackie’s, which was at 35 Chipping Hill; he is probably thinking of a small children’s home which was at what is now 59 Newland Street]. It had been a little boarding school. And in my time it was run as a kind of private home for – I won’t call them waifs and strays but we always used to think they were children over whose birth there was somewhat of a cloud, whose parents wanted to get rid of them. Blackie’s School, Barnardiston House. The clock is still there [on 61]. We used to set our watches by that. And this was Barclay’s they’ve moved [61, Town and Country Building Society]!

Q:    They moved across, didn’t they? But otherwise this building is the same.

Mr P:    The building is the same.

Q:    Was that the only bank then?

Mr P:    No, there was another bank down, further down, Lloyds, which I’ll show you. Now, those were various shops, there was a men’s  …

Side 4 [overlaps with side 3 because it is a re-recording]

Q:    Was that the only bank then?

Mr P:    No, there was another bank down, further down, Lloyds, which I’ll show you. Now, those were various shops [other side of the road], there was a men’s outfitters there [72, John Hillary] and I think that was a private house the place with the white shutters [74-76, Rumbelow’s].

Q:    That infilling-in bit is quite new. That’s only been filled in there in the last year or so.

Mr P:    There was a yard down there which led to a builders and decorators [between 72 and 74]. Down there. And this shop is absolutely unaltered, even the name [63, Mondy’s].

Q:    What, Mondy’s? Is that right? That’s good isn’t it?

Mr P:    Exactly the same.


Mr P:    On Armistice night 1918, there was a huge bonfire here. And Mrs Mondy was dreadfully upset (Q: Really?) because they’d got stocks of paraffin here (Q: Oh yes) and she thought the whole place was going up. And on the official peace celebrations in 1919 they started to build a bonfire here and she came out with buckets of water!

[Pause – traffic]

And when I say this is the same, this was where the Mondy’s lived. This house. But this shop is exactly the same. (Q: With the bows) That is unaltered [across the road, 78, Michelle’s flower shop]. Now Cooper’s was the Post Office [across the road, 84, Cooper’s] and Mellon’s was a garden [80, Mellon’s]. And the Post office has been built in front of those houses. And just a garden there. And when I was in bed, over the harness maker’s shop, I could – every night just after nine o’clock, I could hear the postman with a rather squeaky little barrow, taking the bags of letters up to the railway station to catch the mail train, which ran at about twenty past nine every night. And I could hear him – I could tell the time! He would go up and then after an interval, he would come back, still squeaking! [Both laugh]

Q:    Amazing! Fancy remembering that!

Mr P:    And I also remember how the post used to be taken to Maldon by trap, a red trap. The driver, with a horse and a red trap – a kind of red box, used to take the letters to Maldon and he’d come up here, but that was usually earlier in the evening. But I can certainly remember that mail train. [Laughs]

Q:    Funny the things that – I remember you saying you spent so much of your life in this street –

Mr P:    Oh, I spent the whole of my life here, really –

Q:    It must have impressed itself on you.

Mr P:    This was a furniture shop, Rice’s [67, Cheshunt & District Building Society]. (Q: Both of these, the whole lot?) Yes, a large furniture shop. And this – that Gas was a pawnbrokers a pawnbroker and second hand furniture shop [across the road, 86, Gas Co]. Sammy Page, you’d see Sammy Page very often wheeling up and down here with a barrow, with bits and pieces which he’d bought or was selling.

Q:    So it was a general secondhand –

Mr P:    Yes, and a pawnbroker. And this [83] was a baker’s, and the bakehouse was up there.

Q:    It was until recently, it’s just closed.

Mr P:    I think the name was Burrell, and then it was taken over by someone called Palmer, but no relation. (Q: I see.) Now this, King, this was a – the same kind of shop as it is now, except it didn’t have those windows [85, King’s jewellers]. It was originally Patten’s and then it was taken over by King, and I expect the son is one of the boys, probably my age now.

Q:    Yes, there was a Leslie King who died recently. I think when I first came, he was in there – it might be a grandson, I suppose.
[changing original tape, words not clear to start with]
[General conversation, not noted]

Part 6 of the walk, described below
Part 6 of the walk, described below

Mr P:    This is exactly the same [87, Bright’s solicitors]. This was a greengrocer’s [89, part of Bright’s].

Q:    Did a lot of these people live, most of them lived here, as well?

