Tape 132. Gerald Palmer, side 5, walking round town centre

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 131.

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.]

Continued from tape 131

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

On the previous tape (131) 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 this tape, 132), up Kings Chase, across the Park and into Maldon Road and into Parkside youth centre (formerly Council School which Mr Palmer attended). Then north up Maldon Road.

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

Part 10 of the walk, described below
Part 10 of the walk, described below

[General conversation not noted]

[Talk about other areas while going down Kings Chase:-]

Mr P:    The first part of Chipping Hill is very little altered.

Q:    That’s right, yes.

Mr P:    First of all, the little blacksmith’s shop, on the corner [forge, 18 Chipping Hill].

Q:    Yes. Right.

Mr P:    Which was originally Quy’s. And then Henry Dorking. Now it’s somebody else.

Q:    Yes, that’s right.

Mr P:    Then a little group of houses standing on the rise leading to St Nicolas church, is unaltered. And then go down the hill, past the dairy, over the bridge, and then up the hill, with the, a wall on the right hand side. But after that it had been altered and developed, and there was a road coming in from the left, Highfields. And a road going off to the right.

Q:    That’s all quite new.

Mr P:    Which threw me rather as I wasn’t expecting it. I was expecting to go up there to the Victoria and turn right.

Q:    To the Victoria. You still can do that, but you have to go straight across the roundabout if you want to do that.

Mr P:    Now during the War, the First War, if you went up to the Victoria and turned right and walked along that road, on the left-hand side of that there was a big prisoner-of-war camp.

Q:    Oh I see, yes.

Mr P:    With barbed wire, and, German prisoners of course. They were employed about here in cleaning out the rivers and ditches.

[coming out of Kings Chase into the Park, and coming onto the map]

Q:    See, this is ….

Mr P:    Now the Co-op used to have a treat for their members’ children every year in the summer, and it was held here. Races …. [in field on right of Park as you come out of Kings Chase]

Q:    Ah, in the field.

Mr P:    Yes.

Q:    Were these buildings not here?

Mr P:    No. This house was here [cottage still in Kings Chase right of entrance to Park], you’d go through there, and there was a field.

Q:    The little cottage, and then it was [???] to the right? Yes.

Mr P:    Procession. The procession would line up in the Avenue, or up there somewhere, and the band would come from Chelmsford, and you would process on a Saturday afternoon, through the High Street, fancy dress display, and finish up here, and there would be tea for the kids, and a Punch and Judy show, and races, egg and spoon and sack race and things like that. It was quite a thing.

Q:    Mm goodness.

Mr P:    Now, apart from the path, which has been tarred, obviously, this, none of this was here, this is practically the same. With trees.

Q:    I think a few of the trees got blown down, a couple of years ago.

Mr P:    That was where the, Co-op treat was.

Q:    Where the stables … ?

Mr P:    And there were some walnut trees in there. And we used to, used to go over there, over that fence, and pinch those walnuts [stable yard and paddock on right, as you come out of Kings Chase into the Park].

Q:    Aha?

Mr P:    It looks as though one or two of them are still there.

Q:    You did that as well, did you?

Mr P:    I did that.

Q:    I thought you were a good boy? [laugh] So you were obviously not perfect?

Mr P:    I’m not perfect, no. I used to come and play here a lot. Until I went, until I got the scholarship and went to Braintree, and after that, life was different. There was homework, and you had a uniform and a cap and …. But here …

Q:    Yes. Did they have swings and things, at all?

Mr P:    Yes, there were some swings. I forget where they were, I think they were over there.

Q:    Yes, on the right?

Mr P:    But the layout of the ground, there was a cricket ground there, it’s still there isn’t it

Q:    Yes, that’s it.

Mr P:    Except there weren’t any houses there [down Maldon Road below gates].

Q:    Not down the road, no?