Mr P:    Yes. You lived – they all – practically all the shops, the owners lived above them. This was a pork butcher, Gibbs [91, Braintree and Witham Times office].

Q:    That was Gibbs you said?

Mr P:     Yes, the pork butcher. This was a private house [93, Abbott’s estate agent]. That was, of course, our chapel [across the road, the URC]. And that was Dibben’s [across the road, 90, part of Byford’s]. Dibben appears in your …. This side, this window was Dibben’s and the other window was a part of the house [92].

Q:    A lot of these places, I’ve never been quite sure where they were so it is really wonderful to know.

Mr P:    Yes, Dibben’s.

Q:    So that was a big place, wasn’t it?

Mr P:    Well, it was only a small place because it was only this side, the second window belonged to the house. Underneath the word ‘Byford’. And this was Miss Powell’s shop [95, Westminster Bank]. She was a lady who sold toys and wools and had a little lending library, tuppence a week. (Q: Really?) And she was a bit –

Q:    I think I’ve heard of her.

Mr P:    – a bit crazy! She got my father – my father used to come to the post at night and she collared him one night and took him inside and said ‘Look, the people who come out of that church, they all bow to the lamp!’ And she’d got various odd things.

Q:    Did you use the library yourself?

Mr P:    Oh yes, yes.

Q:     I should think you did, if you enjoyed books.

Mr P:    Tuppence a week. Edgar Rice Burrows, you know. And there there was a garage [97, between and behind 95 and 99] and it looks as though there might be a garage there still!

Q:    I think it’s car cleaning now, so it’s similar, I suppose.

Mr P:    And she – Miss Powell said that at certain times of the day there were mystery cars came and started up there and she got my father and said ‘Listen, they’re starting now’. You know, she was quite crazy [both laugh].

Q:    But that was after motor cars came in?

Mr P:    Yes, that was probably ‘23 or ’24. This was Lloyd’s Bank [97, Lloyd’s Bank] The same.

Q:    Is it? It’s nice that some things don’t change, isn’t it?

Mr P:    Yes. These were private houses. And Batsford Court, they were private houses [other side of the road, 100].

Q:    So they’re quite grand as well.

Mr P:    These were private houses [across the road, 98 and 100]. And there was an alleyway [across the road, Lawn Chase] leading to a very large house called ‘The Lawn’ and he was Master of Foxhounds. He went to London each day, a businessman, a London businessman but he was the man who would lead the hounds out. There’s no house there now, is there?

Q:    No, I think I can just remember it. I think it was pulled down about twenty years ago.

Mr P:     Oh really? And this was a private house, [107, now part of Co-op, east of Kings Chase] was a bicycle shop! There were two bicycle shops, Glover’s on the corner and this one.

Q:    But that was somebody different was it?

Mr P:    Yes.

[General conversation, not noted]

Mr P:    This was Kings Chase, which leads to the Recreation Ground. (Q: This is still here.) and this is the Co-op. [113  Newland Street]

Q:    Below the Chase. It’s grown a bit?

Mr P:    Haberdashery and drapery on one side, and grocery on the other.

Q:    Just the one part was it, with the pelican on top, which is still there. [Laughs]. Did you use the Co-op much?

Mr P:    Oh yes. And they used to give you a little metal token. After you’d spent, say, four shillings, they’d give you a metal token and you saved those and then once a quarter take them all back and you’d be given a dividend according to the amount you’d spent. I mean that was the whole principle of the Co-op. The ‘divi’.

Q:    Yes. I suppose you had to be a member or something, to get that? They actually had members of the Co-op I suppose?

Mr P:    Oh yes. Later on, they abolished those little metal tokens and you got a little slip of paper instead. And when you bought anything you’d quote your number – ‘five hundred and fifty’ was my mother’s number – and – I’ve got the memory, haven’t I? [Both laugh]

Q:    Incredible, yes. You had to say it a lot?

Mr P:    Yes, when you went down, you’d say ‘Five fifty’- and then you’d save all those and take them back.

Part 7 of walk, described below, enlarged
Part 7 of walk, described below

Mr P:    This was a row of rather slummy property, with steps leading up; rather poor houses [across the road, 102-116, Newland Court].

Q:    These new ones. Used to be – for a long time it was just a caravan, sales place. That’s been built quite recently.

Mr P:    They were poor houses.

Q:    I suppose in most of this street there were shopkeepers and people, weren’t there? But up this end they were rather poorer?

Mr P:    No, there was – actually here it was a little bit classy.

Q:    I suppose so, because Batsford is a big house isn’t it?

Mr P:     They were poor, poor property there.

Q:    What about these two big ones here? They’ve always looked interesting to me [117-119].

Mr P:    Yes, well, they were obviously private houses. But that was poor property over there. This was a private house [121]. This is not altered, a private house (Q: the Gables, yes) [125 Newland Street] And this – from here down [127-129] was lived in by the Gimson family – that appears in your notes. Old Dr Gimson; and then he had two sons, Karl and Edward. And they were practising doctors when I was a boy.

Q:    And they had this whole bit with the [???] door as well – but the end …?

Mr P:    [???] [traffic noise]

Q:    I think you’re probably right. Yes. This is still a doctor’s surgery. But the doctors don’t live there really any more, I don’t think.

Mr P:    No, they lived here. And it’s Dr Gimson. And then another doctor came, a little man, called Dr Knight who came during the War to help them [First World War]. You’ve got a note about that.

Q:    Do you remember using the doctor much, yourself?

Mr P:    I had Dr Knight to see me when I had ‘flu, in 1918, with the ‘flu epidemic. But apart from that, I didn’t. But my mother used to go occasionally. There was a waiting room along there, is it still there?

Q:    Along the side. Yes, there is still one there, yes.

Mr P:    Well that’s it. And this was a bakery [137, betting office]. That was ‘Blue Posts’. Is it still known as Blue Posts [across the road, 126, part of Coates]?

Q:    Not really, no, but I have read about the Blue Posts. Were there actually some blue posts there?

Mr P:    Yes. It was painted blue. ‘Blue Posts’.

Q:    I’d never heard about that. I wondered actually, why they were known as that. Was that a sort of porch then? Were they independent posts?

Mr P:    I think they were wooden posts then but they were painted blue. Where the cement is now there I think were wooden posts, and they were painted blue. And the overhead was painted blue.

Q:    Oh, it’s nice to hear why they were called that. I’d never heard that before.

Mr P:    That was a very dowdy bespoke tailors shop [across the road, 128, part of Coates]. Garrett, a very old man who was a bespoke tailor. You could scarcely see through those windows for dirt and muck. He had a workshop round the back with a big counter, on which he used to sit cross-legged. (Q: Really?) With scores of little bits of cloth. And I used to work for him. On Saturday evenings I’d come here and if he’d made a suit – and he usually had during the day – he would wrap it up in a black cloth and give it to me to take home to the person. Sometimes I’d have two to take and he’d used to give me thruppence or sixpence for doing that. A bit of pocket money, for personal care.

Q:    Now I think Coates has both of them. So then, that was a tailor’s where the shop is and the Blue Posts was the house, was it?

Mr P:    Yes. That’s where the Garretts lived, and this was their shop. And round the back was his workshop. This was a shop which sold tea and butter [139, wine shop]. I don’t think it was – they may have sold cheese but it wasn’t a big grocer’s. And this was a private house lived in by the Sorrell family [141, dentist], and that [143, Poseur’s] was their shop, a butcher’s shop. And that’s where I used to go round the back there. The Crotchet there [other side of road, 130].

Q:    So people who – people who had a lot of room lived in the house next to the shop rather than over above it, like the Sorrells?

Mr P:    Yes. This was the blacksmith’s shop, the blacksmith’s forge [other side of road, part of 130].

Q:    They’ve still got the forge in the pub. In the bar there.

Mr P:    Oh really? These were rather mean little shops. There was one shop called ‘Sammy Wood’ that I used to bring our kitchen pieces down to for his chickens [145-147]. And he used to give me a bar of nougat or a bar of chocolate.

Q:    Is that what he sold then?

Mr P:    Yes, it was a little sweet shop.

Q:    That was just behind – there isn’t anything now. Because somebody near me collects bottles and he’s been digging and he found one with ‘S T Wood’ so he presumed that that must have been ‘Woods’, yes.

Mr P:    This was a sweet shop and that was a tobacconist’s, Ellis [149 & 151 respectively, Motormania].

Q:    There were two separate shops were there? The sweet shop and Ellis’s?

Mr P:    Yes. Mrs Ellis ran the sweet shop, Mr Ellis ran the tobacconist’s. This was the gas works [across the road, now car park]. Mr Croxall was the owner and Lucy Croxall appears in your notes.

Q:    Yes. That must have been quite a size, I never saw that.