Mr P:    And this was the garden of one of those large houses next to, the large house [61 Newland Street] next to Barclays Bank, this came out as a big garden [on left of path, probably where now two houses, Gueth Cottage and Ridgeway].

Q:    Oh yes, yes. The one where you said that had the, headquarters in the War.

Mr P:    Yes, yes.

Q:    The Midland bank, I think it is now [57].

Mr P:    And here, there was a, for the Peace celebrations in 1919, there were large marquees put up, and a meal for the old folks, lunch for the old folks and a tea for the kids at teatime. And that was, those marquees were put up there [towards the Maldon Road end of the park]. I remember coming and helping, and, the marquees were put up by the soldiers, but the kids thought that they were helping if they held a rope or something. But these houses weren’t there, that wasn’t there. That wall was there but it was much higher [left of path, backing onto backs of Newland Street buildings and the two houses, Gueth Cottage and Ridgeway].

Q:    Yes. Mr Cook, the pork butcher, used to live in one of those bungalows when he retired. I think he’s died now.

Mr P:    Is that Harold?

Q:    Yes, I think that’s, that’s right.

Mr P:    I remember him, he was about my age.

Q:    Yes.

Mr P:    Maybe a bit older.

Q:    Yes [pause]. Because people don’t live in the centre of town, now, this doesn’t get used so much as it might. But people still come here at weekends, and, the cricket pitch and everything is used a lot.

Mr P:    It’s a very good cricket ground, and the pavilion is the same as it used to be, those trees and the wall. The first house along there was a lady who used to give piano lessons, and she taught me to play the piano [below park entrance on right going down, perhaps 56 Maldon Road].

Q:    Just past the, cricket, pavilion there?

Mr P:    Past, yes, down there, the first house on the right.

Q:    Did you have a piano yourself, then?

Mr P:    Yes.

Q:    Yes, you would I suppose, if your mother was a singer.

Mr P:    Yes. my mother, she used to sing, and I used to play the piano. And that was a kind of ‘Little Rec’ [far eastern end, next to Maldon Road]. Those buildings weren’t there, and this was a kind of little recreation ground. There was a fence through there.

Q:    Where did the fence go then, just along …

Mr P:    Along there, where that hedge is, it went along there.

Q:    Oh I see, it continued.

Mr P:    And that was a kind of little Recreation ground.

Q:    Just by the road?

Mr P:    Mothers would take their children and play there, rather, rather than here where the bigger children played.

Q:    I think this is, must be a playgroup out for, out for a nature ramble [laugh].

Mr P:    Yes. This house was here, this one on the left [52 Maldon Road]. And that one was there on the right [54 Maldon Road], lived in by a Mr Chapman, who was the man who took your tickets as you went into the cinema [probably Whitehall cinema, 18 Newland Street, or could be Public Hall].

Q:    Mm, yes.

[Out into Maldon Road and then along Maldon Road northwards]

Mr P:    These gates are the same [into Maldon Road]. And that was the Peculiar chapel [Mason’s meeting hall, 39 Maldon Road]

Q:    Oh, straight opposite, yes?

Mr P:    That barn-like place.

Q:    Yes. Yes. I believe the Masons meet there now

Mr P:    Ah.

Q:    I’ve never been inside.

Mr P:    Now, this was the house of the headmaster of the school [41 Maldon Road]. And there was the school [Parkside Youth centre, Maldon Road].

Q:    There you are.
[General conversation, not noted]

Mr P:    And this was a square of very very poor property known as Trafalgar Square [site of traffic roundabout].

Part 11 of the walk, described below
Part 11 of the walk, described below

[Going into Parkside Youth Centre, formerly the Council School which Mr Palmer attended]

Q:    I think the door is up here.

Mr P:    This is the same. This narrow little bit was the entrance to the boys [right hand side of the building between building and wall], girls and infants on that side [left hand side of the building], boys on this side. And right against this wall [on right hand side] were the backs of these houses. And it was called Trafalgar Square. It went one, two, three [three sides of a square with the fourth side, along the road, open].