Mr P:    Oh yes, it was quite a thing. This is unaltered. This is just as it was [155 Newland Street].

Part 8 of walk, described below
Part 8 of walk, described below

If you move round into Guithavon Street [Mill Lane actually], there was a tanning yard down there. (Q: Yes) With a nasty smell, as you can gather. Because most of these butchers of course had slaughterhouses attached to them, and particularly hide and sheep wool and that kind of thing and sheep fleeces would be brought there. And there was quite an unpleasant smell. The gas and the tanning yard, and that little red brick, red place was fried fish [across the road, next to 132, now takeaway]. So there was quite a smell down in this corner; fried fish, gas and the tanning yard!

Q:    Was it like a chip shop now? Could you just go and get to eat or was it –

Mr P:    Yes, about three evenings as week, something like that.

Q:    So it hasn’t changed then.

Mr P:    No. Is it a fish shop still?

Q:    I think it’s probably beefburgers and things, but it’s still a takeaway shop so –

Mr P:    Ah, well, it was a takeaway fried fish shop.

Q:    It’s amazing that you can remember all that.

Mr P:    That appears to me to be the same. (Q: What, Bridge Street?) Bridge Street, yes [1 Bridge Street etc.] But is the Bridge Home still there?

Q:    Yes. It’s a hospital now, for the mentally handicapped.

Mr P:    Ah, it was for the mentally handicapped. You see you’d get long crocodiles of these boys, about thirty or forty in a row or in a double row out on Sunday afternoons – shall we just walk as far as the bridge?

Q:    Did they have uniform, the boys?

Mr P:    No. And up there, halfway up there on the right was a milkman [across the road, 10 Bridge Street]. The milk was delivered twice a day and he would have a little metal truck with a big milk can hanging on it. And he would stop at every house and tip it. Most unhygienic, of course. [Q laughs] And the other milkman was a man called Everett and he had a dairy at Chipping Hill. After you go past the church, you go down –

Q:    At Spring Lodge, I think it’s called now?

Mr P:    I think it was called Spring Lodge then. And he used to bring his milk in a horse and cart.

Q:    So did you get milk from them as well as from Freebornes?

Mr P:    Yes, I used to go and get skimmed milk at Freebornes and then – I’m trying to remember. My father thought that he ought to patronise both because they were both his customers.

Q:    Of course, yes.

Mr P:    And so, certain days of the week, we had Mr Newman [Q laughs] and certain days of the week we had Mr Everett! Newman delivered by hand on a little trolley, but Everett, because he was a distance, came by horse and cart. Now this is unaltered [by the river]. Apart from the path being paved; it was just a little footpath.

Q:    But it was open?

Mr P:    Oh yes, you could go through there and come out into Maldon Road.

Q:    Did you used to – (Mr P: We used to come round – ) it was rather nice, wasn’t it?

Mr P:    We used to come – my parents’ main occupation, particularly on Sundays, was to go for walks. And we used to go to chapel in the morning, and then go for a walk, before lunch. My, we never cooked anything except potatoes, on Sundays. I don’t know why potatoes were OK but my mother would never cook a joint or a pudding or anything like that. We would go for walks down here and through. And then after Sunday school we would go for a walk again. And then in the summer after chapel we’d go for another walk! [Laughs]

[Turning round and walking back up Newland Street, still on the south side]

Mr P:    The police station and the fire station were down Guithavon Street. (Q: Oh, was it?) Just after you pass the All Saints church, the road goes down a little doesn’t it? (Q: Yes) Now on the left were some almshouses (Q: Yes) Are they still there?

Q:    No. There’s a Methodist church now, they built a new one.

Mr P:    There’s the Wesleyans – we called them, we didn’t call them Methodists. (Q: I see.) The Wesleyans, and next door to that was the police station [now Mill Vale Lodge] and next door to that, the fire station. And next door to that there was a pub.

Q:    Ah, somebody pointed that out to me one day. There’s a water hydrant [near the Swan, 153]. It’s nice that that’s still there. Isn’t it? I don’t think it’s used very often. Did the police used to walk about a lot then? Or did you see them much?