Q:    I see, three with an opening to the road.

Mr P:    And these were very very poor rough little houses and if you stood on this wall, you could look into the bedrooms of these houses. And on one particular occasion the lady of the house had got a soldier with her [both laugh]. And we all stood on that – I won’t say our education was improved, but the headmaster came and called us away – I remember that!

Q:    [Laughs] Gosh! I should think you do, yes!

Mr P:    Let’s see if we can get in.

Q:    We can have a look round. The girls’ entrance is on the left. There are some cars here but they must be doing something else. It’s mainly a Youth Centre which is open in the evenings.

Q:    [to person 1] Is it all right if we look around? This gentleman use to go to school here.

Mr P:    [to person 1] Do you mind if we look round? I was a pupil at this school in 1915. And I would naturally just like to have a look.

Person 1:    Of course, there’s another class going on in there for mentally handicapped people. But you are welcome to have a look. Come with me and I’ll just show you. Start in here because then I can show you. Help yourself.

Person 2:    It’s changed a bit, has it?

Mr P:    There was a partition here [dividing the front room into a front part and a back part] Standard Two and Three were here [back part of the front room, i.e. behind the partition]. And Four, Five and Six were there [front part of the front room, i.e. in front of the partition]. And there was a partition which was slid back every morning for prayers. Yes, I think it was Standard Two and Three here and Four, Five and Six there.

Q:    That was all in the same room, you had several classes?

Mr P:    Oh yes! You had three classes there, with benches of course. And hands on heads. [Q & person 2 laugh] The boys would come in there. And there was an Honours Board [on inside of front wall, in far left hand corner, if looking from the road] in that corner. People had their names inscribed on it if they got a scholarship. You could get a scholarship to Braintree High School. Yes. And that was the Infants’ room [back room] Infants and Standard One (Q: The back room?). Standard Two and Three, yes and Four, Five and Six.

Q:    It’s not very big is it? How many children –

Mr P:     I don’t know. About a hundred, a hundred and fifty. The other schools –

Person 2:    It isn’t that big is it?

Mr P:    This was the Council school and then there was Church school in Guithavon Street where the car park is now.

Person 2:    Oh? Really?

Mr P:    Yes. And a little school for infants at Chipping Hill. I’m sorry to have disturbed you –

Person 2:    That’s all right, that’s interesting for you to come back.

Q:    Because he lives in Dunmow now so this is a special visit.

Person 2:    I live in Stebbing.

Mr P:    Oh do you? I live in Duton Hill.

Q:    Have you been in here since you were at school?

Mr P:    I came in some years ago, a long time ago, more than twenty years ago.

Q:    Did they have toilets then?

Mr P:    The toilets were at the bottom of the garden. Nothing like this. Thank you.

Q:    Bye bye.

Q:    [To GP] What colour was it all? Was the bricks painted then?

Mr P:    Bare brick, I think they were just plain whitewashed.

Q:    Yes, that would be usual. It could be re-done easily.

Person 1:    Was this the hall or something [back room]?

Mr P:    No, this was the Infants and Standard One. And then –

Person 1:    Presumably this was all higher up –

Mr P:    Yes, up to the ceiling. That room was divided into two with a partition –

Person 3:    Sliding –

Mr P:    And this side of the partition was Standard Two and Three and then the other side of the partition was Four, Five and Six.

Person 1:    How many children.

Mr P:    About a hundred and fifty I would guess.

Person 1:    My goodness!

Person 3:    Gosh! Quite a lot, say fifty in each.

Mr P:    You only had two classrooms, you see.

Q:    In each bit.

Mr P:    Oh yes. There were three classes in the other room.

Person 1:    That’s why they had to behave and be quiet.

Person 3:    Folded arms. Hands on heads! [Laughs]

Mr P:    Sitting on benches. [???] [???] That was even worse! [All laugh]
[The sound is distorted by the size of the room and at times it is difficult to distinguish remarks and voices apart from Mr P – whose voice is drowned out on occasion]


Mr P:    … Well, there wasn’t plumbing but there was a place …

Person 1:    …. playground out here.

[Q carrying on conversation with persons 2 and 3 regarding their relations coming later to the school]

Mr P:    … The entrance. I’ve just seen it, it’s still narrow, between the door and the wall. A very narrow entrance. And then on Empire Day … All lined up and saluted the flag and you had a [???] of the British Empire like Canada or Australia or Orange Free State. And the chairman of the governors would come and give a patriotic speech and you would then take turns to call out the name of your place so that you’d name the whole of the British Empire.

Person 1:    And you’d have a half-holiday in the afternoon, wouldn’t you? We always used to.

Mr P:    Did you come to this school?

Person 1:    No, no, I was born in London, but we always used to celebrate Empire Day and we always had a holiday in the afternoon.

Mr P:    And the whole of the school holidays were determined by the ripening of the crops. You had a ‘pea holiday’ …..[???] [???]…… A strawberry and pea holiday in June and then a ‘blackberry holiday’ in September. [Rest drowned out].
[General conversation about other people’s schooling etc., not noted.]

Part 12 of walk, described below
Part 12 of walk, described below

[Continuous from here on, walking north up the east side of Maldon Road, sometimes looking across]

Mr P:    There were some very poor cottages there [other side of road, scout hut] that have been pulled down. These houses were here, and this wisteria, still there [35 Maldon Road].

Q:    There was some very nice wisteria next to the Library but that’s recently been taken down [16 Newland Street, Roslyn House]. If you go to the Library you may see some of your old colleagues. You probably won’t remember them now but they often sit round there and have a chat. While they read the newspapers and things.

Mr P:    Now this was a large house, which had formerly been a mental home and that’s why it was called ‘The Retreat’ and this is still called The Retreat. There was a large house there which was taken over by the army during the war [First World War]. And I went round behind it once and there was a mock gas attack. They were training the soldiers there and there was a trench with soldiers in gas masks and a kind of fog. And I was exploring and I turned and ran! [Laughs]

Q:    Good heavens! Goodness! [Laughs]

Mr P:    I think it was only a mock thing. I suppose I was six or seven at the time. This was a cottage lived in by the Kellocks[?][27 Maldon Road].

Q:    What, the dress –

Mr P:    This was the harness makers, another harness makers’ shop. Brewsters [25 Maldon Road].

Q:    I think Mrs Baker who used to be Gladys Brewster – their daughter – she must be older than you. Gladys I think her name was. She still lives in Witham.

Mr P:    I don’t remember. I only have a vague memory of her.

Q:    Did you compete with them – your father?

Mr P:    Yes. But of course my father was in the High Street and had a shop which sold other things. Where this man was only a harness maker. My father used to sell tennis racquets and footballs and cricket bats and other things. That was a little shop belonging to North’s [other side of the road, 4 Maldon Road]. And Todd North, the son, is mentioned by one of your contributors.

Q:    Yes. That’s right. That was the Baptist church [Chapel House, Maldon Road].

Mr P:    The Baptists. Er, I don’t remember what that was. This was a builders yard [7-19 Maldon Road]. Still is. But it belongs to Travis Perkins now.

Q:    It was Brown’s till recently.

Mr P:    And this was our back entrance [opposite side of road, between 2a and 2b Maldon Road].

Q:    Oh, I see.

Mr P:    You could get in there. Between the stables and along the wall. [???] the corner. [traffic noise] You could get in there and get round the back.

Q:    Did your father have a horse, himself at all?

Mr P:    No, my father and mother invested in an Austin 7 but – er, that was our way in. Well, it was when I was at college so it must have been about 1928. Maybe later than that.


[General conversation, not noted]

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