Mr P:    Yes. There was usually a policeman on duty somewhere in the High Street, walking about. There were probably four policemen. There was a police sergeant whose name was Pettican. It’s a Dickensian name isn’t it? (Q [laughs] Yes) And there were one or two others. And when cars started to come, the police here were very hot on traffic. Because there was a speed limit of ten miles an hour and the police used to stand up there where that red house with the two windows is facing us [64, up the street]. They’d stand there and if anybody appeared to be speeding up here they’d stop them. And there were prosecutions – a tremendous number of prosecutions. Because ten miles an hour is pretty slow, isn’t it? [Both laugh]

Q:     It is. I suppose it seemed a lot then though, didn’t it?

Mr P:    Well, they used to enforce it.

Q:    I wonder how they measured it? [Q laughs] They probably worked out how long it should take you to get up the High Street or something.

Mr P:    Yes, you’d see them there with hands up. Only one car at a time you see, they could …

Q:     No problem, yes. It’s quite new. The bookshop’s quite new. That’s nice, to have that there [other side of the road, 118].

Mr P:    Yes that’s new. I don’t know where you’d buy books. I was just thinking, I think the only place you’d be able to buy a book would be at that corner place where they used to put the newsagents or stationery, the newsagents [70] I don’t think Miss Powell used to sell books.

Q:    No. So when Captain Abrey offered you books that was quite a treat?

Mr P:    Oh yes. That was quite something, yes.

Q:    So he was actually giving you them, was he?

Mr P:    Yes.

[General conversation]
[Went into Silver Fern teashop, over the Co-op for a drink; about a minute’s silence on the tape]

[General conversation, not noted, including that he is going later to meet Mrs Lee, nee Broyd, at Whitehall Court, and also Mrs Drury, formerly Miss Kellock, living in the Avenue, both at school with him and to chapel also. He only remembers the latter]

Part 9 of the walk, described below
Part 9 of the walk, described below

Mr P: Have you got people here now who call themselves ‘The Strict and Particular Baptists’?

Q:     Not any longer, no.

Mr P:    Because they were just down Maldon Road.

Q:    The chapel is still there, it’s used for offices now.

Mr P:    Tremendous number of offices now, of all kinds, aren’t there, in High Streets nowadays.

Q:    Were they quite active, the Baptists?

Mr P:    Yes. And then there were another sect, are they still here? They called themselves ‘The Peculiar People’. They had a place down Maldon Road that, when I came here about twelve years ago, I think they’d got a chapel – as you go down –

Q:    The end of Guithavon Street?

Mr P:    -Guithavon Street there’s a chapel facing you (Q: Yes.) or there was then.

Q:    Yes, there still is. I think they call themselves the Evangelical Church now, but it’s the same.

Mr P:    That’s how they were. They used to call themselves the Peculiar People. Their ‘leader’ – and they used not to have a parson – but their leader was Heddle. He lived in that large house [48 Collingwood Road]. They were very vociferous in singing. You used to hear them in – where we lived you could hear the Peculiar People singing; on certain Sundays, at certain times. They used to start very early in the morning and they were very evangelical. I’m not offending you, I hope? (Q: No.) But they were the people who would shout ‘Hallelujah!’ and ‘Amen!’ and ‘God be praised!’ you see, at all kinds of intervals.

Q:    So it was quite different from anybody else. (Mr P: Oh yes!) It made quite an impression on you?

Mr P:    I never went to one of their services but – they had another place of meeting – in Cressing. But I’ve never heard of them anywhere else other than Cressing and Witham.

Q:    No. I think I’ve seen a book about them, which said there were quite a number in South Essex.

Mr P:    Maybe! But I only know of them here and at Cressing.

Q:    Which said they were the strongest but these were the only areas.

Mr P:    But – they had a mission. Yes, you’re right, and it came from all over Essex, well, various places in Essex. They had a mission and their own chapel was not big enough to hold them and they hired the Congregational church. And my parents went to it, and I remember this, that sometime during the service – probably it may have been the child was woken up by the hallelujahs – but the baby screamed and kept on screaming. And they all seemed to know what to do. Because they all stood up in silence and the mother brought this screaming [laughingly] child up to the man who was taking the service. And he laid his hands on the baby and had a little prayer and the baby stopped! And didn’t start again! (Q: Really?) Well, it may be mythical but this is what my parents told me. And it could have been that the sudden change and the silence was enough.

Q:    Wonderful. [laughs]

Mr P:    So. Oh, the chapel played a very important part in my parents’ lives. Yes. Particularly my mother’s life, because there was a prayer meeting every Tuesday. A Young People’s Guild, she was the secretary of, every Thursday, and choir practice every Friday. So three evenings a week she was out at that, you see. Then there was the Mothers’ Meeting on Thursday afternoon. So practically every day of the week there was something on at the chapel.

Q:    Did she do a lot of – did she take charge of things at all?

Mr P:    Oh yes! She was a great ‘taking charger!’

Q:    Was she? [Laughs]

Mr P:    Yes. She ran a concert party that went round to the local villages during the winter, to Hatfield Peverel or Rivenhall; Wickham Bishops or Totham. And she would hire a little van and we would all crowd into it, it’s quite illegal now of course to do anything like this. I mean hiring a van and putting a couple of benches on the sides and sitting in it. She’d hire this van from Hurrell and Beardwell who had a garage in that road [White Horse Lane] that runs between Braintree Road and the new road. And we would crowd into this and go off to one of these villages and give a programme – religious items in the first part then take a collection. Then after that we’d do ‘funnies’, humorous. My mother used to sing – there were quartets and things like that. My mother used to sing ‘ Oh who will o’er the downs with me, oh, who will with me ride?’ Mr Garrett, the old man, used to fancy himself as a tenor, so he would come. It was called The Young People’s Guild Concert Party but you were young if you were seventy! [Q laughs]

And then another thing that my mother did was – she ran a cycling club for a year or two in the summer. That was the Congregational Cyclists Club – forming outside the Congregational church in the High Street then cycle off to Tiptree or Boreham or somewhere like that. Oh yes, she was [laughs] a great ‘goer’!

Q:    Did you join in?

Mr P:    I used to go in the concert party; recite –

Q:    Of course.

Mr P:    – and sing. And I certainly used to go with cycling club. But there was no radio, no television, you really made your own entertainment and that was a really good thing.

Q:    Enterprise, wasn’t there.

Mr P:    And then my mother also – she wasn’t strict about this – but she belonged to the Temperance thing. She wasn’t ‘temperance’ –

Q:    Wasn’t she?

Mr P:    I mean she didn’t drink, she wasn’t a drinker but she’d certainly make her own beer!

Q:    Oh really? [Laughs] Perhaps that didn’t count! [Laughs] And was that drunk at home, then? Beer?

Mr P:    Oh yes! [Laughs]

Q:    By all of you?

Mr P:    I didn’t have any but my mother and father did.

Q:    You didn’t really need to go in a pub then, did you?

Mr P:    No. [Q laughs] Brew day was quite a day. She’d brew about once a month. Home-brewed stout. It was so fierce it would blow the cork out of the bottle! [Q laughs]

Q:    So you didn’t get bored did you?
[General conversation, not noted]

Mr P:    But there was a kind of social difference in the Congregationalists and the Church of England. The Church of England were – considered themselves a cut above the Chapel. And if anybody left the chapel and went to the Church of England it was a sign they’d got social pretensions.

Q:    Did anybody move the other way?

Mr P:    No!

Q:     I don’t suppose they would.

Mr P:    You didn’t come down in the world.

Q:    Yet a lot of poorer people went to the church – went to the Church of England?

Mr P:    I don’t know. Here it was mainly the upper class went, not many of the poorer people went. I mean, I may have got it quite wrong –

Q:    No, I’m sure you’re right – probably the really poor people either didn’t go to any of them or went to the Evangelical –

Mr P:    They’d be hanging about outside The Angel when we came out of church.

Q:    I see.

[General conversation re Essex Record Office; bookshop etc, not noted]

Mr P:     Do you meet Mr Emmison ever?

Q:    Occasionally he comes in still to the Record Office.

Mr P:    Still a live wire?

Q:    Very much, yes.

Mr P:    Yes, I used to know him because I lived practically next door I was at Market Road [Chelmsford]. And I used to see Mr Emmison quite a lot. In fact, with his guidance I started to do a thesis PhD – did I tell you this?

Q:    I think you may have done.

Mr P:    But I couldn’t manage it. I had a fairly big job and I’d got a young family and something had to go. And it was that. This was 1948, ‘49. I think I started ’46 when I was at the School of Economics but I found going up in the evening, I was living in Shenfield then, travelling up after school, sitting in the library and then getting back late at night was quite a thing. I couldn’t manage it.

Q:    Even people who work on PhDs full-time often don’t manage it.

Mr P:    No, I couldn’t manage it [Pause]. Well, shall we walk up here, across the Recreation ground and up Maldon Road?

Continued on tape 132

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